The Past, Present, and Future of Model Versioning

The Past, Present, and Future of Model Versioning

Petra Brosch (Vienna University of Technology, Austria), Philip Langer (Johannes Kepler University Linz, Austria), Martina Seidl (Johannes Kepler University Linz, Austria), Konrad Wieland (Vienna University of Technology, Austria), Manuel Wimmer (Vienna University of Technology, Austria) and Gerti Kappel (Vienna University of Technology, Austria)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61350-438-3.ch015
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Introduction

During the software development lifecycle, the various software artifacts under construction are subject to successive changes. Consequently, tool support for managing the evolution of these artifacts is indispensable (Estublier et al., 2005; and Mens, 2008). To this end, the discipline of Software Configuration Management (SCM) provides tools and techniques for making evolution manageable (Tichy, 1988). Amongst others, these tools include Version Control Systems (VCS) whose origins may be dated back to the early 70s. Since then, the discipline of versioning is an active research topic generating a variety of different concepts, formalisms, and technologies.

The aims of versioning approaches are threefold. First, versioning systems maintain a historical archive of the different versions an artifact adopts during its development. With this archive, it is possible to undo harmful modifications by restoring previous development states. Second, versioning systems support handling different development branches, e.g., for building different software variants. Third, versioning approaches manage the parallel evolution of software artifacts performed by a (distributed) team of developers. In this book chapter we focus on the latter aim.

In general, two different versioning strategies exist to cope with the concurrent evolution of one artifact. When pessimistic versioning is applied, an artifact is locked while it is changed by one developer. Since other developers cannot perform any changes while the artifact is locked, conflicts are completely avoided with this strategy. However, the drawbacks are possible idle times for developers waiting for the release of a locked artifact. To avoid such idle times, optimistic versioning allows the developers to change the same artifact in parallel and independently of each other. The typical workflow of optimistic versioning is depicted in Figure 1. Two users of the optimistic versioning system, Harry and Sally, check out the same artifact at time t0. Both modify the checked out Version 0 independently of each other. After Sally has finished, she checks in her modified version (Version 1) at t1. When Harry also tries to check in his modified version, he first has to merge his version (Version 2) with the latest version in the repository (Version 1). Merging, often a time-consuming and tedious task, is the price to pay, when concurrent modifications by several users are allowed. In general, the merge process may be divided into four steps: (i) identifying the differences between two concurrently modified versions, (ii) detecting conflicts between these two modifications, (iii) resolving these conflicts either automatically or manually, and finally (iv) creating a new consolidated version which, in the best case, combines all intentions behind all concurrently performed modifications.

From a technical point of view, a wealth of works have been published which contribute in solving various versioning challenges (cf. Conradi & Westfechtel, 1998 for a survey), but how versioning really works in practice when huge software applications are developed is hardly discussed. To fill this gap, in 2010 we have conducted an online survey on best practices in versioning, which has been answered by approximately 100 software engineers, software architects, and IT managers. We wanted to learn about their habits and processes when versioning software artifacts. Overall, 80% of the participants stated that they put their software artifacts under optimistic version control. Thus, we conclude that optimistic version control is paramountly applied in practice and of significant importance. 73% of the participants justify their preference for optimistic version control by the fact that locking specific artifacts leads to undesirable delays in software development projects.

So far, the versioning research has mainly focused on the management of textual artifacts like source code. For such artifacts, a line-oriented processing of files has largely been adopted by practitioners in the past. More fine-grained approaches, in which not lines but, e.g., words are considered as atomic units of comparison, have not gained much attention in practice. The situation is different when the artifacts put under version control are graph-based artifacts like models. Here a more precise consideration of the model elements is necessary to obtain accurate reports on the performed modifications and potential conflicts between concurrently performed changes.

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