Section: Research Program
Modeling consists in capturing various aspects of document and data processing and communication in a unifying model. Our modeling research direction mainly focuses on three aspects.
The first aspect aims at reducing the impedance mismatch. The impedance mismatch refers to the complexity, difficulty and lack of performance induced by various web application layers which require the same piece of information to be represented and processed differently. The mismatch occurs because programming languages use different native data models from those used for documents in browsers and for storage in databases. This results in complex and multi-tier software architectures whose different layers are incompatible in nature. This, in turn, results in expensive, inefficient, and error-prone web development. For reducing the impedance mismatch, we will focus on the design of a unifying software stack and programming framework, backed by generic and solid logical foundations similar in spirit to the NoSQL approach.
The second aspect aims at harnessing heterogeneity. Web applications increasingly use diverse data models: ordered and unordered tree-like structures (such as XML), nested records and arrays (such as JSON), graphs like (e.g. RDF), and tables. Furthermore, these data models also involve a variety of languages for expressing constraints over data (e.g. XML schema, the well-founded RelaxNG, and RDFS to name just a few). We believe that this heterogeneity is here to stay and is likely to increase. These differences in representations imply loads of error-prone and costly conversions and transformations. Furthermore, some native formats (e.g. JSON) are diverted from a programming construct to a data exchange one. This often results in a loss of information and in errors that need to be tracked and corrected. In this context, it is important to seek methods for reducing risks of information loss during data transformation and exchange. For harnessing heterogeneity, we will focus on the integration of data models through unified formal semantics and in particular logical interpretation. This allows using the same programming language constructs on different data models. At the programming language level, this is similar to languages such as JSonIq for JSON and XML.
Finally, the third aspect aims at making applications and data more compositional. Most web programming technologies are currently limited from a compositional point of view. For example, tree grammars (like schema languages for XML) are monolithic in the sense that they require the full description of the considered structures, instead of allowing the assembly of smaller and reusable building blocks. More generally, this need is illustrated in the industry by the increasing development of W3C specifications organised in ad-hoc modules. So far, these various attempts have failed to provide an acceptable mechanism for composition. For example, HTML5 has been specified in a monolithic way despite the fact that it relies on several other existing specifications (such as HTML, SVG, SMIL, CSS, etc.). As a consequence, this translates into monolithic web applications, which makes their automated verification harder by making modular analyses more difficult. For making applications and data more compositional, we will focus on the design of modular schema and programming languages. For this purpose, we will notably rely on succinct yet expressive formalisms (like two-way logics, polymorphic types) that ease the process of expressing modular specifications.
One major scientific difficulty in this overall direction consists in taking into account the specificities of the web, which require new programming models and supporting theoretical tools that do not exist today.