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Thomas Erl on the 15th Anniversary of Design Patterns

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Thomas Erl shares his thoughts about Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software on the 15th anniversary of its publication.
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Many of the original patterns from the Design Patterns book represent core mechanics of distributed computing, which is why they continue to remain so relevant today. You can build the most sophisticated service-oriented, cloud-based, grid-enabled solution and you still won’t be able to escape the fact that you will need to apply fundamental GoF patterns. It’s a testament to the foresight and vision of those original authors and also to the imagination they applied in order to establish a bridge between Alexander’s original building architecture patterns and the IT world.

My fondest recollection of Design Patterns was actually collaborating with some of the GoF authors on the development of the SOA patterns catalog. Even though I had written several books prior to this title, I found myself overwhelmed by the amount of detail and care and attention required to properly document a set of patterns in relation to each other as part of a catalog and as part of the same overarching context. There were several existing pattern catalogs that were used as input for this project, but there was no book that we found ourselves referring to more than the original Design Patterns.

Authoring the SOA Design Patterns book took three years and involved over 200 people from all corners of the SOA world. It was a tremendous project that required almost as much communication and coordination effort as it did actual authoring effort. Amidst all of this activity, we were very fortunate to work with Ralph Johnson and his pattern review group from UIUC. For example, if you read the SOA Design Patterns book, you’ll notice there are very few actual quotations, but one that had to be included was Ralph’s response to a debate we were having as to why design principles shouldn’t also be documented as design patterns. Ralph stated: “When people ask me, ‘Is this a pattern?’ I usually say, ‘That is not the right question.’ The right question is whether pattern form is the best way to communicate this material.” This simple statement ended the debate and helped us define some solid criteria as to what should and should not be documented as patterns.

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