Binary relationships and subtype-supertype relationships are defined between participant objects in information models. Binary relationships have two main participants and one optional associative participant. The associative participant object can't be either of the main participant objects in a binary relationship. However, the main participant objects may be the same object, i.e. when the binary relationship is a reflexive relationship (discussed in OOA96). Subtype-supertype relationships have one supertype participant and two or more subtype participants. A specific object can't participate more than once in a subtype-supertype relationship.
To identify a particular participant you need the relationship and object involved. However, you also need additional information to distinguish between the main participant objects in a reflexive relationship. The verb phrases associated with the main participants can be used to distinguish between them in a asymmetric reflexive relationship. However, verb phrases can't be used to distinguish between main participants in a symmetric reflexive relationship (introduced in OOA96). Several existing action languages use verb phrases to help identify participants in relationship navigation expressions. Obviously, this is not sufficient for symmetric reflexive relationships.
OOA08 formalizes the concept of participant role so that verb phrases don't need to be used to help identify participants. Participant roles include
second roles arbitrarily denote the main participants in a binary relationship. The
associative role denotes an associative participant. The
subtype roles denote a supertype and subtype participant respectively.
OOA08 initially defined all of these roles as literal values. However, the first and second roles can now be changed allowing short role names to be associated with the main participants of a binary relationship. In practice, participant roles are only used with reflexive relationships. In asymmetric reflexive relationships, the roles should be self evident, e.g. the roles
server are used in the reflexive relationship between
Domain objects formalized by the associative
Bridge object (from OOA of OOA). In symmetric reflexive relationships, the default
second roles should be used.