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Sequence diagram

A sequence diagram in Unified Modeling Language (UML) is a kind of interaction diagram that shows how processes operate with one another and in what order. It is a construct of a Message Sequence Chart. Sequence diagrams are sometimes called event diagrams, event scenarios, and timing diagrams.


A sequence diagram shows, as parallel vertical lines (lifelines), different processes or objects that live simultaneously, and, as horizontal arrows, the messages exchanged between them, in the order in which they occur. This allows the specification of simple runtime scenarios in a graphical manner.

For instance, the UML 1.x diagram on the right describes the sequences of messages of a (simple) restaurant system. This diagram represents a Patron ordering food and wine, drinking wine then eating the food, and finally paying for the food. The dotted lines extending downwards indicate the timeline. Time flows from top to bottom. The arrows represent messages (stimuli) from an actor or object to other objects. For example, the Patron sends message 'pay' to the Cashier. Half arrows indicate asynchronous method calls.

The UML 2.0 Sequence Diagram supports similar notation to the UML 1.x Sequence Diagram with added support for modeling variations to the standard flow of events.

            UML 2.0 Sequence Diagram

Diagram building blocks

If the lifeline is that of an object, it demonstrates a role. Note that leaving the instance name blank can represent anonymous and unnamed instances.
In order to display interaction, messages are used. These are horizontal arrows with the message name written above them. Solid arrows with full heads are synchronous calls, solid arrows with stick heads are asynchronous calls and dashed arrows with stick heads are return messages. This definition is true as of UML 2, considerably different from UML 1.x.

Activation boxes, or method-call boxes, are opaque rectangles drawn on top of lifelines to represent that processes are being performed in response to the message (ExecutionSpecifications in UML).

Objects calling methods on themselves use messages and add new activation boxes on top of any others to indicate a further level of processing.

When an object is destroyed (removed from memory), an X is drawn on top of the lifeline, and the dashed line ceases to be drawn below it (this is not the case in the first example though). It should be the result of a message, either from the object itself, or another.

A message sent from outside the diagram can be represented by a message originating from a filled-in circle (found message in UML) or from a border of sequence diagram (gate in UML).

UML 2 has introduced significant improvements to the capabilities of sequence diagrams. Most of these improvements are based on the idea of interaction fragments which represent smaller pieces of an enclosing interaction. Multiple interaction fragments are combined to create a variety of combined fragments, which are then used to model interactions that include parallelism, conditional branches, optional interactions.