Information Modelling

Information modelling in OPC UA combines concepts from object-orientation and semantic modelling. At the core, an OPC UA information model is a graph made up of

  • Nodes: There are eight possible Node types (variable, object, method, ...)
  • References: Typed and directed relations between two nodes

Every node is identified by a unique (within the server) NodeId. Reference are triples of the form (source-nodeid, referencetype-nodeid, target-nodeid). An example reference between nodes is a hasTypeDefinition reference between a Variable and its VariableType. Some ReferenceTypes are hierarchic and must not form directed loops. See the section on ReferenceTypes for more details on possible references and their semantics.

The structures defined in this section are not user-facing. The interaction with the information model is possible only via the OPC UA Services. Still, we reproduce how nodes are represented internally so that users may have a clear mental model.

Base Node Attributes

Nodes contain attributes according to their node type. The base node attributes are common to all node types. In the OPC UA Services, attributes are referred to via the NodeId of the containing node and an integer Attribute Id.

Internally, open62541 uses UA_Node in places where the exact node type is not known or not important. The nodeClass attribute is used to ensure the correctness of casting from UA_Node to a specific node type.

#define UA_NODE_BASEATTRIBUTES                  \
    UA_NodeId nodeId;                           \
    UA_NodeClass nodeClass;                     \
    UA_QualifiedName browseName;                \
    UA_LocalizedText displayName;               \
    UA_LocalizedText description;               \
    UA_UInt32 writeMask;                        \
    UA_UInt32 userWriteMask;                    \
    size_t referencesSize;                      \
    UA_ReferenceNode *references;

typedef struct {
} UA_Node;


Variables store values in a DataValue together with metadata for introspection. Most notably, the attributes data type, value rank and array dimensions constrain the possible values the variable can take on.

Variables come in two flavours: properties and datavariables. Properties are related to a parent with a hasProperty reference and may not have child nodes themselves. Datavariables may contain properties (hasProperty) and also datavariables (hasComponents).

All variables are instances of some VariableTypeNode in return constraining the possible data type, value rank and array dimensions attributes.

Data Type

The (scalar) data type of the variable is constrained to be of a specific type or one of its children in the type hierarchy. The data type is given as a NodeId pointing to a DataTypeNode in the type hierarchy. See the Section DataTypeNode for more details.

If the data type attribute points to UInt32, then the value attribute must be of that exact type since UInt32 does not have children in the type hierarchy. If the data type attribute points Number, then the type of the value attribute may still be UInt32, but also Float or Byte.

Consistency between the data type attribute in the variable and its VariableTypeNode is ensured.

Value Rank

This attribute indicates whether the value attribute of the variable is an array and how many dimensions the array has. It may have the following values:

  • n >= 1: the value is an array with the specified number of dimensions
  • n =  0: the value is an array with one or more dimensions
  • n = -1: the value is a scalar
  • n = -2: the value can be a scalar or an array with any number of dimensions
  • n = -3: the value can be a scalar or a one dimensional array

Consistency between the value rank attribute in the variable and its VariableTypeNode is ensured.

Array Dimensions

If the value rank permits the value to be a (multi-dimensional) array, the exact length in each dimensions can be further constrained with this attribute.

  • For positive lengths, the variable value is guaranteed to be of the same length in this dimension.
  • The dimension length zero is a wildcard and the actual value may have any length in this dimension.

Consistency between the array dimensions attribute in the variable and its VariableTypeNode is ensured.

/* Indicates whether a variable contains data inline or whether it points to an
 * external data source */
typedef enum {
} UA_ValueSource;

#define UA_NODE_VARIABLEATTRIBUTES                                      \
    /* Constraints on possible values */                                \
    UA_NodeId dataType;                                                 \
    UA_Int32 valueRank;                                                 \
    size_t arrayDimensionsSize;                                         \
    UA_UInt32 *arrayDimensions;                                         \
    /* The current value */                                             \
    UA_ValueSource valueSource;                                         \
    union {                                                             \
        struct {                                                        \
            UA_DataValue value;                                         \
            UA_ValueCallback callback;                                  \
        } data;                                                         \
        UA_DataSource dataSource;                                       \
    } value;

typedef struct {
    UA_Byte accessLevel;
    UA_Byte userAccessLevel;
    UA_Double minimumSamplingInterval;
    UA_Boolean historizing; /* currently unsupported */
} UA_VariableNode;


VariableTypes are used to provide type definitions for variables. VariableTypes constrain the data type, value rank and array dimensions attributes of variable instances. Furthermore, instantiating from a specific variable type may provide semantic information. For example, an instance from MotorTemperatureVariableType is more meaningful than a float variable instantiated from BaseDataVariable.

typedef struct {
    UA_Boolean isAbstract;
} UA_VariableTypeNode;


Methods define callable functions and are invoked using the Call service. MethodNodes may have special properties (variable childen with a hasProperty reference) with the QualifiedName (0, "InputArguments") and (0, "OutputArguments"). The input and output arguments are both described via an array of UA_Argument. While the Call service uses a generic array of Variant for input and output, the actual argument values are checked to match the signature of the MethodNode.

Note that the same MethodNode may be referenced from several objects (and object types). For this, the NodeId of the method and of the object providing context is part of a Call request message.

typedef struct {
    UA_Boolean executable;
    UA_Boolean userExecutable;

    /* Members specific to open62541 */
    void *methodHandle;
    UA_MethodCallback attachedMethod;
} UA_MethodNode;


Objects are used to represent systems, system components, real-world objects and software objects. Objects are instances of an object type and may contain variables, methods and further objects.

typedef struct {
    UA_Byte eventNotifier;

    /* Members specific to open62541 */
    void *instanceHandle;
} UA_ObjectNode;


ObjectTypes provide definitions for Objects. Abstract objects cannot be instantiated. See Object Lifecycle Management Callbacks for the use of constructor and destructor callbacks.

typedef struct {
    UA_Boolean isAbstract;

    /* Members specific to open62541 */
    UA_ObjectLifecycleManagement lifecycleManagement;
} UA_ObjectTypeNode;


Each reference between two nodes is typed with a ReferenceType that gives meaning to the relation. The OPC UA standard defines a set of ReferenceTypes as a mandatory part of OPC UA information models.

  • Abstract ReferenceTypes cannot be used in actual references and are only used to structure the ReferenceTypes hierarchy
  • Symmetric references have the same meaning from the perspective of the source and target node

The figure below shows the hierarchy of the standard ReferenceTypes (arrows indicate a hasSubType relation). Refer to Part 3 of the OPC UA specification for the full semantics of each ReferenceType.

digraph tree {

node [height=0, shape=box, fillcolor="#E5E5E5", concentrate=true]

references [label="References\n(Abstract, Symmetric)"]
hierarchical_references [label="HierarchicalReferences\n(Abstract)"]
references -> hierarchical_references

nonhierarchical_references [label="NonHierarchicalReferences\n(Abstract, Symmetric)"]
references -> nonhierarchical_references

haschild [label="HasChild\n(Abstract)"]
hierarchical_references -> haschild

aggregates [label="Aggregates\n(Abstract)"]
haschild -> aggregates

organizes [label="Organizes"]
hierarchical_references -> organizes

hascomponent [label="HasComponent"]
aggregates -> hascomponent

hasorderedcomponent [label="HasOrderedComponent"]
hascomponent -> hasorderedcomponent

hasproperty [label="HasProperty"]
aggregates -> hasproperty

hassubtype [label="HasSubtype"]
haschild -> hassubtype

hasmodellingrule [label="HasModellingRule"]
nonhierarchical_references -> hasmodellingrule

hastypedefinition [label="HasTypeDefinition"]
nonhierarchical_references -> hastypedefinition

hasencoding [label="HasEncoding"]
nonhierarchical_references -> hasencoding

hasdescription [label="HasDescription"]
nonhierarchical_references -> hasdescription

haseventsource [label="HasEventSource"]
hierarchical_references -> haseventsource

hasnotifier [label="HasNotifier"]
hierarchical_references -> hasnotifier

generatesevent [label="GeneratesEvent"]
nonhierarchical_references -> generatesevent

alwaysgeneratesevent [label="AlwaysGeneratesEvent"]
generatesevent -> alwaysgeneratesevent

{rank=same hierarchical_references nonhierarchical_references}
{rank=same generatesevent haseventsource hasmodellingrule
           hasencoding hassubtype}
{rank=same alwaysgeneratesevent hasproperty}


The ReferenceType hierarchy can be extended with user-defined ReferenceTypes. Many Companion Specifications for OPC UA define new ReferenceTypes to be used in their domain of interest.

For the following example of custom ReferenceTypes, we attempt to model the structure of a technical system. For this, we introduce two custom ReferenceTypes. First, the hierarchical contains ReferenceType indicates that a system (represented by an OPC UA object) contains a component (or subsystem). This gives rise to a tree-structure of containment relations. For example, the motor (object) is contained in the car and the crankshaft is contained in the motor. Second, the symmetric connectedTo ReferenceType indicates that two components are connected. For example, the motor’s crankshaft is connected to the gear box. Connections are independent of the containment hierarchy and can induce a general graph-structure. Further subtypes of connectedTo could be used to differentiate between physical, electrical and information related connections. A client can then learn the layout of a (physical) system represented in an OPC UA information model based on a common understanding of just two custom reference types.

typedef struct {
    UA_Boolean isAbstract;
    UA_Boolean symmetric;
    UA_LocalizedText inverseName;
} UA_ReferenceTypeNode;


DataTypes represent simple and structured data types. DataTypes may contain arrays. But they always describe the structure of a single instance. In open62541, DataTypeNodes in the information model hierarchy are matched to UA_DataType type descriptions for Generic Type Handling via their NodeId.

Abstract DataTypes (e.g. Number) cannot be the type of actual values. They are used to constrain values to possible child DataTypes (e.g. UInt32).

typedef struct {
    UA_Boolean isAbstract;
} UA_DataTypeNode;


Each View defines a subset of the Nodes in the AddressSpace. Views can be used when browsing an information model to focus on a subset of nodes and references only. ViewNodes can be created and be interacted with. But their use in the Browse service is currently unsupported in open62541.

typedef struct {
    UA_Byte eventNotifier;
    UA_Boolean containsNoLoops;
} UA_ViewNode;