Conceptual model (computer science)

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A mental model captures ideas in a problem domain, while a conceptual model represents 'concepts' (entities) and relationships between them.

A conceptual model in the field of computer science is a special case of a general conceptual model. To distinguish from other types of models, it is also known as a domain model. Conceptual modeling should not be confused with other modeling disciplines such as data modelling, logical modelling and physical modelling. The conceptual model is explicitly chosen to be independent of design or implementation concerns, for example, concurrency or data storage. The aim of a conceptual model is to express the meaning of terms and concepts used by domain experts to discuss the problem, and to find the correct relationships between different concepts. The conceptual model attempts to clarify the meaning of various, usually ambiguous terms, and ensure that problems with different interpretations of the terms and concepts cannot occur. Such differing interpretations could easily cause confusion amongst stakeholders, especially those responsible for designing and implementing a solution, where the conceptual model provides a key artifact of business understanding and clarity. Once the domain concepts have been modeled, the model becomes a stable basis for subsequent development of applications in the domain. The concepts of the conceptual model can be mapped into physical design or implementation constructs using either manual or automated code generation approaches. The realization of conceptual models of many domains can be combined to a coherent platform.

A conceptual model can be described using various notations, such as UML, ORM or OMT for object modelling, or IE or IDEF1X for Entity Relationship Modelling. In UML notation, the conceptual model is often described with a class diagram in which classes represent concepts, associations represent relationships between concepts and role types of an association represent role types taken by instances of the modelled concepts in various situations. In ER notation, the conceptual model is described with an ER Diagram in which entities represent concepts, cardinality and optionality represent relationships between concepts. Regardless of the notation used, it is important not to compromise the richness and clarity of the business meaning depicted in the conceptual model by expressing it directly in a form influenced by design or implementation concerns.

This is often used for defining different processes in a particular company or institute.