An Implementation Approach to Achieve Metamodel Independence
in Domain Specific Model Manipulation Languages
Jerónimo Irazábal
, Gabriela Pérez
, Claudia Pons
and Roxana Giandini
LIFIA, Facultad de Informática, Universidad Nacional de La Plata, La Plata, Argentina
CONICET, Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas, Buenos Aires, Argentina
UAI, Universidad Abierta Interamericana, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Keywords: Model Driven Engineering, Model Transformation Language, Domain Specific Language.
Abstract: Model Driven Engineering proposes a software development process in which the key notions are models
that allow engineers to precisely capture relevant aspects of a system from a given perspective and at an
appropriate level of abstraction. Then, models are manipulated with the goal of enabling the automated
development of a system from its corresponding models. Unlike general-purpose modeling languages,
domain-specific modeling languages can simplify the development of complex software systems by
providing domain-specific abstractions for modeling the system and its transformations in a precise but
simple and concise way. In this work we elaborate on the notion of domain specific model manipulation
language, that is to say a model manipulation language tailored to a specific domain. In contrast to well-
known model manipulation languages, such as EOL or ATL, the language syntax and semantics are directly
related to a specific domain and/or kind of manipulation, making manipulation easier to write and
understand. We present an implementation approach achieving complete platform-independence. We
illustrate the proposal through a practical example.
Model Driven Engineering (MDE) (Stahl T. and
Völter, 2006) (Pons C. et. al., 2010) (Kleppe G. et.
al., 2003) proposes a software development process
in which the key notions are models that allow
engineers to precisely capture relevant aspects of a
system from a given perspective and at an
appropriate level of abstraction. Then, the automated
development of a system from its corresponding
models is realized by manipulating them. Model
manipulation consists of a number of operations on
the models, such as verifications, views, queries,
transformations from model to model,
transformations from model to code, etc.
Models can be expressed using different
languages. Unlike general-purpose modeling
languages (GPMLs), such us the UML, Domain-
specific modeling languages (DSMLs), such as the
Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN)
(Weske M., 2008), can simplify the development of
complex software systems by providing domain-
specific abstractions for modeling the system in a
precise but simple and concise way. DSMLs have a
simpler syntax (few constructs focused to the
particular domain) but its semantics is much more
complex (all the semantics of the particular domain
is embedded into the language).
In a model-driven process, software is built by
constructing one or more models, and successively
manipulating them and transforming them into other
models, until reaching an executable program code.
A model manipulation program is a set of rules that
together describe how a model can be checked (e.g.
for consistency) and how a model written in the
source language is mapped to a model written in the
target language. Model manipulations are specified
using a model manipulation language. There are
already several proposals for model manipulation
specification, implementation, and execution, which
are being used by MDE practitioners (Czarnecki H.,
2006). The term "model manipulation language"
comprises all sorts of artificial languages used in
model manipulation development including general-
purpose programming languages, domain-specific
languages (DSLs) (Mernik M., 2005), modeling and
meta-modeling languages and ontologies. Examples
include languages such as the standard QVT (QVT,
Irazábal J., Pérez G., Pons C. and Giandini R..
An Implementation Approach to Achieve Metamodel Independence in Domain Specific Model Manipulation Languages.
DOI: 10.5220/0004082800620069
In Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on Software Paradigm Trends (ICSOFT-2012), pages 62-69
ISBN: 978-989-8565-19-8
2012 SCITEPRESS (Science and Technology Publications, Lda.)
2005), ATL (ATL, 2006) (Jouault F., 2005) and
EOL (Kolovos D. et. al., 2006).
These languages are specific for defining model
manipulations but they are independent of any
modeling domain; so they contain complex
constructs referring to pattern matching
mechanisms, control structures, etc. This can
eventually compromise the primary aims for which
the DSML was built: domain focus and conciseness.
Consequently, an extra level of specialization should
be achieved on them; we can define a manipulation
language specifically addressed to a given domain,
that is to say, a Domain Specific Model
Manipulation Language (DSMML). For example,
we can create a language dedicated to the definition
of transformations between data-base models or a
language addressed to the definition of
transformations between business process models.
In this context, if we would like to take
advantage of a very specific manipulation language
we face the problem of implementing such a new
language. There exist powerful frameworks for the
definition of domain specific languages, such as
Eclipse (GME, 2006) (Gronback R., 2009) and
Microsoft DSL Tools (Cook S. et. al., 2007)
(Greenfield J. et. al., 2004).
In the present work we describe a proposal for
defining domain specific model manipulation
languages and also we analyze a novel way to define
their semantics. Our proposal consists in using MDE
tools themselves for the implementation of such
languages, which improves modularity and reuse.
The article is organized as follows. Section 2
presents the main features of our proposal to define
domain specific manipulation languages using MDE
tools. Section 3 illustrates the use of the approach by
the definition of a new DSMML. Section 4
compares our approach with related research and
finally Section 5 presents the conclusions.
Any language consists of two main elements: a
syntactic notation (syntax) which is a set of elements
that can be used in the communication, together with
their meaning (semantics). The term “syntax” refers
to the notation of the language. Syntactic issues
focus purely on the notational aspects of the
language, completely disregarding any meaning. On
the other hand, the “semantics” assigns an
unambiguous meaning to each syntactically allowed
phrase in the language. To be useful in the computer
engineering discipline, any language must come
complete with rigid rules prescribing the allowed
form of a syntactically well formed program, and
also with formal rules prescribing its semantics.
In programming language theory, semantics is
the field concerned with the rigorous mathematical
study of the meaning of languages. The formal
semantics of a language is given by a mathematical
structure that describes the possible computations
expressed by the language. There are many
approaches to formal semantics, among them the
denotational semantics approach is one of the most
applied. According to this approach each phrase in
the language is translated into a denotation, i.e. a
phrase in some other language. Denotational
semantics loosely corresponds to compilation,
although the "target language" is usually a
mathematical formalism rather than another
computer language. Formal semantics allows a clear
understanding of the meaning of languages but also
enables the verification of properties such as
program correctness, termination, performance,
equivalence between programs, etc.
Technically, a semantic definition for a language
consists of two parts a semantic domain and a
semantic mapping, denoted μ, from the syntax to the
semantic domain. In particular, our proposal consists
in using a well known manipulation language as the
semantic domain for the definition of the new
DSMML´s semantics. Then, the semantic function μ
is defined by a transformation written in a model-to-
text transformation language (such as MOFScript
(Oldevik J., 2006)). This M2T transformation takes
a program written in the DSMML as input, and
generates a program written in a general purpose
manipulation language (such as EOL) as output.
This schema is described in Figure 1.
Figure 1: Transformation scenario.
The advantage of this technique is that the well-
known manipulation language has already a well-
defined semantics and provides an execution
environment. So, the semantics of the new language
becomes formally described and it is executable.
An Implementation Approach to Achieve Metamodel Independence in Domain Specific Model Manipulation Languages
Additionally, the semantic definition is
understandable and adaptable because it is expressed
in terms of a well-known high-level language.
In this section we present a new DSMML using the
proposed approach. This section is organized as
follows; first we introduce the domain, then we
propose different meta-models for a simplified
version of the domain. Next, we present the new
DSMML trough some examples. And finally we
describe the most relevant issues of its
3.1 Workout Plan Domain
In websites related to running we frequently see
tables such as the one showed in Figure 2. Such
tables describe workout plans to help people to reach
their fitness goals. The workout plan usually has a
duration expressed in weeks and each day of the
week contains a list of exercises that must be done
with specific requirements, such as intensity and
duration. Given that we are considering this domain
just to exemplify our approach, we will restrict its
functionality by giving to the user the possibility to
specify only the time for each exercise, but without
considering intensity or complex exercises.
Figure 2: A Workout Plan.
As we said before, the DSMML is independent
of the underlying meta-model. That is to say, the
language syntax will remain unchanged even if we
use a different but equivalent meta-model for the
domain. In order to provide concrete evidence about
this feature, we will present two meta-models for
this domain, which are displayed in Figure 3 and
Figure 4 respectively.
It is worth to mention that if we add or remove
information from the meta-model, the manipulation
language may get affected by these changes. For
example, if we add the possibility to specify the
intensity at which the exercises should be done, we
might change the language to support this new
feature. This fact does not mean that the language
depends on the underlying meta-model; on the
contrary the language just depends on the available
information while how that information was
represented in the meta-model is completely
Figure 3: Workout Plan Meta-model, version 1.
Figure 4: Workout Plan Meta-model, version 2.
3.2 WPML: A DSMML fitting the
Workout Plan Domain
In this section we introduce WPML (Workout Plan
Manipulation Language). Given the high level of
abstraction of WPML we consider that the code is
self-explanatory. You can find detailed information
about the language in (DSMML, 2011). The
following WPML code creates the model showed in
Figure 2:
create plan "myplan.plan"
set title "My plan"
set weeks 4
add exercise Run
add exercise Gym
on weeks 1 and 2 {
on days Monday and Wednesday and
Friday {
do Run as much as 50 minutes
on days Tuesday and Thursday {
do Gym as much as 45 minutes
on days Sunday {
do Run as much as 150% of Run
on day Monday of week same week
from week 3 to 4 {
ICSOFT 2012 - 7th International Conference on Software Paradigm Trends
on all days {
do Run as much as 120% of Run
on day same day of week 1
do Gym as much as 100% of Gym
on day same day of week 1
The code exhibited above generates a new
model. Additionally, WPML allows us to make
changes to an existent model. Obviously, in a real
situation if you have the WPML code that generates
the plan you would prefer to change the code, but
this may not always be the case, e.g. the model could
be generated by a tool or another language. So, for
example, given the model presented above, suppose
we would like to increment the Running time by a
10% on the entire plan and also we would like to
establish Sunday as the recovering day (day without
exercises) instead of Saturday. The new plan is
illustrated in Figure 5.
Figure 5: Modified Workout Plan.
The WPML code to make those changes on the
original model could be:
use plan "myplan.plan"
on all weeks {
on all days {
increase Run by 10%
swap Saturday and Sunday
3.3 WPML: Implementation
This section covers the key aspects in the
implementation of WPML. The organization of this
section is as follows. First, the overall
implementation schema is showed; then the
functions and operations that are defined in the
specific domain are implemented emphasizing their
meta-model independence; finally, the WPML
compiler is partially presented and the compilation
results for the WPML are illustrated.
Figure 6: DSMML implementation schema using a
translational approach.
Figure 6 shows an overview of the
implementation schema where our domain specific
manipulation language is translated to a general
purpose manipulation language, in this case EOL.
The EOL code generated from the WPML code
imports a file named “core.eol”. This file contains
the implementation of all the functionality provided
by the specific manipulation language, such as
setting the number of weeks of the plan, adding
exercises, setting the duration of each exercise per
week, swapping the schedule between two days, etc.
The following code is a fragment of the file
“core.eol”; it uses the meta-model showed in Figure
operation Plan doExerciseOnDayOfWeek
day:Integer,week:Integer) {
if (amount = 0) {
} else {
week).amount := amount;
operation Plan
day:Integer,week:Integer) {
var r : Register =
if (r<>null) {
r.amount = r.amount +
r.amount * percent / 100;
operation Plan swapDaysOnWeek
week:Integer) {
for (r:Register in self.registers){
An Implementation Approach to Achieve Metamodel Independence in Domain Specific Model Manipulation Languages
if (r.week = week) {
if ( = day1) {
} else {
if ( = day2) {
With the aim of showing more evidence about meta-
model independence we have also implemented the
language using a different meta-model. Next we
present a fragment of the code contained in the file
named “core.eol” adapted to the meta-model showed
in Figure 4.
operation Plan doExerciseOnDayOfWeek
week:Integer) {
if (amount = 0) {
} else {
week).amount := amount;
operation Plan
day:Integer,week:Integer) {
var toDo : ToDo =
if (toDo<>null) {
toDo.amount = toDo.amount +
toDo.amount * percent / 100;
operation Plan swapDaysOnWeek
(d1:Integer,d2:Integer,w:Integer) {
for (d:Day in self.getWeek(w).days) {
if ( = d1) {
} else {
if ( = d2) {
Afterward, the compiler written with XTend (XText,
2011) creates an EOL file from a WPML file. This
file imports the core.eol file and invokes its
functions according to the WPML code. The
following code is a fragment of the compiler:
def compile(Manipulation m) '''
import "../src/core.eol";
var p : Plan = getPlan();
«FOR c:m.metaChanges»
«FOR c:m.changes»
def compileMetaChangeSetTitle(
MetaChangeSetTitle c) '''
def compileWeekChangeForAllWeeks(
WeekChangeForAllWeeks c) '''
for (w in Sequence{1..p.getWeeks()})
«FOR dc:c.changes»
def compileDayChangeSwapDays(
DayChangeSwapDays c) '''
The EOL code that we show next was generated by
the compiler with the WPML code given before for
the creation and manipulation of a plan respectively.
import "../src/core.eol";
var p : Plan = getPlan();
p.setTitle("My plan");
for (w in Sequence{ 1, 2 }) {
for (d in Sequence{0,2,4}) {
for (d in Sequence{1,3}) {
for (d in Sequence{6}) {
for (w in Sequence{3..4}) {
for (d in Sequence{0..6}) {
ICSOFT 2012 - 7th International Conference on Software Paradigm Trends
The EOL code showed next is generated by the
compiler with the WPML code showed before for
the modification of a previously created plan.
import "../src/core.eol";
var p : Plan = getPlan();
for (w in Sequence{1..p.getWeeks()})
for (d in Sequence{0..6}) {
There are a number of features of our work that can
be contrasted to previous works:
The schema presented in this work could be
considered as an evolution of the implementation
schemas presented in (Irazábal et al., 2010), where
the first approach covered consisted of writing a
transformation in a general transformation language
(e.g. ATL) taking two models as input, one with the
model to by manipulated and the other with the
statements to be executed, and building a model as
the result of applying those statements to the model
given as input; the other schema consisting in a two
step transformation scenario, the first transformation
(a model to text transformation) takes a model
conforming the new DSMML and translates it to a
general transformation language (e.g. ATL). Then,
the generated transformation when executed over a
model of the domain of interest performs the desired
changes to it. In our current work, the transformation
is written in a general transformation language (e.g.
EOL) with the characteristic of being parameterised
code. This way, the statements written in the new
DSMML are translated (with a model to text
transformation) to invocations to the previously
written transformations, setting the parameters
according to the elements to be manipulated. This
way, the transformations are simpler and
Abstraction and modularization of model
transformations: Our approach can be seen as a
technique for abstraction and modularization in that
each high level manipulation (written in the
DSMML) is associated with a lower level
manipulation (written in a more general purpose
language), but the users do not need to be aware of
the details of the low level manipulations. In this
sense, the works that propose techniques to build
complex transformations by composing smaller
transformation units are related to our proposal. In
this category we can mention the composition
technique described in (Kleppe A., 2006), the Model
Bus approach (Blanc X., et. al., 2004), the modeling
framework for compound transformations defined in
(Oldevik J., 2005) and the module superimposition
technique (Wagelaar D., 2008), among others. In
contrast to these works, our approach generates the
composed transformation specification in a simpler
way, without introducing any explicit composition
Creating languages that abstract from other
more abstract languages: This subject has been
intensely discussed in the literature on DSLs. For
example, the MetaBorg (Bravenboer M. and Visser
E., 2004) is a transformation-based approach for the
definition of embedded textual DSLs implemented
based on the Stratego framework. Similarly to our
work, the MetaBorg approach defines new concepts
(comparable to our notion of an abstract language)
by mapping them to expansions in the host language
(comparable to our notion of a concrete language).
Johannes shows how to develop DSLs as
abstractions of other DSLs by transferring
translational approaches for textual DSLs into the
domain of modelling languages (Johannes J. et. al.,
2009). The underlying notion of an embedded DSL
has been discussed in (Hudak P., 1998). The idea of
forwarding has been introduced in (Van Wyk E. et.
al., 2002). An important distinction between these
works and our work is the application to the MDE
field. The AMMA framework (Kurtev I. et. al.,
2006) allows us to define the concrete syntax,
abstract syntax, and semantics of DSLs. In (Jouault
F. et. al., 2006) (Barbero M. et. al., 2007) (Di Ruscio
D. et. al., 2009) the reader can analyze a number of
scenarios where the AMMA framework has been
used to define the semantics of DSLs in terms of
other languages or in terms of abstract state
machines (ASMs). Our proposal is similar to the one
of AMMA, but we present a novel alternative, where
the language semantics is realized as the
interpretation of the DSMML into a general purpose
model manipulation language, by means of a
An Implementation Approach to Achieve Metamodel Independence in Domain Specific Model Manipulation Languages
transformation written in a M2T transformation
Concrete-syntax-based transformations:
Contrary to traditional approaches to model
transformation, our approach, such as the one
presented in (Baar T. and Whittle J., 2007), uses the
concrete syntax of a language for expressing
transformation rules. The claim is that this simplifies
the development of model transformations, as
transformation designers do not need deep
knowledge of the language's metamodel. In our
approach, we use the abstract DSMML with a
similar purpose: users do not need to count with any
knowledge of the abstract syntax of the involved
modeling languages; they just use the simple syntax
of the DSMML.
In this article we have explained the concept of
domain specific model manipulation language, that
is to say model manipulation languages tailored to a
specific domain. In contrast to well-known model
manipulation languages, such as EOL and ATL, the
language syntax and semantics are directly related to
a specific domain and/or kind of manipulation,
making manipulation easer to write and understand.
In contrast to an approach where a general
purpose model manipulation language is used, our
approach provides the following benefits: the
complexity of model manipulation programs gets
reduced. A program is composed by few lines of
high expressive commands. Domain experts will feel
more comfortable using a specific language with
constructs reflecting well-known concepts (such as,
exercise and week in our example); consequently it
is predictable that they will be able to write more
understandable and reusable manipulation programs
in a shorter time. Manipulation developers do not
need to know the intricate details of the model
manipulation languages, as these are encapsulated in
the DSL constructs. This leads to a natural
separation into a language designer and a
manipulation programmer role, with a reduced
learning effort for the later.
Also, we have proposed an implementation
schema in which the transformation that compiles
the DSMML sentences consists of invocations to
previous defined operations written in a well known
transformation language (e.g. EOL). This fact
provides several advantages: the language semantics
is formally described; it is executable; the semantics
is understandable because it is written in a well-
known language; the semantics can be easily
modified by adding new transformation rules or
even by radically changing the target language.
Although this transformation may be considered as a
compiler, the amount of programming skills required
to create it is smaller than for creating a compiler to
source code.
As an experimental example in this article we
have reported the definition of a DSMML in the
domain of workout plans and we have described its
implementation using MDE tools. The experience
was successful; showing the advantages of defining
DSMML for model transformations within the same
language, that is to say, transformations that locally
change an existent model producing a new model
that conforms to the same metamodel. Currently we
are working in the definition of other DSMMLs in
other domains.
It is also important to take the benefits coming
from the platform-independence of the model
manipulation language into account; on one hand the
language is independent of the underlying
metamodel and on the other hand we are able to
transform and execute the manipulation programs
onto different model manipulation platforms, in the
examples we have used EOL and ATL, but any
other manipulation language can be used.
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An Implementation Approach to Achieve Metamodel Independence in Domain Specific Model Manipulation Languages