// Patrick Louis

UML Editor/Designer on Unix

Hello fellow Unixer,

This thread is about a must have software engineer tool called an UML(Unified Modeling Language) designer.

More precisely, it’s about finding the open source UML Editor/Designer that you need.

I’ve been doing a lot of UML editing and design patterns lately. It is a must for software engineers and developpers to know how to design and understand UML. With my current workflow I had to switch from UML designing on paper to UML designing on the computer. And thus the unevitable question came to my mind: “What editor are available and which one should I choose?”. I didn’t find any useful comparison online, all of that I found was people praising their own tool for their own benifits.

What I was looking for was something simple without too much dependencies, simple as in that only knowing UML I could simply put what was in my mind directly in the software, and something that could construct a UML from some source files.

From a lot of searches, downloads, trials, and errors, I present my software review.

gaphor - An easy to use modeling environment for UML design


Gaphor is straight forward and easy to use. It was the first UML Designer I installed. I was directly shocked by its simplicity it made the work so much easier. It also let you save/export the project as an image which is useful. The only drawbacks are that it doesn’t look good, or hides parts of the GUI, if you use a dark gtk2 theme, and that the class boxes don’t let you add attributes nor methods. It’s also missing the composition relation. The binary of Gaphor is around 23MB with some python libraries dependencies on the side.

kdesdk-umbrello - UML Modeller

I had to pull around 70MB of package that weren’t related to the software to get umbrello installed. …and finally the program was installed. BUT, umbrello wouldn’t want to start, I was getting the following error: [code]

umbrello(11497)/kdeui (kdelibs): Attempt to use QAction "edit_undo" with KXMLGUIFactory! 
umbrello(11497)/kdeui (kdelibs): Attempt to use QAction "edit_redo" with KXMLGUIFactory! 
umbrello(11497) UMLListView::findView: could not find  "class diagram"  in  UMLListViewItem: "Logical View", type="lvt_Logical_View", id="Logical View", children=1 
umbrello(11497) UMLListView::findView: could not find  "class diagram"  in  UMLListViewItem: "Logical View", type="lvt_Logical_View", id="Logical View", children=1

However, I didn’t give up and tried the program on a friends computer. I can say that Umbrello is pretty impressive. It has all the features needed, all the UML schema (from use case to class diagram), and you can export/import class diagrams in multiple languages.

umleditor - UML/INTERLIS-Editor

Umleditor was very light, around 7MB. When starting it I was presented with a cheap splash screen and then a white window popped-up. The interface of umleditor is not friendly at all, I couldn’t even figure out how to create a class. The buttons icons don’t even have text equivalent so it got me completely lost. umleditor

umlet - Free UML Tool for Fast UML Diagrams (stand-alone version)

Umlet is also, like umleditor, very light (around 6MB). The idea with umlet is that you have all the available elements on the top-right corner and you drag them in the empty window on the left. You can’t directly edit the class attributes you have to change the properties in the bottom-right box which can get very annoying.

    My tool of choice is UMLet, I have used it for a whole year now, and I must say that it works perfectly !
    The best points are CLI conversion of UMLet files (.uxf) to other format (.pdf, .jpg, .eps). I use it via a Makefile to integrate diagrams in my LaTeX documents, that awesome :
	@echo "EPS  $<"
	@umlet -action=convert -format=eps -filename=$< >/dev/null
It's available on the officials archlinux repos, for those interested (in [community]).


bouml - A free UML 2 modeler with C++, Idl, Java, PHP and Python code generation

It turned out that bouml isn’t free:

You don't have a licence, closing this message box a file dialog will appear proposing you to save a 'licence request file', please refer to http://www.bouml.fr/pricing.html to know how to use it to get a license

violet - A UML editor for quickly producing simple UML diagrams (also an Eclipse plugin)

Violet has a prety interface but the controls are sluggish. I tried dragging the elements in vain. violet

argouml - A UML design tool with cognitive support

This thing was huge (60MB) and also greeted me with a blank window.

tinyuml - A tool for creation of UML 2 diagrams with a focus on easy use and a small & stable feature set

tinyuml Tinyuml is indeed tiny with a size of 600KB. It has everything needed to do a complete class diagram, but it has only that and nothing else. It can export the project as an image. Let’s note that the GUI is a pain to use.

astah_community - Lightweight, easy-to-use, and free UML2.x modeler

astah Astah is pretty big (30MB), slow, ugly, hard to use and written in java. It also isn’t opensource but still has some free features.

modelio-open - Modelio is an Open Source UML tool developed by Modeliosoft. It supports the UML2 and BPMN2 standards.

This program is 200MB so I didn’t bother downloading it.

qtumleditor - Qt5 UML Editor is a MOF/UML editor based on QtMof Qt5 add-on

I wasn’t even able to install this UML editor.

astade - A UML tool for the complete C or C++ development process

I couldn’t even understand how to use this software.

Web-Based UML Designer

Web-based UML designer aren’t the best thing in the world. First of all, none, or most of them aren’t open source. Most of the ones I found were slow or didn’t work correctly. The main reason someone might want to use one of those might be for collaboration. If you want to try some here’s a list with review:

Apparently gliffy can be used on the desktop as a chrome app which is good.

Thought I'd chip in on gliffy, as that's basically what I've been using and I hate it.
The interface is pretty slow and really buggy (accidently made a mistake on a textbox?
Trying to edit it crashes everything!).
And of course you can't save anything without paying up (or at least making an account).

It's good enough for small quick stuff.

It’s not open source but seems like working almost flawlessly.

  • lucidchart Lucichart.com is filled with content, there are literally buttons everywhere. It has all the diagrams components you’ll need and even more. I tested the class diagram and my overall view is that the interface gets very annoying after some time. There’s always a pop-up jumping in your face. You can save and export diagrams on your disk, and you can also share and collaborate on diagrams but you can’t do any of those until you have registered (not for free).

  • yuml You need to write the UML diagram using yuml language.

  • codeuml You’ll need to learn an intermediary language and actually code your uml instead of designing it, which I’d rather not waste time doing.

  • draw.io It isn’t very easy to use as an UML diagram editor. All the UML diagrams components are messed up together in the same category. It’s more of a web-application to draw diagrams in general, it’s not specialized for UML. The good thing is that it lets you save the diagrams.

  • creately

  • genmymodel I had a good time with this one. It has a great user-friendly interface with an integrated html5 context menu so that it feels like a desktop program. You can create public or private projects to share or open only to your co-workers. You can export your projects in multiple formats, namely svg, xml, jpeg, pdf. You can even directly generate it into java or sql which is pretty neat. Upon Generation in java it gives you tips like “class name should start with uppercase letter”. The only drawbacks are that it’s not open source and that it’s only specialized for class diagram.

It’s an excellent free class diagram tool that I recommend.

Moral of the story

I spent all day installing one after the other all the UML editors I could find in the Arch repo and in the end almost none of them were satisfying or even working as expected. Only two of them caught my attention:

gaphor, which worked perfectly although missing some features, and

tinyuml, which is extremely small and has all I need for class diagrams.

I’ll personally stick with gaphor.

What do you think?

Share your experience with UML editors on Unix.

If you want to have a more in depth discussion I'm always available by email or irc. We can discuss and argue about what you like and dislike, about new ideas to consider, opinions, etc..
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