Monthly Archives: February 2014

Switching from an inferred Ecore model to an imported one in your Xtext grammar

When you use Xtext for developing your language the Ecore model for the AST is automatically derived/inferred from the grammar. If your DSL is simple, this automatic meta-model inference is usually enough. However, there might be cases where you need more control on the meta-model and in such cases you will want to switch from an inferred Ecore model to a an imported one, which you will manually maintain. This is documented in the Xtext documentation, and in some blog posts. When I needed to switch to an imported Ecore model for Xsemantics, things have not been that easy, so I thought to document the steps to perform some switching in this tutorial, using a simple example. (I should have talked about that in my Xtext book, but at that time I ran out of pages so there was no space left for this subject 🙂

So first of all, let’s create an Xtext project, org.xtext.example.hellocustomecore, (you can find the sources of this example online at; the grammar of the DSL is not important: this is just an example. We will first start developing the DSL using the automatic Ecore model inference and later we will switch to an imported Ecore.

The grammar of this example is as follows (to make things more interesting, we will also use Xbase):

and we run the MWE2 generator.

To have something working, we also write an inferrer

With this DSL we can write programs of the shape (nothing interesting, this is just an example)

Now, let’s say we want to check in the validator that there are no elements with the same name; since both “Hello” and “Greeting” have the feature name, we can introduce in the Ecore model a common interface with the method getName(). OK, we could achieve this also by introducing a fake rule in the Xtext grammar, but let’s switch to an imported Ecore model so that we can manually modify that.

Switching to an imported Ecore model

First of all, we add a new source folder to our project (you must create it with File -> New -> Source Folder, or if you create it as a normal folder, you then must add it as a source folder with Project -> Properties -> Lava Build Path: Source tab), say emf-gen, where all the EMF classes will be generated; we also make sure to include such folder in the file:

Remember that, at the moment, the EMF classes are generated into the src-gen folder, together with other Xtext artifacts (e.g., the ANTLR parser):


Xtext generates the inferred Ecore model file and the GenModel file into the folder model/generated


This is the new behavior introduced in Xtext 2.4.3 by the fragment ecore.EMFGeneratorFragment that replaces the now deprecated ecore.EcoreGeneratorFragment; if you still have the deprecated fragment in your MWE2 files, then the Ecore and the GenModel are generated in the src-gen folder.

Let’s rename the “generated” folder into “custom” (if in the future for any reason we want to re-enable Xtext Ecore inference, our custom files will not be overwritten):


NOTE: if you simply move the .ecore and .genmodel file into the directory model, you will not be able to open the .ecore file with the Ecore editor: this is due to the fact that this Ecore file refers to Xbase Ecore models with a relative path; in that case you need to manually adjust such references by opening the .ecore file with the text editor.

From now on, remember, we will manually manage the Ecore file.

Now we change the GenModel file, so that the EMF model classes are generated into emf-gen instead of src-gen:

imported-ecore-genmodelWe need to change the MWE2 file as follows:

  • Enable the org.eclipse.emf.mwe2.ecore.EcoreGenerator fragment that will generate the EMF classes using our custom Ecore file and GenModel file; indeed, you must refer to the custom GenModel file; before that we also run the DirectoryCleaner on the emf-gen folder (this way, each time the EMF classes are generated, the previous classes are wiped out); enable these two parts right after the StandaloneSetup section;
  • Comment or remove the DirectoryCleaner element for the model directory (otherwise the workflow will remove our custom Ecore and GenModel files);
  • In the language section we load our custom Ecore file,
  • and we disable ecore.EMFGeneratorFragment (we don’t need that anymore, since we don’t want the Ecore model inference)

The MWE2 files is now as follows (I highlighted the modifications):

We add the dependency org.eclipse.xtext.ecore in the MANIFEST.MF:imported-ecore-manifestIn the Xtext grammar we replace the generate statement with an import statement:

Now we’re ready to run the MWE2 workflow, and you should get no error (if you followed all the above instructions); you can see that now the EMF model classes are generated into the emf-gen folder (the corresponding packages in the src-gen folders are now empty and you can remove them):


We must now modify the plugin.xml (note that there’s no plugin.xml_gen anymore), so that the org.eclipse.emf.ecore.generated_package extension point contains the reference to the new GenModel file:


If you try the editor for the DSL it will still work; however, the Junit tests will fail with errors of this shape:

That’s because the generated StandaloneSetup does not register the EPackage anymore, see the diff:


All we need to do is to modify the StandaloneSetup in the src folder (NOT the generated one, since it will be overwritten by subsequent MWE2 workflow runs) and override the register method so that it performs the registration of the EPackage:

And now the Junit tests will run again.

Modifying the Ecore model

We can now customize our Ecore model, using the Ecore editor and the Properties view.

For example, we add the interface Element, with the method getName() and we make both Hello and Greeting implement this interface (they both have getName() thus the implementation of the interface is automatic).

imported-ecore-custom-ecore1 imported-ecore-custom-ecore2 imported-ecore-custom-ecore3

We also add a method getElements() to the Model class returning an Iterable<Element> (containing both the Hello and the Greeting objects)


and we implement that method using an EAnnotation, using the source “” and providing a body

imported-ecore-custom-ecore5 imported-ecore-custom-ecore6

With the following implementation

Let’s run the MWE2 workflow so that it will regenerate the EMF classes.

And now we can implement the validator method checking duplicates, using the new getElements() method and the fact that now both Hello and Greeting implement Element:

That’s all! I hope you found this tutorial useful 🙂

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