The Future Of Fritzing Is Murky At Best

Fritzing is a very nice Open Source design tool for PCBs, electrical sketches, and schematics for designers and artists to move from a prototype to real hardware. Over the years, we’ve seen fantastic projects built with Fritzing. Fritzing has been the subject of books, lectures, and educational courses, and the impact of Fritzing has been huge. Open up a book on electronics from O’Reilly, and you’ll probably see a schematic or drawing created in Fritzing.

However, and there’s always a however, Fritzing is in trouble. The project is giving every appearance of having died. You can’t register on the site, you can’t update parts, the official site lacks HTTPS, the Twitter account has been inactive for 1,200 days, there have been no blog posts for a year, and the last commit to GitHub was on March 13th. There are problems, but there is hope: [Patrick Franken], one of the developers of Fritzing and the president of the PCB firm Aisler which runs the Fritzing Fab, recently gave a talk at FOSDEM concerning the future of Fritzing. (That’s a direct FTP download, so have fun).

Even though Fritzing is being used by hundreds of thousands of people, it struggles to find a sustainable development team. The latest release was two years ago. This isn’t because there’s no money to pay a developer; prototype manufacturers and IC manufacturers pay money to put their wares into Fritzing. But where does that money go? That’s the key to the whole thing: Those manufacturers pay Fritzing UG (a German LLC) to put their parts into Fritzing, but the developers are under operating under Friends of Fritzing e.V.. These are two completely separate legal entities, both somehow responsible for Fritzing, but only one gets the money. This is the beginning of a case study in Open Source economics, and we’re looking forward to [Patrick]’s complete write up on the situation.

Legal blunders aside, what is the future of Fritzing? A fork is a possibility, but most users would probably stick with ‘the original’. That’s not stopping anyone, though: Freetzing is a small community of devs working to keep Fritzing alive. A paid community manager could be a thing, and there is some money available for that. [Patrick]’s idea is to open up GitHub for discussion, taking the concerns from the community and finding a path forward for Fritzing.

Eagle, KiCad, and many other PCB design softwares are great for pros, but they each have their own idiosyncratic learning curves. Until you master them, they can be clunky and confusing. If you’re not yet serious about hardware, you might just need a simple solution done quick. Fritzing is the perfect tool for that, and the fact that Fritzing appears to have died is something that makes us all poorer.

65 thoughts on “The Future Of Fritzing Is Murky At Best

  1. Fritzing is a really useful piece of software, but I had a really hard time designing new parts on it (you have to design diagrams / schematics / pcb view)

    So I figure out I could simply draw my electrical sketches as svg on inkscape.
    I posted my diagrams on github for my personal use, every diagram is public domain so feel free to use it.
    https://github.com/usini/usini-cards

    I did it as I frequently didn’t find the correct diagram for parts on fritzing and also I wanted to be able to use my diagrams in software which is forbidden : http://fritzing.org/faq/

    (I also worked on printable card licensed CC-by but I stopped working on it as it was really time consuming)

    1. Fritzing was GARBAGE. It eschewed over 100 years of globally understood schematic notation for Fisher Price pictograms. New learners were taught a language spoken nowhere else, and that they couldn’t take with them into industry. Fritzing’s “simplicity” meant losing important and meaningful information found in EVERY other standard schematic capture out there.

      Fritzing meant becoming dependant on something that there was no upgrade path to. Users must toss away what they’ve learned and relearn the tools everybody else uses. I’m glad the project has died. It had no business fragmenting the electronics world with it’s proprietary kindergarten graphic representations of schematics.

      1. interesting perspective – while I looked at it once nearly a year ago – I spent less than an hour and realised it was not for me. And yes I do remember that I needed to regress and forget most of my classical training and experience in the CAD space. But that is true too of KiCad in some ways – and the learning curve feels like I have gone back to the dark ages where almost nothing was intuitive. On reflection it seems that proprietary software developers are fired if they don’t deliver a mind blowing interface, or they own the company and therefore what they do influences their future success – but open source has non of those pressures and the commitments made by individuals is to be applauded – however the result seems to almost never be a polished or usable equivalent of a good commercial piece of software. I would have liked this to be wrong, as I am now semi retired and can’t justify big ticket CAD software (indeed my old company was a distributor of Electronic CAD software – and 20 years ago the interfaces and standards were better than what I see in the most successful (IMHO) FOS program – KiCad.

        I do hope that some group or organisation picks up the Fritzing idea and cleans up what is wrong and gives it a new lease on life – I would like to play with it before I die of Old Age :)

  2. Oh no. Fritzing is an amazing tool for newcomers – I was no longer at the newcomer level when I found out about it, but my experience has been more good than bad. I personally used it when I needed to make wiring diagrams for workshops I taught, it’s been a lifesaver. Hope everything goes well.

    1. I started to install Fritzing on my kid’s computer as a way to help them learn about electronics. The download site tried to load a bunch of malware-looking crap on the computer. That spooked me so much that I ended up wiping everything and installing Linux on the computer. Teaching Linux seemed safer at the time.

  3. I pray this does not go the way of Electronics Workbench. What started out as a great learning too for the hobbyist and professional alike was bought by National Instruments, locked down like a gold bar in Fort Knox and slapped with a price tag only large corporations could afford. We can’t let that happen again. This needs to stay open source in the community and out of the giga-corporation’s hands. Somehow this either has to be maintained as open source or forked to keep the momentum and keep the NI’s of the world away from it.

  4. From what I rember of fritzing it was not even possible to draw a normal schematic in it, but you had to put your components in some illogical order fit them on a breadboard equivalent. But I did not toy with it very long. The whole thing looked so limited that I abandoned it pretty quick.

    Just did an image search for fritzing:
    https://duckduckgo.com/?q=fritzing&t=opera&iax=images&ia=images

    Maybe it’s just me, but I do not understand the whole idea behind frintzing.
    I am used to (and want to have) schematics to give meaning to components and their connections.
    A blue wire from development board A pin X to breakout board B pin Y does not mean anything to me. It does not clarify anything.

    I do use breadboards, and building stuff on a breadboard always looks like a mess, but that’s acceptable. But copying that breadboard mess in my computer seems senseless to me. I want to know how to connect SDA & SCL lines. Where are MISO, MOSI, & SCK on the breadboard, so I can connect my trusty logic analyser?
    With a schematic I can see where those pins are on the chips, but not with fritzing.

    fritzing does make it very easy to exactly copy a design posted as a fritzing thing on a breadboard if you have the exact same breakout boads. But what if you have a similar breakout board with the same functionality, but the pins in another order? Then you’re already stuck with fritzing.

    All the fancy colors and graphical picuters look attractive to beginners, but fritzing does not seem to back it up with usability.

    You might have guessed, I’m a happy KiCad user. I have to re-learn some parts regularly because KiCad is improving at such a fast pace but that’s a price I gladly pay for the rapidly improving usability

    1. It’s purpose is a top-down breedboard visualization tool. That’s pretty much it (although stripboard/protoboard can be displayed too)

      Note “visualization” and not “layout”, and this is why you see so much documentation illustrated with fritzing imagery.
      For PCB layout it’s only one notch above drawing it by hand on paper. For schematics it’s arguably better to draw it on paper. Any other tool designed for those purposes will be far better.

      But to give an example, you mention preferring a schematic to know where sda/scl lines are. If you look at the current state of beginner hardware – an arduino board and purpose made breakout boards for components – a schematic would be literally useless. They are all pin-headers!
      A “correct” schematic would show a 12 point sip header as 12 arrows on one end, and the 4 point sip header as 4 arrows on the other, with lines between them. That wouldn’t help at all, even less than a pin number mapping listed as text.

      In other words, you want to see where “A4” is wired to the MPU within the dev board. A beginner doesn’t, they want to know where in the sip header to stick the wire into.

      In other words, if you have an “Arduino Duo” you’ll find a fritzing-like diagram more helpful, and if you have an “ATmega328P” you are likely far beyond what fritzing can help with, even if ultimately those two are the same hardware.

      1. I don’t really believe that even beginners just want to stick wires in holes. That gets boring within half an hour, but it might spark your curiousity, and then you want to know what those wires do.

        Half an hour after the post above (and watching the video completely) I also realized the main use of fritzing.
        It really only seems to be a tool for people who write books for beginners starting with arduino / electronics.
        For the beginners themself to use fritzing already makes much less sense to me.
        It may be that after 30 years of electronics my knowledge is hampering me. I did try to do a few simple things with “arduino” once and it was a very frustrating experience. “arduino” makes hundreds of pages of datasheets worthless by hiding everything they can. I had to look up the schematics just to find the pin mapping of the arduino boards. The sad thing is that people who start with arduino and want to learn more get confronted with the reverse. They can’t find “digital pin 5” in any datasheet. “arduino” could have been a pretty decent platform if they were not solely focused on getting beginners to their first blinky, but more on useability for (also) intermediate experienced level. From what I see you get hit by a wall if you want to go beyond arduino.

        1. No, I do agree completely. On both points.

          Like I said, fritzing is an excellent illustration tool, not much of a design or layout tool. Fighting its limits gets old really quick.
          But yes my main use for it is documenting, mostly for others. Never wrote a book though :P

          Personally my passion is computers, and electronics are my hobby. I started with one of those spring connection radioshack boards like was featured here the other day. I still learn best by trial and error mixed with some examples.
          On computers that means learning a programs in and outs to know how to tie them together, interactive jit languages, and enough debugging routines in my code to run after each new function I add.

          With electronics, it’s still sticking wires in holes until I get my head wrapped around how to use it.
          Compared to most everyone here, I am only fractionally above a beginner, yet I’ve tried my best to get others with even less experience and knowledge started out as smoothly as possible, and often that means a jump start of knowledge via documentation.

          It’s funny you mention arduno hiding things, that was almost word for word my own description of the platform, despite being rabidly attacked for saying it because its “open”
          Just a couple weeks ago I picked up a cheap i2c 3d magnetic field sensor, and there is zero documentation and the datasheet is only in chinese. The only support material they give is an arduino library, which goes out of its way to hide the chips registers behind a three command API. Even mentioning (or properly labeling) that the CE pin is inverted would have helped!
          I guess it’s better than a complete reverse engineering effort, but still once I documented the register structure in plain text and made a quick fritzing connection guide, the three friends at work I shared that with were up and running in a few minutes, skipping hours of BS I spent getting to that point.

        2. The smart way to use it as a teaching tool is to provide both the Fritzing diagram and a schematic but emphasis on the schematic. Use Fritzing mainly to teach them how to use schematics ….. Fritzing reminds me of the old 100 in 1 Electronics kits Radio Shack used to sell, I got one for Christmas when I was 14 after a lot of begging and pleading and after I had done all 100 projects using the jumper wire diagrams I went back and built them using only the schematic (A suggestion from my Uncle who worked at IBM Rochester MN at that time) and that’s basically how I taught myself to read schematics. It also taught me how to come up with new original projects using the components already available and new ones on a breadboard

    2. I’ve played around with various EDA suites but I’m currently about 3/4 of the way through making my first serious attempt to thoroughly learn an EDA with KiCAD.

      Anyway, the breadboard ability is something I have long thought would be a good addition to a more “serious” EDA such as KiCAD. I imagine creating a design as a schematic. Perhaps doing a little testing in simulation. Then having a model of my own breadboard in my EDA I get to drag parts around on the virtual breadboard and have the computer check for me that I have all the correct electrical connections to match the netlist. I could simply drag parts around to attempt to neaten the design, eliminating jumpers and crossed leads. When it comes time to actually plug parts into the breadboard it’s simply a matter of plugging them in to the same positions on the real board that I see on the screen. Sure, they will get moved around as the circuit is tweaked and changing the breadboard design on the computer is probably extra work that would not get done (updating the schematic would happen) but it could make the initial population of the breadboard easier and neater. That neater part would continue to be a benefit during tweaking. Once the circuit is “done” I would delete the breadboard layout (since it’s out of date now anyway) and start working on the PCB layout.

    3. That is some solid research you did there!

      Second tab from the left gives you schematics. And you can switch back and forth between the tabs, and any change you make on any of them is instantly reflected in the others. So you can actually go back to your schematic and change something after you have tried the layout. Good luck with that in KiCAD.

  5. What about making Fritzing a frontend to KiCAD? A simple schematic editor for beginners that is powering the schematic capture. Then for the board layout you can have a simplified interface for KiCAD PCB designer. If the interface is hard for beginners make an easy mode interface.

      1. That would be cool but not the same thing as a frontend. Being able to seamlessly transition between the application on a home computer and the web app on other devices all while in the middle of working on a project would be much much better

    1. Yes! I would love that! Especially if I can self-host it. I want to be able to sit at personal desktop or my laptop and work on the same design using the native application. I also want to be able to go to any web browser on some random device, type in the https url to my home server and also work on that same design using a browser window.

    2. The problem is that KiCAD doesn’t even begin to have the features that Fritzing is good with. Super-easy to do Bezier traces, SVG for any-shape PCB outline and silkscreen images, free rotation of parts, etc. If you are making any kind of nice looking PCBs, switching to KiCAD feels like painting by looking at your canvas in a mirror while wearing boxing gloves, hanging up-side-down by your feet.

        1. Yeah, that’s exactly what I mean by the boxing gloves. It is possible, just very inconvenient, and the end result is slightly mutilated (because the format they use internally is not quite the same).

  6. Didn’t you mean “The Future Of Fritzing is on the fritz”? i’ll show myself out the door…
    Seriously though, for the few times i did use fritzing to design simple circuits, it was useful. Would be sad to see it go under.

  7. I think I can see how fritzing gained popularity.
    For people writing books for beginners it is attractive to use because it adds colorfull graphichs to the book, and the fritzing pictures make it easy to duplicate a circuit, even if you don’t understand (Yet!) what it means. It also is handy to have a booklet with fritzing examples together with a box of different (sensor) breakout boards.

    People who start this way with a beginners book or box with breakout boards get used to the fritzing pictures, and when they want to make something of their own it is therefore the first (only?) program they try.

    Something I do not understand is that the Aisler guy in the video said that fritzing is not meant for entering schematics, but for documenting circuits already built on a breadboard. But how can you design & build anything (non trivial) on a breadboard without having a reasonable schematic first ? (Just basic schematic, not talking about fully working Spice simulations here).

    And if the goal is just documenting what you build on your breadboard, is seems more logical to maybe firs clean it up a bit, and then snap a few photographs.

    The Aisler guy also mentions that people who start with / like fritzing will probably not do that for one or 2 years before they get hampered by it’s limitations and want to go on to (something like) KiCad.

    The 2 fuzzy companies of fritzing and the seemingly lack of cooperation reminds me somehow of the arduino debacle, where 2 companies were even suing each other. “arduino” also seems to do very little in real development of the “ide”, but I don’t even go to that site anymore. They start by saying the violate (<-strikethrough) respect my privacy with te cookie nonsence.

      1. On top of that they chose to be “gemeinnützig”, meaning they are a charitable non-profit organization. So if they start hoarding money, using money for goals not mentioned in their statues, or pay their developers way too much, they lose their tax exemption and have to give all their assets to another charitable NPO.

  8. Who gets the money from Fritzing UG? What have they been doing this money?

    If Friends of Fritzing does all the work and can’t get hold of anybody in control at Fritzing UG then time for a fork with better management.

  9. So, What I can see from my internet connection. Fritzing has had an uptime of more than a week (via: Is it down?). Fritzing https is indeed not available. You can register on the site just fine. Email ping works. Email sendout works (confirmation email.) Fritzing github was updated 4 days ago. No big. They are probably all taking a much earned vacation…

  10. I find Fritzing invaluable for presentations, instructions, and teaching. For example, if I have a student making a guitar pedal, and I show her or him the circuit diagram first, he or she will initially have a hard time translating that to an actual circuit. But if I show him or her a Fritzing of a breadboard (or an Adafruit proto-board that is a part in Fritzing) with attached components then he or she can make that circuit on an actual breadboard or proto-board. They then can make the connection between that and the original circuit diagram. Or if they make a circuit on a breadboard first, and then want to document it, Fritzing is a great first step for a low-barrier-to-entry method of communicating their work.

  11. Code is still on Github. Dont like it? Change it. Not for jaded and tired goats. Is clearly a neophyte tool. One which 8yr old can figure out. Maybe not the schematic side as much but it starts the process. There is a schematic output on the next tab over. Apparently its not functioning on some unique copies which I dont have.
    It passes the mouse test for the beginner. That is the mouse keeps moving and only occasional see the common ‘blank’ stare unlike many other CAD.
    I agree traditional schematic should accompany pictorial and layout(breadboard).
    Had the misfortune of being asked to review a few of Arduino ‘Learning Kit’ available on Amazon recently. The manuals included in PDF and many were awful. Those took Fritzing to a dark place. A few came with split power rail solderless breadboards but failed to mention anywhere in documentation making projects not functional if built by fritzing breadboard picture provided.
    I see the arguments presented as similar to denying starters Scratch because it’s NOT C#.

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