Astah UMLPad – UML on an iPad

Alastair Aitken 19 January 2014 0

Three of us were hunched around the desk gazing vacantly into a single monitor. No amount of staring at the sequence diagram on the screen was going to help us understand it, let alone complete it. The silence was broken by the boss, “do any of us have the slightest idea what we’re doing?”

With hindsight we were using the Unified Modeling Language (UML) incorrectly. It was a small process that we were modelling but the objects that would be taking part in it had been pre-determined by a system architect, and they were incorrectly defined for the job in hand. The architectural process we were following didn’t allow us to define our own objects so we were forced to jump through so many hoops in order to define the process that the design of it had quickly become something that we couldn’t understand.

It wasn’t the fault of UML but of the architectural process, but often UML’s opponents mistake it for a process and condemn it as such. A lot of what’s grown up around UML, such as processes, has made it a drag. In fact, everything about the body that oversees the definition of UML, the Object Management Group, screams, “boring!” The website is corporately dull, the text is yawn inducing; it feels like an enterprise where the pre-requisite for entry is a beard or a moustache (and I don’t mean a Movember ‘tache).

UML doesn’t have to be dull: Astah UMLPad for the iPad, now in version 1.1, is a ridiculously great idea. It offers a seemingly simple interface to rapidly create UML class diagrams. It’s a recognition that the best ideas don’t always strike whilst sitting at a desk or in front of a computer.

Adding elements to a diagram is a tap and then a selection of class, interface, note or text. Classes (or interfaces) are connected by tapping and then dragging the connector to the second class. It’s all horribly easy.

Diagrams can be saved to Photos, sent via email as PNG images or as an XML file to be used in Astah Professional, where they can be fleshed out on a full specification UML designer, complete with code generation.

An interesting (and with hindsight, almost obvious) tangent that Astah Professional has taken is to incorporate Mind Maps into its suite of tools. This allows the tool to be used at an earlier stage in the requirements and design process than a bog-standard UML design tool.

Whilst the price of Astah Professional is low but there’s also the free Astah Community edition. It can generate code using the awkwardly named third-party plugin, anycode.

There’s a real feeling of levity in Astah UMLPad’s colours and in its ease of use that really makes UML fun. UML and fun in the same sentence? How often do you see that?


Alastair Aitken (124 Posts)

As a contract developer and manager I’ve worked in a wide range of enterprises in a variety of countries where I’ve encountered everything from great work, awful work, bizarre work, all the way down to quasi-legal work. If you think that you recognise your own organisation within my articles then you’re undoubtedly wrong, where you work isn’t that unique.

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