Overview of Software Architecture
Software architecture refers to the fundamental structures of a software system and the discipline of creating such structures and systems. Each structure comprises software elements, relations among them, and properties of both elements and relations. The architecture of a software system is a metaphor, analogous to the architecture of a building. It functions as a blueprint for the system and the developing project, laying out the tasks necessary to be executed by the design teams.
Software architecture is about making fundamental structural choices that are costly to change once implemented. Software architecture choices include specific structural options from possibilities in the design of the software. For example, the systems that controlled the Space Shuttle launch vehicle had the requirement of being very fast and very reliable. Therefore, an appropriate real-time computing language would need to be chosen. Additionally, to satisfy the need for reliability the choice could be made to have multiple redundant and independently produced copies of the program, and to run these copies on independent hardware while cross-checking results.
Documenting software architecture facilitates communication between stakeholders, captures early decisions about the high-level design, and allows reuse of design components between projects.
There are many activities that a software architect performs. A software architect typically works with project managers, discusses architecturally significant requirements with stakeholders, designs a software architecture, evaluates a design, communicates with designers and stakeholders, documents the architectural design and more. There are four core activities in software architecture design. These core architecture activities are performed iteratively and at different stages of the initial software development life-cycle, as well as over the evolution of a system.
Architectural analysis is the process of understanding the environment in which a proposed system will operate and determining the requirements for the system. The input or requirements to the analysis activity can come from any number of stakeholders and include items such as:
what the system will do when operational (the functional requirements)
how well the system will perform runtime non-functional requirements such as reliability, operability, performance efficiency, security, compatibility defined in ISO/IEC 25010:2011 standard
development-time of non-functional requirements such as maintainability and transferability defined in ISO 25010:2011 standard
business requirements and environmental contexts of a system that may change over time, such as legal, social, financial, competitive, and technology concerns
The outputs of the analysis activity are those requirements that have a measurable impact on a software system's architecture, called architecturally significant requirements.
Architectural synthesis or design is the process of creating an architecture. Given the architecturally significant requirements determined by the analysis, the current state of the design and the results of any evaluation activities, the design is created and improved.
Architecture evaluation is the process of determining how well the current design or a portion of it satisfies the requirements derived during analysis. An evaluation can occur whenever an architect is considering a design decision, it can occur after some portion of the design has been completed, it can occur after the final design has been completed or it can occur after the system has been constructed. Some of the available software architecture evaluation techniques include Architecture Tradeoff Analysis Method (ATAM) and TARA. Frameworks for comparing the techniques are discussed in frameworks such as SARA Report and Architecture Reviews: Practice and Experience.
Architecture evolution is the process of maintaining and adapting an existing software architecture to meet changes in requirements and environment. As software architecture provides a fundamental structure of a software system, its evolution and maintenance would necessarily impact its fundamental structure. As such, architecture evolution is concerned with adding new functionality as well as maintaining existing functionality and system behavior.
Architecture requires critical supporting activities. These supporting activities take place throughout the core software architecture process. They include knowledge management and communication, design reasoning and decision making, and documentation.
Architecture supporting activities
Software architecture supporting activities are carried out during core software architecture activities. These supporting activities assist a software architect to carry out analysis, synthesis, evaluation, and evolution. For instance, an architect has to gather knowledge, make decisions and document during the analysis phase.
Knowledge management and communication is the act of exploring and managing knowledge that is essential to designing a software architecture. A software architect does not work in isolation. They get inputs, functional and non-functional requirements, and design contexts, from various stakeholders; and provides outputs to stakeholders. Software architecture knowledge is often tacit and is retained in the heads of stakeholders. Software architecture knowledge management activity is about finding, communicating, and retaining knowledge. As software architecture design issues are intricate and interdependent, a knowledge gap in design reasoning can lead to incorrect software architecture design. Examples of knowledge management and communication activities include searching for design patterns, prototyping, asking experienced developers and architects, evaluating the designs of similar systems, sharing knowledge with other designers and stakeholders, and documenting experience in a wiki page.
Design reasoning and decision making is the activity of evaluating design decisions. This activity is fundamental to all three core software architecture activities. It entails gathering and associating decision contexts, formulating design decision problems, finding solution options and evaluating tradeoffs before making decisions. This process occurs at different levels of decision granularity while evaluating significant architectural requirements and software architecture decisions, and software architecture analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Examples of reasoning activities include understanding the impacts of a requirement or a design on quality attributes, questioning the issues that a design might cause, assessing possible solution options, and evaluating the tradeoffs between solutions.
Documentation is the act of recording the design generated during the software architecture process. System design is described using several views that frequently include a static view showing the code structure of the system, a dynamic view showing the actions of the system during execution, and a deployment view showing how a system is placed on hardware for execution. Kruchten's 4+1 view suggests a description of commonly used views for documenting software architecture; Documenting Software Architectures: Views and Beyond has descriptions of the kinds of notations that could be used within the view description. Examples of documentation activities are writing a specification, recording a system design model, documenting a design rationale, developing a viewpoint, documenting views.