Type Definitions

If we consider some primary Entity modeled by a primary Element, the Element's ECEntityClass tells us what kind of Entity it is, and can add new ECProperties to for modeling the Entity. We can further classify instances into subsets where each subset has a shared set of property values. Each of these distinct sets of property values is a "type" of the primary Entity (characterized by having all of those property values in common). The properties are defined in a subclass of TypeDefinitionElement, which defines the properties whose values are said to vary by "type".

A TypeDefinitionElement is similar to a IfcTypeObject.

Practically, these "types" tend to correspond to product-models (not to be confused with bis:Model) such as a Mazda model "RX-7" car. The product-model numbers typically identify entries in a catalog. The catalog entry will include other attributes whose values are shared by all instances of the product of the given product-model. A TypeDefinitionElement represents such a catalog entry, with a Code being a product-model-number. Even if a primary Element is "custom" and does not actually come from a catalog, if can still have a custom "catalog entry", e.g. an instance of TypeDefinitionElement with custom values that are not in-common with other instances. It is essentially a "type" for which there is only one instance.

TypeDefinitionElements complement class inheritance. They differ from it in two important ways:

  • TypeDefinitionElements are "instance data" in a BIS Repository. You can add new instances of TypeDefinitionElements without changing the BIS Domain Schema.
  • TypeDefinitionElements contain values for ECProperties defined by their TypeDefinitionElement ECEntityClass, but cannot introduce new ECProperties.

A primary Element instance will have a relationship (e.g. PhysicalElementIsOfType) to an instance of its type (e.g. a subclass of PhysicalType). The complete attributes of the Entity being modeled are found by combining the property values of the primary Element instance with the property values from its associated TypeDefinitionElement instance.

If the primary Element instance has an ECProperty with the same name as one in its TypeDefinition, the instance-specific value overrides the type-specific value. This is similar to how IFC works with Property Sets applied to an instance or to the type.

For example, let's say that we are modeling a double-hung window using ECEntityClass DoubleHungWindow. Most double-hung windows are ordered from a catalog, and the only permutations of height and width of window that you can get are those that are listed in the catalog. The author of the DoubleHungWindow ECEntityClass with also define a subclass of TypeDefinition (or its subclass PhysicalType) DoubleHungWindowType that has ECProperties for all properties of double-hung windows that vary per-type (per catalog-entry) rather than per instance, e.g. Height, Width and IsInsulated. For many products, not much other than the spatial placement of the entity will vary per instance. For our double-hung window, there might be 4 types, where each has a CodeValue that is its product-model-number: 2x4I, 2x3I, 2x4U, 2x3U. In a GUI, the list of TypeDefinitionElement instances that are applicable to a given primary Element ECEntityClass can be used to populate a drop-down list of available "types" for the given ECEntityClass. The list of available types can be narrowed-down by defining specializations of the PhysicalElementIsOfType relationship.

The following diagram shows both the class hierarchy for a PhysicalElement modeling a centrifugal pump along with an associated PhysicalType and a specialized relationship to relate them. See Class-diagram Conventions for details about the conventions used.


Though we describe types here in terms of PhysicalElements, this pattern can be applied to other kinds of Elements. The relationships GeometricElement2dHasTypeDefinition and GeometricElement3dHasTypeDefinition make the pattern usable for geometric elements, but new relationships classes could be added to support a "type-system" for other kinds of Elements.

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Last Updated: 15 May, 2024