You often hear about the importance of software architecture in software engineering. What is software architecture though? Read on, as we explain its characteristics, utilities, principles, and advantages.
Software architecture: A practical definition
The software architecture of an information system is a pictorial representation of the structure of the system. It shows the organization of the software system. Software architectures explain the working of software systems pictorially. The software architecture depicts the components of an information system and their communications among themselves.
Good software architecture should simplify abstract aspects of software development. Martin Fowler, an acclaimed expert believes that software architecture should promote a shared understanding of a system design.
Objectives of creating software architecture
You typically have the following objectives when creating a software architecture:
- Explaining the structure and organization of the software system without going into the implementation details;
- Creating the foundation of an information system that will fulfill the functional requirements;
- Pictorially communicating how the system will meet the functional requirements of various stakeholders;
- Explaining how the software system will meet the quality requirements or non-functional requirements (NFRs);
- Creating the for optimizing the functional and quality attributes of the system;
- Communicating the architectural decisions and components to relevant stakeholders.
Why do you need software architecture?
You might occasionally execute a simple software development project. However, most development projects in the software industry have varied levels of complexity. You can manage complexity better by building good architecture.
The right architectural design helps you to deliver functional requirements effectively. You also need to get the system’s architecture right to deliver NFRs like scalability, performance, security, maintainability, and testability.
Who creates software architecture?
Software architects create software architectures. A software architect is a senior role in a software development team. Software architects need expertise in programming, programming languages, databases, tools, software development processes, software development lifecycle, and project management.
Documenting software architectures can be a complex job. It requires considerable expertise, and the skill requirements are higher for complex systems. Software architects also need to be capable leaders of people.
When should you create a software architecture?
The software architecture design process takes place early in the software development life cycle. You take this step after requirements analysis. Work on the architecture activities after finalizing the functional and non-functional requirements. Architectural decisions are some of the first decisions in a project.
Important principles to keep in mind when creating software architecture
Software architects need to follow a few important principles during the architecture design process. These are known as the “SOLID” principles. The SOLID principles are as follows:
- Single responsibility: A service within a software system should cater to one objective only.
- Open-closed principle: Software developers should be able to extend the functionality of a component without breaking its functionality. Programmers should not need to modify the extensions to achieve this.
- Liskov substitution principle: Think of a class in an app that has a subclass. The subclass should be able to represent the usage of the base class. Programmers shouldn’t have to disrupt the app to accomplish this.
- Interface segregation principle: Software engineers should have smaller user interfaces. They should not have one large interface. This way, a class doesn’t need to implement irrelevant methods.
- Dependency inversion principle: You shouldn’t the higher-level modules depend on the lower-level modules. You shouldn’t have dependencies on concrete implementation details while designing software components. The components should depend on abstractions instead.
Characteristics of software architecture
Architects consider various characteristics during the architecture analysis. They divide them into the following broad categories:
- Operational architecture characteristics: These include availability, performance, reliability, low fault tolerance, and scalability.
- Structural architecture characteristics: Software architects include configurability, extensibility, supportability, portability, and maintainability in this category.
- Cross-cutting architecture characteristics: This category includes accessibility, security, usability, privacy, and feasibility.
Advantages of creating software architecture
You get the following advantages if you create a software architecture:
- You can create prototypes of the application system easily.
- A software architecture helps you to undertake component-wide software development.
- You can manage changes to a software system better if you have a software architecture.
- Your chances of overall success in the project increase. Software architecture provides a common understanding of the proposed system to all stakeholders. This improved clarity.
- You can manage NFRs like maintainability, scalability, performance, etc. better.
- When created effectively, software architecture can make the software development process more cost-effective.
Challenges in creating software architecture
You face the following challenges while creating software architecture:
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- Software architecture is an emerging discipline. Standards for this are still evolving.
- Many experts have widely divergent views about software architecture. This makes the job of an architect a hard one. Enterprise architects find it more complex due to a large number of stakeholders with divergent views.
- Limitations of tools can make it hard to create effective software architecture.
Well-known software architecture patterns
The most prominent software architecture patterns are as follows:
1. Layered (n-tier) architecture
This architecture pattern has several layers. It’s the most popular pattern. Input data enters through the top layer. The middle layer has the business logic, and the innermost layer has the database. The “Model-View-Controller” (MVC) pattern is a well-known example of layered architecture.
2. Event-driven architecture
This software architecture pattern is suitable for applications that wait for user inputs. You create a central unit in your app that handles input data. This unit delegates tasks to different programs based on the type of data.
3. Microkernel architecture
The microkernel architecture pattern helps you to develop software applications that frequently perform a basic set of operations. Tools are good examples of such applications. This architecture pattern groups those repetitive tasks into a microkernel. You can think of all other functions of the app as plug-ins.
4. Microservices architecture
This architecture pattern helps you to develop apps that have distinctly different and independent services. You develop each independent service as a microservice. You can modify, test, deploy, and scale these microservices independently. The overall application is a collection of different microservices. You don’t need to modify, compile, test, and deploy the overall application if you enhance one microservice.
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Software architects need to know unified modeling language (UML), prominent languages, key databases, well-known tools, testing, DevOps, and project management. They need competencies like leadership, communication skills, problem-solving, coaching, and creative thinking.
Some of the best software architecture design tools are IcePanel, Enterprise Architect, Archi, Structurizr, StarUML, GenMyModel, PlantUML, Graphviz, Mermaid, Diagram.codes, Visio, LucidChart, Draw.io, Cloudcraft, isoflow, Archium, Brainboard, Hyperglance, and Hava.
Some of the best software architecture certifications are AWS Certified Solution Architect, Axelos ITIL Master Certification, Google Professional Cloud Architect, Professional Cloud Solutions Architect Certification, Red Hat Certified Architect, and Salesforce Certified Technical Architect (CTA).