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Prologue: Software Architectures and Documentation

This prologue to Documenting Software Architectures: Views and Beyond, 2nd Edition begins with short overviews of software architecture and architecture documentation and then discusses architecture views, architecture styles and rules for sound documentation.
This chapter is from the book

The prologue establishes a small but fundamental set of concepts that will be used throughout the book. We begin with short overviews of software architecture (Section P.1) and architecture documentation (Section P.2), and then we go on to discuss the following topics:

  • Section P.3: Architecture views
  • Section P.4: Architecture styles (and their relation to architecture patterns) and the classification of styles into three categories: module styles, component-and-connector styles, and allocation styles
  • Section P.5: Rules for sound documentation

P.1 A Short Overview of Software Architecture

P.1.1 Overview

Software architecture has emerged as an important subdiscipline of software engineering. Architecture is roughly the prudent partitioning of a whole into parts, with specific relations among the parts. This partitioning is what allows groups of people—often separated by organizational, geographical, and even time-zone boundaries—to work cooperatively and productively together to solve a much larger problem than any of them could solve individually. Each group writes software that interacts with the other groups’ software through carefully crafted interfaces that reveal the minimal and most stable information necessary for interaction. From that interaction emerges the functionality and quality attributes—security, modifiability, performance, and so forth—that the system’s stakeholders demand. The larger and more complex the system, the more critical is this partitioning—and hence, architecture. And as we will see, the more demanding those quality attributes are, the more critical the architecture is.

A single system is almost inevitably partitioned simultaneously in a number of different ways. Each partitioning results in the creation of an architectural structure: different sets of parts and different relations among the parts. Each is the result of careful design, carried out to satisfy the driving quality attribute requirements and the most important business goals behind the system.

Architecture is what makes the sets of parts work together as a coherent and successful whole. Architecture documentation help architects make the right decisions; it tells developers how to carry them out; and it records those decisions to give a system’s future caretakers insight into the architect’s solution.

P.1.2 Architecture and Quality Attributes

For nearly all systems, quality attributes such as performance, reliability, security, and modifiability are every bit as important as making sure that the software computes the correct answer. A software system’s ability to produce correct results isn’t helpful if it takes too long doing it, or the system doesn’t stay up long enough to deliver it, or the system reveals the results to your competition or your enemy. Architecture is where these concerns are addressed. For example:

  • If you require high performance, you need to
    • Exploit potential parallelism by decomposing the work into cooperating or synchronizing processes.
    • Manage the interprocess and network communication volume and data access frequencies.
    • Be able to estimate expected latencies and throughputs.
    • Identify potential performance bottlenecks.
  • If your system needs high accuracy, you must pay attention to how the data elements are defined and used and how their values flow throughout the system.
  • If security is important, you need to
    • Legislate usage relationships and communication restrictions among the parts.
    • Identify parts of the system where an unauthorized intrusion will do the most damage.
    • Possibly introduce special elements that have earned a high degree of trust.
  • If you need to support modifiability and portability, you must carefully separate concerns among the parts of the system, so that when a change affects one element, that change does not ripple across the system.
  • If you want to deploy the system incrementally, by releasing successively larger subsets, you have to keep the dependency relationships among the pieces untangled, to avoid the “nothing works until everything works” syndrome.

The solutions to these concerns are purely architectural in nature. It is up to architects to find those solutions and communicate them effectively to those who will carry them out. Architecture documentation has three obligations related to quality attributes. First, it should indicate which quality attribute requirements drove the design. Second, it should capture the solutions chosen to satisfy the quality attribute requirements. Finally, it should capture a convincing argument why the solutions provide the necessary quality attributes. The goal is to capture enough information so that the architecture can be analyzed to see if, in fact, the system(s) derived from it will possess the necessary quality attributes.

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