Lesson 4
Other Modeling Concepts:
References and Sets

Introduction to Lesson 4
4.1 References
4.2 Sets

Introduction to Lesson 4

Lesson 1 introduced three of the primary modeling entities: atoms, models and connections. Obviously these concepts (or functionally equivalent ones) are essential for modeling even the simplest systems. Their use in more complex systems was demonstrated through the hierarchical network modeling application of Lesson 2 .

Still, there are countless situations that would be cumbersome and/or impossible to model using only the concepts seen so far. Fortunately, GME supports a few additional concepts that add to its descriptive power, giving it a much wider range of modeling capabilities.

4.1. References

Consider the following problem in the networking domain.

We have an ambitious modeling project which describes a complex, hierarchical network. The root model is the Internet backbone. The next level contains the continents: Europe, North America, Asia, etc. Within each continent there is a level consisting of country networks, which have an optional level of domestic regions (U.S. states, for example). Under those, each Internet Service Provider has a separate NetDiagram, and each ISP client with more than one PC has a separate NetDiagram on the lowest level.

Imagine a situation in which two companies, ZebraStripes PLC (a client of the ZimbaNet ISP in Zimbabwe) and PantherSpots Corp. (a client of BurmiNet in Burma), recognize that they are doing so much business with each other that the added bandwidth of a direct leased line between them would significantly improve their synergy. (See Figs 4.1 - 4.3.) A leased-line connection is typically configured as an IP network between two router ports with only two addresses used at either end of the line.

Where will this leased-line network be inserted in the hierarchy? How can we represent the idea that these companies connect to a network that spans two continents?

If we follow the rules set forth in Lesson 2, our solution will be to find the lowest point in the hierarchy where both companies are contained, insert the new network there, and use a chain of perimeters along the hierarchy levels to make the network accessible in both companies. Since the lowest point in this case is "World", the network should be placed there. A perimeter is added to each level (continent, country, ISP, company), and the perimeters are connected by NetworkEquiv relationships, so that the perimeters in both company diagrams are "wired" to the new Network object in "World".

Clearly, this action will add at least 8 extra Perimeter objects to our model. Also, we must put the new Network in the highest level of the hierarchy. As the number of leased intercontinental data lines continues to grow, the "World" diagram quickly becomes too large to handle. Other plausible scenarios, such as ISPs or other distribution centers with data lines to more than one continent or country, only exacerbate the problem. These situations are common; many European ISPs have their own direct leased-line connection to the U.S.

Translating all this into modeling terminology, the problem is that we do not yet have a way to represent relations that cross hierarchies. Connections, our only relation so far, can only connect objects when they are in the same NetDiagram or when one of the diagrams is the immediate child of the other. References in GME are provided to overcome this exact limitation. As the name implies, a reference is an object that represents another object somewhere (possibly far away) in the modeling hierarchy. When a reference is created, it is associated with a referred object, which it represents (unless it is a NULL reference).

For the networking example, references offer us several solutions for the problem described above:

  1. Introduce a new type of object, a reference to a NetDiagram. The new NetDiagram typically contains a new Network and references to the local NetDiagrams of the two companies. Both of the company networks have a new Perimeter connected to the ports that their routers use for the new leased line. (Fig 4.1) A reference to a model mirrors and displays the ports of the referred objects, and they can be connected just like the ports of the original models.

Fig 4.1 Implementing cross-hierarchy relationships with references
Solution #1: using NetDiagram references

  1. Extend the metamodel with a reference to a Router. Router references allow routers to be "replicated" in remote NetDiagrams and connected to a Network or Perimeter in those diagrams.
    Using this solution, we can choose one of two options:
    1. Create a reference to ZebraStripes's router and add it to the NetDiagram of PantherSpots. Also add a new Network (for the leased line) and connect it to both the RouterReference and the router of PantherSpots. (Fig 4.2) This method symbolically "assigns" the leased line to one of the companies.
    2. Create a new NetDiagram. Add a Network and two RouterReferences, one for ZebraStripes' router and one for PantherSpots' router, and connect the selected ports to the network. (Fig 4.3) This emphasizes that the leased line is not under the authority of either company. The new NetDiagram can be inserted anywhere, but the best place is probably in the root folder, outside the Internet hierachy.

Fig 4.2 Implementing cross-hierarchy relationships with references
Solution #2a: using a Router reference

Fig 4.3 Implementing cross-hierarchy relationships with references
Solution #2b: using multiple Router references

  1. Introduce references to RouterPorts, i.e. references to atoms. It is a solution similar to the previous techniques using router references, but somewhat less evident.
Working with the specific details of this example could cause the MIC amateur to "miss the forest for the trees", so to speak, if you feel a bit lost, don't worry. Here is a summary of the essential ideas needed to understand references:

Even though hierarchy is a very useful concept, there are situations in which it cannot efficiently model a system on its own. Most systems have components which cannot be fully isolated within the hierarchical containment. Also, sometimes there are a few objects that belong to multiple locations in the hierarchy (e.g. a secretary working for two different departments). Therefore, techniques are needed to refer to remote objects from within the diagrams. References are objects that represent other objects, typically located somewhere else in the modeling hierarchy. References provide the ability to span the hierarchy without "breaking" it and voiding its convenient properties (each object has a single parent, traversing the tree visits each node exactly once, etc.).

References are such powerful tools partly because different modeling scenarios use references in different ways:

4.1.1 Defining and working with references

We will now update our networking metamodel so that we can create models with Router references, as shown in Fig 4.2 and Fig 4.3. (The same paradigm can be used for both models.)

  1. Open the metamodel and the ParadigmSheet. Drag a new item, a <<Reference>>, onto the Paradigm window. Name it "RouterRef". Connect it to the "Router" <<Model>>. Select "ReferTo" from the list that pops up. This type of connection (terminated by an arrow) states that RouterRefs can refer to models of type Router. References can refer to models, atoms, or other references. Also connect the reference to NetDiagram. Select "Containment" as the connection type, because we want to show that RouterRefs can be drawn onto NetDiagrams.
  2. Switch to the Visualization view, and add RouterRef to the Connectivity <<Aspect>>. (Otherwise we would not be able to create or view RouterRefs anywhere in the model).
  3. Interpret and register the metamodel.

Fig 4.4 A reference in the metamodel

Now let's build a model with a leased-line connection between two companies, using the technique shown in Fig 4.3.

  1. Create a new network diagram using the new paradigm, or open the example from Lesson 2. Insert a new NetDiagram model into the root folder, and name it LeasedLine1. Create a Network inside the new model that will connect the two routers.
  2. To create the references, drag the routers from both companies into the new model, while pressing the Ctrl and Shift keys. You can use both the browser and the model windows as the source and/or the destination of the drag operation; all combinations will work. You can even drag both routers in a single step if you select both in the browser window.
  3. The router ports are visible on the references, but there is a problem: the routers have no free ports to connect to the new network. A port cannot be connected to more than one (outside) object, even if the port's existing connection is not visible in the current diagram. (Lesson 6 will introduce constraints, mechanisms designed to actually enforce this rule.) We can fix this by adding new ports (assuming that the real-world routers can be extended). When a reference is double-clicked, it will locate its parent object. Double-click one of the RouterRefs, add a new port (i.e. Perimeter), and name it something like S1 (a typical name for the second serial port of a router). The new port will immediately become visible on the LeasedLine diagram as well. This clearly shows that a reference is not a copy, but a representation of the referred object. Repeat these steps for the other RouterRef. Now you can add connections from the network to the new ports, arriving at the state shown in Fig 4.4.

Fig 4.5 Using Router references in your model

References add a significant amount of power to GME. All real-world GME applications use references; some applications use them extensively. Sometimes they are used as aliases, sometimes as pointers, and sometimes they simply represent a generic association, where the concept of a reference seems to be more intuitive than a connection. This is often the case when the real-world object is a kind of pointer by itself: a Table of Contents Entry in the model of a book, for example, or a mailbox for a recipient in the model of a mail forwarding system. When working with GME, feel free to use references for any purpose and to define any type of semantics for them.

Connections and references are two different types of associations in GME. But they are often used together, as in the example above: the reference locates a remote object so that a connection can be established between two objects which are not visible together from any container.

It is worth noting that many other modeling tools do not have anything resembling a reference, which makes the concept even more remarkable.

4.2 Sets

We have already seen two different types of associations in GME: connections and references. Together, they have the power to describe any situation. Sometimes, though, these associations are not the most convenient option. Let's see if we can use them for the following example:

Mid-size companies have several IT administrators. Each administrator is usually responsible for a couple of machines. Important machines may have several administrators (and some of them work for years after the only person with administrator access leaves the company...). We want to extend the network model to include information on administrators and their responsibilities.

Let us introduce a new object, "Administrator". How shall we represent the "administers/administered by" relationship?

Sets are the GME concepts recommended for situations in which an object has to be associated with a relatively large number of neighboring objects in a diagram. These objects are called the "members" of the set. In many cases, the real-world object itself has a natural set-like property: if you hear of an administrator, in a networking environment, the first thing you want to know about an administrator is the group of machines he is responsible for.

One way to understand sets is to compare them to the way that aspects are specified in the metamodeling environment. In that situation, sets represent meta-aspects. The "lasso" selection mode used when dealing with aspects ( ) also provides a way to specify set memberships.

This example shows that the concept of sets is not as indispensable as that of connections or references. Sets can usually be replaced by connections. You should regard sets as an alternate association technique that supplies greater convenience in many situations.

(Please note that the current version of GME supports sets in a rather limited way: the set and its members must be siblings, and objects represented by references cannot be added to the set. These limitations will be eliminated in future releases.)

4.2.1 Defining and Working with Sets

Let us extend the network modeling environment by adding administrators, as seen above.

  1. Open the metamodel, and insert a new <<Set>> into the paradigm sheet. Name it "Admin", and specify an icon for it in the attributes dialog box. Here is how I imagine a friendly administrator:


  1. Administrators can administer any machine; this includes Routers, Hosts, and WSGroups. Connect each of these metaentities to the new set. These are "SetMembership" associations. Also connect the set to NetDiagram with a containment relationship, to indicate that Administrators can be placed inside NetDiagrams. Add the set to the Connectivity aspect in the Visualization view.
  2. The updated metamodel should look like the one shown in Fig 4.6. Interpret and register it.

Fig 4.6 A set in the metamodel

  1. Now experiment with the sets in the modeling environment. Update the example model to the new paradigm, and add an "Administrator" into a company NetDiagram. Enter the set mode ( ) and right-click the set. The set is selected as the "controller" now, so you can add and remove objects by left-clicking them. Note that only the objects specified as potential set members in the metamodel can be added to a set.

Fig 4.7 Administrator Bob and his administrative domain

Now that we have completed Lesson 4, all members of the FCO family (models, atoms, connections, references, and sets) have been introduced. Additional GME concepts will be discussed in future lessons. These concepts are just as important to the modeling environment, but are not FCOs.

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