Lesson 5
Other Modeling Concepts:
Aspects, Folders, Subtypes, and Instances

Introduction to Lesson 5
5.1 Aspects
5.2 Folders
5.3 Using subtypes and instances

Introduction to Lesson 5

This lesson introduces three new concepts that are all found exclusively in GME (compared to other modeling tools). They are all used by the modeling expert to handle complexities that arise when large-scale, real-world models are built. In other words, these features make GME a truly scaleable, industry-grade modeling environment.

5.1 Aspects

It is a natural goal of any modeling project to be able to extend the paradigm to add new functionality. However, a model's diagrams may become unacceptably complex as a result of such extensions. We need a mechanism to maintain readability by segmenting or filtering the diagrams.

In the previous lesson, the introduction of administrators to the networking paradigm was a good example of the extension of a modeling project. It also included the risk of making some diagrams incomprehensible. Wouldn't it be helpful if the new, administrative aspect could be separated from the existing one?

Aspects in GME provide a possible solution for this problem. Aspects are defined in the metamodel, and are associated with models. Models typically have multiple aspects. Each aspect specifies what kinds of child objects are visible and editable while the aspect is activated for an open model. Furthermore, if a child of a model is opened, the aspect used in the child is the same one that is used in the parent. If the child does not have a corresponding aspect, aspect mapping rules must be specified in the MetaInterpreter.

Aspects are not completely new to this tutorial, since they have been used extensively in the metamodeling environment. ParadigmSheets have four aspects: Class Diagram, Visualization, Attributes, and Constraints. Each aspect is used to define different things. Of course, each aspect only shows relevant information: for example, the Attributes aspect displays classes and generalization relationships, but omits containment relationships and associations.

In the networking example, we have been using only one aspect, Connectivity, until now. Let us make NetDiagrams more readable by separating the original contents, network connectivity diagrams, from the administrative information that was added when Sets were introduced in Lesson 4:

  1. Open the metamodel and its ParadigmSheet. Switch to the visualization aspect, and add a new <<Aspect>> named "Admin".
  2. This will be the second aspect in NetDiagram so connect the two with a containment relationship.
  3. Now specify the member entities for the aspects. Switch to the set mode ( ) and right-click the "Admin" aspect. The following metaentities need to belong to this aspect: Administrator, Router, Host, and WSGroup. (See Fig 5.1.) After that, switch to (i.e. right-click) the "Connectivity" aspect, and deselect Administrator, since that information is not needed on those diagrams.

Fig 5.1 Specifying a new aspect in the metamodel, and the objects visible in it

  1. Now run the interpreter. Since NetDiagram models have two aspects a question need to be answered: which aspect of the Router model should be used in the Admin aspect of the parent model NetDiagram. The answer is given automatically by the interpreter (typically shown by the "N/A" value in the 2nd column). The Router has only one aspect, so a NetDiagram viewed in its Admin aspect will show its Router child in its "Connectivity" aspect if opened. (If the Router had two or more aspects then the user interaction is needed by selecting the aspect of the child in the KindAspect column.) If this question was answered by the interpreter automatically then why did the dialogue box appear? Because you can specify which child may be added or deleted in a specific aspect of NetDiagram. Those children which have the Primary value (the 3rd column) set to "no" may not be added or deleted in the specific aspect of NetDiagram. You could specify that in the Admin aspect only Admins can be added or deleted to NetDiagram. The Router, Host and WSGroup are readonly. Switch to the "Admin" aspect, locate the NetDiagram:Router, NetDiagram:Host and NetDiagram:WSGroup and set their "Primary" value to "no". Though the "Admin" is a child of the NetDiagram, and is intended to be part of the "Admin" aspect of NetDiagram, it is not shown in the dialogue because the interpreter knew that it may be part of only one aspect (is not part of the "Connectivity") so it has to have the Primary value set to "yes".
    The "Configure Aspect Mapping" dialogue (Fig 5.2) appears only if the interpreter can not give automatic answers to the questions which rise as the number of aspects grow. Finish interpreting and registering the metamodel.

Fig 5.2 Working with the Aspect Mapping dialog

  1. When the test model is opened, we see that Administrators are not visible in the "Connectivity" aspect. So far, so good. Switch to the "Admin" aspect. Every object included in this aspect is visible, but the positions of the icons on the screen are jumbled! This occurs because child-object positions are aspect-specific, and these objects have not yet been assigned a particular position in the new aspect. Don't worry, there is a way to fix this problem. Select "Edit/Sync Aspects..." from the menu or icon on the toolbar. A dialog box allows you to set a requirement that the positions of selected objects are synchronized from one Aspect to selected other Aspects. Specify "Connectivity" in the "From" field, "Admin" in the "To:" list, and everything (at least all Hosts, Routers, and WSGroups) in the "Objects to be synchronized:" list. (If you make sure that no object is selected before the dialog is opened, the default settings are usually correct.)
  2. Test the specification that was set in the Aspect Mapping dialog: Open a Router from the Admin aspect of a NetDiagram, and make sure that the Router is using the Connectivity aspect.
Note that when working in a particular aspect, you can not see, add, or remove objects that do not belong to that aspect (like a Network object in the "Admin" aspect - Fig 5.3). You can, however, manipulate any object in the browser window; aspects have no effect there.

Fig 5.3 One model, two aspects
(Set mode is activated in the Admin aspect)

5.2 Folders

Folders, like aspects, are not a completely new concept; we have been using one since the very beginning of this tutorial. That was the root folder, the topmost container of all objects in the modeling hierarchy. This section discusses other folders and what they can be used for.

The top-level structure for most modeling projects does not consist of a single object containing others; it involves several objects that are related to, but not contained by, each other. For example, a school has classrooms, teachers, and students; but only the classrooms are "contained" by the school, while teachers and students exist independently (a teacher may work for several schools simultaneously). A natural representation of this project may contain several root FCOs (FCOs not contained by any upper level model): one for the school, and one for each individual associated with it.

(The difference between a root FCO and the root folder lies in the number of objects allowed; there can be multiple root FCOs, as in the example above, but only a single root folder.)

If there are numerous root FCOs, it might be a good idea to organize them somehow. For the school model, we could separate schools, teachers and students from each other. Folders provide this organization, just like directories in a file system. Depending on the specifications in the metamodel, folders can contain certain FCOs (including root FCOs, obviously), and a number of other folders. They cannot be contained by FCOs, however, because they are merely the top-level organizers of a modeling project.

A significant difference between folders and directory systems is that folders are typed, while directories are uniform. In other words, the metamodel controls what kind of folders (and how many of them) will be available in the modeling project. For example, if a separate folder is desired for each type of object - schools, teachers and students - three subfolders must be specified, each contained by the root folder with a cardinality of 1. Similarly, the kind and number of root FCOs is also specified in the metamodel.

Please note that even though folders are part of a GME modeling project hierarchy, they are not considered modeling objects (FCOs) like atoms, references, etc. In good models, folders do not represent any real-world objects or containers; they are merely organizers of the different kind of things that are represented in a modeling project. Because of this, folders do not have attributes or aspects (although they do have constraints).

The folder structure is usually limited in depth, which means it does not contain recursion. However, if a folder specifies itself among its potential children, the folder structure becomes recursive and unbounded, just like the directory tree of modern file systems.

5.2.1 Folder example

Let us see how folders can be used in the networking paradigm. Ever since the model LeasedLine1 was introduced, there has been nothing (except the name) that distinguishes the Internet from this relatively unimportant leased-line network in the root folder. It would be nice if LeasedLine1 and similar private networks could be hidden from the casual viewer. Let's create a new folder, "PrivateConnections" (Fig 5.4).

  1. Open the metamodel and the paradigm sheet. Add a <<Folder>> named "PrivateConnections" to the top level of the ParadigmSheet. One of the folder's attributes allows us to specify whether this object may be contained by the root folder; make sure this option is clicked (this is the default setting).
  2. The PrivateConnections folder may contain NetDiagrams, so add a containment relationship between the two.
  3. Folders have no aspects, so the metamodel is ready to be interpreted and registered. (Ideally, we would like to make sure that all leased-line networks are put into the new folder by adding constraints or multiplicities. For example, we could specify that the root folder can only contain one root FCO, and that there must be exactly one PrivateConnections folder. Unfortunately, GME does not currently support Constraints and Multiplicities for the root folder.)
  4. Open the networking model. The only visible difference between this version and the no-folders version is seen in the browser window. Until now, only models could be inserted into the root folder; now we can also add PrivateConnections folders. We can drag/drop or cut/copy/paste objects between the folders as well.

Fig 5.4 Folders in the networking model

5.3 Using subtypes and instances

Imagine that a company has several branches, and every branch has an identical router (same type, model, etc.). The company IT policy requires maintaining uniformity among the routers. Is it possible to express these similarities in a model?

Subtypes and instances are mechanisms in GME that define similarities between objects. They are essentially deep copies of a master object, and they do not break the relationship with the master: if the master changes in any way (attributes, associations, contained objects, etc.), subtypes and instances - also called derived objects - make the same changes automatically. Also, the differences between a master and its derived object are restricted as follows:

There are many interesting applications for derived objects: Another important feature of derived objects is that they are always available in GME; they are not controlled by settings in the paradigm. Subtypes and instances can be added anywhere that normal objects can, and any object may be used as a base for derivation. (Note: some restrictions exist to avoid circular dependencies. See the GME users manual for details.)

We will now use one of the previous test models to create several instances of a router.

  1. Choose a NetDiagram that contains a Router (e.g. CompanyA in Fig 5.3). This router will be used as the master.
  2. Create a few other empty NetDiagrams and give them unique names (CompanyX, CompanyY, etc.).
  3. Instances are created by dragging an object to another location while pressing Alt. (To create Subtypes, press Alt+Shift.) You can use either the opened NetDiagram models or the browser window as both the source and the destination of the dragging operation. Create instances of the master router in all of the new NetDiagrams.
  4. Objects cannot be added, deleted, or moved in the instance models. However, attributes may be set and object names may be changed. Note that attributes, by default, inherit the settings in the master. You should assign unique values to the IPAddr attributes for each instance.
The new routers are exact copies of the parent; however, there are some minor differences. Instances are indicated by "I" in the browser and in the header of an open model, while subtypes are represented by an "S". Also, if you select an instance in the browser and switch to the "Inheritance" pane, the inheritance tree of the selected object is displayed (Fig 5.5).


Fig 5.5 Types and Instances in the Aggregate and Inheritance browsers for the model

Instances are not references; they are real objects, deep copies of their parents. Hence, ports of the master router and ports of the derived routers are entirely separate objects. Each port may have different connections, just like independently created objects.

Now let's see how instances have improved our model. Suppose the company decides to update all routers at once: a new serial port is added, and the speed of the existing interface is updated to 2 Mbps. All we need to do is add the new port to the master router, and the instances immediately inherit it. What happens to the "speed" attribute of an existing port when it is updated? The change is also propagated to the children, unless the attribute is explicitly set in a derived object. Since we have not touched the "Speed" attribute in any of the instances, the new setting will be propagated to all of them.

The master object of the inheritance - an existing router from an existing branch - was selected rather randomly. It would have been much more elegant to store the master in a different location, perhaps in a designated folder. This would require changing the paradigm by adding a new folder that is allowed to directly contain routers. Instead of doing all that work, we chose to demonstrate the spontaneous way of using instances instead, through this example.

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