The KIELER Infrastructure for Meta-Layout (KIML) and the KIELER Layouters (KLay) projects both started as research projects at the Real-Time and Embedded Systems Group, Kiel University. The latter provides pure-Java implementations of several layout algorithms, while the former provides an infrastructure to connect those algorithms to Eclipse-based graphical editors and viewing frameworks. Layout algorithms are a research focus of our research group at Kiel University, and both technologies are already part of several open-source and closed-source commercial applications.
One of those applications is Papyrus, for which our group developed a layout algorithm for UML sequence diagrams. This collaboration prompted us to investigate becoming an official Eclipse project, which would facilitate incorporating automatic layout into Eclipse projects.
The scope of this project includes two areas: layout algorithms and the actual layout kernel / infrastructure. Layout algorithms includes Java implementations of layout algorithms as well as interfaces to existing libraries of layout algorithms. The layout kernel includes the basic framework to connect graphical editors to layout algorithms. This includes a robust data structure to represent graphs and annotate them with layout configuration information.
The scope of this project specifically excludes the development of graphical editing frameworks, or any kind of displaying infrastructure for that matter.
Graphical editors are popular for visualizing concepts and systems. However, just being graphical in nature does not automatically make a diagram easy to understand. Its usefulness much rather depends on how well its elements are placed and how well the links connecting its elements are routed. The placement of elements and the routing of links is what we call the layout of a diagram. Getting the layout right is labour intensive and time consuming. Automatic layout aims to free users from this task by providing algorithms that compute layouts for them.
This project provides both layout algorithms and a framework that connects them to diagram editors. To enable automatic layout for your editor, developers simply have to provide code that transforms diagrams into a format the framework understands, and code that applies the computed layouts back to the diagrams.
This project will augment Eclipse with an editor-independent layout framework. Since our layout infrastructure is based on Eclipse technology, becoming an official Eclipse project is the next logical step.
One goal is that all major editing frameworks will interface with the layout framework, as far as possible. Such interfaces have already been implemented for GMF-based editors and, to a lesser extent, for Graphiti-based editors.
Another goal is to add the perspective of automatic layout to design discussions to make it easier for projects to add layout support. We have already started discussions in that direction with the developers of GEF 4.
All of our code has always been released under EPL 1.0. All committers have signed an agreement to release their code as open source software. Thus, most of the code should be clear of legal issues.
An exception is our distribution of the OGDF layout library in an Eclipse plug-in. The library is released under GPL 2 or 3. It may be necessary to exclude the OGDF integration from the Eclipse project and to continue making it available through its current update site.
An initial contribution can be expected shortly after the project's acceptance. The main and most labour intensive challenge here will be to do some restructuring and to properly rename all plug-ins, extension points, and packages.
Afterwards, we will take the opportunity to refactor some of the core infrastructure (as outlined below in Future Work). Once that refactoring is finished, we expect to be ready to produce a first release.
The central data structure of the layout infrastructure (the KGraph) was designed years ago. The design goal was for it to be a generic representation of graphs where each element could be augmented with further data. Layout information fell under the "further data" category. However, in the new project, the only purpose of the KGraph will be to serve as a basic data structure for automatic layout. Thus, the KGraph will be the first thing we will overhaul.
One focus of our research group continues to be layout algorithms. They will thus see further development. Specific areas of development will be decided upon on a shorter term basis.