Hierarchies are one of the most common structures used to understand and conceptualise the world. Within the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) planning, which deals with the automation of world-relevant problems, Hierarchical Task Network (HTN) planning is the branch that represents and handles hierarchies. In particular, the requirement for rich domain knowledge to characterise the world enables HTN planning to be very useful, and also to perform well. However, the history of almost 40 years obfuscates the current understanding of HTN planning in terms of accomplishments, planning models, similarities and differences among hierarchical planners, and its current and objective image. On top of these issues, the ability of hierarchical planning to truly cope with the requirements of real-world applications has been often questioned. As a remedy, we propose a framework-based approach where we first provide a basis for defining different formal models of hierarchical planning, and define two models that comprise a large portion of HTN planners. Second, we provide a set of concepts that helps in interpreting HTN planners from the aspect of their search space. Then, we analyse and compare the planners based on a variety of properties organised in five segments, namely domain authoring, expressiveness, competence, computation and applicability. Furthermore, we select Web service composition as a real-world and current application, and classify and compare the approaches that employ HTN planning to solve the problem of service composition. Finally, we conclude with our findings and present directions for future work. In summary, we provide a novel and comprehensive viewpoint on a core AI planning technique.
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