Dimensions of DSL Design

Markus Völter, Eelco Visser. Dimensions of DSL Design. 2011.


Domain-Specific Languages (DSLs) are languages with high expressivity for a specific, narrow problem domain. They are a powerful tool for software engineering, because they can be tailor-made for a specific class of problems. However, because of the large degree of freedom in designing DSLs, and because they are supposed to cover the right domain, completely, and at the right abstraction level, DSL design is also hard. In this paper we present a framework for describing and characterizing external domain specific languages. We identify eight design dimensions that span the space within which DSLs are designed: expressivity, coverage, semantics, separation of concerns, completeness, large-scale model structure, language modularization and syntax. We illustrate the design alternatives along each of these dimensions with examples from five different case studies. These have been selected for their diversity in context, style and implementation technologies. The paper concludes with an outlook on further steps towards comprehensive DSL design guidance.