Benefits of using UML sequence diagrams
These are some of the main benefits of using UML sequence diagrams.
1. Help you discover architectural, interface and logic problems early. Because they allow you to flesh out details before having to implement anything, sequence diagrams are useful tools to find architectural, interface and logic problems early on in the design process. You can validate your architecture, interfaces, state machine and logic by seeing how the system architecture would handle different basic scenarios and special cases.
This is particularly true for systems involving the interaction of components that are being implemented in parallel by different teams. In the cell phone example, each task would typically be implemented by a separate team. Having a set of sequence diagrams describing how the interfaces are actually used and what messages/actions are expected at different times gives each team a consistent and robust implementation plan. You can also document how special cases should be handled across the entire system. The very act of creating the sequence diagrams and making them work with your architecture is valuable because it forces you to think about details such as interfaces, states, message order, assignment of responsibilities, timers/timeouts and special/error cases ahead of time.
2. Collaboration tool. Sequence diagrams are valuable collaboration tools during design meetings because they allow you to discuss the design in concrete terms. You can see the interactions between entities, various proposed state transitions and alternate courses/special cases on paper as you discuss the design. In our experience, having a concrete design proposal during design meetings greatly enhances the productivity of these meetings even if the proposed design has problems. You can narrow down the problems and then make corrections to solve them. The proposal serves as a concrete starting point for the discussion and as a place to capture proposed changes. Sequence diagram editor makes it so easy to edit your sequence diagrams that you could even make the corrections in real time during the meeting and instantly see the result of the changes as you make them.
3. Documentation. Sequence diagrams can be used to document the dynamic view of the system design at various levels of abstraction, which is often difficult to extract from static diagrams or even the complete source code. The diagrams can abstract much of the implementation detail and provide a high level view of system behavior. Below is a sequence diagram for making a hotel reservation. The object initiating the sequence of messages is a Reservation window.
The Reservation window sends a makeReservation() message to a HotelChain. The HotelChain then sends a makeReservation() message to a Hotel. If the Hotel has available rooms, then it makes a Reservation and a Confirmation.
Each vertical dotted line is a lifeline, representing the time that an object exists. Each arrow is a message call. An arrow goes from the sender to the top of the activation bar of the message on the receiver's lifeline. The activation bar represents the duration of execution of the message.
In our diagram, the Hotel issues a self call to determine if a room is available. If so, then the Hotel creates a Reservation and a Confirmation. The asterisk on the self call means iteration (to make sure there is available room for each day of the stay in the hotel). The expression in square brackets, [ ], is a condition.