An empirical evaluation of a novel domain-specific language – modelling vehicle routing problems with Athos

Benjamin Hoffmann, Neil Urquhart, Kevin Chalmers, Michael Guckert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Abstract: Domain-specific languages (DSLs) are a popular approach among software engineers who demand for a tailored development interface. A DSL-based approach allows to encapsulate the intricacies of the target platform in transformations that turn DSL models into executable software code. Often, DSLs are even claimed to reduce development complexity to a level that allows them to be successfully applied by domain-experts with limited programming knowledge. Recent research has produced some scientifically backed insights on the benefits and limitations of DSLs. Further empirical studies are required to build a sufficient body of knowledge from which support for different claims related to DSLs can be derived. In this research study, we adopt current DSL evaluation approaches to investigate potential gains in terms of effectiveness and efficiency, through the application of our DSL Athos, a language developed for the domain of traffic and transportation simulation and optimisation. We compare Athos to the alternative of using an application library defined within a general-purpose language (GPL). We specified two sets of structurally identical tasks from the domain of vehicle routing problems and asked study groups with differing levels of programming knowledge to solve the tasks with the two approaches. The results show that inexperienced participants achieved considerable gains in effectiveness and efficiency with the usage of Athos DSL. Though hinting at Athos being the more efficient approach, the results were less distinct for more experienced programmers. The vast majority of participants stated to prefer working with Athos over the usage of the presented GPL’s API.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)180
JournalEmpirical Software Engineering
Issue number7
Early online date23 Sep 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 23 Sep 2022


  • Article
  • Domain-specific languages
  • General-purpose language
  • Empirical evaluation
  • Vehicle routing problem

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