Image Blog How to Create a Network Diagram
April 19, 2016

How to Create a Network Diagram

Diagrams for Software Engineering
IT Management

Drawing network diagrams with Gliffy is easy, regardless of which type of network topology you’re working with. Gliffy's easy-to-use online diagramming tool means you can drag and drop shapes to create a network diagram that describes your next project or your current set-up. Read on to learn how to create a network diagram with Gliffy, or jump ahead to one of the following sections:

In these network diagram examples and tutorials, we're using Gliffy. To follow along, you can start a free trial of Gliffy Online or check out our diagramming apps for Confluence and Jira.

What is a Network Diagram?

Network diagrams are easy-to-read, visual representations of digital networks. They typically show the components of a network, like routers, firewalls, and devices like desktop computers, laptops, or printers. More importantly, they show how those components interact with one another. There are two types of network diagrams: physical and logical.

What is a Physical Network Diagram?

A physical network diagram shows how hardware is arranged. They're literal and detailed, including things like cables to show the layout of your network. Think of a physical network diagram like a floor plan for your network. Physical network diagrams are valuable when you're setting up or rearranging an office space, documenting your space's current setup, and working on maintenance or making updates to your existing network where the location of devices is important.

What is a Logical Network Diagram?

A logical network diagram is focused on the way data flows across the network and how components of the network communicate with each other. Logical network diagrams often describe details of LAN and WAN networks or explain the security in place to protect your network.

Logical network diagrams include the same types of components as physical network diagrams, but may make generalizations about the number or location of certain devices within the network. For example, a physical network diagram may include the hardware at each desk space in an office, while a logical network diagram would simply explain the standard setup at a desk space.

You can make a logical network diagram to:

  • Show how your network complies with certain security requirements
  • Plan and manage updates to your network
  • Describe or pitch a new network or update to non-technical stakeholders
  • Troubleshoot issues

Both the logical and physical network diagram types are great for onboarding new employees, working on cross-functional teams where not everyone has the same level of technical expertise, and explaining decisions or requests to leadership and executive teams.

What is a Network Topology?

Network topology explains how components of a local area network (LAN) are arranged. There are several types of network topology that provide different levels of flexibility, security, and stability. There are several types of common network topologies:

  • Star topology
  • Ring topology
  • Bus or linear topology
  • Mesh topology

You can use the same steps in the following tutorials to draw your own network topology diagram in Gliffy.

Video Tutorial: How to Create a Network Diagram in Gliffy

How to Draw a Network Diagram in 6 Steps

In this example, we’ll plot out a basic network diagram, but these techniques will apply to all network diagram types regardless of complexity.

1. Open Network Diagram Shapes in Gliffy

If they’re not already in the left panel with your other diagramming shapes, you can add network shapes to your Gliffy Shape Library by clicking More Shapes in the bottom of the left panel and selecting the Network shape library.

Step 1 of network diagramming: open shapes

2. Drag and Drop Shapes for the Components in the Network

Start by dragging out the components that you need to represent. You can start trying to organize them now, but it's easiest to get all the devices, servers, and other components into the editor before you start trying to draw in their connections. As you drag and drop the shapes, you can type to name them or double-click on a shape to edit the text associated with it.

Step 2 of creating a network diagram: add components

You can also hover over shapes in the left panel to see their name. If you can't find a shape you're looking for, you can use the search bar at the top of the shapes panel to search for the correct shape.

3. Group Components and Organize Your Diagram

Once you've got your components represented, it's time to start organizing. You can draw boxes or containers around components that go together, like wireless clients vs. wired clients, and use the Group button in the toolbar (or shortcuts: ctrl+G or cmd+G) to group shapes together.

Now is a good time to begin dragging and dropping devices to organize them around what other components they connect to.

Step 3 of network diagramming: group devices

4. Draw Connections that Show how Components are Linked

Use the Connector Tool to drag and drop lines that show how each of these components interact with one another. You can find the connector tool in the toolbar at the top. Then, hover over each shape until a green circle appears around your cursor and click to drag a connector to another shape. 

Begin drawing the connections and rearrange your components as needed to keep your diagram clean — not cluttered.

Step 4 of making a network diagram: draw connections

5. Style Your Diagram to Give it Visual Hierarchy

Last, take a few minutes to edit the colors or line styles in your diagram. For example, wireless connections can be represented with a dotted line while wired connections can be a solid line. This can help make your diagram easier to read and understand at a glance.

Step 5 for network diagramming: add visual hierarchy

To make these edits, click on the line or shape you'd like to edit and then click on the black square or line menu item that pops up. Here are additional resources if you need help styling your shapes and lines:

🎬 Video Tutorial: Using Lines & Connectors in Gliffy
🎬 Video Tutorial: Using Shapes in Gliffy

6. Share Your Final Diagram

Remember to save and share your final diagram with a teammate! They can "spell check" your work or provide valuable feedback. Just click the save and share buttons in the upper right.

Network Diagram Example

Why You Should Use Network Diagram Software

Network diagrams can be an important part of maintenance, documentation, and IT management. By using network diagramming software like Gliffy, you can easily make changes and track versions of visualizations of your network. You can quickly make a copy of your existing network infrastructure and then use that as a baseline for a redesign. You can also embed your network diagram directly in your team's wiki using our Confluence diagramming app or Gliffy's embedding features.

All these make it easier to share your visualization, gather feedback, and collaborate on future changes and solutions.

Make a Network Diagram with Gliffy Today

Get started with a free trial of Gliffy Online to make a network diagram of your own. Or, check out our apps for Confluence and Jira to learn how you can add Gliffy to your team's existing tools.

Try Online  Try in Confluence