Creating innovative software that solves problems and proves to be a product-market fit starts with having a robust foundation. The factors that contribute to this foundation include the right design decisions, shared understanding between software architects and designers, and code that can be easily comprehended.
What is Software Architecture?
It is a blueprint for the development team to lay down user expectations, and have a shared understanding of the system design before iterating through the development lifecycle.
Architecture is about the important stuff. Whatever that is. — Ralph Johnson, Associate Professor, University of Illinois
Software architecture is a continuously evolving and blended set of technical decisions and architectural patterns. It helps in exemplifying transversal attributes such as performance, quality, scalability, maintainability, manageability, and usability.
For effective development, it is imperative to methodically think through software architecture before you start writing your first line of code.
Frontend and backend developers must team up from the initial stages of development to guarantee that the structure developed is consistent and offers great scalability.
The Evolution of Software Architecture
Initially, software architecture design considerations were taken into account during the initial phase of development, as changing the software is tougher in the later stages.
But, this definition falls flat in the agile development journey where working in increments and iterations is the core criteria. With the introduction of microservices and agile development methodology – the two work in tandem to create ideal software architecture.
In a microservices architecture, the entire software application is divided into smaller functional modules that are loosely coupled. This, in turn, makes it easy to iterate and implement structural changes by working in organized sprints.
Architects designed modern architectural styles like microservices with the idea of incremental built in—it is no longer expensive to make structural changes in microservices. — Fundamentals of Software Architecture by Mark Richards, Neal Ford
Why is Software Architecture Important?
An organized software architecture makes it easy to maintain internal quality, which further enhances the software.
The following example explains the importance of software architecture.
Consider two similar products launched within a month-long gap and require the addition of new features when they complete three months.
There are two scenarios:
- One [Launch — 30th Jan 2020] — The code is tangled and messy. This has nothing to do with the users, but tracking the scope of change and implementing it becomes tricky.
- Two [Launch — 28th Feb 2020] — The code is neatly organized. This has nothing to do with the users, but the development team can easily manage and incorporate the changes.
What would an enterprise software development company choose?
Generally, the development team would prefer an earlier launch irrespective of the messy code blocks as that is what matters for the time being — faster the launch, the better chances to monopolize the market.
In the second case, however, the development would take time as quality code and quality performance are given equal priority. This would affect time-to-market adversely.
But, its well-defined software architecture model in the form of microservices will make the maintenance easier. Not only will your organization save time, but it will also delight the users with regular and quick updates.
Inference — The messy code might have made it sooner to the market, but will take more than necessary to append the new features. On the other hand, the organized code might have suffered from a delayed launch but will be able to provide timely and spot-on updates.
Decoding the Five Principles of Software Architecture
The software architecture must adhere to the S.O.L.I.D. design principles that perfectly resonate with the objectives of software development and software architecture. If followed correctly, it helps avoid product strategy mistakes that can lead to its failure.
Each of the services in the microservices architecture should be designed to adhere to a single objective. Simply put, they should have a unique responsibility and be the sole reason behind the change.
It should be easy to expand the functionality of independent software modules. That is, the expandability of a specific service should not impact the original behavior of the software.
Liskov Substitution Principle
Any two independent services should be able to communicate with each other whenever required through an API call. Also, two services having the same contract should be able to act as a substitute between each other, without altering the overall system.
Interface Segregation Principle
The software should be divided into microservices in a way that there are no redundancies present. That is, the smaller modules should be loosely coupled to satisfy the client’s needs, along with minimizing the anti-patterns present in the code.
Dependency Inversion Principle
The high-levels modules should not be depending on low-lower-level modules. Instead, they both should lean on abstractions. Following the same principle, abstractions should rely on details, while the vice-versa holds true. This principle ensures that changes to the higher-level modules will not affect the lower-level modules.
What Makes Good Software Architecture?
Below are the quality attributes that make good software architecture:
- Functionality: Refers to the level of performance of the software against its intended purpose.
- Reliability: Refers to the ability of the product to offer desired functionality under the given conditions.
- Usability: Refers to what extent the software product can be used with ease.
- Performance: Refers to estimation by considering processing speed, response time, resource utilization, throughput, and productivity.
- Supportability: Refers to the ease with which programming developers can transfer software from one platform onto the next, without any or with minimal changes.
- Self-Reliance: Refers to the ability of the independent services to perform optimally even if one of them suffers a downtime.
Factors that Define Good Software Architecture
Having an ideal software product architecture means that there is the least amount of cruft (the difference between the current code and what it should be).
More the cruft, poorer, is the software design and architecture. Let’s look at the four factors that help trim down cruft in the development process.
The type of architectural design defines its structure. An example can be a Microservices architecture or even a layered structure. Generally, these design decisions depend on the software development team.
Architectural characteristics define the success criteria for the product in question. These can be generalized characteristics that do not necessarily detail out a particular functionality of the software. Here’s an example:
This phase helps in laying out standards that should be followed when converting ideas into products. In a nutshell, these decisions decide what a development team can and cannot do while working on allocated tasks.
There is a thin line between design principles and architectural decisions. In design principles, the various guidelines are laid out that need to be followed as compared to the stringent instructions of the architecture decisions. These guidelines help decipher the right way to navigate through the UX design process.
The Four Traits of a Good Software Architect
Appointing a software architect is essential for any software development company.
Here are the four responsibilities that they carry on their shoulders for building scalable solutions:
- Making architectural decisions
- Conceptualizing and analyzing the architecture
- Keeping an account of the latest software development trends
- Aligning expectations with reality in the present as well as in future
How to Differentiate between Good and Bad Architecture?
Building software architecture the right way should always be through a strategic approach. Good architecture is invisible, easy to maintain, and user-friendly. In other words, the good architecture supports an ideal internal quality.
High internal quality leads to faster delivery of new features because there is less cruft to get in the way. — Software Architecture Guide, Martin Fowler
Whereas bad software architecture design might be easy in the beginning but adds complexities as time passes. Bad architecture is hard to maintain; basic integration is impossible; changes cause the framework to break conceptually; the code is hard to read, and problems arise quickly.
Considerations for Software Architecture Development
A software architect must define the solution clearly – what he expects to create, based on the concerns of the different groups of users who will interface with his software. They should consider the following:
- Concerns of the end-users, including the right instinctive behavior, reliability, performance, security, availability, and usability.
- Requirements of the system administrator, including intuitive behavior, observation, and administrative tools.
- Needs of the marketer, including cost, positioning relative to other software, time for marketing, and competitive features.
- The developers’ needs, including project requirements and a steady yet basic design approach.
- The expectations of the project manager, including budget, schedule, and consistency, as it identifies with following the task, and the most effective use of the available resources.
Good software architecture helps to maintain the quality of the software throughout its lifetime. It helps in dividing software into microservices that make management more effortless. However, nobody can get it right the first time.
Even the best of software product development projects suffer cruft, but a team of agile-driven professionals can identify and get rid of them sooner than later.
Conclusively, good software architecture is profitable in the long run, as it is easier to modify it. This can save developers’ time while it serves the customers’ changing requirements.