CEC Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

2002

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Graduate School of Computer and Information Sciences

Advisor

Michael J. Laszlo

Committee Member

Matthew He

Committee Member

Sumitra Mukherjee

Abstract

Software architecture appeared in the early 1990s as a distinct discipline within software engineering. Models based on software architecture attempt to reduce the complexity of software by providing relatively coarse-grained structures for representing different aspects of software development. A software architecture typically consists of various components and connections arranged in a specific topology. Elements of the topology can serve as abstractions on (for example) modules, objects, protocols or interfaces. The meaning of the topology depends on viewpoint.

Software architectures' can be described using an architecture description language (ADL). The key goals of ADLs are to communicate alternate designs to the different individuals involved in software development (such individuals are referred to as "stakeholders"), to detect reusable structures, and to record design decisions.

A major problem in software architecture has been the difficulty of creating different representations of an architecture to accommodate differing viewpoints of stakeholders. Ideally, different viewpoints would be conveyed in a way that is both comprehensive enough for specialists but consistent enough for generalists. The representation problem has been one of reconciling and integrating different viewpoints.

This dissertation provided a solution to the representation problem by creating a tool for three-dimensional visualization of software architectures using the Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML). Different architectural viewpoints were first defined in an ADL called the Visually Translatable Architecture Description Language (VT ADL). When VT ADL was translated into VRML, software architectures were embodied within three-dimensional "worlds" through which stakeholders may navigate. Each viewpoint was a separate VRML world. A viewpoint could be related to other viewpoints, representing different facets of software architectures, to reflect different stakeholder requirements. Traceability from design to requirements was possible through VRML hyperlinks from the visualized architecture. The goal of the dissertation was to develop a prototype for demonstrating the visualization technique. Based on the successful results of two visualization case studies, we concluded that the goal was achieved. Refinement of the prototype into a polished visualization tool was recommended. In future research, the refined version should be used for realistic evaluation of the technique in an actual software development environment.

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