Documentation. It’s a fact of life. No one likes it, but we all know it’s critical to the success of pretty much everything, including database work. A good database can’t be developed on an undocumented database if you want to be able to understand and effectively manage the code going forward — which is where a well-documented database comes in. And there are many tools available today that help you do this more effectively and efficiently.
Database documentation is one of the most complicated and difficult areas in software development. A lot of developers don’t pay attention to this area, and it can cause a lot of trouble during the project lifetime — low team’s productivity, high maintenance costs, even software failure. I’ve put together a few popular tools for database documentation so you could choose the one which fits your needs the most.
Are you looking for a database documentation tool, and need to know which one is the best? Database documentation tools are designed to improve the way databases are documented. For database development projects, database documentation becomes an integral part of testing. This ensures that information regarding data structures is extracted and documented in a format that makes it easy to read and understand.
With databases being a core component of most web applications, documentation is important to ensure that developers understand what’s expected from them. If you’re working with MySQL, PostgreSQL or Oracle, then you know how difficult it is to manage data documentation in the enterprise. In this article, I’ll discuss some of the best database documentation tools to help manage your databases seamlessly.
The best database documentation tools
Many of the tools listed below use automation to make the document creation process more efficient so that you spend less time completing manual tasks and more time actually managing your database.
What should you look for in a database documentation tool?
We reviewed the market for database documentation solutions and analyzed tools based on the following criteria:
- Compatibility with a long list of DBMSs
- Automated object scanning processes
- Data dictionary creation
- ERD representation
- Scheduled or automated re-scanning for updates
- A free trial or a demo version for a risk-free assessment exercise
- Value for money, represented by a fair price for the functions that are on offer
With these selection criteria in mind, we collated a shortlist of worthwhile database documentation systems that improve DBA productivity and create a store of database design documents.
ApexSQL is a database documentation tool for SQL, MySQL, SSIS, SSAS, SSRS, and Tableau. The user can create custom descriptions for SQL objects through the GUI. Document layouts can be customized giving users complete control over the structure of their documentation.
- Works with SQL Server, MySQL, SSIS, SSAS, SSRS, and Tableau
- Choice of document file formats
- Versions for developers and DBAs
- Includes a database backup utility
- Provides an SQL query analyzer
Automation and scheduling enable the users to extract a data dictionary regularly and create documents without any manual input. ApexSQL generates documents in CHM, HTML, PDF, DOC, and DOCX so that documentation can be delivered in a format of your choice.
- Supports numerous databases and allows for custom descriptions
- Allows users to use templates or design their documentation from scratch
- Supports automation and scheduling options to streamline the documentation process
- Can produce and save documents in various formats
- Is one of the easier documentation products to get started with
- Offers many different customizable options that can take time to fully explore
There are two main packages available to purchase: Developer and DBA. The Developer version comes with 20 tools including ApexSQL Analyze, ApexSQL Build, ApexSQL Doc, ApexSQL Script and costs $1,299 (£1,003).
The DBA version comes with 10 tools such as ApexSQL Audit, ApexSQL Backup, ApexSQL Manage and costs $2,499 (£1,930) per instance. You can register and download the free trial version.
RedGate SQL Doc is a documentation solution for SQL that documents databases automatically. The user can obtain an overview of a database schema, inter-object dependencies, inter-database dependencies, with annotations to help users find what they need. You can document databases within SSMS by right-clicking on object explorer.
- Automated database scanning for documentation
- Choice of output file formats
- Live object explorer
- Choice of documentation levels
The tool is compatible with HTML, PDF, Microsoft Word, and Markdown files. To add a personal touch, companies can generate custom documentation with their own branding.
- Can easily view interdependencies and schema from a single view
- Automatically maps and documents databases
- The live object explorer works well even across more complex databases
- Would like to see more options for database visualization
RedGate SQL Doc is available as part of the RedGate SQL Toolbelt. The price depends on the number of users you need to support. Between one to four users the price is $385 (£297.41) per user.
For organizations with five to nine users, the price drops to $327 (£252.61) and $308 (£237.93) for those organizations with 10 plus users. You can download a 14-day free trial.
dbForge Documenter is a document creation tool for MySQL and MariaDB that automatically creates MySQL database documentation. Details dbForge Documenter pulls from databases include object types, properties, inter-object dependencies, and DDL codes. Once data has been taken from the database it can be presented as HTML, PDF and MARKDOWN files.
- Works with MySQL and MariaDB
- Compatible with cloud platforms
- Searchable output
The tool is easy to use and highly customizable. For example, the user can choose between a range of themes and customize the layout of individual documents. All documentation is searchable so the user can navigate easily. For example, when typing an object in the search field the user interface will highlight any matching text.
- Makes it very easy to create customized documentation
- Automatically pulls database properties and dependencies
- Preview pane makes it easy to search different columns, indexes, etc
- More suited for MySQL and MariaDB
- Would like to see more export options
dbForge Documenter is a solution with high usability and a competitive price point. The Standard edition costs $99.95 (£77.21) per license. The software is also compatible with Amazon RDS, Google Cloud, Amazon Aurora, Oracle, MySQL Cloud, and Alibaba Cloud. You can download the free trial.
Dataedo is an advanced database documentation tool that can create HTML, PDF, and Excel files. Dataedo supports databases like SQL Server, MySQL, Oracle, PostgreSQL, MariaDB, IBM Db2, Azure SQL, Amazon RDS, Amazon Aurora, Google Cloud SQL, Percona MySQL, Azure SQL Data Warehouse, Amazon Redshift, and more.
- Compatible with a long list of DBMSs
- Output in Excel, PDF, or HTML format
- Creates ERDs
To create documentation, you can add a description of database objects, tables, and columns to the data dictionary. Data model visualization makes it easier to understand how your database works with ER diagrams.
You can create ER diagrams by dragging and dropping tables from your database platform into the ERD section. There is also the ability to create cross-database and cross-platform databases to unify data management.
- Offers a great visual representation of database dependencies and workflows
- Supports a wide range of databases such as Google Cloud SQL, Azure SQL, and Amazon Aurora
- Supports drag and drop organization
- Offers many features that can take time to fully implement
There are three versions of Dataedo available to purchase: Pro, Pro+, and Enterprise. The Pro version costs $39 (£30.11) per user per month with standard email support and five custom fields. The Pro+ version costs $79 (£60.99) per user per month with 10 custom fields and priority support.
The Enterprise version costs $159 (£122.74) per user per month for 100 custom fields with extra features like Schema Change Tracking and Business Glossary. You can download the free trial.
DBScribe is a database documentation tool for SQL server that supports formats such as HTML, Microsoft HTML Help format, and Microsoft Word. The program uses DDL/XMLA code to document your database. You can interact with the tool through a wizard and a command-line interface, which helps to speed up the documentation creation process.
- Written for SQL Server
- Outputs in XMLA format
- Presentation templates
There are also customizable templates you can use to build professional documents to share with other members of your team. You can even save custom profiles to use for future documents. These features give you a high degree of control over how your documentation is presented.
When it comes to managing tables, DBSribe has a description editor. The description editor allows you to manage elements such as tables, columns, indexes, triggers, keys, and more from one location.
- A great option for smaller dev teams
- Simple customizable templates make it easy to get started
- Designed specifically for SQL server
- Lacks visualization features
- Would like to see more modern export formats
If you’re looking for a tool that’s easy to use and competitively priced then DBScribe ticks all the boxes. DBScribe 1.4 for SQL Server costs $99 (£76.44) per license. There are other versions of DBScribe available for Oracle, MySQL, PostgreSQL, and DB2. There is also a 30-day free trial.
SentryOne DOC xPress is a documentation tool for databases. With SentryOne DOC xPress you can automatically document databases for SQL Server in a variety of formats including SSAS, SSIS, SSRS, Excel, and more.
- Documents SQL Server databases
- Works with database metadata
- Object change impact studies
The tool also automatically scans database metadata to update documents without any manual interaction from the user. To aid with database management and regulatory compliance there is a data lineage analysis feature. This feature allows you to view how changes to a single object will affect the rest of the database. You can also visualize data dependencies to make sense of what’s going on. You can create dictionaries with annotations to help monitor data changes.
- Automatically organizes and pulls database metrics and metadata
- Supports data dependency visualization
- Allows users to see how object changes impact the workflow and database as a whole
- Would like to see a longer trial time
There are two pricing options available for SentryOne DOC xPress: Annual Subscription License and Enterprise Licensing. The Annual Subscription License costs $749 (£578.50) per month for up to 10 data sources. The Enterprise Licensing package is customized to the needs of your company. You can download the two-week free trial.
Innovasys Document! X is a database documentation tool for Oracle, SQL Server, OLE DB, and Access databases. You can use the tool to document database tables, columns, views, relationships, indexes, dependencies, triggers, roles, users, and more.
- Operates on Oracle, OLE DB, and SQL Server databases
- Adaptable document library structure
- Support manual notes
There is a customizable HTML-based template that you can use to choose how your documentation is organized. For added convenience, you can add hyperlinks to external websites to help with element descriptions.
Interacting with data dictionary in Innovasys Document! X is extremely simple. In fact, if you have used SQL, T-SQL or PL-SQL, source code comments then these will be automatically used in your documentation. To make things easier to read and navigate the source code is colorized.
Alternatively, you can use the Content File Editor to create and manage documents if you prefer. Enter descriptions with SQL Server Management Tools or Access Table Designer to add descriptions for elements like tables and indexes.
- Features a highly intuitive data dictionary that automatically populates database information
- Supports both automated and manual documentation methods
- Uses color well to keep source code organized and readable at scale
- Would like to see a more simplified dashboard
Innovasys Document! X is available as a single product or as a package with HelpStudio 2019.1 called the Document! X and Help Studio Bundle 2019.1 Innovasys costs $482 (£379) for a subscription license or $380 (£299) for a license. The bundle version costs $698 (£549) for a subscription license or $571 (£449) for a license. You can download the free trial.
Database Note Taker is a database documentation tool that simplifies database management for a range of databases including Microsoft SQL Server. You can create a new project in the program and select the type of database you want to import schema data from. You can then manage your database objects through the Object Explorer.
- Facilitates database object annotation
- Highlights undocumented objects
- Output in XML or HTML
The Object Explorer highlights database objects that aren’t supported with documentation. For example, there is a red warning icon next to table components that need additional documentation. You can then click on the object to edit the information. Once you’re finished editing you can publish it in XML or HTML format.
To help enterprises collaborate on database changes, Database Note Taker has history tracking. History tracking lets you know who has interacted with documentation and when. The tracking feature enables you to keep on top of edits and changes.
- A very simple tool best suited for smaller databases
- Uses color well to highlight issues and objects that aren’t supported for documentation
- Offers auditing to see who has made changes to notes and the database over time
- Lacks enterprise features for more complex database environments
One of the biggest advantages of Database Note Taker is that it’s available free for both personal and commercial use. You can download the program for free for evaluation.
GenesisOne T-SQL Source Code Unscrambler is a database documentation tool that automatically generates code documentation for your database. You can interact with your database through the table description editor and then generate documentation in PDF, PNG, and SVG file formats.
- Displays database objects as well as documenting them
- Draws relationships
- Output in PDF, SVG, or PNG
There are also several features that aid navigation in GenesisOne. Built-in hyperlinks allow you to move between database elements and there is the option to automatically print out documentation after changes. If you require a more visual experience then the graphical perspective of object relations helps improve clarity.
For those companies looking for a database documentation tool that technical and non-technical users can handle should look no further than Genesis One T-SQl Source Code Unscrambler.
- Automatically produces documentation based on your databases
- Supports both document file type exports as well as image format
- Offers a more visual experience than similar tools
- Better suited for small to medium-sized dev teams
There are two versions of GenesisOne T-SQL Source Code Unscrambler available to purchase: One Month Subscription and Premium. The One Month Subscription version costs $29.95 (£23.14) per month. The Premium version costs $195 (£150.65) and $49.95 (£38.59) for each additional server. There is also a free trial version.
What are the best practices in database documentation?
There is no industry standard for documenting a database. However, here are some common-sense tips:
- Focus on your audience – the documentation should reflect the level of expertise of the intended users.
- Don’t just replicate the data dictionary – a DBA or seasoned developer can query system tables for that.
- Create multiple visualizations – an ERD is easier to comprehend than dry lists of text.
- Layer documentation – document the physical aspect of the database implementation, the ERD, and then application access to objects.
- Create a set of documentation standards – define a naming convention, create a glossary of terms, and set up a document hierarchy with templates that include standardized headings for each document.
For database administrators and developers alike, documentation is a valuable part of the database development process. Database documentation can be written for various purposes such as to describe data structures for another developer or to describe business-specific transactions for business users within an organization.
Finding a reliable document tool to save your time and efforts costs you too much. It’s the best database documentation tools which can save your money and reduce your efforts in writing specifications of all databases with code snippets, screenshots, and more.