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Characteristics, potentials, and limitations of open-source Simulink projects for empirical research

Boll, Alexander; Brokhausen, Florian; Amorim, Tiago; Kehrer, Timo; Vogelsang, Andreas

Simulink is an example of a successful application of the paradigm of model-based development into industrial practice. Numerous companies create and maintain Simulink projects for modeling software-intensive embedded systems, aiming at early validation and automated code generation. However, Simulink projects are not as easily available as code-based ones, which profit from large publicly accessible open-source repositories, thus curbing empirical research. In this paper, we investigate a set of 1734 freely available Simulink models from 194 projects and analyze their suitability for empirical research. We analyze the projects considering (1) their development context, (2) their complexity in terms of size and organization within projects, and (3) their evolution over time. Our results show that there are both limitations and potentials for empirical research. On the one hand, some application domains dominate the development context, and there is a large number of models that can be considered toy examples of limited practical relevance. These often stem from an academic context, consist of only a few Simulink blocks, and are no longer (or have never been) under active development or maintenance. On the other hand, we found that a subset of the analyzed models is of considerable size and complexity. There are models comprising several thousands of blocks, some of them highly modularized by hierarchically organized Simulink subsystems. Likewise, some of the models expose an active maintenance span of several years, which indicates that they are used as primary development artifacts throughout a project’s lifecycle. According to a discussion of our results with a domain expert, many models can be considered mature enough for quality analysis purposes, and they expose characteristics that can be considered representative for industry-scale models. Thus, we are confident that a subset of the models is suitable for empirical research. More generally, using a publicly available model corpus or a dedicated subset enables researchers to replicate findings, publish subsequent studies, and use them for validation purposes. We publish our dataset for the sake of replicating our results and fostering future empirical research.
Published in: Software and Systems Modeling, 10.1007/s10270-021-00883-0, Springer Nature