OPC UA provides a framework that can be used to represent complex information as Objects in an AddressSpace which can be accessed with standard web services. These Objects consist of Nodes connected by References. Different classes of Nodes convey different semantics. For example, a Variable Node represents a value that can be read or written. The Variable Node has an associated DataType that can define the actual value, such as a string, float, structure etc. It can also describe the variable value as a variant. A Method Node represents a function that can be called. Every Node has a number of Attributes including a unique identifier called a NodeId and non-localized name called as BrowseName. An Object representing a ‘Reservation’ is shown in Figure 6.
Figure 6 – A Basic Object in an OPC UA Address Space
Object and Variable Nodes are called Instance Nodes and they always reference a Type Definition (ObjectType or VariableType) Node which describes their semantics and structure. Figure 7 illustrates the relationship between an Instance and its Type Definition.
The Type Nodes are templates that define all of the children that can be present in an Instance of the Type. In the example in Figure 7 the PersonType ObjectType defines two children: First Name and Last Name. All instances of PersonType are expected to have the same children with the same BrowseNames. Within a Type the BrowseNames uniquely identify the child. This means Client applications can be designed to search for children based on the BrowseNames from the Type instead of NodeIds. This eliminates the need for manual reconfiguration of systems if a Client uses Types that multiple devices implement.
OPC UA also supports the concept of sub typing. This allows a modeler to take an existing Type and extend it. There are rules regarding sub typing defined in OPC 10000-3, but in general they allow the extension of a given type or the restriction of a DataType. For example, the modeler may decide that the existing ObjectType in some cases needs an additional variable. The modeler can create a Subtype of the object and add the variable. A client that is expecting the parent type can treat the new Type as if it was of the parent Type. With regard to DataTypes, if a variable is defined to have a numeric value, a sub type could restrict the Value to a float.
Figure 7 – The Relationship between Type Definitions and Instances
References allow Nodes to be connected together in ways that describe their relationships. All References have a ReferenceType that specifies the semantics of the relationship. References can be hierarchical or non-hierarchical. Hierarchical references are used to create the structure of Objects and Variables. Non-hierarchical are used to create arbitrary associations. Applications can define their own ReferenceType by creating Subtypes of the existing ReferenceType. Subtypes inherit the semantics of the parent but may add additional restrictions. Figure 8 depicts several references connecting different Objects.
Figure 8 – Examples of References between Objects
The figures above use a notation that was developed for the OPC UA specification. The notation is summarized in Figure 9. UML representations can also be used; however, the OPC UA notation is less ambiguous because there is a direct mapping from the elements in the figures to Nodes in the AddressSpace of an OPC UA server.
Figure 9 – The OPC UA Information Model Notation
OPC UA specification defines a very wide range of functionality in its basic information model. It is not expected that all Clients or Servers support all functionality in the OPC UA specifications. OPC UA includes the concept of profiles, which segment the functionality into testable certifiable units. This allows the development of companion specification (such as OPC UA for ISA-95) that can describe the subset of functionality that is expected to be implemented. The profiles do not restrict functionality, but generate requirements for a minimum set of functionality (see OPC 10000-7).
The OPC Foundation also defines a set of information models that provide a basic set of functionality. The Data Access specification (see OPC 10000-8) provides a basic information model for typical data. The Alarm and Condition specification (see OPC 10000-9) defines a standard information model for Alarms and Conditions. The Programs specification (see OPC 10000-10) defines a standard information model for extending the functionality available via method calls and state machines. The Historical Access specification (see OPC 10000-11) defines the information model associated with Historical Data and Historical Events. The aggregates specification (see OPC 10000-13) defines a series of standard aggregate functions that allow a Client to request summary data. Examples of aggregates include averages, minimums, time in state, Standard deviation, etc.
OPC UA allows information from many different sources to be combined into a single coherent address space. Namespaces are used to make this possible by eliminating naming and id conflicts between information from different sources. Namespaces in OPC UA have a globally unique string called a NamespaceUri and a locally unique integer called a NamespaceIndex. The NamespaceIndex is only unique within the context of a Session between an OPC UA Client and an OPC UA Server. All of the web services defined for OPC UA use the NamespaceIndex to specify the Namespace for qualified values.
There are two types of values in OPC UA that are qualified with Namespaces: NodeIds and QualifiedNames. NodeIds are globally unique identifiers for Nodes. This means the same Node with the same NodeId can appear in many Servers. This, in turn, means Clients can have built in knowledge of some Nodes. OPC UA Information Models generally define globally unique NodeIds for the TypeDefinitions defined by the Information Model.
QualifiedNames are non-localized names qualified with a Namespace. They are used for the BrowseNames of Nodes and allow the same Names to be used by different information models without conflict. The BrowseName is used to identify the children within a TypeDefinitions. Instances of a TypeDefinition are expected to have children with the same BrowseNames. TypeDefinitions are not allowed to have children with duplicate BrowseNames; however, Instances do not have that restriction.
An OPC UA companion specification for an industry specific vertical market describes an information model by defining ObjectTypes, VariableTypes, DataTypes and ReferenceTypes that represent the concepts used in the vertical market.