Designing New Languages With EMFText

What’s New in EMFText 1.3.4?

Jessica Thornsby
What-s-New-in-EMFText-1-3-4

JAXenter speaks to Mirko Seifert, on the latest release of the EMFText tool for defining text syntax for languages.


Version 1.3.4 of EMFText
has just been released. EMFText is a
tool for defining textual Domain Specific Languages, described by
an Ecore metamodel. In this interview, we speak to Mirko Seifert,
member of the EMFText Core Development Team, on the tool’s role in
the model-driven development process, and what’s new in this latest
release.

JAXenter: How does EMFText aid the model-driven
development process?

Mirko Seifert: Model-driven development (MDD)
is concerned with the definition of models that encode the
structure and behavior of the software that is built. Each model
has a specific purpose (e.g., it may define the user interface of
an application). In contrast to code-centric development, where the
majority of an application is specified in the same language (e.g.,
Java or C++), multiple domain-specific languages are applied in
MDD.

EMFText allows to quickly create such domain-specific modeling
languages. Based on an Ecore model that defines the concepts of the
domain, a textual syntax can be derived and manually adjusted
according to specific needs. From these two artifacts, the Ecore
models and the syntax specification, EMFText generates Eclipse
plug-ins that implement a full-fledged editor for the language.
Thus, developers can quickly design new languages according to the
requirements of their project.

For small to medium languages the effort to define the Ecore
model and the text syntax ranges from a couple of minutes to a few
hours. This is in contrast to the creation of graphical editors
which usually require more effort.

JAXenter: What are the benefits of defining
your own textual Domain Specific Languages (DSLs)?

Mirko: Assuming that DSLs are well designed,
such languages allow to specify software in a more concise and more
abstract fashion. Often, single DSL concepts can be translated to
multiple instructions in Java. Thus, ideally less typing is
required. Of course, this is not true for all parts of a software
project. Some things, for example complex computations, are still
best expressed in terms of Java classes and methods. But, there are
also parts that are very repetitive and that require lots of
so-called boilerplate code. In such cases DSLs can actually reduce
development costs. Also, DSL models can be translated to multiple
target languages, but this is not a very frequent requirement.

A particular benefit of using textual DSLs, instead of graphical
ones, is that the former can be created much more quickly. This may
change if tools for graphical models get more mature, but from the
current perspective textual tools allow for very quick language
development. Also, developers are familiar with textual
specification and much more comfortable to use a text editor
instead of graphical ones. Sophisticated features that are known
from the Eclipse JDT (e.g., code completion, syntax highlighting,
hyperlinks and so on) are also automatically provided by editors
generated with EMFText. The creation of textual models is therefore
both easy and efficient.

JAXenter: What’s new in the latest, 1.3.4
release of EMFText?

Mirko: Release 1.3.4 of EMFText is mainly a
bugfix release, but we’ve also added some new features to reward
our users for performing the update. This time, a new wizard has
been added that allows users to parameterize the creation of a
custom syntax using a multitude of options. Previously, the
automatic syntax derivation was quite static; we supported HUTN and
a Java-like syntax. Now, users can obtain syntax specification that
fit their needs more easily, because the amount of manual
adjustments have been significantly reduced.

Moreover, we have added two new example languages to the update
site. Minimal Ecore is a textual variant of Ecore and can be used
as a substitute for the other Ecore editors (e.g., Emfatic).
Minimal Ecore aims to create Ecore models as quickly as possible
using a very brief syntax and a lot of default behavior. WebTest,
the second new language, demonstrates how to design a small
scripting language that can perform functional web tests.

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