Software Abstractions: Resources and Additional Materials
MIT Press page
Alloy website
Author website
Sample chapters
Comparison to other approaches
Models Repository

MIT Press
Feb 2012
ISBN 0-262-01715-6
6 x 9, 376 pp.
$40.00/£27.95 (CLOTH)

Buy on

In Software Abstractions Daniel Jackson introduces a new approach to software design that draws on traditional formal methods but exploits automated tools to find flaws as early as possible. This approach—which Jackson calls "lightweight formal methods" or "agile modeling"—takes from formal specification the idea of a precise and expressive notation based on a tiny core of simple and robust concepts but replaces conventional analysis based on theorem proving with a fully automated analysis that gives designers immediate feedback. Jackson has developed Alloy, a language that captures the essence of software abstractions simply and succinctly, using a minimal toolkit of mathematical notions.

This revised edition updates the text, examples, and appendixes to be fully compatible with the latest version of Alloy (Alloy 4). The designer can use automated analysis not only to correct errors but also to make models that are more precise and elegant. This approach, Jackson says, can rescue designers from "the tarpit of implementation technologies" and return them to thinking deeply about underlying concepts. Software Abstractions introduces the key elements: a logic, which provides the building blocks of the language; a language, which adds a small amount of syntax to the logic for structuring descriptions; and an analysis, a form of constraint solving that offers both simulation (generating sample states and executions) and checking (finding counterexamples to claimed properties).

Daniel Jackson is Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and leads the Software Design Group at the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab at MIT.


“Those who have to learn and use the modern generation of formal methods—streamlined, lightweight, and highly automated—will welcome the appearance of the second edition of Daniel Jackson’s book on the Alloy language and its analyzer. Jackson’s writing, like his language design, is full of good taste, and he makes an intelligent and compelling argument for the construction of automated software abstractions as the central activity in software development. Every serious software engineer should read this book.”
—Jim Woodcock, University of York, UK

“In an area plagued by unnecessary complexity, Alloy shows there is still room for economy and elegance in software design. Readers of this book will enjoy a rare opportunity to learn how to write less in order to say more, without ambiguity. In short, to learn how to be productive.”
—José N. Oliveira, University of Minho

“Relational modeling is a powerful but subtle craft. This book applies the Alloy tool suite to pithy examples to educate everyone from working practitioners to researchers. Its joyful and informal tone mask the depth of accumulated wisdom in these pages.”
—Shriram Krishnamurthi, Brown University

“Abstraction is the essence of simple and effective software design, and logic is the essential tool for exploring and validating abstractions. These basic insights, which have been laboriously rediscovered by many practicing programmers, are now accessible to students and professionals at all levels of experience. Daniel Jackson supports his clear and elegant text with a powerful logical analysis tool that brings his witty examples to life.”
—Tony Hoare, Senior Researcher, Microsoft

“Alloy's streamlined combination of predicate logic and relational algebra makes modeling a pleasure. I rely on the Alloy Analyzer, and this book shows how easy it is to start using it.”
—Pamela Zave, AT&T Research

“Alloy is to modeling what Excel is to office work: an incredibly powerful way to make models into concrete, tangible objects. Jackson's book is essential for practitioners to master the power of this new tool.”
—Alain Wegmann, Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne