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Everything You Need to Know About Software Architecture

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
  • 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 integrated set of pattern oriented software architecture and technical decisions. 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 ensures simple maintenance of internal quality, which further improves the software.

The following software architecture example explains the importance of designing 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] — tangled and messy code that has nothing to do with the users. However, tracking the scope of change and implementing it is challenging.
  • Two [Launch — 28th Feb] — well-organized code and has nothing to do with the users. But the developers 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. At the same time, the organized code might have encountered delayed launch but will be able to offer timely and spot-on updates.

difference between low quality and high quality software by Martin Fowler

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.

s.o.l.i.d. principles of software architecture

Here are the major software architecture principles:

1. Single-Responsibility Principle

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.

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

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.

4. 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.

5. 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).

bad software architecture vs good software architecture

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.

Architecture Structure

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.

Architecture Characteristics

Good software architecture 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 system.

Here’s an example:

examples of software architecture characteristics

Architecture Decisions

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.

Design Principles

There is a thin line between design principles and architectural decisions. While designing software architecture, 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 a bad software architecture design might be easy in the beginning but adds complexities with time. Bad architecture is difficult to maintain; basic integration is impossible; changes cause the software architecture framework to break conceptually; issues arise quickly, and the code is difficult to read.

Popular Software Architecture Patterns

A software architecture pattern is an array of design decisions that keeps repeating and has thoroughly defined properties that can be reused and depict a class of architectures. Software architecture patterns provide a way to capture proven good design structures to reuse them. Understanding software architecture in practice, building an architecture includes selecting, tailoring, and combining patterns.

When it comes to the types of software architecture design patterns utilized throughout the software architecture and design process, there are major 5 patterns to consider. As per a book written by Mark Richards, there are 5 software architecture patterns- microkernel, microservices, layered software architecture, event-based, and space-based.

1. Layered Architecture Pattern

As the name depicts, the layered software architecture works upon a tiered approach under which one layer offers services to the higher layer. It is amongst the commonly used patterns throughout the software industry as 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 works upon a three-layer approach.

When to choose a layered architecture pattern?

  • You have less time and developers and need to design an app quickly
  • Apps that specifically need strict maintainability and testability standards
  • Business apps that require 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 data that describes “events.” 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
  • User interfaces
  • For apps having asynchronous data flow systems

3. Microkernel Architecture Pattern

Microkernel architectural pattern, aka plug-in architectural pattern, is utilized when software teams build systems with interchangeable components. The pattern is ideal for applications that require sufficient flexibility to adapt to the evolving system requirements. It is divided into two segments:

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

Extended functionalities: The extended functionalities, i.e., plugins are a group of independent components supporting the core by offering specialized processing additional features through custom code.

When to choose a microkernel architecture pattern?

  • Workflow 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 architecture pattern follows the process of developing small independent apps that communicate with each other so that the entire system works seamlessly. The pattern enables developers to deploy the apps independently and further offer a high degree of application and component decoupling within the app. Since microservices communicate with each other, you 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

Space-based architecture pattern is amongst the popular software architecture patterns that address the scalability and concurrency issues and is helpful in the case of apps having variable and unpredictable concurrent user volumes. The 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. It provides a repository of tuples that can be accessed concurrently.

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

Considerations for Software Architecture Development

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 throughout the software architecture and development process:

  • 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 following the task, and the most effective use of the available resources.

FAQs

1. What are the different types of software architecture?

Different software architecture types are:

  • Business Architecture
  • Application Architecture
  • Information Architecture
  • Information Technology Architecture

2. What are software architecture tools?

Software architecture tools are responsible for assisting developers in building and designing the basic software structure and further offer insights into a system’s software architecture and software design. These tools are also helpful in illustrating how a typical system interacts with existing pieces, new software, data sources, users, external systems, and so on.

3. What are architectural views in software architecture?

The major architectural views in software architecture include:

  • Logical view
  • Process view
  • Development view
  • Physical view
  • Use case view

4. What are software architectural styles examples?

Software architecture styles and patterns are the same things i.e.-

  • Microkernel
  • Microservices
  • Layered software architecture
  • Event-based
  • Space-based

5. What are the tools to design software architecture?

The best tool to design software architecture include:

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

6. What is the cost benefit analysis method in software architecture?

Cost benefit analysis method (CBAM) helps in making informed decisions related to software requirements and software investments depending on an analysis of the architectural and financial implications of those conclusions.

7. What is functional software architecture?

Functional software architecture (FSA) is an architectural model responsible for recognizing enterprise functions, interactions and consistent IT requirements.

8.What is model driven software architecture?

Model-driven software architecture (MDA) offers an array of guidelines for the structuring of specifications and is a software design approach for building software systems.

9. What is the importance of software architecture in software development?

Software architecture in software development is responsible for the overall analysis, thought and design considerations which strengthen the foundational scaffolding for the success of a software system.

10. What do software architects do?

Software architects have the ability to make informed decisions regarding which solution will be the perfect fit for a specific business or technical issue while staying proactive throughout the software architecture planning.

11. How to decide software architecture for a project?

  • Focus on abstract components, not deployment diagrams
  • Never begin by choosing patterns and don’t have high expectations from the first design iteration
  • Make a top-level view on functional requirements
  • Figure out non-functional requirements
  • Analyze the scope of non-functional requirements

12. What is architectural design in software engineering?

Architectural design defines the pool of hardware and software components and their interfaces for establishing the framework to develop a computer system.

Final Thoughts

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.

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