We present the state of the art for commercial design and simulation software in the 'front end' of photonic circuit design. One recent advance is to extend the flexibility of the software by using more than one numerical technique on the same optical circuit. There are a number of popular and proven techniques for analysis of photonic devices. Examples of these techniques include the Beam Propagation Method (BPM), the Coupled Mode Theory (CMT), and the Finite Difference Time Domain (FDTD) method. For larger photonic circuits, it may not be practical to analyze the whole circuit by any one of these methods alone, but often some smaller part of the circuit lends itself to at least one of these standard techniques. Later the whole problem can be analyzed on a unified platform. This kind of approach can enable analysis for cases that would otherwise be cumbersome, or even impossible. We demonstrate solutions for more complex structures ranging from the sub-component layout, through the entire device characterization, to the mask layout and its editing. We also present recent advances in the above well established techniques. This includes the analysis of nano-particles, metals, and non-linear materials by FDTD, photonic crystal design and analysis, and improved models for high concentration Er/Yb co-doped glass waveguide amplifiers.© (2004) COPYRIGHT SPIE--The International Society for Optical Engineering. Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.