Ayende @ Rahien

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How to visualize a Domain Specific Language

Andrey Shchekin made a good point when he commented on my post about graphical DSL:

I do not use DSLs that are purely graphical. But talking about documentation, I think it is very useful to have a graphical _representation_ for some DSLs that is synchronized with (or generated from) the DSL itself.
For example, any workflows or dataflows (think Rhino ETL) are much easier to see at a glance on visual surface. Editing them on visual surface is also an option, but not a requirement.

I certainly am a believer that a DSL should be mostly declarative, and indeed, taking Rhino ETL as an example, it is something that can have a visual representation.

The only remaining question is how?

Long ago there was Lithium and Netron projects, which were good for building the kind of UI that a DSL is composed of. Those have gone commercial now, and while I can probably find the originals somewhere, that is not a very promising concept. There is always the Visual Studio DSL toolkit, but I have a strong suspicion that I would not like it (COM involved), and anyway, I want to do it externally to Visual Studio.

Anyone familiar with useful libraries that can make it happen? Ideally, it would allow me to generate UI similar to the class designer. It should also be simple, but I am not sure how to really quantify that.

Comments

Ken Egozi
11/25/2007 01:49 PM by
Ken Egozi

VS2008 Shell is promising.

Bruno Alfirevic
11/25/2007 04:05 PM by
Bruno Alfirevic

Graphviz can be great for such things.

http://www.graphviz.org/

Ayende Rahien
11/25/2007 05:26 PM by
Ayende Rahien

Ken, do you have experience with that?

Ayende Rahien
11/25/2007 05:30 PM by
Ayende Rahien

Bruno ,

It doesn't look like it is can be used to create impressive graphs. And it is static.

That is to say, consider the class designer in VS, that is more like what I had in mind.

Ken Egozi
11/25/2007 05:31 PM by
Ken Egozi

no.

However, it should allow for creating applications, detached from visual studio itself, that can use the IDE shell. Quite similar to the SharpDevelop component that if I recall correctly, you have used for rhino ETL.

all with a permissive license (as opposed to VS2005 SDK license), and should also be more native, less COM.

all that is from reading white-paper. I'm still waiting to get my hands on a proper 2008 RTM license.

Andrey Shchekin
11/25/2007 08:30 PM by
Andrey Shchekin

I suppose Peli's QuickGraph (http://www.codeplex.com/quickgraph) can do something like this, since I've seen some cool QuickGraph samples (http://blog.dotnetwiki.org/FunWithGraphs2GettingTheILExecutionGraphUsingQuickGraphAndIlReader.aspx).

Also GLEE (http://research.microsoft.com/research/downloads/Details/c927728f-8872-4826-80ee-ecb842d10371/Details.aspx) seems interesting though I haven't used it as well.

I tried Microsoft DSLTools and while they can give you the way to define your own designer, I would stay away from them. Way too complex and suited for graphic DSL not a visualization.

A powerful solution would be to write your own visualizer in WPF (it is very powerful and has most potential with zooming or even editing the code inside the representation itself). But it could be quite time-consuming.

Andrey Shchekin
11/25/2007 08:30 PM by
Andrey Shchekin

I suppose Peli's QuickGraph (http://www.codeplex.com/quickgraph) can do something like this, since I've seen some cool QuickGraph samples (http://blog.dotnetwiki.org/FunWithGraphs2GettingTheILExecutionGraphUsingQuickGraphAndIlReader.aspx).

Also GLEE (http://research.microsoft.com/research/downloads/Details/c927728f-8872-4826-80ee-ecb842d10371/Details.aspx) seems interesting though I haven't used it as well.

I tried Microsoft DSLTools and while they can give you the way to define your own designer, I would stay away from them. Way too complex and suited for graphic DSL not a visualization.

A powerful solution would be to write your own visualizer in WPF (it is very powerful and has most potential with zooming or even editing the code inside the representation itself). But it could be quite time-consuming.

el
11/26/2007 02:08 PM by
el

Netron is still free for non-commercial. The auther is also working in a WPF version. See:

http://www.orbifold.net/default/

JasonA
11/26/2007 06:05 PM by
JasonA

Eclipse has the Graphical Editing Framework for creating rich graphical editors.

http://www.eclipse.org/gef/overview.html

Couldn't find a .Net equivalent, though, but that was a while back.

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