Last time we discussed choosing templates and shapes out of stencils. The stencils were opened by the templates, so we saw that Visio tries to do what it can to reduce your work. The shapes we placed on the page were resized and restacked (front to back order), as well as duplicated. Text was entered into some of the shapes, and Visio zoomed in or out if necessary to allow you to read the text as you type it.
This column explorers the use of Glue, a critical Visio concept used to, well, keep it all together. Just like real-life glue, Visio’s glue comes in different types for different purposes, and its strength can vary. Unlike real-life glue, you can change existing glue types on the fly and even what you can glue to and what you can’t. Glue allows you to create a meaningful drawing with a direction of flow, instead of a random bunch of shapes on the page.
Theory, theory, theory
There are three glue types – Static, Dynamic, and an unnamed glue that exists between connection points (the blue x). The help says there are only two types, static and dynamic, and we’re only going to look at them today. (Note: Those of you who are advanced users should go and read the Help topic “about connection points”. I’m stating this not to confuse you, but to make you realize that a very powerful technique exists that’s often overlooked; gluing a shape directly to another shape without a connector.)
We’re going to glue connectors (lines) to shapes. After gluing, if you move the shape the line moves with it, no matter where you move the shape. This has obvious benefits for diagrams where some sort of flow direction is required.
What you need: a blank Visio diagram based on the Basic Network Shapes template. Click the Basic Network Shapes 3D stencil title to access its shapes and drag the Personal Computer shape onto the page four times as shown here (I’ve zoomed in for convenience).
Now click the Dynamic Connector tool button, or press CTRL-3. When you move your mouse onto the drawing page, it now has a small tail, indicating the tool type in use.
Static glue is the default. When you drag a connector over top of the little blue on a shape, a small red box appears. When you let go, the end of the line is now stuck to the shape and now has a dark red colour. (An unglued end is green.) The line end always sticks to that exact point, hence the name Static glue. Use static glue when you want to guarantee the connector always sticks to the shape at the same point regardless of what happens to the shape.
2. Switch back to the Pointer Tool by clicking the button or by pressing CTRL-1.
3. Swap the shapes so that the original left shape is now the right shape (stop a few times along the way to see what happens). Notice the line doesn’t let go of its original glue point, even though the path may become convoluted.
4. Click the line to check the appearance of statically glued ends. The end points are small, red, and dark.
Now switch back to the Dynamic Connector tool for the next exercise.
Dynamic glue requires one extra step. When you hover over a shape with a line end, hold the CTRL key down. You’ll see a red box around the shape (instead of around a connection point). Let go of the mouse first. You’ve now stuck the connector to the shape with dynamic glue. The endpoint is bright red, and is larger than the statically glued endpoint from earlier. The line end sticks to that shape and not to a point. If you move the shape, the line is allowed to find its own path into it. Use dynamic glue when you don’t care about the path of the line or where it connects on the shape.
Important: Not all connectors can be dynamically glued to shapes. You’ll see when you use them.
1. Hold the CTRL key down and hover the mouse over the shape. The entire shape will have a red box around it.
2. While holding the CTRL key, drag from the left shape in the bottom row to the right shape in the bottom row until you see the same red box surrounding the right shape. Let go of the mouse first.
3. Switch back to the Pointer Tool by clicking the button or by pressing CTRL-1.
4. Swap the shapes so that the original left shape is now the right shape (stop a few times along the way to see what happens). Notice Visio decides where the line connects to the shape, and it’s often the most efficient path.
5. Click the line to check the appearance of dynamically glued ends. The end points are large, red, and bright.
So what are real-life examples of using static vs. dynamic glue? Imagine you’re diagramming a network. If the goal is simply to get a high-level understanding of the parts, then the location of the actual connection of a line to a shape really doesn’t matter, so you can use dynamic glue. That way, if you move it around the lines still take reasonable paths from one shape to another. But if you’re drawing the detailed floor plan for the room the network will be housed in, the location of the electrical, telephone, and network outlets is quite meaningful. You can’t let Visio decide where on the wall to connect the cables, so you use static glue to keep things in their desired place.
By the way, you can use both types of glue on the same line. It’s entirely reasonable to require one end is fixed to a connection point on a shape and the other end is free to choose its connection. Think of a series of PCs connected to a router. The point of connection on the router is meaningful, but the point of connection on the PC might not matter at all, if your diagram is focused on the router.
Next column, we take all this theory and put it to practice. It’ll be short, but entirely practical. See you then!