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Compositionality & Modularity of Models & Languages

Summary of Selected Papers

"Divide and conquer" as well as "abstraction" are the most fundamental strategies to deal with complexity. Complex (software) systems become manageable when divided into modules (horizontally, vertically and/or hierarchically). Modules encapsulate internal details and give us an abstract interface for their usage. Composing these modules as "black boxes" allows us to construct complex systems.

Model-Based Software Engineering (MBSE) uses models to reduce complexity of the system under development. MBSE, however, has reached a point, where models themselves are becoming rather complex. This rises the need for suitable mechanisms for modularity within and between models. In [BR07] we have described such a set of compositional modeling concepts, perfectly suited for modular development of interacting systems.

A modular approach for MBSE cannot only help us mastering complexity, but is also a key enabler for model based engineering of heterogeneous software systems as discussed in [HKR+09].

A compositional approach has to take into account several levels of the entire MBSE process, starting with the respective modeling language in use, the models themselves and, eventually, any generated software components. We have examined various aspects of model composition in [HKR+07], describing a mathematical view on what model composition should be. It defines the mechanisms of encapsulation, and referencing through externally visible interfaces.

[KRV10] and [KRV08] examine modularity and composition for the definition of Domain-Specific Languages (DSLs) or Domain-Specific Modeling Languages (DSMLs). Since DSLs are becoming increasingly popular, reuse of DSL fragments (i.e., language components) is vital to achieve an efficient development process. But the accompanying infrastructure needs to be modular as well (as described in [KRV07]). Infrastructure, such as validation or editor functionality, should be reusable if parts of the underlying DSL are reused, e.g., as part of another language. [Voe11] provides the underlying technology for compositional language development, which we, e.g., applied to robotics control [RRRW15b]. Based on these experiences in language design, we have defined a set of guidelines for high-quality DSLs [KKP+09].

As a new form of decomposition of model information we have developed the concept of tagging languages in [GLRR15]. It allows to describe additional, e.g. technical information for model elements in extra documents and thus facilitates reuse of the original model in different contexts with individual tag sets, but also of tags on different models. It furthermore allows to type the tags.

We have summarized our approach to composition and the challenges that need to be solved in [CBCR15], in form of a conceptual model of the compositional, so called "globalized" use of domain specific languages, which we published together with related topics in [CCF+15a].


  1. Modularity and composition are applicable in and desired for the whole life cycle of MBSE - just as for conventional software engineering.
  2. Modeling language(s) used in a large project must assist modularity and composition to allow reuse of individual models.
  3. When defining complex DSLs it is also interesting to define the language in a modular way, reusing syntax, semantics, analysis techniques, code synthesis, etc.
  4. Modularity in DSLs promises to raise the applicability and popularity of solutions based on DSLs.
  5. If the UML Standard would have followed a truly modular way, we would have an even better UML.

Related Topics

Selected Related Publications

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