There are many of us who require a UML application to create some quick and dirty UML diagrams for reference, documentation, or a presentation; we don’t require a very powerful solution that will generate code, schemas, validate models, or tie our shoelaces. Simply, we want to layout some part of the architecture in a diagram to aid us with the coding process or perhaps to document some part of the solution. Until now, I found it very difficult to find an application that I’m happy with for this purpose—they were either too complex and expensive (Enterprise Architect), cumbersome, unintuitive, or just plain ugly. I looked at Agro UML (Free), Enterprise Architect ($$), UMLet (Free), MS Visio ($$), StarUML (Free), and Astah Community (Free). Although most of my work is on Visual Studio, I didn’t try any VS UML add-ons since I want to keep the UML and coding separate for now.
Until I discovered Astah Community, I worked on Enterprise Architect (EA) because of it’s popularity, power, and reputation. Also, I happened to have a license from a past employer. Undoubtedly EA is more powerful than Astah Community; however, I soon realized I did not need nor use 85% percent of EA’s standard features. That power—all those features—came at a heavy cost: EA’s relatively high learning curve. Because EA is so specialized, generating simple reference diagrams is time consuming and cumbersome. Enter Astah. Astah looks great, has a very intuitive UI, and is quick, quick, quick.
A simple example:
Creating a class diagram in EA requires a dialog window every time to fill in various details, while in Astah it draws it right away and you can just change the parameters as you go along. Sure Astah may not keep as much meta-data for use later, but I don’t need it. Next, when you want to add an attribute in EA, you have to add one at a time and fill in the detailed dialog menu every time. Astah? Just click on the attribute and add it. Done.
For now, Astah Community is the perfect solution for me. Perhaps when I am an architect working on some sprawling project I will see the benefits of modeling it in EA. Until then, I’ll stick to the tool that allows me to get what I want with minimal effort and time.
Benefits of Astah Community
- Free (There’s a paid Pro version)
- Simple, easy to use, and intuitive
- Diagrams and UI looks nice
- Alignment is automated when dragging objects (huge plus for me)
- Light weight
If you want to try it out, get it here.