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UML and Database diagrams in the new Visio

Developers and IT professionals frequently use Visio to design and document software and database systems. They recognize the benefits of visualizing complex systems to understand relationships and dependencies, and Visio makes it easy to communicate and socialize designs across the team. As a result the Unified Modeling Language (UML) and Database diagrams in Visio are widely used today by an enthusiastic audience, and our developer and IT community provide invaluable feedback on these diagram types. We have addressed this feedback in the new Visio with a significant refresh of the UML and Database templates. 

A fresh start

This release marks a new approach to software and database diagramming in Visio. First, the diagrams have been completely modernized. Our UML diagrams lagged far behind the current UML standard, and both sets of diagrams looked old and tired. In this release we are introducing all new shapes that look great and allow you to create modern, professional diagrams. The UML diagrams match the UML 2.4 standard, and templates are available for the five most popular diagram types: Class, Sequence, Use Case, Activity and State. The database diagrams have a new look as well, and there are four diagram templates to choose from: IDEF1X, Crow’s foot, Chen’s & UML notations. Chen’s & UML are new notational formats this release.

Visio offers modern, professional looking UML diagrams such as this Sequence diagram

Next, we wanted to make it easier to work with the diagrams directly on the diagram canvas. This has been a consistent point of feedback from customers. Previously, diagrams were manipulated through a complex set of wizards and dialogs, and much of the normal editing and formatting in the diagram was locked.  The new diagram templates in Visio emphasize the on-canvas experience.  We made it easy to build, modify and format your diagram without launching a bunch of dialogs to enter information.  We’ve unlocked the shapes so that you can utilize all the productivity improvements in Visio to get your work done faster. An upcoming post will describe the new editing experience for software and database diagrams in more detail.

Sharing and collaborating

People often create software and database diagrams in Visio to share information across the team. The new Visio makes it easy for multiple people to collaborate on a document through capabilities such as coauthoring and commenting. If the document is stored on SharePoint, everyone can quickly view and comment on the diagram in their browser thanks to Visio Services. The collaboration features in Visio and Visio Services allow a team to effortlessly get feedback on ideas or communicate the latest design. 

Visio offers modern, professional looking database diagrams such as this Crow's Foot diagram


It seems only natural that developers would want to write code to automate their use of Visio diagrams, and we heard many requests to allow all the diagram information to be extracted. Where the previous diagrams maintained a data model behind the scenes that was inaccessible, the new software and database diagrams fully expose their details through Visio’s API. The shapes on the canvas directly define the design. Developers can programmatically walk the diagram to understand the objects, properties and relationships defined by the shapes.  It is also possible to create or modify a diagram through code.


The new software and database diagramming capabilities in Visio represent a departure from the capabilities of previous versions. We place a strong emphasis on diagramming and sharing instead of rigorous modeling. Specifically, there is no ability to generate a diagram from existing code or a database definition. Also – just like in recent releases – there is no ability to go from diagram to code or database. Existing UML and Database diagrams can be opened in the new Visio, but they are effectively frozen for editing since the previous feature set has been removed. The behavior of existing diagrams is equivalent to the experience you get today when opening them in Visio 2010 Standard.

With such a large and varied set of customers using Visio for software and database diagramming, we know that reactions to the changes in the new Visio will be mixed. Many customers have asked for modern, simplified diagramming experiences, while other customers want richer modeling capabilities. We are delivering a modern diagramming experience to everyone, but we are not building in modeling and conversion capabilities. However, we’ve made it possible for enterprising developers to add those modeling capabilities through the extensibility mechanisms provided.


The refreshed UML and Database templates in Visio let developers and IT professionals quickly create and share information about their complex systems. The diagrams look great and now can take advantage of the full Visio feature set – productivity improvements on the canvas, collaboration features in Visio and Visio Services, and extensibility through the Visio API.

Whether you like or dislike the changes, please tell us through Send a Smile or Send a Frown or in the comments below. And look for more information about the new diagramming templates in upcoming posts.

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