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What are use case diagrams and their role in software development processes?

Use cases are nothing but a series of steps formalized to achieve goals as defined by the stake holders. The use cases are said to be at the heart of the unified model language or UML as it is known in the abbreviated form. There are total 9 diagrams which comprise the unified model language (UML). The use case diagram is considered to be at the top of the list and drives the remaining 8 diagrams. The use case diagrams defines or displays the relationships or the interactions of the software system with the user and the other systems. The use cases are meant to show the requirements of a software system or application with the help of the structured text as well as the graphics. The requirements which are depicted by a use case diagram are usually functional requirements.
All the use cases are documented with a use case diagram. The textual part of the use case along with the use case diagrams form what is called the “use case model”. The use models as a combination of the text and use case diagrams tell us about the functions that the particular software system or application is supposed to carry out. Use case models also describe the surroundings of the use case i.e., the actors and the interactions occurring between the actor and use case rather than just depicting the functions.
Use case modes provide a measure to the program developers to communicate with the software system or application. To put it simply, a use case model acts as a tool to describe the functionalities of a software system or application. In a typical unified model language use case diagram, the trading manager is responsible for setting the limits for the use case and the accounting system is responsible keeping the accounts updated. It is the responsibility of the actor to analyze the risk, fix the price of the deal and capture the deal. This all forms a part of the valuation process. If in case the use case exceeds its specified limits, it is extended.
UML based used case diagram are in a way a natural means for expressing the requirements of a software system or application. The use cases are still under research for signs of improvement. There is a need for some measure to evaluate them. Enhancement of the use cases is the basic initiative of all the research work going on and there is a hunt for a more sophisticated methodology for managing, specifying, verifying and building the requirements of the software system or applications which are by nature object oriented. Apart from all this the research is aimed at the identification of the quality attributes of the use cases like validation, risk indicators and use case metrics.
A use case is usually analyzed based on these three factors. The result or the outcome of a use case should be visible to the actor. It would not be wrong to say that the use case diagrams are a combination of both the structure diagrams and behaviour diagrams. A use case diagram tends to show how actually the interaction between the software and environment takes place or how the software systems are able to collaborate with the users. The use case diagrams have been stated as the special case of the class diagrams in the unified model language. A requirements use case tool or RUT has been developed as a tool to assist the developers and the customers with the assessment of the quality of the use cases.

Use Case Driven Object Modeling with UMLTheory and Practice Advanced Use Case Modeling: Software Systems UML 2 For Dummies

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