There are about as many ways to connect shapes in Visio as there are types of Visio drawings. Most drawing types have their own unique visual language, and you'll find a multitude of connectors and connector behaviors in Visio that are meant to accommodate the needs of each drawing. Visio even includes an entire stencil that contains nothing but connectors.
Despite the variety of connectors, most are nothing more than a line that attaches to one shape at one end, and another shape at the other end. For example, in a flowchart, the connector is the line that goes from a process shape to a decision shape, as Figure 3-1 shows. In a network diagram, the connector is the line that connects a printer to a hub. In the first case, the line represents the order in which you do things. In the second case, the line represents an actual network connection. In both cases, the connection tells us something important about the relationship between two shapes. In some drawings, such as database and software model diagrams in Visio Professional, connectors actually trigger the transfer of data between the shapes they are connected to.
Figure 3-1. Connectors provide additional flexibility in a diagram that lines created with the Line tool don't.
In Visio, the terms connector and 1-D shape are almost synonymous. Whatever term you use, connectors exist so that you can attach lines to 2-D shapes in Visio. To put it simply, a connection happens when you drag an endpoint of a 1-D shape onto a connection point of a 2-D shape. The two ends of a connector aren't interchangeable—as with any line, there's a beginning and an end, and Visio stores information about which is which, in essence giving the line directionality.
Both 1-D and 2-D shapes provide visual cues that show you where connections can be made (before you connect) and what type of connection has been made (after you connect). On a 2-D shape, each point at which a connection can be made is marked with a connection point, the blue ×. On a 1-D shape, the ends are marked with square endpoints, which you see when the shape is selected. To help show the direction of the connection, the two endpoints on a 1-D shape are different, as Figure 3-2 shows. The begin point of a 1-D shape has an × symbol inside the square. The end point has a + symbol inside the square. Either endpoint can be attached to any connection point on a 2-D shape.
Figure 3-2. The endpoints on connectors are designed to connect to the connection points on 2-D shapes.
Connectors and other types of 1-D shapes are the only shapes that have begin points and endpoints. The begin and endpoints provide visual feedback that a connection has been established, but they also indicate direction. Think of it this way: if your connector had an arrowhead on it, which way would it point, and why? When you add connectors to a drawing, connect or draw them so that they match the order of your shapes—attach the begin point to the first shape, and attach the endpoint to the next shape.
When you start a drawing with a template, Visio opens stencils containing the appropriate shapes and connectors for the drawing type. Many of the basic connector shapes—such as the Dynamic Connector and Line-Curve Connector shapes shown in the stencil in Figure 3-3—appear on multiple stencils to make them easy to find. You can use these shapes in any Visio drawing. Other stencils contain specialized connectors with advanced features and behaviors that support a specific drawing type.
Follow these steps to use any connector shape on a stencil:
Figure 3-3. Visio includes the Dynamic Connector and Line-Curve Connector master shapes on many stencils, because they work in any drawing type to connect shapes.
The Connector tool works like a drawing tool in that you can select it and then draw connectors between shapes. However, the connections you draw are smarter than plain old lines. Depending on how you position the tool as you drag, you can connect to a specific connection point on the shape or to the whole shape to create a dynamic connector—same as the shape on a stencil. The difference in how you draw with the Connector tool affects the way you work with shapes afterward as follows:
Follow these steps to use the Connector tool to manually draw connections between shapes:
When you release the mouse, Visio displays red handles to show that the shapes are connected. The handles differ in appearance depending on the type of connection, as Figure 3-4 shows.
Figure 3-4. The shapes on top have a point-to-point connection. The shapes on the bottom have a shape-to-shape connection.
With the addition of one step, you can use the Connector tool to create any sort of connector that appears on a stencil. By default, when you connect shapes using the Connector tool, you create a dynamic connector. However, you can use the Connector tool in tandem with a connector shape on a stencil to draw that shape instead.
Follow these steps to use the Connector tool to draw a different connector type:
The tool draws the type of connector you selected on the stencil instead of the default dynamic connector.
If you need to change the point to which a connector is attached or change the type of connection altogether, you can do this by disconnecting and reconnecting shapes.
Follow these steps to change the type of connection:
Tip - Create a Shape-to-Shape Connection
One way to ensure that you're creating a shape-to-shape connection is to hold down the Ctrl key as you drag an endpoint (or the Connector tool) over a shape. This technique is handy for connecting shapes that are small or complex or for shapes that have a connection point in the center area.
Shapes won't stay connected, and the handles don't turn red.
The basic technique for connecting shapes is to drag the endpoint of a connector to a connection point on a 2-D shape. Dragging the entire connector or line might result in a connection if the endpoint comes near a connection point. However, dragging a 2-D shape over to the connector won't work. Some shapes that look like connectors are really 2-D shapes. Make sure you're using a 1-D shape with a begin point and an endpoint as a connector.
Some shapes include a connector built into the shape, such as the Ethernet shape in a network diagram and the tree shape shown in Figure 3-5. You can drag a control handle on the shape to pull a connector directly out of the shape and attach it to another shape. With these shapes, you can move only one end of the connector; the other end is already attached to the shape.
Figure 3-5. Some shapes, such as the Multi-Tree Sloped shape on the Blocks stencil, have control handles with connectors that you can attach to other shapes.
When you want to create shape-to-shape connections throughout a diagram, let Visio connect shapes for you. The following technique provides enormous layout flexibility, because it works well with the automated tools described in the next section.
Follow these steps to quickly connect any number of shapes: