Welcome!

Agile Computing Authors: Dana Gardner, Elizabeth White, John Esposito, Derek Weeks, Flint Brenton

Related Topics: Java IoT, SYS-CON MEDIA

Java IoT: Article

i-Technology Viewpoint: Is Model Driven Architecture Coming Into Its Own?

MDA has been with us for years; will the arrival of meta-data bring it closer to the mainstream?

JDJ's Bill Dudney (pictured) writes: With the popularity of Object Relational Mapping tools like Hibernate and Cayenne, developers are more often than other giving control of some of their code to models. Will this help raise MDA into the mainstream? Will MDA take its hoped-for place as the next level of abstraction for developers?

What about MDA

Model Driven Architecture, also known as MDA, started in late 2000 with a white paper. Basically the idea is that we define the software we want to build in sophisticated models that capture the detail of the application. Then from these abstract models a series of transformations is applied to turn that abstract model into a running application. The highest-level model is referred to as a Platform Independent Model (PIM). There is an even more abstract model called a Computational Independent Model but we won't discuss that model. The PIM is, as the name suggests, independent of the deployment platform (i.e. .NET Java EE 5 etc.) In this model the business is specified, classes that make up the domain are fleshed out and specified. This model is then transformed into one or more Platform Specific Models (PSM) that can be elaborated with more detail specific to the platform. From the PSM a running application can be generated.

Now of course there is a need to put in your own business logic. Most tools today provide a way for you to edit the 'business logic' apart from the fully generated code. For example AndroMDA (an open source MDA tool) will generate some files only once (where your business logic is written). Other tools like OptimalJ take a different approach giving you code you can edit and 'protected blocks' that are part of the generated code. I'm sure there are other approaches as well that are taken by other tools.

The Promise

  • Productivity - the ability to raise the level of abstraction so that developers can become more productive is one of the greatest promises of MDA. Just as Java raised the level of abstraction from C/C++ so MDA raises the level abstraction for Java EE / .NET.
  • Portability - greater ease of migration between various technologies (such as .NET to Java EE) or between different versions of the same technology (i.e. EJB 2.1 to EJB 3.0). Once developed your PIM is the repository of knowledge about your application, so moving to another underlying technology is 'easy'.
  • Consistency - greater consistency of application architectural principals. This feature is hard to ignore. Many enterprise level projects have divergent architectures on the same project. Maintenance is very difficult in these projects to be sure.

The Problems

At its core MDA is about using meta-data to drive program creation. The idea is that if we can develop a sophisticated enough model to express software then we can fully generate the actual running program from the model (or even create a virtual machine that could execute the model). The problem with taking this idea too far of course is that we end up with just another platform. Probably even worse though is that it's 'programming with pictures' which was already tried at least once in the late 80s and failed miserably. Few are willing to try programming with pictures again.

Many proponents of the MDA approach like to say that given a PIM with sufficient detail one would be free to move between .NET, Java EE or to something like Hibernate & Spring assuming that you had the proper set of transformations for these other PSMs. While this is a great marketing pitch for MDA and the PIM it is just not that straightforward. A PSM has too much platform-specific knowledge buried in it to simply move between different technologies. After all the PSM is where the business logic that makes the application unique actually resides. In order to make this move all that logic must be changed to fit into the new target technology.

Finally, and probably most significantly, MDA must overcome the grass roots resistance to the idea. Developers like to develop. They don't like to have control taken from them. There is a fundamental distrust of code generation and a resistance to this type of abstraction.

Sea-Change?

There are a couple of moves afoot that make me think we might be on the verge of a change in perception about MDA. The first is a more pragmatic approach being taken by vendors. Instead of expecting developers to program in pictures, many vendors are taking a more pragmatic approach. Developers are expected to build more familiar UML class diagrams and annotate them. Few are expecting a full blown executable model.

Second and more significantly is the emergence of meta-data as a normal part of every day life for Java developers. Several years ago the XDoclet project started bringing meta-data into the mainstream. The 'killer-app' for XDoclet was that EJBs only needed the bean class, the rest of the required files (remote/local interfaces, deployment descriptor entries, value objects etc.) were updated/generated automatically by XDoclet. Many developers embraced this approach because of the reduced tedious work that had to be done. With XDoclet, developers no longer have to mess with keeping the remote and local interfaces in-sync with the implementation methods. Instead XDoclet automatically generates the remote and local interfaces.

At this point many MDA vendors and proponents should be saying to themselves, hey that is exactly what we have been doing for years! And it is, the difference is no visual model. The developers write the meta-data that would normally be in stereotypes and/or tagged values right into their code. For many this bridges a semantic gap that is missing in the visual modeling paradigm.

Back to the meta-data being more 'normal'. The other major change that has recently happened that brings meta-data front and center is the addition of Annotations to the Java SE 5 platform and especially the use of this meta-data in Java EE 5. Developers will be using meta-data on a daily basis.

Another thing that developers typically don't like about the MDA approach is the feeling of lack of control over what is generated. I have often heard the assertion that the developer could do better than the code generator and other such comments. While it is probably true that a hand-crafted piece of code would be 'better' in many respects, it is also true that the generated code can be done in a fraction of the time and is 'good enough'.

An area where developers have been resistant to adopt a meta-data driven approach in the past has been persistence. The same argument of 'I could do better' was used quite often. More recently though it seems that Object Relational Mapping frameworks like Hibernate and/or Cayenne have been gaining momentum. On the surface you might be thinking that I'm nuts to draw a comparison between R/O Mapping and MDA but the comparison is not that far off. Most MDA tools rely on code generation instead of a framework but basically it's the same kind of thing. Hibernate has a framework but could just as well generate code at run time (or imagine aspects being attached to your POJOs). Either way (framework or code generation) meta-data is driving the way objects are mapped to rows in tables.

With the current set of R/O mapping tools a lot of control is removed from the developer; what exact SQL is executed is no longer in the developers direct control. However many are willing to give up this control for the increased productivity gain allowed by using something like Hibernate. Who really wants to write all that JDBC code anyway?

So where does this leave us? Will MDA take its hoped -for place as the next level of abstraction for developers? Will MDA become the next best thing that is relegated to the dustbin of history? Hard to say for sure, one thing is for certain though, meta-data is becoming more a part of developers everyday lives.

More Stories By Bill Dudney

Bill Dudney is Editor-in-Chief of Eclipse Developer's Journal and serves too as JDJ's Eclipse editor. He is a Practice Leader with Virtuas Solutions and has been doing Java development since late 1996 after he downloaded his first copy of the JDK. Prior to Virtuas, Bill worked for InLine Software on the UML bridge that tied UML Models in Rational Rose and later XMI to the InLine suite of tools. Prior to getting hooked on Java he built software on NeXTStep (precursor to Apple's OSX). He has roughly 15 years of distributed software development experience starting at NASA building software to manage the mass properties of the Space Shuttle.

Comments (1) View Comments

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


Most Recent Comments
Joe Gaber 10/15/05 07:27:38 PM EDT

Here are comments related to snippets of your article:

1. "Developers like to develop" - this is true; however, developers have developed using a wide variety of programming languages and OCL (instrumental to the fulfillment of MDA) is another programming language (in fact its similar to the much aclaimed language smalltalk), and in the same way that Java didn't become a big deal until Java 2, OCL and UML (now at 2.0) are likely to now gain the same acceptance. Also, see my blog for a way for developers and architects to work in pairs in a version of Agile Modeling that I am professing is the missing link between modeling and programming collaboration.

2. "There is a fundamental distrust of code generation and a resistance to this type of abstraction" - isn't any 3rd GL (i.e., Java) an abstraction, or two, from 0s and 1s?? And, doesn't the entire J2EE array of APIs provide even more abstraction from code writting?? And, doesn't every IDE on the market today provide all types of functionality that helps write and refactor code?? Conclusion: If it wasn't for increasing abstractions from the 0s and 1s a CPU uses, we would be producing the same amount of 0s and 1s today as 30 years ago. The fact that we (developers) produce vastly greater amounts of machine code through the "abstract" languages and tools of today then we did before is what produces "productivity". At the point productivity ceases to increase, programming (wirtting code) becomes a commodity given to the lowest bidder.

3. "The developers write the meta-data that would normally be in stereotypes and/or tagged values right into their code. For many this bridges a semantic gap that is missing in the visual modeling paradigm" - whether you write meta-data in the code or in a model it only matters from a business standpoint not an engineering standpoint. What I mean by this is that business models far outlive the applications that fulfill the business's objective. Modeling the business domain, its processes, and transforming that into code provides the business with a much longer lived artifact than code. You can use XDoclet, Java 5 annotation, or an external transformation/mapping file (as with MDA), it doesn't matter, the fact is you are still using the meta-data to generate specific code. Also, as far as the idea of a "visual modeling paradigm", once you add the rich semantics into the visual elements of the model, you know have much more than pictures. You have a programmically rich artifact with much more power than just written code.

4. "Another thing that developers typically don't like about the MDA approach is the feeling of lack of control over what is generated" - in the case of a MDA tool like the open-source Andromda, what is generated is exactly what you specify in the templates, metafades, and specific cartridge descripter files used. All of which is under the complete control of whoever the busines decides, including developers. I am currently writting a cartridge for Andromda to generate specific applications using the Sprng Framework, including Spring's MVC implementation as well as to include DWR(AJAX) integrated with Spring. There is no restrictions to the way I decide for the code to be generated as I am the one creating the templates that produce the code.

The arguements about how MDA, CASE tools, CORBA, Meta-data, etc have not been embraced in the past is an indication of the future of MDA is, IMO, absurd. In order for MDA to succeed, there has had to be, and continues to be, numerous different technologies and methodologies to converge. MDA is in its infancy in terms of being a practical approach to software development. The fact is that MDA is highly dependent upon tools, and quite frankly, no tool of the past has had the power, functionality, vision, etc to truly meet the needs of MDA. That is changing as we speak, with virtually every major tool vendor, and the two leading OS IDEs (Eclipse and Netbeans), introducing new products, or projects, which include UML modeling, OCL, BPM, and MDA functionality all wrapped up into a compete high productivity tool.

Best regards,

@ThingsExpo Stories
SYS-CON Events announced today that Ericsson has been named “Gold Sponsor” of SYS-CON's @ThingsExpo, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York, New York. Ericsson is a world leader in the rapidly changing environment of communications technology – providing equipment, software and services to enable transformation through mobility. Some 40 percent of global mobile traffic runs through networks we have supplied. More than 1 billion subscribers around the world re...
Increasing IoT connectivity is forcing enterprises to find elegant solutions to organize and visualize all incoming data from these connected devices with re-configurable dashboard widgets to effectively allow rapid decision-making for everything from immediate actions in tactical situations to strategic analysis and reporting. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, Shikhir Singh, Senior Developer Relations Manager at Sencha, will discuss how to create HTML5 dashboards that interact with IoT devic...
Artificial Intelligence has the potential to massively disrupt IoT. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, AJ Abdallat, CEO of Beyond AI, will discuss what the five main drivers are in Artificial Intelligence that could shape the future of the Internet of Things. AJ Abdallat is CEO of Beyond AI. He has over 20 years of management experience in the fields of artificial intelligence, sensors, instruments, devices and software for telecommunications, life sciences, environmental monitoring, process...
You think you know what’s in your data. But do you? Most organizations are now aware of the business intelligence represented by their data. Data science stands to take this to a level you never thought of – literally. The techniques of data science, when used with the capabilities of Big Data technologies, can make connections you had not yet imagined, helping you discover new insights and ask new questions of your data. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Sarbjit Sarkaria, data science team lead ...
In his session at @ThingsExpo, Chris Klein, CEO and Co-founder of Rachio, will discuss next generation communities that are using IoT to create more sustainable, intelligent communities. One example is Sterling Ranch, a 10,000 home development that – with the help of Siemens – will integrate IoT technology into the community to provide residents with energy and water savings as well as intelligent security. Everything from stop lights to sprinkler systems to building infrastructures will run ef...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Peak 10, Inc., a national IT infrastructure and cloud services provider, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Peak 10 provides reliable, tailored data center and network services, cloud and managed services. Its solutions are designed to scale and adapt to customers’ changing business needs, enabling them to lower costs, improve performance and focus inter...
So, you bought into the current machine learning craze and went on to collect millions/billions of records from this promising new data source. Now, what do you do with them? Too often, the abundance of data quickly turns into an abundance of problems. How do you extract that "magic essence" from your data without falling into the common pitfalls? In her session at @ThingsExpo, Natalia Ponomareva, Software Engineer at Google, will provide tips on how to be successful in large scale machine lear...
The IoTs will challenge the status quo of how IT and development organizations operate. Or will it? Certainly the fog layer of IoT requires special insights about data ontology, security and transactional integrity. But the developmental challenges are the same: People, Process and Platform. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Craig Sproule, CEO of Metavine, will demonstrate how to move beyond today's coding paradigm and share the must-have mindsets for removing complexity from the development proc...
You deployed your app with the Bluemix PaaS and it's gaining some serious traction, so it's time to make some tweaks. Did you design your application in a way that it can scale in the cloud? Were you even thinking about the cloud when you built the app? If not, chances are your app is going to break. Check out this webcast to learn various techniques for designing applications that will scale successfully in Bluemix, for the confidence you need to take your apps to the next level and beyond.
There is an ever-growing explosion of new devices that are connected to the Internet using “cloud” solutions. This rapid growth is creating a massive new demand for efficient access to data. And it’s not just about connecting to that data anymore. This new demand is bringing new issues and challenges and it is important for companies to scale for the coming growth. And with that scaling comes the need for greater security, gathering and data analysis, storage, connectivity and, of course, the...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Fusion, a leading provider of cloud services, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Fusion, a leading provider of integrated cloud solutions to small, medium and large businesses, is the industry's single source for the cloud. Fusion's advanced, proprietary cloud service platform enables the integration of leading edge solutions in the cloud, including cloud...
Digital payments using wearable devices such as smart watches, fitness trackers, and payment wristbands are an increasing area of focus for industry participants, and consumer acceptance from early trials and deployments has encouraged some of the biggest names in technology and banking to continue their push to drive growth in this nascent market. Wearable payment systems may utilize near field communication (NFC), radio frequency identification (RFID), or quick response (QR) codes and barcodes...
The increasing popularity of the Internet of Things necessitates that our physical and cognitive relationship with wearable technology will change rapidly in the near future. This advent means logging has become a thing of the past. Before, it was on us to track our own data, but now that data is automatically available. What does this mean for mHealth and the "connected" body? In her session at @ThingsExpo, Lisa Calkins, CEO and co-founder of Amadeus Consulting, will discuss the impact of wea...
SYS-CON Events announced today that DatacenterDynamics has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 7–9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. DatacenterDynamics is a brand of DCD Group, a global B2B media and publishing company that develops products to help senior professionals in the world's most ICT dependent organizations make risk-based infrastructure and capacity decisions.
The IoT has the potential to create a renaissance of manufacturing in the US and elsewhere. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, Florent Solt, CTO and chief architect of Netvibes, will discuss how the expected exponential increase in the amount of data that will be processed, transported, stored, and accessed means there will be a huge demand for smart technologies to deliver it. Florent Solt is the CTO and chief architect of Netvibes. Prior to joining Netvibes in 2007, he co-founded Rift Technol...
We’ve worked with dozens of early adopters across numerous industries and will debunk common misperceptions, which starts with understanding that many of the connected products we’ll use over the next 5 years are already products, they’re just not yet connected. With an IoT product, time-in-market provides much more essential feedback than ever before. Innovation comes from what you do with the data that the connected product provides in order to enhance the customer experience and optimize busi...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Stratoscale, the software company developing the next generation data center operating system, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Stratoscale is revolutionizing the data center with a zero-to-cloud-in-minutes solution. With Stratoscale’s hardware-agnostic, Software Defined Data Center (SDDC) solution to store everything, run anything and scale everywhere...
Angular 2 is a complete re-write of the popular framework AngularJS. Programming in Angular 2 is greatly simplified – now it's a component-based well-performing framework. This immersive one-day workshop at 18th Cloud Expo, led by Yakov Fain, a Java Champion and a co-founder of the IT consultancy Farata Systems and the product company SuranceBay, will provide you with everything you wanted to know about Angular 2.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Men & Mice, the leading global provider of DNS, DHCP and IP address management overlay solutions, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. The Men & Mice Suite overlay solution is already known for its powerful application in heterogeneous operating environments, enabling enterprises to scale without fuss. Building on a solid range of diverse platform support,...
Whether your IoT service is connecting cars, homes, appliances, wearable, cameras or other devices, one question hangs in the balance – how do you actually make money from this service? The ability to turn your IoT service into profit requires the ability to create a monetization strategy that is flexible, scalable and working for you in real-time. It must be a transparent, smoothly implemented strategy that all stakeholders – from customers to the board – will be able to understand and comprehe...