Difference Wiki

DFD vs. Flow Chart: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Published on November 27, 2023
A Data Flow Diagram (DFD) illustrates how data moves through an information system, while a flowchart is a diagram that depicts the steps of a process.

Key Differences

Data Flow Diagrams (DFDs) and flowcharts are tools used in systems analysis and design, but they serve different purposes. A DFD focuses on the flow of data within a system, showing how data enters, is processed, and exits a system. It highlights the sources, destinations, storage, and processes of data, without detailing the sequence of operations. Conversely, a flowchart represents the sequence of steps in a process or system, detailing how tasks are executed, including decision points, tasks, and the order of operations.
DFDs are primarily used to understand, analyze, and communicate the data processes within information systems. They help in identifying the data requirements and how data is managed within the system. Flowcharts, on the other hand, are used to visualize workflows, algorithms, or processes, showing a step-by-step approach to solving a problem or executing a process.
In terms of design, DFDs utilize symbols like circles, arrows, squares, and open rectangles to represent processes, data flow, external entities, and data stores, respectively. This design focuses on where data comes from, where it goes, and how it is stored. Flowcharts use different symbols, such as ovals, diamonds, rectangles, and arrows, to represent start/end, decision points, steps or tasks, and the flow direction, highlighting the operational steps and decision-making processes.
DFDs are particularly useful in the context of software development and system design, providing a high-level view of how data is handled. They are instrumental in identifying redundancies and inefficiencies in data handling. Flowcharts have a broader application, including business processes, programming algorithms, and project management, where a clear understanding of sequential tasks and decisions is necessary.
DFDs and flowcharts also differ in their approach to depicting a system. A DFD provides a more abstract representation focusing on data movement without specifying timing, sequence, or conditions. Flowcharts provide a more detailed and concrete representation of a process, emphasizing the order and logic of operational steps.

Comparison Chart

Primary Focus

Flow of data within a system
Sequence of steps in a process

Use Case

Understanding data processes in information systems
Visualizing workflows and algorithms

Design Symbols

Circles, arrows, squares, open rectangles
Ovals, diamonds, rectangles, arrows

Application Context

Software development, system design
Business processes, programming, project management


Abstract, focusing on data movement
Detailed, emphasizing operational sequence

DFD and Flow Chart Definitions


Focuses on the sources and destinations of data.
The DFD clearly showed the data exchange between different departments.

Flow Chart

A diagram that represents the steps in a process.
The flowchart outlined the steps in the manufacturing process.


Helps in identifying how data is stored and accessed in a system.
The DFD was crucial in redesigning the company's data storage strategy.

Flow Chart

Shows decision points, tasks, and the order of operations.
The project's flowchart included all decision-making points.


Useful in analyzing data requirements and flow in a system.
Developers used the DFD to understand the system's data handling needs.

Flow Chart

Represents operational steps in a detailed and sequential manner.
The training manual included a flowchart for emergency procedures.


Used to represent the processing of data in information systems.
The project team created a DFD for the new database system.

Flow Chart

Used to visualize algorithms or workflows.
She created a flowchart to explain the software's algorithm.


Diagram showing how data flows through a system.
The DFD illustrated how customer data was processed in the application.

Flow Chart

Useful in business processes and project management.
The manager used a flowchart to plan the project phases.


What does DFD stand for?

DFD stands for Data Flow Diagram.

What is the main purpose of a DFD?

The main purpose is to show how data moves through an information system.

Can DFDs help in identifying system inefficiencies?

Yes, they can help identify redundancies and inefficiencies in data handling.

Are DFDs used in software development?

Yes, DFDs are commonly used in software development and system design.

Can flow charts be used in project management?

Yes, flow charts are useful in project management and business processes.

Do flow charts show decision points?

Yes, flow charts include decision points and the flow direction.

Do DFDs show the timing of processes?

No, DFDs focus on data flow, not on the timing or sequence of processes.

Do DFDs include decision-making processes?

No, DFDs focus on data flow rather than decision-making processes.

Are flow charts specific to software development?

No, flow charts have broad applications beyond software development.

What does a flow chart depict?

A flow chart depicts the steps and sequence in a process or system.

Can DFDs be used to represent algorithms?

No, DFDs are not typically used for algorithms; flow charts are more suitable.

Are flow charts easy to understand?

Yes, flow charts are designed to be clear and easy to follow.

Is a flow chart used in algorithm design?

Yes, flow charts are often used to design and explain algorithms.

Can a DFD replace a flow chart?

No, as they serve different purposes in system analysis and design.

Do flow charts include timing information?

Flow charts can include sequence information but not specific timing.

Which is more detailed: a DFD or a flow chart?

A flow chart is generally more detailed in showing operational steps.

Are DFDs useful in identifying data storage needs?

Yes, DFDs help in analyzing how data is stored and accessed.

Can both DFDs and flow charts be used in the same project?

Yes, they can be used complementarily in system design and analysis.

Can a DFD show external data sources?

Yes, DFDs can show external data sources and destinations.

Are DFDs and flow charts interchangeable?

No, they are used for different aspects of system analysis.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

Trending Comparisons

Popular Comparisons

New Comparisons