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Title: Publications


1. M. Voelter, J. Siegmund, T. Berger, B. Kolb.

Towards User-Friendly Projectional Editors

Conference paper - PDF

Abstract: Today's challenges for language development include language extension and composition, as well as the use of diverse notations. A promising approach is projectional editing, a technique to directly manipulate the abstract syntax tree of a program, without relying on parsers. Its potential lies in the ability to combine diverse notational styles -- such as text, symbols, tables, and graphics -- and the support for a wide range of composition techniques. However, projectional editing is often perceived as problematic for developers. Expressed drawbacks include the unfamiliar editing experience and challenges in the integration with existing infrastructure. In this paper we investigate the usability of projectional editors. We systematically identify usability issues resulting from the architecture. We use JetBrains Meta Programming System (MPS) as a case study. The case study discusses the concepts that MPS incorporates to address the identified issues, evaluates effectiveness of these concepts by surveying professional developers, and reports industrial experiences from realizing large-scale systems. Our results show that the benefits of flexible language composition and diverse notations come at the cost of serious usability issues -- which, however, can be effectively mitigated with facilities that emulate editing experience of parser-based editors.

Citation: M. Voelter, J. Siegmund, T. Berger, B. Kolb. Towards User-Friendly Projectional Editors. Proc. of the 7th Intl. Conf. on Software Language Engineering (SLE 2014), 20 pages, 2014

2. M. Voelter, S. Lisson.

Supporting Diverse Notations with MPS’ Projectional Editor

Workshop paper - PDF

Abstract: To be able to build effective DSLs, these DSLs must not just use language concepts that are aligned with their respective domain, but also use notations that correspond closely to established domain notations -- and those are often not purely textual or graphical. The underlying language workbench must support these notations, and combining different notations in a single editor must be supported as well in order to support the coherent definitions of systems that use several DSLs. In this paper we provide an overview over the notations supported by JetBrains MPS. MPS is a language workbench that uses a projectional editor, which, by its very nature, can deal with many different notational styles, including text, prose, math tables and graphics. The various supported notations are illustrated with examples from real-world systems.

Citation: M. Voelter, S. Lisson. Supporting Diverse Notations with MPS’ Projectional Editor, 2nd International Workshop on The Globalization of Modeling Languages, MODELS 2014

3. Markus Voelter

Generic Tools, Specific Languages

PhD thesis -

Abstract: Generic Tools, Specific Languages (GTSL) is an approach for developing tools and applications in a way that supports easier and more meaningful adaptation to specific domains. To achieve this goal, GTSL generalizes programming language IDEs to domains traditionally not addressed by languages and IDEs. At its core, GTSL represents applications as documents/programs/models expressed with suitable languages. Application functionality is provided through an IDE that is aware of the languages and their semantics. The IDE provides editing support, and also directly integrates domain-specific analyses and execution services. Applications and their languages can be adapted to increasingly specific domains using language engineering; this includes developing incremental extensions to existing languages or creating additional, tightly integrated languages. Language workbenches act as the foundation on which such applications are built.

4. Fabien Campagne

The MPS Language Workbench Volume I

Book -

Abstract: The MPS Language Workbench, Volume I. The first volume of the series is both a simple introduction to the JetBrains MPS language workbench and a complete reference manual.

Citation: Fabien Campagne. The MPS Language Workbench, Volume I. March 2014.

5. Federico Tomassetti

Polyglot software development

PhD thesis -

Abstract: In the first part of this dissertation we study the adoption of modeling and domain specific languages. On the basis of an industrial survey we individuate a list of benefits attainable through these languages, how frequently they can be reached and which techniques permit to improve the chances to obtain a particular benefit. In the same way we study also the common problems which either prevent or hinder the adoption of these languages. We then analyze the processes through which these languages are employed, studying the relative frequency of the usage of the different techniques and the factors influencing it. Finally we present two case-studies performed in a small and in a very large company, with the intent of presenting the peculiarities of the adoption in different contexts.

6. M. Voelter, B. Kolb, J. Warmer

Projecting a Modular Future

Journal paper - PDF

Abstract: We describe two innovations in programming languages: modularity and projectional editing. Language modularity refers to the ability to combine independently developed languages without changing their respective definitions. A language is not anymore a fixed quantity, instead it can be extended with domain-specific constructs as needed. Projectional editing refers to a technique of building editors and IDEs that avoid the need for parsers. They support a wide range of tightly integrated notations including textual, symbolic, tabular and graphical. In addition, by avoiding parsers, the well-known limitations of grammar composition are avoided as well. The article illustrates the consequences of these two innovations for the design of (programming) languages with three examples. First, we discuss a set of modular extensions of C for embedded programming that enables efficient code generation and formal analysis. Second, we discuss a language for requirements engineering that flexibly combines structured and unstructured (prose) data. Third, we illustrate a language for defining insurance rules that makes use of mathematical notations. All examples rely on the open source JetBrains MPS language workbench.

Citation: M. Voelter, B. Kolb, J. Warmer. Projecting a Modular Future. IEEE Software, in press


1. Manuele Simi, Fabien Campagne​

Composable languages for bioinformatics: the NYoSh experiment

Paper - PDF

Abstract: Language WorkBenches (LWBs) are software engineering tools that help domain experts develop solutions to various classes of problems. Some of these tools focus on non-technical users and provide languages to help organize knowledge while other workbenches provide means to create new programming languages. A key advantage of language workbenches is that they support the seamless composition of independently developed languages. This capability is useful when developing programs that can benefit from different levels of abstraction. We reasoned that language workbenches could be useful to develop bioinformatics software solutions. In order to evaluate the potential of language workbenches in bioinformatics, we tested a prominent workbench by developing an alternative to shell scripting. To illustrate what LWBs and Language Composition can bring to bioinformatics, we report on our design and development of NYoSh (Not Your ordinary Shell).

Citation: Simi M, Campagne F. (2014) Composable languages for bioinformatics: the NYoSh experiment. PeerJ 2:e241

2. M. Voelter, D. Ratiu and F. Tomassetti

Requirements as First-Class Citizens: Integrating Requirements with Implementation Artifacts

Workshop paper - PDF

Abstract: Requirements often play second fiddle in software development projects. The tools for managing requirements often just support ”numbered lists of prose paragraphs”, and they don’t integrate well with the tools used for implementing the system. This leads to all kinds of challenges in terms of versioning and traceability. Moreover, because they are mainly prose text, they cannot easily be checked for consistency and completeness, limiting their usefulness. In this paper we describe an alternative approach, where requirements are (at least partially) formalized to support consistency checking, where parts of requirements can be used directly as the implementation, and where requirements are managed with the same tools that are used for system development. The approach is illustrated with the mbeddr system, a comprehensive IDE for embedded software development based on an extensible version of C and domain-specific languages.

Citation: M. Voelter, D. Ratiu and F. Tomassetti. Requirements as First-Class Citizens: Integrating Requirements with Implementation Artifacts. 6th International Workshop on Model-Based Architecting/Construction of Embedded Systems (ACES-MB) 2013, 10 pages, MODELS 2013

3. M. Voelter

Integrating Prose as a First-Class Citizen with Models and Code

Workshop paper - PDF

Abstract: In programming and modeling we strive to express structures and behaviors as formally as possible to support tool-based processing. However, some aspects of systems cannot be described in a way that is suitable for tool-based consistency checking and analysis. Examples include code comments, requirements and software design documents. Consequently, they are often out-of-sync with the code and do not reflect the current state of the system. This paper demonstrates how language engineering based on language workbenches can help solve this problem by seamlessly mixing prose and program nodes. These program nodes can range from simple references to other elements over variables and formulas to embedded program fragments. The paper briefly explains the language engineering techniques behind the approach as well as a number of prose-code integrated languages that are part of mbeddr, an integrated language and tool stack for embedded software engineering.

Citation: M. Voelter. Integrating Prose as a First-Class Citizen with Models and Code. 7th International Workshop on Multi-Paradigm Modeling (MPM'13), 10 pages, MODELS 2013

4. Václav Pech, Alexander Shatalin, Markus Voelter

JetBrains MPS as a Tool for Extending Java

Paper PDF - publish the pppj.pdf file attached to this document at and link to it from here

Abstract: JetBrains MPS is an integrated environment for language engineering. It allows language designers to define new programming languages, both general-purpose and domain-specific, either as standalone entities or as modular extensions of already existing ones. Since MPS leverages the concept of projectional editing, non-textual and non-parseable syntactic forms are possible, including tables or mathematical symbols. This tool paper introduces MPS and shows how its novel approach can be applied to Java development. Special attention will be paid to the ability to modularize and compose languages.

Citation: V. Pech, A. Shatalin, M. Voelter, PPPJ '13 Proceedings of the 2013 International Conference on Principles and Practices of Programming on the Java Platform: Virtual Machines, Languages, and Tools, Pages 165-168 

5. M. Voelter, D. Ratiu, B. Kolb, B. Schaetz, mbeddr

Instantiating a Language Workbench in the Embedded Systems Domain

Journal paper - PDF

Abstract: Tools can boost software developer productivity, but building custom tools is prohibitively expensive, especially for small organizations. For example, embedded programmers often have to use low-level C with limited IDE support, and integrated into an off-the-shelf tool chain in an ad-hoc way. To address these challenges, we have built mbeddr, an extensible language and IDE for embedded software development based on C. mbeddr is a large- scale instantiation of the Jetbrains MPS language workbench. Exploiting its capabilities for language modularization and composition, projectional editing and multi-stage transformation, mbeddr is an open and modular framework that lets third parties add extensions to C with minimal effort and without invasive changes. End users can combine extensions in programs as needed. To illustrate the approach, in this paper we discuss mbeddr's support for state machines, components, decision tables, requirements tracing, product line variability and program verification and outline their implementation. We also present our experience with building mbeddr, which shows that relying on language workbenches dramatically reduces the effort of building customized, modular and extensible languages and IDEs to the point where this is affordable by small organizations. Finally, we report on the experience of using mbeddr in a commercial project, which illustrates the benefits to end users.

Citation: M. Voelter, D. Ratiu, B. Kolb, B. Schaetz. mbeddr - Instantiating a Language Workbench in the Embedded Systems Domain. Journal of Automated Software Engineering, September 2013, Volume 20, Issue 3, pp 339-390, 51 pages, 2013

6. M. Voelter

DSL Engineering


Abstract: The book provides a thorough read on the subject, introducing the reader into the core aspects of DSL design and implementation. It explains the fundamental principles of using DSLs as part of modern development cycle showcasing JetBrains MPS as one of the tools that aim to make DSL development approachable.

7. M. Voelter, D. Ratiu, B. Kolb, B. Schaetz.

mbeddr: an Extensible C-based Programming Language and IDE for Embedded Systems

Conference paper - PDF

Abstract: While the C programming language provides very good support for writing efficient, low-level code, it does not offer adequate means for defining higher-level abstractions relevant to embedded software. In this paper we present the mbeddr technology stack that supports extension of C with constructs adequate for embedded systems. In mbeddr, efficient low-level programs can be written using the well-known concepts from C. Higher-level domain-specific abstractions can be seamlessly integrated into C by means of modular language extension regarding syntax, type system, semantics and IDE. In the paper we show how language extension can address the challenges of embedded software development and report on our experience in building these extensions. We show that language workbenches deliver on the promise of significantly reducing the effort of language engineering and the construction of corresponding IDEs. mbeddr is built on top of the JetBrains MPS language workbench. Both MPS and mbeddr are open source software.

Citation: M. Voelter, D. Ratiu, B. Kolb, B. Schaetz. mbeddr: an Extensible C-based Programming Language and IDE for Embedded Systems. Proc. of the 3rd annual conference on Systems, programming, and applications: software for humanity (SPLASH), ACM, pp 121-140, 20 pages, 2013


1. Tomáš Fechtner

MPS-based Domain-specific Languages for real time Java development

Diploma thesis - PDF

Abstract: The Real-time Specification of Java (RTSJ) is an intention to introduce Java as a language for developing real-time system. However, the complexity of their development and a non-trivial programming model of RTSJ with its manual memory management often lead to programming errors. To mitigate the development of RTSJ systems it would be beneficial to provide an internal domain-specific language (DSL) extending the Java language which would allow to develop the systems in more intuitive and safer way. However, it is needed to find compromise between solution’s power and level of usability, because this two attributes go often against each other. One possible way of DSLs creation concerns the Meta-Programming System (MPS). It allows to develop new domain- specific languages and corresponding projectional editors enabling different views on code. This thesis proposes a design and implementation of the DSL on the top of the MPS platform and corresponding code generator enabling development of RTSJ systems. Furthermore, the thesis provides a simple case-study to evaluate a proposed DSL. Additionally, the thesis assesses the suitability of MPS as a DSL-development platform.

2. M. Voelter.

Language and IDE Modularization and Composition with MPS

Conference paper - PDF

Abstract: JetBrains MPS is an Open Source language workbench. It uses projectional editing, which means that no parser is involved, and textual, tabular and graphical notations are handled with the same approach. As a consequence, it is an ideal language and IDE development environment. This tutorial has three parts: In part one, I will give a very short introduction to projectional editing. Part two provides examples of existing (modular) languages developed with MPS, showcasing the benefits of the tool and its possibilities. In part three, the longest one, I will show how to define languages in MPS, reusing/extending existing language modules. The tutorial will be mostly live demos; only part one will use a small number of slides.

Citation: 5. M. Voelter. Language and IDE Modularization and Composition with MPS. International Summer School on Generative and Transformational Techniques in Software Engineering, GTTSE 2011, LNCS 7680, pp 383-430, 47 pages, 2011

3. Markus Voelter, Eelco Visser.

Product Line Engineering with Projectional Language Workbenches

Paper - PDF

Abstract: This paper investigates the application of domainspecific languages in product line engineering (PLE). We start by analyzing the limits of expressivity of feature models. Feature models correspond to context-free grammars without recursion, which prevents the expression of multiple instances and references. We then show how domain-specific languages (DSLs) can serve as a middle ground between feature modeling and programming. They can be used in cases where feature models are too limited, while keeping the separation between problem space and solution space provided by feature models. We then categorize useful combinations between configuration with feature model and construction with DSLs and provide an integration of DSLs into the conceptual framework of PLE. Finally we show how use of a consistent, unified formalism for models, code, and configuration can yield important benefits for managing variability and traceability. We illustrate the concepts with several examples from industrial case studies.

4. Markus Voelter

Embedded Software Development with Projectional Language Workbenches

Paper - PDF

Abstract: This paper describes a novel approach to embedded software development. Instead of using a combination of C code and modeling tools, we propose an approach where modeling and programming is unified using projectional language workbenches. These allow the incremental, domain-specific extension of C and a seamless integration between the various concerns of an embedded system. The paper does not propose specific extensions to C in the hope that everybody will use them; rather, the paper illustrates the benefits of domain specific extension using projectional editors. In the paper we describe the problems with the traditional approach to embedded software development and how the proposed approach can solve them. The main part of the paper describes our modular embedded language, a proof-of-concept implementation of the approach based on JetBrains MPS. We implemented a set of language extensions for embedded programming, such as state machines, tasks, type system extensions as well as a domain specific language (DSL) for robot control. The language modules are seamlessly integrated, leading to a very efficient way for implementing embedded software.

5. M. Voelter

Implementing Feature Variability for Models and Code with Projectional Language Workbenches

Workshop paper - PDF

Citation: M. Voelter. Implementing Feature Variability for Models and Code with Projectional Language Workbenches. 2nd International Workshop on Feature-Oriented Software Development (FOSD) 2010, pp 41 – 48, 8 pages, 2010


Link to submit new article proposals

"Have you read a new article about MPS? Let us know to add it to this list, please." - this link should be added to the bottom of the page. The link should open an e-mail form sending e-mail to one of our contact e-mail addresses (

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