Over the past decade the auto-documentation aids for developers and system designers have improved considerably. You dont have to have draughtsman skills to just run and get very helpful auto-generated diagrams from these auto-doc/auto-debug programs. And the grandpappy of them all is Microsofts auto-discovery powerhouse Visio 2003. With Visio 2003 one can get generated diagrams simply by pointing at:
any ODBC database – an Entity Relationship diagram for the database structure and layout;
any .NET program – a UML object diagram plus other info for VC++, C#, VB.NET and VB6;
any website URL – a diagram showing all the pages and their linking pages plus empty links;
any LAN network – a network diagram showing all the devices and many of their properties;
This powerful auto-discovery coupled with super diagramming functionality make Visio one of the most astute acquisitions by Redmond in the past five years.
With Visio as a starter, you need to fill in the flowcharting gaps which Visio still does not cover well (its been promised). Fortunately, one has a wealth of auto-flowcharting programs to choose from:
Crystal Flow for C/C++ – $249US each – auto C or C++ flow charter with programming metrics.
CodeLogic – $295US -reverse engineers C# and Java programs into UML Class Diagram, UML Sequence Diagram, and UML Execution Flowchart and then links these diagrams with the original source code using helpful diagram navigator, plugins for Eclipse, JBuilder, JDeveloper, IntelliJ, exports to Visio and Rational.
CASE Studio 2 – $349US – does ERD diagrams like Visio but also data flow diagrams as well.
Mac/Win Translator – $495US – produces structure chart, class model, inheritance graph, CRC card or ER Diagram from various sources.
Visual Browser for C/C++ – $79US – produces two types of flow charts for C/C++ code with link to source code and export to Visio.
If you will note we have avoided all the UML diagramming tools here and that is deliberate. UML tools such as IBM Rational or Borland Together are usually quite expensive and they dont do flowcharts, dataflow diagrams, state transition diagrams, and non-UML charts and diagrams very well. Popkins System Architect breaks the rule on none-UML diagramming. But we are looking for software in the $500 or less range.
Our personal favorites are CodeLogic because it aids in development and debugging as well as documentation with its 4 simultaneous views and Visustin 2 which we have seen in action helping to plunge into and make sense of some very murky code. If readers have some personal favorites that they feel we have left out – please drop us an email and get your favorite added to the list.