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The Use Case Approach
Massimo Marino - LBNL/ICS
Today we see use cases, a concept first formalized by Ivar Jacobson in the 1987 OOPSLA conference [ACM, 1987], [Jacobson, 1987], being incorporated into several object-oriented methods, e.g., Objectory [Jacobson et al., 1992], Fusion [Coleman et al., 1994], the Booch method [Booch, 1994], the so called Unified Method [Booch and Rumbaugh, 1995], Syntropy [Cook and Daniels, 1994], and many others.

Use cases, or mechanisms in Booch, are a way to express the objectives of the software system. In [Jacobson et al., 1995] use cases are defined as "... a sequence of transactions in a system whose task is to yield a measurable value...".

We like to define use cases as the behavioral chunks of the system to be.

A valid approach is to examine system requirements with the intention to identify candidate objects and establish interactions and interrelationships among them. In the context of such an approach, we adopt use cases as a conceptual description of the requirements.

We identify three primary motivations for use case creation:

  • gaining an understanding of the problem
  • capturing an understanding of the proposed solution
  • identifying candidate objects
Each use case is a description of the system in terms of how the user will see it, and in terms of the delivered measurable values to the user [Jacobson, 1992], as well as a system mechanism, "a structure whereby objects collaborate to provide some behavior that satisfy a requirement of the problem" [Booch, 1994].

Use cases, as they are most commonly described and used, are rather functional in nature. This, by itself, is not really a problem. Many software practitioners have a good deal of experience in functional decomposition approaches to system building. Use cases present them with an opportunity to continue their functional view of software development. However, we must be careful: use cases, and in this respect they substantially differ from functions, are not to be treated in isolation. In the ultimate end, they describe one of the possible object collaborations within the system. In most cases the same object participates in several use cases. That is, to have a chance of accurately design any given object, we have to account for all its appearances in the invented use cases.

While functions can be treated and developed in isolation by different teams, and then integrated- the (in)famous big bang integration of traditional development techniques -, use cases must be seen and managed in their globality. In this respect we are less prone to this functional creepism with an architecture-driven process [Booch, 1996]:

  • Specify the system's desired behavior through a collection of scenarios
  • Create, then validate, an architecture that exploits the common patterns found in these scenarios
  • Evolve that architecture, making mid-course corrections as necessary to adapt to new requirements as they are uncovered
Booch refers to these activities as the analysis, design and evolution of the object-oriented life cycle. The key point here, easily missed, is the "common patterns". The architecture, or set of categories of related classes, is the one that supports the entire set of explicited use cases, and the others to arise in the future.

A sure recipe for failure from the OO point of view is:

  1. Determine the main (highest level of detail) functional capabilities of the system to be
  2. Write a high-level use case for each high-level functional capability.
  3. Assign each high-level use case to a separate team for further elaboration (partitioning the tasks)
  4. Eventually, based on progressively more detail being added to the use cases, each team would implement their particular partition of the system.
  5. Integrate the efforts of each team into the final product.
This procedure suffers from a functional decomposition "front end" and an object-oriented "back end", from missing the system architecture, and from a delayed integration. We end up with a lot of duplication of effort due to the lack of a dedicated activity to identify those objects that are common to two or more partitions, and with scattered parts of many same objects across more than one functional partition. It is easy to find each part of the system having a different implementation of the same object: this results in a significant amount of re-design and re-coding.

We should avoid the temptation to use this functional view of the system as a basis for the creation of an object-oriented architecture for that same system. Objects and functions do not map directly to each other, and the architecture of an object-oriented system is significantly different from the architecture of a functionally decomposed system. Recall the primary motivations for use case creation mentioned before, and that all the foreseen use cases contribute, in parallel, to the invention of the supporting architecture.

    Object Interaction Diagrams

In many notations use cases are represented by interaction diagrams, schematically shown in the figure, where the sequence of message flows progresses over the objects participating in the use case. In the diagram time flows from top to bottom and the event passing is supposed to take no time.

In [Jacobson et al., 1992] interaction diagrams are said to make evident the decentralization of the responsibility in the object collaboration. The following pictures clearly show the extreme structures of the use case: the so called fork diagram and stair diagram.

    Fork diagram

A fork diagram arises in the presence of a central control. Pathological combinations of functional architectures and object-oriented ones are often encouraged by some of today's most popular methods, e.g., Objectory's so called "control objects", Booch's "manager objects", Meyer's "command objects" [Meyer,1988], and the countless examples of classes that encapsulate functions only, i.e., the "stateless classes". The controller carries great responsibility and often becomes more and more complex during the software life cycle. The intelligence of this partition of the system is highly localized in the controller who also requires a lot of visibility: it has to know the presence of many other objects that alone are not able of 'intelligent' behavior. Indeed the resemblance with a main function and the related subroutines is striking.

If most of the system diagrams look like fork diagram, as in this extreme case, an alarm bell should ring.
This is especially true if the "called" objects (again the resemblance with subroutines...) are visible to the whole system, perform only under external control, and lack of mutual collaborations. Most probably the designers disguised data and/or function repositories or were just rewriting a functional/data architecture, maybe a legacy FORTRAN solution to their problem.

The fork diagram is absolutely valid if the use case describes the behavior of a composite object. In this case the composite delegates its mandates to the private components, and no other object will be responsible for those parts. The use case shows then one of the modus operandi of the composite object and constitutes a detailed description of its internal mechanisms.

Some claim that there is nothing wrong with fork diagrams: they make explicit the situation where the developing team keeps the door opened to changes in the order of the operations managed by controller objects. Personally we saw fork diagrams mainly coming out at the beginning of our OO activities and fading away with the experience. In general it is not easy to introduce changes in the system operations with controller-based use cases, and becomes hard if the controlled objects are shared by many controllers. On the other hand the sequence of the operations is under total control of the manager object, but we do not look into object-oriented techniques to achieve this, do we?

If they cannot be said to be a sure proof of bad design, fork diagrams certainly make it easier to develop functional structures and should be carefully validated and justified.

    Stair diagrams

The other extreme is represented by the stair diagram. It clearly shows the delegation of responsibility. Each object knows only few of the other participating objects and we have no 'Do This - Do That' controller. The use case initiator object role is limited to triggering the delegation cascade. Each object has its own task and knows which other object can help to fulfill it. Some subparts of these collaborations could easily find their place in other use cases as well and constitute collaboration chunks to achieve more complex behaviors. Here the responsibility is evenly distributed among the objects and there is no need of a distributed visibility of all participants.

The message here is not to avoid fork diagrams at all costs and strive for stair ones only. The important thing is to be able to recognize the structures, know what they do imply, and what they cost. In practice the structures are a mixture of the two extremes where some object has more "control" than other less independent objects. The lack of a controller and the decentralization of responsibility is beneficial to the flexibility of the architecture, and the localisation of the information. It also allows to reuse some collaboration patterns of the system in different contexts.

[ACM, 1987] Association for Computing Machinery, OOPSLA'87 Conference Proceedings, special issue of SIGPLAN Notices, Vol. 22, No. 12, December

[Booch, 1994] G. Booch, "Object-Oriented Analysis and Design - With Applications", Second Edition, Benjamin/Cummings, Menlo Park, California, 1994.

[Booch, 1996] G. Booch, "Object Solutions - Managing the Object-Oriented Project", Addison-Wesley, Menlo Park, California, 1996.

[Booch and Rumbaugh, 1995] G. Booch and J. Rumbaugh, "Unified Method: User Guide, Version 0.8", Rational Software Corporation, Santa Clara,
California, 1995.

[Coleman et al., 1994] D. Coleman, P. Arnold, S. Bodoff, C. Dollin, H. Gilchrist, F. Hayes, and P. Jeremaes, "Object-Oriented Development: The Fusion
Method", Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1994.

[Cook and Daniels, 1994] S. Cook and J. Daniels, "Designing Object Systems - Object Oriented Modelling With Syntropy", Prentice Hall, Englewood
Cliffs, New Jersey, 1994.

[Jacobson, 1987] I. Jacobson, "Object-Oriented Development In an Industrial Environment", OOPSLA'87 Conference Proceedings, special issue of
SIGPLAN Notices, Vol. 22, No. 12, December 1987, pp. 183-191.

[Jacobson et al., 1992] I. Jacobson, M. Christerson, P. Jonsson, and G. Övergaard, "Object-Oriented Software Engineering: A Use Case Driven
Approach", Addison-Wesley, Reading, Massachusetts, 1992.

[Jacobson et al., 1995] I. Jacobson, M. Ericsson, and A. Jacobson, "The Object Advantage: Business Process Reengineering With Object Technology",
Addison-Wesley, Reading, Massachusetts, 1995.

[Meyer, 1988] B. Meyer, "Object-Oriented Software Construction", Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1988.

[Meyers, 1992] S. Meyers, "Effective C++ - 50 Specific Ways to Improve your Programs and Designs", Addison-Wesley, Reading, Massachusetts, 1992.

Massimo Marino