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What is Software Architecture in Software Engineering?

  • Amit Manchanda
  • By  Amit Manchanda
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  • 87D32530-FD6E-468E-BB24-045278513D21 Created with sketchtool. 6 MIN READ
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  • 6BCC25D0-42B3-420B-8C28-C5D7EF3F6856 Created with sketchtool. Updated: July 12, 2021

The software development process is similar to building a dream house. If the foundation is strong, it will stand the tests of time and serve the customer’s needs across its lifetime. How can someone ensure their software has a robust foundation? The answer lies in the software’s architecture.

Let’s continue with the analogy..

When building a house, some decisions need to be made early in the process. These decisions include the materials used, house design, internal architecture, etc. These decisions are indispensable and define the longevity, strength, and quality of the house. Moreover, building new floors on top becomes easy with a firmly laid foundation.

Similarly, software architecture is making decisions regarding essential parameters that will define software’s internal quality in the long run. This happens early in the software development cycle (following the requirements analysis) because the further development would then depend on it.

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This write-up discusses software architecture in detail.

What is Software Architecture?

In most successful software projects, the expert developers working on that project have a shared understanding of the system design. This shared understanding is called ‘architecture.’— Martin Fowler

A software architect makes important decisions regarding the software that goes on to define its overall integrity. A good software architecture helps define attributes such as performance, quality, scalability, maintainability, manageability, and usability.

It is imperative to methodically think through software architecture for effective development before writing the first line of source code.

Why Does Software Architecture Matter?

An organized software architecture helps to ensure the longevity of the software’s internal quality.

Consider two similar products. Both are launched within a month-long gap and aims to add new features when they complete three months.

There are two scenarios:

  • Product A launched in Jan 2021. This project supports a messy source code because the development team wanted to launch and monopolize the market as early as possible.
  • Product B launched in March 2021. This project has a software architecture that is well-structured and organized. The development team works on the design and architectural decisions early in the process and prioritizes quality over faster launch.

Which Product will be more successful: A or B?

Product A might monopolize the market initially and convert better. However, product adoption will eventually subside because the messy code will lead to technical debt pileups. These pileups will, in turn, make it challenging to introduce new updates and bug fixes on the fly.

Product B might have a market entry gap, but it will be easier to maintain a faster shipping cadence. The customer needs will be looked after without breaking the shipping cadence, thus making for a larger win.

graph that helps differentiate between high quality and low quality software

That is why prioritizing software architecture is important!

Software Architecture Principles: S.O.L.I.D.

The software architecture must adhere to the S.O.L.I.D. architectural design principles, which include:

1. Single-Responsibility Principle

Each of the classes should be created to meet a single objective.

2. Open-Closed Principle

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.

3. Liskov Substitution Principle

The subclasses should be substitutable for the base classes.

4. Interface Segregation Principle

All user interfaces should be separate from each other. Also, it is a good practice to have many intent-driven interfaces over one general-purpose interface.

5. Dependency Inversion Principle

The modules should depend on the interfaces or the abstract classes and not the concrete classes and functions.

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Good Software Architecture Characteristics

The noteworthy characteristics of software architecture include:

1. Uninterrupted Functionality

The software system performs as intended without any bugs or interruptions.

2. Reliability

The software system performs optimally, irrespective of the environment and the number of inputs given.

3. Maintainability

It is efficient and straightforward to introduce innovative changes to the software without interrupting the existing system’s functionality.

4. Security

The software is secure from all types of attacks, whether external or internal.

5. Minimal Technical Debt

The source code is clean and organized rather than messy or full of anti-patterns. This reduces the code refactoring efforts and corresponding technical debt.

6. Testability

Ensures quality software testing as it enables faster bugs identification. This, in turn, helps ensure faster time to market of the workable software.

7. Modularity

With a good software architecture in place, it is easier to divide the software system into smaller, more manageable modules. This also helps when introducing microservices architecture when scaling up operations.

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Popular Software Architectural Patterns

A software architecture pattern is a reusable solution that helps design software architecture for commonly occurring problems.

Software architecture patterns provide a way to capture design structures that have performed well with the intent of reusing them. In practice, building an architecture includes selecting, tailoring, and combining patterns.
As per a book written by Mark Richards, there are five major software architecture patterns to consider utilizing throughout the design process: microkernel, microservices, layered software architecture, event-based, and space-based.

1. Layered Architecture Pattern

As the name depicts, the layered software architecture utilizes a tiered approach where one layer offers services to the higher layer. This layered approach is popular within the software industry because it is simple to develop and maintain. In the layered architecture pattern, all the components are interconnected and don’t depend on each other.

MVC (Model-view-controller) pattern is a common example of a layered architecture pattern that employs a three-layer approach.

When to choose a layered architecture pattern?

  • Time is limited, and developers and need to design an app quickly
  • Apps that require strict maintainability and testability standards
  • Business apps that need to embrace traditional IT structures

2. Event-driven Architecture Pattern

Unlike the layered software architecture pattern, an event-driven architecture pattern is a modern approach that centers around “event” data. This pattern enables the app modules to act on defined events when they occur. It includes single-purpose event processing components that listen to events and process them asynchronously. These patterns comprise two categories: broker topology and mediator topology.

When to choose an event-driven architecture pattern?

  • Develop complex apps that demand seamless data flow
  • Building user interfaces
  • For apps having asynchronous data flow systems

3. Microkernel Architecture Pattern

Microkernel architecture pattern is also referred to as plugin architecture pattern. This architecture pattern is utilized when software teams build systems with interchangeable components. This pattern is ideal for applications that require sufficient flexibility to adapt to the evolving system requirements. The microkernel architecture pattern is divided into two segments:

Minimal functional core: The system includes general business logic with no custom code for complex conditional processes.

Extended functionalities: Independent components called plugins support the core by offering specialized processing and additional features through custom code.

When to choose a microkernel architecture pattern?

  • When building workflow-oriented applications
  • Apps that need separation between low-level functionalities and higher-level functionalities
  • Task & job scheduling applications
  • Developing enterprise apps as this pattern offers scalability, extensibility, and portability

4. Microservices Architecture Pattern

The microservices architectural pattern follows the process of developing small independent apps that communicate with each other, so the entire system works seamlessly.

This pattern enables developers to deploy the apps independently while offering a high degree of application and component decoupling within the app. Given that microservices communicate with each other, the developers must ensure that the messages sent across them persist in being backward-compatible.

When to choose a microservices architecture pattern?

  • Corporate data centers with well-defined boundaries
  • Apps with immense and rapidly growing data systems
  • Developing new businesses and web applications quickly
  • Re-writing monolithic applications to a more sustainable pattern
  • Websites with small components

5. Space-based Architecture Pattern

The space-based architecture pattern is popular for its ability to address scalability and concurrency issues. This pattern is also helpful in the case of apps with variable and unpredictable concurrent user volumes. This pattern is based on the concept of tuple space.

According to Wikipedia, a tuple space is an implementation of the associative memory paradigm for parallel/distributed computing. Tuple space provides a repository of tuples that can be accessed concurrently.

Typle based architectural pattern

In this figure, the processing unit component includes both web-based components and backend business logic. Smaller web apps can be deployed in a single unit, while the larger apps are fragmented into multiple processing units.

The virtualized-middleware component includes elements responsible for data synchronization and controlling handle requests. There is no central database throughout the space-based architecture pattern.

When to choose a space-based architecture pattern?

  • eCommerce or social website development
  • High-volume data like clickstreams and user logs
  • Apps addressing scalability and concurrency issues

FAQs Related to Software Architecture

1. What is Software Architecture Erosion?

The gap between the actual and the real software architecture is called software architecture erosion.

2. What is Software Architecture Recovery?

Software architecture recovery is the process of bringing forth the software architecture of an existing system using software analysis and available documentation.

3. What are the Different Software Architecture Challenges?

The top challenges that software architects come across include:

  • Legacy software redesigning
  • Handling software integrations early in the process
  • Aligning software architecture with the Agile development goals
  • Unavailability of accurate software architecture automation tools
  • Poorly managed communication among various stakeholders

4. What are The Best Tools for Software Architecture Design?

The best software architecture tools include:

  • Enterprise Architect
  • Microsoft Visio
  • Lucidchart
  • Visual Paradigm
  • Draw.io
  • Graphviz
  • Mermaid

Conclusion

Good software architecture helps to maintain the quality attributes of the software throughout its lifetime. It also helps with dividing software into microservices that make management easier. However, nobody can get it right the first time.

Even the best software product development projects suffer cruft, but a team of agile-driven professionals can identify and handle them sooner rather than later.

Conclusively, good architecture is profitable in the long term because it is easier to scale & evolve. This can save developers’ time while it serves the customers’ changing requirements.

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Amit Manchanda

About the Author

Amit Manchanda is working at Net Solutions as Project Lead and has over 9 years of experience in technologies like ASP, Adobe Flex, and Android. He has been part of SME (Subject Matter Expert) Group for RIA applications. He possesses a sound understanding of technical requirement/problem analysis and resolution for providing the best solutions to clients. He is passionate about his work and enjoys interacting with his team. In his leisure time, he loves to listen to music, watch cricket, and play with his daughter.

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