A Graphical Environment Supporting the Algebraic Specification of Abstract Data Types

Waite, Kevin William (1990) A Graphical Environment Supporting the Algebraic Specification of Abstract Data Types. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Abstract

Abstract Data Types (ADTs) are a powerful conceptual and practical device for building high-quality software because of the way they can describe objects whilst hiding the details of how they are represented within a computer. In order to implement ADTs correctly, it is first necessary to precisely describe their properties and behaviour, typically within a mathematical framework such as algebraic specification. These techniques are no longer merely research topics but are now tools used by software practitioners. Unfortunately, the high level of mathematical sophistication required to exploit these methods has made them unattractive to a large portion of their intended audience. This thesis investigates the use of computer graphics as a way of making the formal specification of ADTs more palatable. Computer graphics technology has recently been explored as a way of making computer programs more understandable by revealing aspects of their structure and run-time behaviour that are usually hidden in textual representations. These graphical techniques can also be used to create and edit programs. Although such visualisation techniques have been incorporated into tools supporting several phases of software development, a survey presented in this thesis of existing systems reveals that their application to supporting the formal specification of ADTs has so far been ignored. This thesis describes the development of a prototype tool (called VISAGE) for visualising and visually programming formally-specified ADTs. VISAGE uses a synchronised combination of textual and graphical views to illustrate the various facets of an ADT's structure and behaviour. The graphical views use both static and dynamic representations developed specifically for this domain. VISAGE's visual programming facility has powerful mechanisms for creating and manipulating entire structures (as well as their components) that make it at least comparable with textual methods. In recognition of the importance of examples as a way of illustrating abstract concepts, VISAGE provides a dedicated tool (called the PLAYPEN) that allows the creation of example data by the user. These data can then be transformed by the operations belonging to the ADT with the result shown by means of a dynamic, graphical display. An evaluation of VISAGE was conducted in order to detect any improvement in subjects' performance, confidence and understanding of ADT specifications. The subjects were asked to perform a set of simple specification tasks with some using VISAGE and the others using manual techniques to act as a control. An analysis of the results shows a distinct positive reaction from the VISAGE group that was completely absent in the control group thereby supporting the thesis that the algebraic specification of ADTs can be made more accessible and palatable though the use of computer graphic techniques.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Computer science
Date of Award: 1990
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:1990-78021
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 30 Jan 2020 15:43
Last Modified: 30 Jan 2020 15:43
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/78021

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