, Volume 13, Issue 3, pp 1189-1221

Does aspect-oriented modeling help improve the readability of UML state machines?

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Abstract

Aspect-oriented modeling (AOM) is a relatively recent and very active field of research, whose application has, however, been limited in practice. AOM is assumed to yield several potential benefits such as enhanced modularization, easier evolution, increased reusability, and improved readability of models, as well as reduced modeling effort. However, credible, solid empirical evidence of such benefits is lacking. We evaluate the “readability” of state machines when modeling crosscutting behavior using AOM and more specifically AspectSM, a recently published UML profile. This profile extends the UML state machine notation with mechanisms to define aspects using state machines. Readability is indirectly measured through defect identification and fixing rates in state machines, and the scores obtained when answering a comprehension questionnaire about the system behavior. With AspectSM, crosscutting behavior is modeled using so-called “aspect state machines”. Their readability is compared with that of system state machines directly modeling crosscutting and standard behavior together. An initial controlled experiment and a much larger replication were conducted with trained graduate students, in two different institutions and countries, to achieve the above objective. We use two baselines of comparisons—standard UML state machines without hierarchical features (flat state machines) and standard state machines with hierarchical/concurrent features (hierarchical state machines). The results showed that defect identification and fixing rates are significantly better with AspectSM than with both flat and hierarchical state machines. However, in terms of comprehension scores and inspection effort, no significant difference was observed between any of the approaches. Results of the experiments suggest that one should use, when possible, aspect state machines along with hierarchical and/or concurrent features of UML state machines to model crosscutting behaviors.