Software Architecture: What Is It and What Types Are There?
Software architecture is based on making crucial design decisions to organize software and ensure that it meets the desired quality attributes.
Software architecture, as it is known today, has developed over time in response to the increasing complexity of software systems and the need to address it in a more organized and structured manner.
The formalization of architectural concepts has allowed for more effective design, simpler management, and a better understanding of software systems.
Today, software architecture is a central point in developing software systems. The main objective of such architecture is to develop large software systems efficiently, structured, and above all, to have the ability to be reused.
What is Software Architecture?
Software architecture refers to the structure and design of a software system. It is a high-level representation that defines how software components interact with each other, how they are organized, and how they meet the functional and non-functional requirements of the system.
Software architecture provides a global view of the system, allowing developers and architects to understand its structure and make informed decisions during the development process.
Good software architecture is essential for the success of a project, as it affects the quality, performance, and scalability of the software. In addition, it facilitates collaboration among members of the development team and provides a clear view of how the system is structured, which helps minimize problems and errors as software development progresses.
Elements of Software Architecture
Software architecture is formed by combining various elements and concepts. These fundamental elements are combined to define the structure and design of the software system. They include:
Components: Components are the modules, services, or parts of the software that perform specific tasks within the system. These can include user interface components, business logic, database access, web services, etc.
Connections: Connections represent how the components communicate and collaborate with each other. This includes the definition of interfaces, communication protocols, and data flows.
Design Patterns: Design patterns are proven and recurrent solutions to common software design problems. Patterns can help structure the software effectively.
Architectural Style: The architectural style is the high-level approach that governs the system's structure. Examples of architectural styles include three-tier architecture, service-oriented architecture, microservices architecture, among others.
Non-functional Requirements: Non-functional requirements are the quality attributes that the software architecture must meet, such as performance, scalability, security, and availability.
Technologies and Tools: The choice of specific technologies, such as programming languages, databases, frameworks, and tools, has a significant impact on the architecture.
Documentation: Proper documentation is essential for describing and communicating the architecture to team members and stakeholders. This includes diagrams, descriptions of components, interfaces, and key design decisions.
Evolution and Maintenance Considerations: The architecture should be designed with the ability to evolve and maintain the system over time.
The formation of software architecture involves making fundamental decisions in each of these aspects to define how the software will be organized and how it will meet the project's requirements. The architecture provides a solid structure that guides development and ensures that the system meets its goals effectively.
Advantages of Software Architecture
Software architecture allows planning the development of the project and choosing the best tools to carry it out. It is an important step before starting programming as it will determine the pace of development, including economic and human factors during the process.
An effective software architecture provides benefits such as:
Efficient Organization: The architecture establishes an organizational structure for the software, which facilitates development, collaboration, and project management.
Component Reuse: Allows the reuse of software components and modules in different parts of the system or in subsequent projects, saving time and resources.
Maintainability: Good architecture facilitates the identification and correction of problems, as it divides the system into more manageable and localizable components.
Scalability: The right architecture allows the system to be scalable, meaning that more resources and components can be added to meet growing demand.
Performance: Enables optimization of performance, as specific design decisions can be made to improve the speed and efficiency of the software.
Security: Helps to implement security measures effectively, by allowing the identification of vulnerable points and the application of security solutions in the appropriate components.
Facilitates Collaboration: Provides a clear framework for team members to collaborate more effectively, as everyone understands the structure and design principles of the software.
Adaptability and Evolution: A well-designed architecture allows the system to be adaptable to future changes, which is essential in a constantly evolving environment.
Documentation and Communication: Facilitates communication among team members and stakeholders, as it provides a visual and descriptive representation of the structure and design of the software.
Facilitates Problem Solving: Provides a structure that facilitates the identification and resolution of technical and design problems.
As we have seen, software architecture provides a series of significant benefits for the development of complex software systems.
7 Types of Software Architecture
Architecture patterns are proven solutions to common problems in designing and developing applications to leverage in other creations and use for efficiency.
Software architects are responsible for selecting, adapting, and combining different types of patterns to fit where needed. Some types of patterns include:
Divides an application into three main components: the Model (which handles data and business logic), the View (which deals with presentation and user interface), and the Controller (which coordinates interactions between the Model and the View).
Divides an application into logical layers, such as the presentation layer, business logic layer, and data access layer. This pattern promotes modularity and scalability, can have multiple layers, and can be modified depending on the complexity and requirements.
Decomposes an application into small, independent services that communicate with each other via APIs. This improves scalability, flexibility, and ease of maintenance.
Hexagonal Architecture (ports and adapters)
Separates business logic from infrastructure code, allowing the application to be independent of technologies and external interfaces.
Service Layered Architecture
Similar to the layered pattern, but with a focus on exposing web services through layers, facilitating integration with other systems.
Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA)
Based on creating and using independent services that can be reused throughout the application. This promotes interoperability and flexibility.
A design pattern especially useful in user interface applications, where the Model represents data and business logic, the View handles presentation, and the ViewModel acts as an intermediary between the Model and the View. It's an effective pattern for user interface applications that offers advantages in terms of organization, reuse, testing, and collaboration.
These are some examples of software architecture patterns, and there are many other specific patterns to address various needs and challenges in application design. The choice of the right pattern depends on the project's requirements and the problem to be solved. Often, several patterns are combined to create more complex and efficient architectures.
Scalability Through Software Architecture
Scalability is the software's ability to adapt to the workload as the number of users increases or transactions grow, without affecting its performance, with the possibility to grow without affecting operational functionality.
There are two ways to improve scalability in systems:
Vertical or Upward: To achieve growth, physical resources are added to the infrastructure supporting the software, that is, increasing hardware such as memory, storage, processor, computing capacity, bandwidth, etc. When growing, the effort is minimal as the software will only be backed up and there will be no repercussions. Among the repercussions that exist, is that as growth is tied to hardware, it has a limit, so there will come a time when it will be necessary to change the server and this can be costly; in addition, the same problem will present itself after a certain time.
Horizontal: This increases the number of servers (Nodes) which work as a whole, it is more powerful, but at the same time the most complicated. A network of servers (Cluster) is created, so that the work is distributed among all the nodes of the cluster, as users increase, nodes are added as required. A primary server is needed for this type of scaling to work, from where the cluster is managed.
It can be combined with vertical scaling, supports high availability and if a node fails, the others continue working. On the other hand, it requires quite a bit of maintenance, as well as a large infrastructure.
Tools for Software Architecture
There are numerous tools that can be useful in designing and managing software architecture. These tools facilitate visualization, documentation, collaboration, and decision-making throughout all stages of the software development lifecycle.
To achieve competent software architecture design, different techniques and tools are used to help architects make intelligent decisions. Software architecture tools are generally classified into three groups:
Modeling Tools: These allow software architects to create visual representations of software architecture using notations like UML (Unified Modeling Language). This helps visualize the system structure, interactions between components, and data flows. Popular modeling tools include Enterprise Architect, IBM Rational Software Architect, and Lucidchart.
Code Diagrams: Focus on the automatic generation of diagrams from existing source code. They help architects and developers understand the structure of the code and the relationships between classes, functions, and modules. Examples of code diagram tools are Doxygen, Visual Studio's Architecture Tools, and Java Dependency Viewer.
Diagramming Tools: Used to create software architecture diagrams and other types of diagrams that are not necessarily linked to code. These can include flowcharts, network diagrams, deployment diagrams, among others. Microsoft Visio, draw.io, and Gliffy are examples of widely used diagramming tools.
Modeling and diagrams as code tools are suitable for long-term documentation, have more structure, and require more configuration, while diagramming tools are useful for quick, exclusive sketches, being more generic without the need for much thought.
There are many software architecture tools to choose from, and the important thing is to consider the reasons for creating the architecture. If it's only for visualization, a diagramming tool is recommended. However, if looking to create something that benefits in the long term, a modeling tool is better because it can drive changes in diagrams when updating the model.
Adopting an effective software architecture provides a series of significant improvements in the development, deployment, and maintenance of software systems.