Chapter 1. DMN elements

DMN models consist of the following five elements:

  • Decisions: Nodes in the model where one or several inputs determine an output based on decision logic.
  • Input data: Information necessary to determine a decision. This information usually includes business-level concepts or objects relevant to the business, such as a restaurant’s peak business hours and staff availability.
  • Business knowledge models: Reusable pieces of decision logic. Decisions that have the same logic but depend on different sub-inputs or sub-decisions use business knowledge models to determine which procedure to follow.
  • Knowledge sources: External regulations, documents, committees, policies, and so on that shape decision logic. Knowledge sources are references to real-world factors rather than executable business rules.
  • Decision service: A decision service is a top-level decision, with well-defined inputs, that is published as a service for invocation. In the diagram it is represented by an overlay rectangle with round corners. The decision service can be invoked from an external application or business process (BPMN). For more information, see page 36 of the DMN specification document.

Figure 1.1. Basic decision requirements diagram

dmn drg

1.1. Rule expressions in FEEL

Friendly Enough Expression Language (FEEL) is a new expression language defined by the DMN specification. It aims to bridge the gap between decision modeling and execution by assigning semantics to the decision model constructs. FEEL expressions in decision requirements diagrams (DRDs) occupy either table cells in decision tables or decision nodes. FEEL expressions define the logic of a decision.

For more information about FEEL in DMN, see the OMG DMN Specification.

1.2. Decision tables

A decision table is a visual representation of one or more rules in a tabular format. Each rule consists of a single row in the table, and includes columns that define the conditions and outcome for that particular row. The definition of each row is precise enough to derive the outcome using the values of the conditions. For readability purposes, there is often a means to hide some of the more technical details when viewing the table.

Figure 1.2. Decision table example

dmn decision table example2

Decision tables are a popular way for modeling rules and decisions, and are used in many methodologies (such as DMN) and implementation frameworks (such as Drools used in Red Hat Decision Manager).


Although the concept of decision tables is similar in DMN and Drools, DMN decision tables syntax and layout are defined by the DMN standard while Drools native decision tables are defined by the Drools project. Red Hat Decision Manager supports both formats of decision tables, but they are not interchangeable. For more information about Drools decision tables, see Designing a decision service using uploaded decision tables.

1.2.1. Hit policies

Hit policies define how to reach an outcome when multiple rules match on a single decision table. Decision modelers select one of the following five policies for reaching an outcome and then specify that policy by placing an indicator in the table’s upper-left corner. In the following list, the indicators are listed after the indicator type, in parentheses ().

  • Unique (U): Permits only one rule to match. Any overlap raises an error.
  • Any (A): Permits multiple rules to match, but they must all have the same output. If multiple matching rules do not have the same output, an error is raised.
  • Priority (P): Permits multiple rules to match, with different outputs. The output that comes first in the output values list is selected.
  • First (F): Uses the first match in rule order.
  • Collect (C+, C>, C<, C#): Aggregates output from multiple rules based on an aggregation function.

    • Collect ( C ): Aggregates values in an arbitrary list.
    • Collect Sum (C+): Outputs the sum of all collected values. Values must be numeric.
    • Collect Min (C<): Outputs the minimum value among the matches. The resulting values must be comparable, such as numbers, dates, or text (lexicographic order).
    • Collect Max (C>): Outputs the maximum value among the matches. The resulting values must be comparable, such as numbers, dates or text (lexicographic order).
    • Collect Count (C#): Outputs the number of matching rules.

1.3. Boxed expressions

Boxed expressions are tabular representations of contexts, function definitions, function invocations, and other expressions in a DMN model. For example, the following boxed expression defines the function Installment calculation that uses four parameters (Product, Rate, Term, and Amount) and calculates the monthly installment amount.

Figure 1.3. Boxed expression example

dmn boxed expression example