Home > The How, Xtext > Annotation-based dispatch for scope providers

Annotation-based dispatch for scope providers

One of the slightly awkward aspects of Xtext is that the org.eclipse.xtext.scoping.impl.AbstractDeclarativeScopeProvider class essentially relies on a naming convention to dispatch scoping to the correct method. Such a strategy is quite brittle when you’re changing your grammar (or the Ecore meta model) as it doesn’t alert you to the fact that method names should change as well.

In an earlier blog, I already gave a tip to help deal with both this as well as with knowing which method to actually implement, but that doesn’t make this a statically-checked enterprise yet. The challenge here is to come up with a suitable compile-time Java representation of the references and types (or in grammar-terms: features and parser rules) involved, otherwise it wouldn’t be static checking, right? Unfortunately, the rather useful Java representation of references provided by the <MyDSL>PackageImpl class is a purely run-time representation.

Instead, I chose to make do with the IDs defined for types and their features in the <MyDSL>Package class instead to come up with an implementation of an annotation-based strategy for scope provider specification. It turns out that this is rather easy to do by extending the AbstractDeclarativeScopeProvider class. I’ve pushed my implementation -aptly called AbstractAnnotationBasedDeclarativeScopeProvider (which would probably score a triple word value in a game of Scrabble)- to my open-source GitHub repository: the source and the plugin JAR.


Usage is quite simple (as it should be): have your scope provider class extend  AbstractAnnotationBasedDeclarativeScopeProvider and add either a ScopeForType or ScopeForReference annotation (both conveniently contained in theAbstractAnnotationBasedDeclarativeScopeProvider class) to the scoping methods. The ScopeForType annotation takes the class(ifier) ID of the EClass to scope for. The ScopeForReference annotation also takes the feature ID of the reference (contained by the EClass specified) to scope for. Both these IDs are found in the <MyDSL>Package class as simple int constants. Note that it’s not checked whether these IDs actually belong together (in the second case) as the <MyDSL>Package class doesn’t actually encode that information.

As long as you use the <MyDSL>Package class to obtain IDs, this notation is checked at compile-time so that when something changes, chances are good that the annotation breaks and you’re alerted to the fact you have to change something.

As an example, consider the DomainmodelScopeProvider scope implementation class for the Domain Model example project shipped with Xtext 1.0.x: have that class extend AbstractAnnotationBasedDeclarativeScopeProvider and add the following annotation to scope_Reference_opposite method to use the annotation-based strategy.

@ScopeForReference(classId=DomainmodelPackage.REFERENCE, featureId=DomainmodelPackage.REFERENCE__OPPOSITE)

The current implementation is nice enough to tell you (as a warning in the log4j log) that it’s encountered a method which seems to comply to the naming-based strategy but nevertheless refuses to call the method to avoid having mixed-strategy behavior. I might change the behavior in the future to remove this nicety or to make it configurable (and non-default), though.

Design decisions

I could have used a Class<? extends EObject> instance to specify the EClass (or rather, the Java type of the instances of that). The example given above would then look as follows.

@ScopeForReference(class=Reference.class, featureId=DomainmodelPackage.REFERENCE__OPPOSITE)

However, you still need the right feature ID to specify the EReference so I chose to stick to using two IDs which clearly belong together as it communicates a little clearer. I also thought it’s better to use standard Ecore infrastructure throughout and not to rely on the particular way Ecore maps to actual Java classes.

Let me know…

…what you think of this approach! Is it useful? Is the notation clear? Do you have a preference for the use of the Class<? extends EObject>-style? Be sure to drop me line.

Categories: The How, Xtext
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