Confluent Drawings: Visualizing Non-planar Diagrams in a Planar Way

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Abstract

We introduce a new approach for drawing diagrams. Our approach is to use a technique we call confluent drawing for visualizing non-planar graphs in a planar way. This approach allows us to draw, in a crossing-free manner, graphs—such as software interaction diagrams—that would normally have many crossings. The main idea of this approach is quite simple: we allow groups of edges to be merged together and drawn as “tracks” (similar to train tracks). Producing such confluent diagrams automatically from a graph with many crossings is quite challenging, however, so we offer two heuristic algorithms to test if a non-planar graph can be drawn efficiently in a confluent way. In addition, we identify several large classes of graphs that can be completely categorized as being either confluently drawable or confluently non-drawable.