Architecture Description Markup Language (ADML)

Creating an Open Market for IT Architecture Tools

Prepared by John Spencer        26th September 2000



Features Summary

ADML, the Architecture Description Markup Language, is a standard XML-based mark-up language for describing software and system architectures.

A software architecture describes the structural properties of software, typically the components and their interrelationships, and guidelines about their use. ADML provides a means of representing an architecture that can be used to support the interchange of architectural descriptions between a variety of architectural design tools.

The standard makes possible the broad sharing of ADML models so that many present and future applications can manipulate, search, present, and store the models. Given the ongoing adoption of XML by industry, XML-based ADML models will be in a format that will not become orphaned. A standard, open representation will de-couple an enterprise's architectural models from vendors and enable the models to remain useful despite the rapid change in software tools.

ADML leverages the work of academia and other essential organizations such as W3C and OMG. It provides a firm basis for a future where tools can share information more seamlessly, and where computer architecture can move towards the rigor we see already in the building industry.

ADML is based on Acme, a software architecture description language developed at Carnegie Mellon University and the Information Sciences Institute at the University of Southern California. The Micro-electronics and Computer technology Consortium (MCC) of Austin, TX, developed ADML as an XML-based version of Acme, as part of its Software and Systems Engineering Productivity (SSEP) project, to support the use of architecture in product line engineering. ADML adds to Acme a standardized representation (parsable by ordinary XML parsers), the ability to define links to objects outside the architecture (such as rationale, designs, components, etc.), straightforward ability to interface with commercial repositories, and transparent extensibility.

Building ADML on Acme makes it possible to take advantage of Acme analysis tools, as well as other ADL related tools that take advantage of Acme’s interchange language status.

Because ADML is also based on XML, ADML is extensible via standard XML mechanisms, and so can evolve to meet future needs, and it can be parsed, edited, and viewed by standard XML tools.


IT architecture tools are a class of tools that deal with the definition (and usually the graphical representation) of entire IT architectures. They are analogous to, but distinct from, the system design and CASE tools that deal with systems and software engineering.

Unlike object-oriented design and modelling tools, which in recent years have coalesced around UML as a common industry standard, there is as yet no commonly accepted commercial or de jure standard for IT architecture tools. While UML is an excellent basis for system and system component design, and UML based tools are often used to model various aspects of IT architecture, UML has generally been found lacking as a basis for overall IT architecture design (e.g., see Sull et al, and Youngs et al in a recent paper in the IBM Systems Journal).

To date, most published research into architecture tools has been done in the academic arena, where a number of different architecture description languages have been produced. In recent years, one such language - Acme, developed at Carnegie-Mellon University and the Information Sciences Institute at the University of Southern California - has come to be widely accepted in the U.S. academic arena as a standard for interchange of architecture description information.

Building on Acme, the MCC consortium produced the Architecture Description Markup Language (ADML), as part of its Software and Systems Engineering Productivity (SSEP) project.

NCR were a sponsor of the SSEP work, as well as being very active in The Open Group's Architecture Program. They were a catalyst in bringing the two organizations together, and in 1999 MCC joined The Open Group's Architecture Program to help the members of that program develop ADML into an Open Group Technical Standard.

The ADML Technical Standard is now available free of charge from The Open Group Publications web server at:

Market Drivers

Organisations of all sizes are re-engineering their business processes, often as a result of mergers and acquisitions, creating a growing demand for reliable methods and tools for moving from a piecemeal set of loosely interconnected systems to a consistent architecture that can integrate disparate organizational units into a coherent business function.

The Open Group already has a significant track record in the Architecture field. It has developed and refined The Open Group Architectural Framework (TOGAF) over the past six years, which in turn provides the TOGAF Architecture Development Method (ADM) - a vendor-independent, technology-independent, high quality method that is dependable and proven in practice, for developing customer IT architectures based on open industry standards.

The Open Group is building on its existing achievements in the Architecture field by focusing on its acknowledged strengths of providing a forum for achieving consensus on open industry standards, and developing the necessary testing and branding services to support market growth.


ADML is part of a broader program of work being undertaken by The Open Group's Architecture Program. The goals of this program are to: 

The stakeholders in the Open Group Architecture Program are illustrated below.

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Achieving these goals will in turn will produce the familiar benefits of open systems in the architecture tools market.

Benefits to End Customers

Benefits to IT Architecture Tools Vendors

Benefits to IT Solutions Vendors

Future Strategy - An Open Forum for the Evolution of ADML

Although The Open Group has adopted ADML as a Technical Standard, we recognize that there needs to be further evolution of ADML. The Open Group's Architecture Program provides the forum in which that evolution will happen, with customer enterprise architects articulating their requirements for an industry standard for architecture definition and interchange, and tools vendors providing feedback on implementation.

ADML offers opportunities in a number of ways:

ADML represents an excellent basis on which tools vendors can upgrade their tools to enable them to support the needs of the enterprise architect now and into the future.

The Open Group's Architecture Program provides an open forum for users and vendors of tools designed to support the architecture function to come together to evolve suitable open standards in this field.

Last Update: September 26, 2000