UML and Database diagrams in the new Visio

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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.

  1. Simon Jones

    The loss of the ability to reverse engineer database diagrams is a big blow and will mean that a lot of people will stop using Visio. It just takes too long to draw a database diagram of any size with Visio 2013 – besides which the new Database template is clunky and ugly.

    • Mark Nelson User">

      Thanks for the comments and for letting us know about the scenarios that you find valuable. While we have no in-box reverse engineering capability, we did leave the door open for partners to deliver this in the future.

      Also, Simon, I hope you will find the further-refined visual diagram styles coming in the final RTM version of Visio 2013 more to your liking.

      Mark Nelson – Visio Team

      • aalmeida71

        Hey Mark,

        Sorry but this idea of "…leave the door open for partners…" all it does is to increase Visio’s Total Cost of Ownership what in turn makes Visio a good candidate to the list "10 tools your kids will never use".

  2. Oh man, really bummed over the lack of database integration with the database diagram. I used the ‘reverse engineer’ function all the time to generate rich database models in Visio. It was miles ahead of SQL Server’s diagramming tool. Please bring this back – can we have an add-in for similar support?

  3. AlbertoFerrari

    C’mon guys, I wonder if you ever *really* listen to your customers.
    The database design feature was the only reason to install Visio on a developer machine and, as of 2012, it was the only viable option to draw a database and share it with customers, who are not supposed to have Visual Studio on their box.
    Today, you removed database design from Visio. What is the suggested replacement for this feature? It clearly is not the current new database shapes in Visio 2013, as I am able to put no more than 4/5 tables on a page.
    You are killing useful features from a product and replacing with good-looking and useless ones. Not the right way to keep your customers happy. At least, I am definitely NOT happy with this decision

  4. DanielGarcia

    Not having reverse engineering capability is massively lame. Not sure what you guys were thinking.

  5. jsharbour

    This lack of database support is ASTONISHING. I just installed Visio 2013 yesterday, and that was the first thing I needed to do–open up a SQL Server 2008 table, expand the structure and see the PKs/FKs (I prefer Crowfoot), and go from there as far as diagramming a new project based on the data. No such luck. After 24 hours, I’m uninstalling Visio 2013 and putting 2010 back on. What a waste of time.

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