NWPT'00 invited talk

UML - Opportunities and Challenges for Formal Methods

Stuart Kent
University of Kent

The Unified Modeling Language (UML) is a collection of notations for modeling software intensive systems. The UML is a standard of the Object Management Group, an industrially-led consortium tasked with delivering global standards in critical areas of the computing industry. The current definition of UML comprises a meta-model (the abstract syntax of UML described using a subset of UML), a natural language semantics and a concrete syntax described using a combination of examples and natural language. There is a growing realisation in the UML community that it is not a single language, but a family of languages that continues to evolve.

This talk discusses the challenges and opportunities provided by the UML for proponents of formal methods.

The challenge for any formal definition of UML is to provide an approach to defining languages which is not only capable of providing a complete and precise definition of the syntax and semantics of the UML, noting the considerable use of visual notations, but also supports language evolution and, critically, is accessible to those who set the standard, namely the industrial members of the OMG. Developers of modeling support tools must meet similar challenges. Are they configurable for different family members of UML? Are they accessible, in particular do they provide feedback through the UML notations themselves?

The benefits that UML will receive from formal work are many. A definition that is explicit and unambiguous, that can truly be used as a basis to check conformance of tools and methods against the standard, perhaps even automatically. More automated support for modelers, including semantically sophisticated tools which are able to make use of technologies such as model checking and theorem proving. A clearly specified method for defining new members of the UML family, including strong guidelines on how to define syntax and semantics.

Any work that meets the challenges and delivers some or all of the benefits will be received well by the UML community at large. Indeed, the challenges listed above are set out in a request for proposals (RFP) for rearchitecting the definition of the UML, which is about to be issued by the OMG. Clearly an opportunity.

The talk concludes with a brief overview of work undertaken by members of the precise UML (pUML) group on rearchitecting the definition of UML. This work was recently presented at the OMG, and is likely to form the core part of a submission to the RFP, supported by IBM and other influential OMG members.

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Last modified 2000-11-21 by Magne Haveraaen