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Object-Centric Reflection (PhD thesis)

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Other publication (peer-review)
Publication date 2012
Author Ressia Jorge,
Project Synchronizing Models and Code
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Other publication (peer-review)

Publisher U Bern, U Bern

Open Access


Reflective applications are able to query and manipulate the structure and behavior of a running system. This is essential for highly dynamic software that needs to interact with objects whose structure and behavior are not known when the application is written. Software analysis tools, like debuggers, are a typical example. Oddly, although reflection essentially concerns run-time entities, reflective applications tend to focus on static abstractions, like classes and methods, rather than objects. This is phenomenon we call the object paradox, which makes developers less effective by drawing their attention away from run-time objects. To counteract this phenomenon, we propose a purely object-centric approach to reflection. Reflective mechanisms provide object-specific capabilities as another feature. Object-centric reflection proposes to turn this around and put object-specific capabilities as the central reflection mechanism. This change in the reflection architecture allows a unification of various reflection mechanisms and a solution to the object paradox. We introduce Bifr��st, an object-centric reflective system based on first-class meta-objects. Through a series of practical examples we demonstrate how object-centric reflection mitigates the object paradox by avoiding the need to reflect on static abstractions. We survey existing approaches to reflection to establish key requirements in the domain, and we show that an object-centric approach simplifies the meta-level and allows a unification of the reflection field. We demonstrate how development itself is enhanced with this new approach: talents are dynamically composable units of reuse, and object-centric debugging prevents the object paradox when debugging. We also demonstrate how software analysis is benefited by object-centric reflection with Chameleon, a framework for building object-centric analysis tools and MetaSpy, a domain-specific profiler.