Software interfaces are key to realizing the benefits of component-based software architectures, yet specifying interfaces is difficult and may result in problems in the protocol specification itself, or in its interactions with clients. This problem is addressed through a six-step methodology for specification, verification, and adaptation of software interfaces. The methodology builds on the open-source tool Eclipse ComMASuite, developed by TNO-ESI partners in an open innovation eco-system. The specification and verification steps have been contributed back to the community and are supported by a two-day course named “Modelling and Analysis of Component-based Systems”, available from TNO-ESI in both an academic and industry version.
Please read my blog post that describes the methodology and demonstrates it step-by-step from a user perspective through a simple case study in a video.
I am happy to announce that the paper “Partial Specifications of Component-based Systems using Petri Nets” has been accepted for publication at the International Workshop on Petri Nets and Software Engineering (PNSE) 2022. This paper was first-authored by Bart-Jan Hilbrands, a (former) student in the Master of Software Engineering program at the University of Amsterdam, who did his master thesis project under the supervision of myself and my ESI colleague Debjyoti Bera. The master thesis project was conducted in the context of the DYNAMICS project, a bi-lateral research project between ESI and Thales, which looked into specification, verification, and adaptation of software interfaces. This publication is a good example of how a good master thesis can be turned into a publication.
The paper addresses the problem of verifying correctness properties, such as absence of deadlocks, livelocks, and buffer overflows, in software components with multiple inter-dependent interfaces. An approach based on partial specification of dependencies between interfaces, expressed as a set of functional constraints, is proposed in the paper. The papers presents and formalizes three commonly occurring functional constraints and provides algorithms for encoding them into a Petri net representation of the interfaces, enabling interface verification through reachability analysis. The approach has been implemented and demonstrated using ComMA.
Last week, the open sourcing of ComMA (Component Modelling and Analysis) in the context of the Eclipse Foundation, saw another milestone. The first version Eclipse CommaSuite is now online in the form of Release 0.1.0. ComMA is a set of DSLs used to (partially) specify the behavior of components and their interfaces, including time and data constraints. On the basis of these specifications, a number of artifacts can be automatically generated, including run-time monitors that validate compliance with the specification can be generated, visualizations, timing statistics, documentation, test cases, and adapters. Many of these features will be included in later releases of ComMA, and some of them have yet to emerge from research projects as mature features.
ComMA was originally developed by ESI and Philips, but more recently in collaboration with a growing number of other companies. For example, the DYNAMICS project in which ESI works together with Thales, we are currently investigating how adapters can be semi-automatically generated to bridge differences between components implementing different versions of interfaces. This work has been previously mentioned in an article in Bits & Chips, as well as in a paper. Currently, three master students from my Embedded Software and Systems course at UvA are also doing their graduation projects in the context of evolution of ComMA interfaces, looking into aspects of data dependencies, interface dependencies, and static impact analysis. We look forward to seeing the results of their work this summer.
You can read more about ComMA in this news article TNO published this week.
Update: The news article is now also published in Bits & Chips
A course called “Modelling and Analysis of Component-based Systems” (MOANA-CBS) is being developed in collaboration with Thales as a part of the DYNAMICS project. The course addresses the challenge of overseeing the explosion of possible interactions between asynchronously communicating components in component-based systems. Some of these interactions may be undesirable and leave systems prone to deadlock, livelock, race conditions, and buffer overflows, reducing software quality. The course participants in the course learn how to mitigate this problem by modelling the behavior of components and interfaces using Petri Nets, a well-known formalism suitable for describing asynchronously communicating systems. Theory is linked to practice through demonstrations of relevant examples using the ComMA tool. Using properties and analysis methods for Petri Nets, they learn how to identify patterns in component and interface design that may cause the aforementioned problems, as well as design guidelines for how to avoid them. The course is taught using a combination of lectures, assignments, demonstrations, discussions, and reflection.
We piloted parts of the course at Van der Valk Hotel in Arnhem on October 7 and 8, attended by 12 software architects from Thales and Luminis. The course was positioned as a part of their Accelerate program, which aims to accelerate young architects from the two companies into a more senior role. We felt that the delivery of the course went well and evaluations from the participants suggests it was well-received. The evaluation of this pilot also highlighted some further points for improvement that will be considered going forward.