Software architecture is a fundamentally important factor for the successful development, maintenance and evolution of software systems. The essential role of a software architecture constitutes in defining construction plans using properties, expected behavior and structures of the software. If designed right, architectures are both stable and allow for some degree of flexibility, which is necessary for achieving the functional and quality requirements of the software solution.
From my experience working in a bespoke software development company, I’ve learned that architecture is the back and bone of each new software project. Even though software developers and engineers don’t work directly on the architecture per se, they have to be aware of its patterns and features at all times. After all, it is the architecture that keeps systems expandable and responsive to changes while keeping an eye on management requirements regarding costs and project life cycle.
If you’re just starting out your career in the IT sector, here is your beginner’s guide to software architecture with all must-knows.
1.The Purpose of Software Architecture
In his book Clean Architecture, Robert Martin opens with the statement that even the most sophisticated software architecture basically begins with a few lines of code. One of the main differences between the original computer programming from Alan Turing’s time and contemporary approaches is that Turing’s language used to be binary. In contrast, modern programming languages work with compilers that translate our code into machine language. Developers have it easy, right?
Well, not exactly. Software architects don’t simply design the main layers of the architecture and then leave the work to the developers. On the contrary, software architects continue to perform programming tasks throughout the entire software product lifecycle because only this way can they see how the bigger picture influences smaller software elements. According to Martin, the four core purposes of good software architecture are to serve and facilitate: entire software development process, maintenance, use cases and operation, and the system’s deployment.
2.Who Can be a Software Architect?
Traditionally, “software architect” is a title, and it is positioned at the top of the career ladder. However, the modern interpretation of software architect is different: it is the person who makes architecture. And there is a role: at different times, different people can play the role of a software architect. Traditional software architects are usually the most technologically experienced people on the team. After all, architects make decisions that have far-reaching consequences.
The modern interpretation of the role of “software architect” deals differently with technical skills. The architect is not alone and should use the entire team’s expertise, encouraging developers to constantly acquire and develop new skills. While the traditional architect had to understand the entire system in details, this is no longer feasible because software systems are so large and complex that it sometimes takes an expert team to comprehend and manage them. Still, a good software architect needs to have excellent technical expertise, problem-solving and analytical skills, holistic thinking and a strong sense of responsibility.
3.The Main Rules for Software Architecture
To serve its purpose well, the architecture must be coherent and adhere to some must-follow guidelines. Firstly, the architecture should follow the broader software strategy. This means that strategic decisions have to revolve around software requirements, which will determine the whole architecture approach. Secondly, an elaborate system design is needed. Finally, always keep in mind that later changes to the resulting design artefacts within the software architecture are usually complex and expensive.
Rule number three says that the architecture should be scalable. All properties relevant to the software, such as essential system functions, performance and security, must be taken into account ahead of time and reconstruct all possible future scenarios. The last rule is that architecture design should align with the business goals. All important decisions must be will inevitably depend on business requirements and objectives.
4.Software Architecture Types
There are many types of architectural patterns, all of them coming with specific pros and cons. The most widely used ones are:
Multilayered/ Multitier Architecture
This architecture design pattern is widespread because it provides a clear structure. Individual aspects of the software system are conceptually assigned to a layer (also called a tier). The permitted dependency relationships between the aspects are restricted in a layered architecture in such a way that aspects of a higher layer are only allowed to use those of lower layers. Also, there are subtypes such as strict layering (closed architecture) or loose layering (open architecture). The difference is that closed architectures don’t allow skipping layers (only the next layer can be called), and open ones can call all lower layers, thus allowing stronger app flexibility and performance.
Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA)
SOA is behind distributed systems designed to structure and use IT system services. The orientation towards business processes with high abstraction levels but has foundations on concrete service implementations plays a special role here. For example, the action “Grant a loan” is at a high-level business process in the banking sector with several people and IT systems running behind it, whereas a lower level command would be “Add this client to the client directory”. By orchestrating microservices from lower levels, the application’s higher abstraction levels can become reusable and more flexible.
The microservices architecture (MSA) has lately emerged as a trend because it offers many benefits such as easy identification of underlying performance issues, quicker elimination and smoother continuous delivery. Also, microservices revolve directly around business capabilities, giving the whole system robustness. The logic of this architecture type is that the services are processes that communicate with each other over a network via lightweight protocols such as HTTP. Their small size and independence from each other make the development process and the later scalability easier.
5.How to Tell Good from Bad Architecture
Тhere is no good or bad architecture on its own. One can only measure architecture quality in a given context. There are stakeholders involved and each one presents its own unique key requirements. So, good architecture must take into account these requirements and suggest an optimal configuration that covers them. The International Organisation for Standardization (ISO) has developed a model with eight main quality characteristics that ensure product value. ISO/IEC 25010 is the standard for software product quality.
For each quality feature, there is a list of sub-features. The partial characteristics make it easier to really consider a quality characteristic in its full spectrum. When it comes to reliability, the discussion often turns quickly towards availability, maturity etc., which shows how many elements are intertwined so that software architecture can qualify as good. When choosing a vendor to build your next software product, always rely on firms with certified experts who can live up to international standards of quality.