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An Introduction to UML and Classes

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Classes are the most important building block of any object-oriented system. A class is a description of a set of objects that share the same attributes, operations, relationships, and semantics. A class implements one or more interfaces. This chapter covers the basics of classes as the building blocks of the UML.
This chapter is from the book

In this chapter

  • Classes, attributes, operations, and responsibilities
  • Modeling the vocabulary of a system
  • Modeling the distribution of responsibilities in a system
  • Modeling nonsoftware things
  • Modeling primitive types
  • Making quality abstractions

Classes are the most important building block of any object-oriented system. A class is a description of a set of objects that share the same attributes, operations, relationships, and semantics. A class implements one or more interfaces.

You use classes to capture the vocabulary of the system you are developing. These classes may include abstractions that are part of the problem domain, as well as classes that make up an implementation. You can use classes to represent software things, hardware things, and even things that are purely conceptual.

Well-structured classes have crisp boundaries and form a part of a balanced distribution of responsibilities across the system.

Getting Started

Modeling a system involves identifying the things that are important to your particular view. These things form the vocabulary of the system you are modeling. For example, if you are building a house, things like walls, doors, windows, cabinets, and lights are some of the things that will be important to you as a home owner. Each of these things can be distinguished from the other.

Each of them also has a set of properties. Walls have a height and a width and are solid. Doors also have a height and a width and are solid as well, but have the additional behavior that allows them to open in one direction. Windows are similar to doors in that both are openings that pass through walls, but windows and doors have slightly different properties. Windows are usually (but not always) designed so that you can look out of them instead of pass through them.

Individual walls, doors, and windows rarely exist in isolation, so you must also consider how specific instances of these things fit together. The things you identify and the relationships you choose to establish among them will be affected by how you expect to use the various rooms of your home, how you expect traffic to flow from room to room, and the general style and feel you want this arrangement to create.

Users will be concerned about different things. For example, the plumbers who help build your house will be interested in things like drains, traps, and vents. You, as a home owner, won't necessarily care about these things except insofar as they interact with the things in your view, such as where a drain might be placed in a floor or where a vent might intersect with the roof line.

In the UML, all of these things are modeled as classes. A class is an abstraction of the things that are a part of your vocabulary. A class is not an individual object, but rather represents a whole set of objects. Thus, you may conceptually think of "wall" as a class of objects with certain common properties, such as height, length, thickness, load-bearing or not, and so on. You may also think of individual instances of wall, such as "the wall in the southwest corner of my study."

In software, many programming languages directly support the concept of a class. That's excellent, because it means that the abstractions you create can often be mapped directly to a programming language, even if these are abstractions of nonsoftware things, such as "customer," "trade," or "conversation."

The UML provides a graphical representation of class, as well, as Figure 4-1 shows. This notation permits you to visualize an abstraction apart from any specific programming language and in a way that lets you emphasize the most important parts of an abstraction: its name, attributes, and operations.

04fig01.jpg

Figure 4-1 Classes

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