Programming Flowcharts: Types, Advantages & Examples

Instructor: Lucinda Stanley

Lucinda has taught business and information technology and has a PhD in Education.

In this lesson you will learn what a flow chart is and why computer programmers use them when developing new applications. You will also learn about five common flow charts and see examples of them.

Use the Tool that Gets the Job Done

Would you use a paring knife to cut up a pumpkin? Of course not! Which is why there are a variety of knives to choose from according to what you want to cut and what you want the outcome to be. The same thing is true with using flow charts in computer programming. There are a wide variety of flow charts to choose from and a programmer chooses the one that best fits the job they want to do. First, let's get some basic information about what a flow chart is.

A flow chart describes a process using symbols rather than words. Computer programmers use flow charts to show where data enters the program, what processes the data goes through, and how the data is converted to output.

Here is an example of a pretty simple flow chart showing data input from a database, a system process, and output to a customer:

Flow Chart: Simple
Simple Flow Chart

Here's a somewhat more complicated flow chart showing a section of the anticipated programming needed:

Flow Chart: Computer Programming
Computer Programming Flow Chart

Why Flow Charts for Programming?

We can see that flow charts use very few words to show the flow of data and how the data and processes are related. They mostly use arrows and symbols. Why would computer programmers want to use a picture to represent a program they are creating? Here are some of the advantages for using flow charts:

  • Flow charts can be used to quickly communicate the ideas or plans that one programmer envisions to other people who will be involved in the process.
  • Flow charts aid in the analysis of the process to make sure nothing is left out and that all possible inputs, processes, and outputs have been accounted for.
  • Flow charts help programmers develop the most efficient coding because they can clearly see where the data is going to end up.
  • Flow charts help programmers figure out where a potential problem area is and helps them with debugging or cleaning up code that is not working.

Which Flow Chart Should I Use?

There are many common flow charts that programmers can choose from, so let's take a look at just a few:

Cross functional flow charts, also called deployment flow charts, are used when the programmer wants to clearly show the relationship to who or what process is responsible for each step of the process.

Deployment Flow Chart
Deployment Flow Chart

The swim lane flow chart, similar to the cross functional and deployment flow charts, uses the concept of a large pool divided into lanes for swimmers to stay on track. The swim lane flow chart shows who or what process is responsible at each point in the conversion of input to output.

Swim lane Diagram

The Specification and Description Language Diagram (SDL) is useful in real-time, stimulus response systems often found in telecommunications. This is one of the more complex flow charts.

Specification and Description Language Diagram
Specification and Description Language Diagram

The Influence Diagram (ID) is mostly used in diagramming a decision process:

Influence Diagram
Influence Diagram

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