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Eclipse EMF. This tutorial describes the usage of Eclipse EMF, a framework for modeling your data model and creating Java code from it. This tutorial is based on Eclipse 4.6 (Eclipse Neon).

1. Models and Eclipse EMF

1.1. Data model

A data model, sometimes also called domain model, represents the data you want to work with. For example, if you develop an online flight booking application, you might model your domain model with objects like Person, Flight, Booking etc. The EMF tooling allows you to create UML diagrams.

A good practice is to model the data model of an application independently of the application logic or user interface. This approach leads to classes with almost no logic and a lot of properties, e.g., a Person class could have the firstName, lastName, Address properties, etc.

With EMF you define your domain model explicitly. This helps to provide clear visibility of the model. The code generator for EMF models can be adjusted and in its default setting. It provides change notification functionality to the model in case of model changes. EMF generates interfaces and a factory to create your objects; therefore, it helps you to keep your application clean from the individual implementation classes.

Another advantage is that you can regenerate the Java code from the model at any point in time.

1.2. Eclipse Modeling Framework (EMF)

The Eclipse Modeling Framework (EMF) is a set of Eclipse plug-ins which can be used to model a data model and to generated code or other output based on this model. EMF has a distinction between the meta-model and the actual model. The meta-model describes the structure of the model. A model is a concrete instance of this meta-model.

EMF allows the developer to create the meta-model via different means, e.g., XMI, Java annotations, UML or an XML scheme. It also allows to persists the model data; the default implementation uses a data format called XML Metadata Interchange.

1.3. Generate data from an EMF model

The information stored in the EMF models can be used to generate derived output. A typical use case is that you use EMF to define the domain model of your application and that you generate the corresponding Java implementation classes from this model. The EMF framework supports that the generated code can be safely extended by hand.

The EMF model (which holds real data based on the model structure) can also be used to generate different output, e.g., HTML pages, or it can be interpreted at runtime within an application.

1.4. Meta models - Ecore and Genmodel

The EMF meta-model consists of two parts; the ecore and the genmodel description files.

The ecore file contains the information about the defined classes. The genmodel file contains additional information for the code generation, e.g., the path and file information. The genmodel file also contains the control parameter how the code should be generated.

1.5. Ecore description file

The ecore file allows to define the following elements.

  • EClass: represents a class, with zero or more attributes and zero or more references.

  • EAttribute: represents an attribute which has a name and a type.

  • EReference: represents one end of an association between two classes. It has flags to indicate if it represents a containment and a reference class to which it points.

  • EDataType: represents the type of an attribute, e.g., int, float or java.util.Date

The Ecore model shows a root object representing the whole model. This model has children which represent the packages, whose children represent the classes, while the children of the classes represent the attributes of these classes.

1.6. Ecore description file

You can create a graphical representation of an existing ecore model via the context menu of an .ecore file and by selecting Initialize Ecore Diagram…​.

How to create an Ecore dialog from an existing ecore model

2. Installation

Install EMF via the Eclipse Update manager from Help ▸ Install New Software…​. Select Modeling and install EMF - Eclipse Modeling Framework SDK and the Diagram Editor for Ecore (SDK). The second entry allows you to create models based on diagrams. Restart your Eclipse IDE after the installation.

EMF Installation

3. Exercise: Define a new EMF model and create Java code from it

3.1. Project and initial model creation

Create a new project called com.vogella.emf.webpage.model via File ▸ New ▸ Project…​ ▸ Ecore Modeling Project.


Enter webpage.ecore as the Domain File Name parameter.


This should open a visual editor for creating EMF models.


Open the Properties view via the menu Window ▸ Show View ▸ Other…​ ▸ Properties. This view allows you to modify the attributes of your model elements.

Click on Class and click into the editor to create a new class. Create the MyWeb, Webpage, Category and Article EClasses.


Use the Attribute node to assign the attribute called name to each object . This attribute should have the EString type.


Add the title, description and keywords attributes to the Web and Webpage model elements.


We want to use the data type calendar in our model. Select Datatype and drag it into your model. Assign the name Calendar to it. Use java.util.Calendar as type parameter. Add a new Attribute called created to Article and use your new type.


Select References and create an arrow similar to the following picture. Make sure the upper bound is set to "-1" (* on the user interface) and that the Containment property is flagged.


3.2. View Ecore diagram

Close the diagram and open the webpage.ecore file. The result should look like the following screenshot.


3.3. Set the package

Open the webpage.genmodel and select the Webpage node. Set the base package property to de.vogella.emf.webpage.model.


4. Generating the domain classes

4.1. Generating Java code

Based on the .genmodel files, you can generate Java code.

Right-click on the root node of the .genmodel file and select Generate Model Code. This creates the Java implementation of the EMF model in the current project.


4.2. Review the generated code

The generated code will consist of the following:

  • model — Interfaces and the Factory to create the Java classes

  • model.impl — Concrete implementation of the interfaces defined in model

  • model.util — The AdapterFactory

The central factory has methods for creating all defined objects via createObjectName() methods.

For each attribute the generated interface and its implementation contain getter and (if allowed in the model definition) setter methods. Each setter also has a generated notification to observers of the model. This means that other objects can attach them to the model and react to changes in the model.

Each generated interface extends the EObject interface. EObject is the base of every EMF class and is the EMF equivalent of java.lang.Object. EObject and its corresponding implementation class EObjectImpl provide a lightweight base class that lets the generated interfaces and classes participate in the EMF notification and persistence frameworks.

Every generated method is tagged with @generated. If you want to manually adjust the method and have EMF overwrite the method during the next generation run, you need to remove this tag.

4.3. Updating the model

If you change your .ecore model then you can update the .genmodel simply by reloading.


5. Create EMF Editor plug-ins

EMF can generate plug-ins which provide wizards for creating new model instances and an editor which allows you to enter your model information.

The following assumes that you have already have knowledge in developing Eclipse plug-ins. For more information about Eclipse plug-in development please see Eclipse Plugin Tutorial

5.1. Generating edit / editor code

Eclipse EMF allow you to create a editor for your model. Select your .genmodel file, right-click on it and select _Generate Edit Code _ and afterwards _Generate Editor Code _.


Two Eclipse plugin projects have been created, "de.vogella.emf.webpage.model.edit" and "de.vogella.emf.webpage.model.editor".

5.2. Run your plugins

Select the *.editor project and start a new Eclipse instance with your new plug-in via right mouse-click on it and by selecting Run-As ▸ Eclipse application.

This should start a new Eclipse runtime instance.

5.3. Create your model

In new Eclipse instance create a new project of type General called testing and a folder called website.

Select this folder, right click on it, select New ▸ Other…​ ▸ Example EMF Model Creation Wizards ▸ Webpage Model.


Name your model My.webpage.


Select as the Model Object "My Web" and press finish.


5.4. Edit your model

You should now see a editor for your website.model.


Right-click on "My Web" and create a new elements. To edit the elements use the "Properties View" which can be found under Window ▸ Show View ▸ Properties.


Save your created model.

6. Using the model code

6.1. Overview

The generated model code is standard Java code and can be used as such. The following demonstrates how you create objects based on the generated code.

6.2. Example

Create a new plug-in project called de.vogella.emf.webpage.usingmodel. Add the following dependency to your MANIFEST.MF.

  • org.eclipse.emf.ecore

  • com.vogella.emf.webpage.model

Create the following class.

package de.vogella.emf.webpage.usingmodel;

import de.vogella.emf.webpage.model.webpage.MyWeb;
import de.vogella.emf.webpage.model.webpage.Webpage;
import de.vogella.emf.webpage.model.webpage.WebpageFactory;
import de.vogella.emf.webpage.model.webpage.impl.WebpagePackageImpl;

public class UsingEMFModel {
    public static void main(String[] args) {
        // Retrieve the default factory singleton
        WebpageFactory factory = WebpageFactory.eINSTANCE;
        // create an instance of myWeb
        MyWeb myWeb = factory.createMyWeb();
        myWeb.setDescription("This is a description");
        // create a page
        Webpage webpage = factory.createWebpage();
        webpage.setTitle("This is a title");
        // add the page to myWeb
        // and so on, and so on
        // as you can see the EMF model can be (more or less) used as standard Java

The *PackageImpl.init() method needs to be called before doing anything else as this method initializes the model and the listeners.

7. Creating JavaDoc

You can also generate Javadoc for your classes and methods. EMF uses annotations for this with a certain property key. The easiest way of adding this is again the diagram. Select a class and maintain the documentation in the "GenModel Doc".


The ecore model looks now like the following. The key in the annotation "http://www.eclipse.org/emf/2002/GenModel" is necessary and the key on the details enty must be "documentation".


8. Generating methods

By default EMF generates getter and setter for every class. You can also add Operations or for example overwrite methods, e.g., the toString() method. For Article the following toString method was generated in "ArticleImpl

     * @generated
    public String toString() {
        if (eIsProxy()) return super.toString();

        StringBuffer result = new StringBuffer(super.toString());
        result.append(" (name: ");
        result.append(", created: ");
        return result.toString();

To overwrite this, add a "EOperation" to your model with the name toString. Maintain in the properties "EType" EString as return type.


Add an annotation with the source "http://www.eclipse.org/emf/2002/GenModel" and maintain an entry with the key "body", the value is the code that will be generated in to the method, you find it listed below.

if (eIsProxy()) return super.toString();
        StringBuffer result = new StringBuffer(super.toString());
        result.append("Article: ");
        return result.toString();

You can also generate methods with input parameter, just add parameter with their type to your EOperation.


9. Extending an EMF Ecore model (inheritance)

9.1. Overview

EMF allows to extend existing models via inheritance. The following will define a base model and an extension based on this base model. This can for example be used to extend the Eclipse e4 application model. It will also demonstrate how to work with EMF ecore models directly without using the ecore tools.

9.2. Example

Create a new EMF project "de.vogella.emf.inheritance". Create a new model by selecting File ▸ New ▸ Eclipse Modeling Framework ▸ Ecore Model. Name the model "base.ecore". Select "EPackage" as the basis and maintain the following properties for this package.


Right-click on the package and select New Child ▸ EClass. Maintain the class "MyBaseClass" with two "EAttributes" of type "EString". Create a new "Ecore" model "extendedmodel.ecore". Maintain "extended" as the package name. Right-click your model and select "Load resource".


Create a new class "MyExtendedClass" and press "ESuperType".


Add your "MyBaseClass".


Maintain a new EAtribute "detailedField" on "MyExtendedClass".


Create a new genmodel "extended.genmodel" based on extended.ecore. Generated Java code and you will see that the "MyExtendedClass" has extended "MyBaseClass".

10. Setting the empty string as default value

It is not obvious how to set an empty string as a default value for an EMF string attribute. To set an empty string as default value do the following.

  • Select the Attribute

  • Im the Property View click into the value field of "Default Value Literal"

  • Do not enter something.

To remove this empty value again, click "Restore Default Value" in the toolbar.

11. Create EMF Generator Model

If your EMF genmodel is missing you can create one. Right-click your .ecore file and select File ▸ New ▸ Other…​ ▸ EMF Generator model. Create the webpage.genmodel file based on your Ecore model.


Select your model and press load.


12. Next steps

Please check the appendix for pointers to more advanced Eclipse EMF topics.

13. About this website

15. EMF Resources

Eclipse ATL - allows model to model transformation for EMF

15.1. vogella GmbH training and consulting support


The vogella company provides comprehensive training and education services from experts in the areas of Eclipse RCP, Android, Git, Java, Gradle and Spring. We offer both public and inhouse training. Whichever course you decide to take, you are guaranteed to experience what many before you refer to as “The best IT class I have ever attended”.

The vogella company offers expert consulting services, development support and coaching. Our customers range from Fortune 100 corporations to individual developers.

Copyright © 2012-2018 vogella GmbH. Free use of the software examples is granted under the terms of the Eclipse Public License 2.0. This tutorial is published under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Germany license.

See Licence.