Language Oriented Modularity: From Theory to Practice

Arik Hadas1 and David H Lorenz2

The Art, Science, and Engineering of Programming, 2017, Vol. 1, Issue 2, Article 10

Submission date: 2016-12-01
Publication date: 2017-04-01
Full text: PDF


Language-oriented modularity (LOM) is a methodology that complements language-oriented programming (LOP) in providing on-demand language abstraction solutions during software development. It involves the implementation and immediate utilization of domain-specific languages (DSLs) that are also aspect-oriented (DSALs). However, while DSL development is affordable thanks to modern language workbenches, DSAL development lacks similar tool support. Consequently, LOM is often impractical and underutilized.

The challenge we address is making the complexity of DSAL implementation comparable to that of DSLs and the effectiveness of programming with DSALs comparable to that of general-purpose aspect languages (GPALs). Today, despite being essentially both domain-specific and aspect-oriented, DSALs seem to be second-class. Aspect development tools (e.g., AJDT) do not work on DSAL code. DSL development tools like language workbenches (e.g., Spoofax) neither deal with the backend weaving nor handle the composition of DSALs. DSAL composition frameworks (e.g., Awesome) do not provide frontend development tools. DSAL code transformation approaches (e.g., XAspects) do not preserve the semantics of DSAL programs in the presence of other aspect languages.

We extend AspectJ with a small set of annotations and interfaces that allows DSAL designers to define a semantic-preserving transformation to AspectJ and interface with AspectJ tools. Our transformation approach enables the use of standard language workbench to implement DSALs and use of standard aspect development tools to program with those DSALs. As a result, DSALs regain first-class status with respect to both DSLs and aspect languages. This, on the one hand, lowers the cost of developing DSALs to the level of DSLs and, on the other hand, raises the effectiveness of using a DSAL to the level of a GPAL. Consequently, LOM becomes cost-effective compared to the LOP baseline.

We modified the ajc compiler to support our approach. Using two different language workbenches (Spoofax and Xtext) we then implemented several DSALs. AspectJ was supported out-of-the-box. We implemented Cool to demonstrate that the non-trivial composition of AspectJ and Cool can be accommodated using our approach. We applied LOM to crosscutting concerns in two open source projects (oVirt and muCommander), implementing in the process application-specific DSALs, thus providing a sense of the decrease in the cost of developing composable DSALs and the increase in the effectiveness of programming with them.

Crosscutting concerns remain a problem in modern real-world projects (e.g., as observed in oVirt). DSALs are often the right tool for addressing these concerns. Our work makes LOM practical, thus facilitating use of DSAL solutions in the software development process.

  1., Open University of Israel, Israel

  2., Open University of Israel, Israel