One of the fundamental tasks you need to perform when monitoring and managing a network is to map it. Most network performance monitoring tools include network mapping functionality; autodiscovery procedures that list your equipment inventory. The great thing about monitor-integrated topology mappers is that they update automatically when constant monitoring reveals changes in the inventory.
An automated mapper isn’t always the best solution. Sometimes, you would be better off being able to create your own topology map through a graphics tool. This is particularly the case if you are designing a new network or planning to extend an existing one. In these cases, autodiscovery won’t help you.
We get into a lot of depth on each of the tools that we recommend below, but if you are short of time, here is our list of the 15 best network topology and mapping tools:
- SolarWinds Network Topology Mapper (FREE TRIAL)
- Microsoft Visio
- ConceptDraw Pro
- Network Notepad
- netTerrain Logical
- Spiceworks Network Mapping Tool
- 10-Strike Network Diagram
Types of Network Topologies
In our related post on network topologies, we get into a lot of detail on each of the common network topologies and their appropriateness for each situation. We also discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each type. These are the most common network topologies:
- Bus Topology – every network device is connected to a single cable which runs the length of the entire network with two endpoints.
- Ring Topology – all network devices are connected in line, each has two neighbors, forming a continuous loop with no endpoints. Typically the flow of data is unidirectional.
- Dual Ring Topology – a ring topology where each device has two connections to each neighboring device which allows for bidirectional data flow.
- Star Topology – all network nodes are connected to each other via a central node
- Tree Topology – typically a hierarchical tree structure with a root node and branch connections forming parent-child hierarchies
- Mesh Topology – point-to-point connected devices that allows for various data routing techniques
- Hybrid Topology – typically comprised of two or more common types of network topologies mentioned above
The best network topology and mapping tools
You could just create your own drawing in any graphics package, including the free Paint that is integrated into Windows. However, in order to be considered as a specific network design support tool, a graphics package needs to have the following attributes:
- An icon library that clearly depicts distinct device types
- Editable attributes for plotted devices
- Distinguishable link types
- Icon label options
The following tools will improve your documentation and presentation. Improved presentation enhances your ability to communicate with non-technical stakeholders in your organization and help you win the right budget for the network creation project.
The SolarWinds Network Topology Mapper includes on-demand device discovery and automated mapping. This gives you a great starting point if you are adding to an existing network. You can choose whether the discovery procedure uses SNMP or ICMP (Ping and Traceroute) to locate devices. It can also identify infrastructure through WMI and CDP (Cisco Discovery Protocol) methods.
The mapping discovery procedure can also plot the infrastructure that composes virtualizations and maps clients to hosts for VMWare and Hyper-V implementations. Maps can be exported into presentation formats for distribution and it is also possible to export them into Visio for further work.
The map development environment supports different network plans and can compile several perspectives from one scan. The icon library has a suitably diverse set of device representations to enable you to distinguish between types of network equipment visually on the map. You can also adapt existing icon designs to create your own.
If you don’t want to use an automatically-generated map, you can set the discoverer tool to just create a device inventory, from which you can plot your own topology map. An auto-update feature would not be useful for a network plan for expansion. However, you can store different maps and set your current system topology to update automatically when alterations to the existing network occur.
The network mapper is compliant with PCI and FIPS-2 standards. This software runs on Windows environments and you can access it on a 14-day free trial.
Visio is a high-end chart and map creating tool and is widely-used throughout businesses for a range of tasks. It is possible that many managers in your enterprise already use Visio. Many other applications enable network maps to be exported to Visio, so you can use this tool to consolidate information from a range of sources.
As a leading design tool, Visio is a little pricey. However, it includes IT icons and network design templates to speed up your topology mapping tasks. Visio runs on Windows environments and is also available online. It can be bought individually or added to Microsoft Office 365 at an additional cost.
The Help Systems Intermapper is available in both a free and paid version. The tool includes a discovery and automatic mapping feature to get you started or you can create your own plan from scratch. The autodiscovery system is also capable of plotting virtualization as well as physical network topology.
The graphics editor includes a library of icons and you can also create your own. Other features in the tool extend to network monitoring functions. It is also capable of storing network performance data to assist with capacity planning and SLA compliance reporting.
The free version of the tool limits you to monitoring 10 devices. The paid version is available as a subscription service or you can buy it for a one-time fee. Charges are made per monitored device. The software runs on Windows, macOS, and Linux. You can get the paid version of the tool on a 30-day free trial.
Lucidchart is a general flowchart creation tool that has specialized icon libraries for a range of industries, including network topology. You don’t get any autodiscovery features with this tool, but it would be a great option if you are creating a network from scratch. You can import and export maps in a range of formats, including Visio. That means that you can import maps of existing networks from any tool that exports in Visio format.
This is a pure chart editor, so you don’t pay per device, you pay per user account. There is also a free version, which doesn’t include an import/export feature. The model that costs is subscription-based and you pay per month or per year, per user. There is also a Team plan, which brings the cost of the system down if you have a large number of people who are likely to use the tool. The software for the service installs on Windows, Linux, macOS, Chrome OS, iOS, and Android. You can try the paid version for free for seven days. The system can also be accessed through Google Apps.
ConceptDraw Diagram is a map-creating tool that has specialized templates and icons for network mapping. You can import and export maps in various formats, including Visio. The tool also integrates with a range of productivity software, including Microsoft Office and Google G Suite.
This tool can be bought individually or as part of a tool package, called ConceptDraw Office. That suite includes project management and planning utilities. The software can be installed on Windows or macOS.
Edraw is a general map, plan, and chart creation tool that includes some great formats for network topology mapping. The editor has libraries of network and IT equipment in different styles, including Basic, Detailed, and 3D. It also has libraries of icons that derive from Cisco, AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud Platform, so you can create network maps that look as though they came straight from a professional graphics artist. Different perspectives available in the tool include Rack View, LDAP, and Active Directory mapping, and a physical world view that includes icons of cities and offices if you need to draw a WAN.
Edraw has a stable of products with different specializations. For network mapping, you need to look at Edraw Max, which is available on a free trial. The software installs on Windows, macOS, and Linux.
LanFlow Net Diagrammer is produced by Pacestar Software. The package includes libraries of 2D and 3D icons to enable you to create your own network topology maps. You can also create your own icons or import them from other graphics tools. The editor employs a drag and drop methodology that allows you to select icons from a side panel and place them on the design board.
This is a paid product, but you can get it for evaluation on a 30-day free trial. Don’t try using the free trial version for your business, because it will print a message saying that this is the trial copy on all network diagrams. The software installs on Windows.
Net-Probe is a little more than a network mapping tool – it is really a network monitoring system and it will discover your network for you. The network maps of the system can be overlaid on real world maps if you run a WAN. There is also a classic network diagram format included in the tool. The autodiscovery feature will compile a hardware inventory for you, so if you are organizing your network, you can ignore the generated topology plan and work from the hardware list. A live map will show device statuses on equipment icons and also list alerts in a separate screen.
This is a very nice little tool, but it doesn’t have the backing of a big corporation, so support is not so great. The software runs on Windows and the Standard version is available for free. This will monitor up to eight devices. This doesn’t include most of the features of the tool, such as Ping, Traceroute, and network scanning. The paid versions are the Pro, to monitor up to 20 devices, Deluxe, to monitor up to 45 devices, and Enterprise, which will monitor up to 400 devices.
Network Notepad is available both as free and paid versions. The software runs on Windows and has a small footprint. You can expand the paid mapper, which is called Network Notepad Professional Edition and make it into a network monitor by adding on NNMonitor, which is a Ping tool.
The basic Network Notepad includes a rudimentary discovery system based on Cisco Discovery Protocol. However, you will probably use this tool more as a network map designer. The editing screen gives you all of the icons that you need to clearly depict your network and the map is built using drag-and-drop. If you use CDP to locate all of your devices, the attributes discovered by that process can be pulled into the descriptions of the nodes in your map.
Graphical Networks produces a range of network management software, including netTerrain Logical. This is an automated network documentation system that will compile a hardware inventory and generate network topology maps by probing the network. You don’t have to stick with those generated maps because you can adjust the topology to meet your specific project aims.
The netTerrain tool supports capacity planning and network reorganization. Extra features help you identify and shut down security weaknesses on your network. This tool is Visio-compatible, which gives you the opportunity to exchange data from netTerrain Logical to a range of other Visio-aligned tools.
The tool installs on Windows Server 2008 and higher. You can get a free demo of the system to try it out before you buy.
D3M caters to a unique niche market – IT sales professionals. This network mapping tool can be used to plan out a customer’s requirements, compiling an inventory of necessary network equipment as the topology map builds. If you set up a product library with prices, the inventory will also copy to a bid with a total equipment cost calculated on it automatically. Icons used in the map are provided by equipment manufacturers, so customers will be able to see exactly which make and model of device goes where.
You don’t have to be a sales professional to use this tool, so it would work just as well for an IT department that needs to plan, adapt, and expand a busy network for an organization. The concept of providing a service for workers in the field means that the tool was designed for collaboration and presentation. Plans can be stored on the Cloud and mobile apps make design and retrieval possible from anywhere.
The tool is pricey, but you can get your first project completed for free. There is no limit on the number of projects you can use the tool for after that first free try. There are three charging bands for the system, which work on the number of users that you want to access the tool. The service is charged for on a subscription basis with a monthly fee.
Spiceworks is a free network monitoring tool. You can also use a network mapping tool created by Spiceworks to compile an inventory of all of the devices connected to your network and create a network map. The design editor of the Spiceworks Network Mapping tool lets you adjust the generated map. Be careful however, to turn off the automatic update feature, otherwise your changes will be wiped out.
You can save your custom map away from the standard map, enabling you to maintain a live map of the system and a working copy. The updating map will show the network bandwidth usage at each device, which will enable you to identify bottlenecks in your existing system. The autodiscovery process gathers attribute information about each discovered device; you get access to information about each device including its make and model, its operating system, and its capacity.
This is a free tool that is ad-supported. You can install the Network Mapping tool on Debian and Ubuntu Linux and on Windows and Mac OS. You can enhance the performance of the tool by adding on Spiceworks Inventory, which is also free.
LANTopoLog is a free enthusiast-created network mapper. You don’t get a concept of the physical layout of your network from this tool. However, the information displayed in the map gives you a very straightforward representation of all the network data that you need quickly.
The tool includes a network discovery facility, which is based on SNMP. The resulting map, which is drawn automatically, shows each of the devices in your network and the devices that it connects to. The result of this schematic is a tree structure that gives the IP addresses, port numbers, and host names of each device and its connections. This is a rudimentary network monitoring system. Its use as a network mapping tool lies in the list of discovered devices, which you could use as an inventory. This provides you with the current connections between your devices, which you could use as a guide when replanning your network in a graphics tool, such as Visio. This software runs on Windows environments.
Creately is a neat chart-creating tool that has specialized templates and icons for network mapping. This is a pure design tool and doesn’t include any autodiscovery options. However, you could use this designer in conjunction with a basic network explorer, such as LANTopoLog to get the best of both worlds.
The package includes a large selection of templates, which each come with a set of icons. The layouts available include WAN views that feature city and cloud icons. You also get the standard LAN layout option and you can even create rack views.
The Creately system allows you to set up accounts for members in your team and there is a collaboration feature built into the tool, which enables you to grant editing or viewing access to other users. The software can be installed on Windows, Linux, and macOS and access can be granted to users of mobile devices that run iOS or Android. You can also opt to get Creately as a Cloud service.
The 10-Strike Network Diagram tool is a dedicated network map creator with autodiscovery capabilities. You don’t have to use the autodiscovery option in cases such as starting the design of a completely new network. The package features a graphics editor, which is the main utility of the software. The editor includes a library of IT icons that you can drag and drop onto the design pad.
Views available within the package include a real-world map, which is based on Google maps. The autodiscovery feature will even trace your connections across the internet, plotting the location of each router as it passes through the real-world map.
This software runs on Windows environments and you can get it on a 30-day trial.
Network mapping options
As you can see from our list, there is a wide range of mapping tools available to you. These range from rudimentary maps that are backed by automatically-collected inventories to sophisticated graphics tools that do not have any autodiscovery capabilities. The best tool for your project will depend on whether you are creating a new network or adapting an existing one.
Do you have a favorite network mapping tool? Do you use any of the tools on our list? Leave a message in the Comments section and share your experience with the community.