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svgdx - create SVG diagrams easily

svgdx is a command-line tool to convert a superset of SVG into an SVG image.

This project is in early development, there are many known issues and frequent feature updates.

In particular, the input format is not stable at this point. Check the CHANGELOG for info.

Installation

For now installation requires a working Rust toolchain, e.g. installed from rustup.rs.

Install svgdx as follows:

cargo install svgdx

Usage

svgdx [INPUT] [-o OUTPUT] [-w]

By default, svgdx reads from stdin and writes to standard output, so if run without any arguments it simply waits for input.

The -w argument (which requires a non-stdin input file) 'watches' the input, regenerating the output whenever it changes. This is particularly useful alongside an SVG viewer / preview which also refreshes the view when the underlying file changes.

Example

Input

Prepare an input file (examples/simple.xml):

<svg>
  <rect id="in" wh="20 10" text="input" />
  <rect id="proc" xy="^:h 10" wh="^" text="process" />
  <rect id="out" xy="^:h 10" wh="^" text="output" />

  <line start="#in" end="#proc" class="d-arrow"/>
  <line start="#proc" end="#out" class="d-arrow"/>
</svg>

Processing

Process the input with svgdx:

$ svgdx examples/simple.svg -o examples/simple.svg

Output

Output file (examples/simple.svg):

which is a rendering of the following generated SVG:

<svg version="1.1" xmlns="http://www.w3.org/2000/svg" width="96mm" height="22mm" viewBox="-8 -6 96 22">
  <defs>
    <marker id="d-arrow" refX="1" refY="0.5" orient="auto-start-reverse" markerWidth="5" markerHeight="5" viewBox="0 0 1 1">
      <path d="M 0 0 1 0.5 0 1" style="stroke-width: 0.2; stroke: context-stroke; fill: context-fill; stroke-dasharray: none;"/>
    </marker>
  </defs>
  <style>
    rect, circle, ellipse, line, polyline, polygon, path { stroke-width: 0.5; stroke: black; fill: none; }
    text { font-family: sans-serif; font-size: 3px; }
    text.d-tbox, text.d-tbox * { text-anchor: middle; dominant-baseline: central; }
    line.d-arrow, polyline.d-arrow, path.d-arrow { marker-end: url(#d-arrow); }
  </style>
  <rect id="in" width="20" height="10"/>
  <text x="10" y="5" class="d-tbox">input</text>
  <rect id="proc" x="30" y="0" width="20" height="10"/>
  <text x="40" y="5" class="d-tbox">process</text>
  <rect id="out" x="60" y="0" width="20" height="10"/>
  <text x="70" y="5" class="d-tbox">output</text>

  <line x1="20" y1="5" x2="30" y2="5" class="d-arrow"/>
  <line x1="50" y1="5" x2="60" y2="5" class="d-arrow"/>
</svg>

This example shows just a few of the features svgdx provides:

  • shortcut attributes, e.g. the use of wh rather than having to specify width and height separately.
  • relative positioning, either by reference to an id (e.g. #in), or to the previous element using the caret (^) symbol.
  • new attributes providing additional functionality - text within shapes, or start and end points on <line> elements to define connectors.
  • automatic calculation of root <svg> element width, height and viewBox derived from the bounding box of all elements.
  • automatic styles added to provide sensible defaults for 'box and line' diagrams.

Many more features are provided by svgdx, with the goal of making a diagram something you can write, rather than draw.

See more examples

Background

SVGdx is intended to support 'typing a diagram' workflows, at a lower (and more flexible) level than structured tools such as Mermaid or Graphviz.

An important principle is that raw SVG can be included directly at any point in the input. This is analogous to Markdown, which provides the 'escape hatch' of using inline HTML tags. Markdown has been incredibly successful as a text based format allowing simple text files to carry both semantic and simple style information. Being able to do both of those in a single workflow - just by typing - allows a flow which would otherwise not be achievable.

Can the same be done for drawing - specifically for diagrams? That's what svgdx aims to deliver.

Text files provide a number of advantages over other formats:

  • Clear compatibility with version control - meaningful diffs
  • Self-describing - text files are easy to (at least approximately) reverse engineer even in the absence of a clear spec or other tools
  • Application independence - additional tools can be written to deal with the format
  • Easy editing - at least for simple changes

Text-based diagramming tools

There are several existing tools which convey diagrammatic information in textual form:

In most of these, the tools are specialised for various particular forms of data; they apply a degree of intelligence to the semantic content of the text and render diagrams representing this. For the special cases they work great, however adding additional layers of graphical structure beyond that imposed by the tool ends up fighting against it.

Ditaa is different in that a diagram-structure is already provided as input, and it effectively just renders it. The work of creating the diagram has already been done.

When abstraction fails, moving to a lower layer is often the answer. Rather than starting with the input information, can we work backwards from the end result we want?

SVG is an XML-based language for defining vector images. The tools discussed above (with the exception of ditaa) can all output SVG images, and SVG is a (perhaps the) lowest-common-denominator of graphics formats for diagramming tools.

Why 'svgdx'?

Project naming is hard.

I could write about how this tool is about improving the developer experience of creating diagrams; perhaps the diagramming experience. But primarily the dx in svgdx is intended to refer to a delta of SVG.

This is explicitly an SVG tool, not some generic diagamming tool. It is most useful when combined with some experience of SVG. While the SVG standards progress slowly, this tool allows keeping everything good from SVG and adding just a little bit more.

Dependencies

~6–19MB
~260K SLoC