2. The Textual Notation « FC4 User Manual

We have a few key requirements for our textual notation:

We need… so that…
the source of our diagrams to be textual in nature we can use Git and GitHub to usefully track the revision history of the diagrams and to conduct effective peer reviews of changes.
the source of our diagrams to be structured data the information of a diagram can be machine-readable and machine-writeable — i.e. so that software tooling can consume and/or generate the information.
the source to be human readable and writeable people can efficiently and effectively author and review the source of the diagrams.

For now we are using a YAML format that meets these requirements. It comes from, and is supported by, Structurizr Express, a tool described in The Toolset.

The format supports describing:

Each diagram is manifested as a single YAML file using this format.

You can find a detailed description of the format in the Structurizr Express help.

We don’t currently have a specification for this format, but if we continue using it much longer we’ll create one.

Considering the Possible Separation of Content and Presentation

The format we’re currently using is not limited to the semantic definitions of our elements and their relationships; it also requires that the position of each element be specified, and supports limited styling directives.

One idea comes up frequently when technical folks see this: maybe we should keep semantic information (content) separate from presentation information (positions and styles) — e.g. maybe in two separate files, rather than in a single file.

We have decided not to pursue such an approach for now, because:

  1. It’d be more complicated.
  2. The whole point of this approach is to produce diagrams, which are visual artifacts.
    1. We are producing these visual artifacts because they can be an extremely efficient and effective way for people to learn a large amount of high-quality information about systems.
    2. The degree to which these learning experiences are successful — efficient and effective — is highly dependent on the expressiveness of the visual elements. In other words, the layout and the other visual aspects of a diagram are both critical to the value of the diagram.
    3. Therefore, the presentation-related information is integral and crucial to these diagrams, and should not be considered ancillary or secondary.

This is not to rule out the possibility of eventually moving to a different format which might separate the graph information and presentation information that make up a diagram. We’re just not going to do so right now.

An Example

This example is by Simon Brown:

link__for_use_with: https://structurizr.com/express
link__diagram_scheme_description: https://c4model.com/
type: Container
scope: Internet Banking System
description: The container diagram for the Internet Banking System.

- type: Person
  name: Customer
  description: A customer of the bank.
  position: '525,50'
- type: Software System
  name: Internet Banking System
  description: Allows customers to view information about their bank accounts and make payments.
  tags: Internal
  - type: Container
    name: Database
    description: Stores interesting data.
    technology: Relational Database Schema
    tags: Database
    position: '400,1200'
  - type: Container
    name: Web Application
    description: Provides all of the Internet banking functionality to customers.
    technology: Java and Spring MVC
    position: '400,700'
- type: Software System
  name: Mainframe Banking System
  description: Stores all of the core banking information about customers, accounts, transactions, etc.
  tags: Internal
  position: '1600,700'

- source: Customer
  description: uses
  destination: Web Application
  technology: HTTPS
- source: Web Application
  description: Reads from and writes to
  destination: Database
  technology: JDBC
- source: Web Application
  description: uses
  destination: Mainframe Banking System
  technology: XML/HTTPS

- type: element
  tag: Container
  background: '#438dd5'
- type: element
  tag: Database
  shape: Cylinder
- type: element
  tag: Element
  color: '#ffffff'
- type: element
  tag: Person
  background: '#08427b'
  shape: Person
- type: element
  tag: Software System
  background: '#1168bd'

size: A5_Landscape

Please continue to The Graphical Notation or go back to the top page of the manual.