Hitchhiker's Guide to Software Architecture and Everything Else - by Michael Stal

Thursday, September 08, 2011

The Telephone Test for Software Architecture

We all know that a software architecture should reveal two properties among many others for an adequate internal quality:

Simplicity implies that the software architecture only addresses inherent complexity without introducing accidental complexity. Since, there are typically several ways to solve a problem, there is no simplest architecture available. Instead, there rather are solution architectures that follow one specific solution path with a minimal number of artifacts. As some quotes propose, simplicity is achieved if you cannot take something away from your system without failing to meet its specification.

Expressiveness implies that the artifacts of your architecture are easy to understand. That is, artifacts should have expressive names, and each responsibility should be assigned to one artifact. Thus, components with a multitude of responsibilities are often a bad idea such as are responsibilities spread across multiple components. However, it is particularly difficult to achieve the latter goal due to cross-cutting concerns. An additional step to achieve expressiveness is having role-based, explicit interfaces with concrete contracts.

But how can you test simplicity and expressiveness? There is a good low-tech suggestion for doing this: Let a software architect explain the architecture to an engineer not involved in the project, for instance using a phone call. Limit the time to - let's say - 10 minutes. If the other engineer gets a good idea of the architecture, it is an indication that the architecture is simple and expressive. Of course, I am assuming that the software architect is a person good in communication as I expect from architects, anyway.

Some might argue that design metrics could also help in this context. Indeed, metrics provide some insights. But we shouldn't forget that metrics analyze the structure, not the semantics. Thus, they are not capable of deciding about expressiveness.



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    By Anonymous Classifieds php script, at 10:00 AM  

  • Wow. New knowledge for me. I agree with the statements you have there. Those two things should be considered indeed. This field can be complicated.

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