Home > Articles

  • Print
  • + Share This
This chapter is from the book

1.6 What is the UML?

To quote:

  • The Unified Modeling Language is a visual language for specifying, constructing and documenting the artifacts of systems [OMG03a].

The word visual in the definition is a key point—the UML is the de facto standard diagramming notation for drawing or presenting pictures (with some text) related to software—primarily OO software.

This book doesn't cover all minute aspects of the UML, a large body of notation. It focuses on frequently used diagrams, the most commonly used features within those, and core notation that is unlikely to change in future UML versions.

The UML defines various UML profiles that specialize subsets of the notation for common subject areas, such as diagramming Enterprise JavaBeans (with the UML EJB profile).

At a deeper level—primarily of interest to Model Driven Architecture (MDA) CASE tool vendors—underlying the UML notation is the UML meta-model that describes the semantics of the modeling elements. It isn't something a developer needs to learn.

Three Ways to Apply UML

In [Fowler03] three ways people apply UML are introduced:

  • UML as sketch— Informal and incomplete diagrams (often hand sketched on whiteboards) created to explore difficult parts of the problem or solution space, exploiting the power of visual languages.

  • UML as blueprint— Relatively detailed design diagrams used either for 1) reverse engineering to visualize and better understanding existing code in UML diagrams, or for 2) code generation (forward engineering).

    UML and "Silver Bullet" Thinking

    There is a well-known paper from 1986 titled "No Silver Bullet" by Dr. Frederick Brooks, also published in his classic book Mythical Man-Month (20th anniversary edition). Recommended reading! An essential point is that it's a fundamental mistake (so far, endlessly repeated) to believe there is some special tool or technique in software that will make a dramatic order-of-magnitude difference in productivity, defect reduction, reliability, or simplicity. And tools don't compensate for design ignorance.

    Yet, you will hear claims—usually from tool vendors—that drawing UML diagrams will make things much better; or, that Model Driven Architecture (MDA) tools based on UML will be the breakthrough silver bullet.

    Reality-check time. The UML is simply a standard diagramming notation—boxes, lines, etc. Visual modeling with a common notation can be a great aid, but it is hardly as important as knowing how to design and think in objects. Such design knowledge is a very different and more important skill, and is not mastered by learning UML notation or using a CASE or MDA tool. A person not having good OO design and programming skills who draws UML is just drawing bad designs. I suggest the article Death by UML Fever [Bell04] (endorsed by the UML creator Grady Booch) for more on this subject, and also What UML Is and Isn't [Larman04].

    Therefore, this book is an introduction to OOA/D and applying the UML to support skillful OO design.

    • If reverse engineering, a UML tool reads the source or binaries and generates (typically) UML package, class, and sequence diagrams. These "blueprints" can help the reader understand the big-picture elements, structure, and collaborations.

    • Before programming, some detailed diagrams can provide guidance for code generation (e.g., in Java), either manually or automatically with a tool. It's common that the diagrams are used for some code, and other code is filled in by a developer while coding (perhaps also applying UML sketching).

  • UML as programming language— Complete executable specification of a software system in UML. Executable code will be automatically generated, but is not normally seen or modified by developers; one works only in the UML "programming language." This use of UML requires a practical way to diagram all behavior or logic (probably using interaction or state diagrams), and is still under development in terms of theory, tool robustness and usability.

Agile modeling emphasizes UML as sketch; this is a common way to apply the UML, often with a high return on the investment of time (which is typically short). UML tools can be useful, but I encourage people to also consider an agile modeling approach to applying UML.


agile modeling p. 30

Three Perspectives to Apply UML

The UML describes raw diagram types, such as class diagrams and sequence diagrams. It does not superimpose a modeling perspective on these. For example, the same UML class diagram notation can be used to draw pictures of concepts in the real world or software classes in Java.

This insight was emphasized in the Syntropy object-oriented method [CD94]. That is, the same notation may be used for three perspectives and types of models (Figure 1.6):

  1. Conceptual perspective— the diagrams are interpreted as describing things in a situation of the real world or domain of interest.

  2. Specification (software) perspective— the diagrams (using the same notation as in the conceptual perspective) describe software abstractions or components with specifications and interfaces, but no commitment to a particular implementation (for example, not specifically a class in C# or Java).

  3. Implementation (software) perspective— the diagrams describe software implementations in a particular technology (such as Java).

01fig06.gifFigure 1.6 Different perspectives with UML.

We've already seen an example of this in Figure 1.3 and Figure 1.5, where the same UML class diagram notation is used to visualize a domain model and a design model.

In practice, the specification perspective (deferring the target technology, such as Java versus .NET) is seldom used for design; most software-oriented UML diagramming assumes an implementation perspective.

The Meaning of "Class" in Different Perspectives

In the raw UML, the rectangular boxes shown in Figure 1.6 are called classes, but this term encompasses a variety of phenomena—physical things, abstract concepts, software things, events, and so forth. [1]

A method superimposes alternative terminology on top of the raw UML. For example, in the UP, when the UML boxes are drawn in the Domain Model, they are called domain concepts or conceptual classes; the Domain Model shows a conceptual perspective. In the UP, when UML boxes are drawn in the Design Model, they are called design classes; the Design Model shows a specification or implementation perspective, as desired by the modeler.

To keep things clear, this book will use class-related terms consistent with the UML and the UP, as follows:

  • Conceptual class— real-world concept or thing. A conceptual or essential perspective. The UP Domain Model contains conceptual classes.

  • Software class— a class representing a specification or implementation perspective of a software component, regardless of the process or method.

  • Implementation class— a class implemented in a specific OO language such as Java.

UML 1 and UML 2

Towards the end of 2004 a major new release of the UML emerged, UML 2. This text is based on UML 2; indeed, the notation used here was carefully reviewed with key members of the UML 2 specification team.

Why Won't We See Much UML for a Few Chapters?

This is not primarily a UML notation book, but one that explores the larger picture of applying the UML, patterns, and an iterative process in the context of OOA/D and related requirements analysis. OOA/D is normally preceded by requirements analysis. Therefore, the initial chapters introduce the important topics of use cases and requirements analysis, which are then followed by chapters on OOA/D and more UML details.

  • + Share This
  • 🔖 Save To Your Account

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020