The best way to deal with architecture is to eliminate it.
Let’s start at the beginning. First, by defining architecture. Second, by understanding the goal of architecture. I’ll offer two perspectives, one from Fowler and the other from Booch. First, the Fowler statement.
In most successful software projects, the expert developers working on that project have a shared understanding of the system design. This shared understanding is called ‘architecture.’ This understanding includes how the system is divided into components and how the components interact through interfaces. These components are usually composed of smaller components, but the architecture only includes the components and interfaces that are understood by all the developers…Architecture is about the important stuff. Whatever that is.
Now Booch says:
All architecture is design but not all design is architecture. Architecture represents the significant design decisions that shape a system, where significant is measured by cost of change.
Examining these two statements is very revealing. Fowler makes it’s apparent that architecture is about the important stuff, while Booch is clear that something is architecturally significant if it’s difficult to change. Therefore, I’ll conclude that the goal of software architecture must be to eliminate the impact and cost of change, thereby eliminating architectural significance. And if we can do that, we have eliminated the architecture.
The idea behind eliminating architecture isn’t new. In fact, Fowler mentions “getting rid of software architecture” in the article linked to above. And the way to eliminate architecture by minimizing the impact of cost and change is through flexibility. The more flexible the system, the more likely that the system can adapt and evolve as necessary. But herein lies the paradox, and I’ll use a statement by Ralph Johnson to present and support the idea.
…making everything easy to change makes the entire system very complex…
So as flexibility increases, so too does the complexity. And complexity is the beast we are trying to tame because complex things are more difficult to deal with than simple things. It’s a battle for which there is no clear path to victory, for sure. But what if we were able to tame complexity while increasing flexibility? Is it even possible? In other words, how do we eliminate architecture?
As the Johnson quote clearly points out, it’s not feasible to design (or should I say architect?) an infinitely flexible system. Therefore, it’s imperative that we recognize where flexibility is necessary to reduce the impact and cost of change. The challenge is that we don’t always know early in the project what might eventually change, so it’s impossible to create a flexible solution to something we can’t know about. This is the problem with Big Architecture Up Front (BAUF), and it’s why we must make architectural decisions temporally. It’s also why we must take great care in insulating and isolating decisions we’re unsure of, and ensuring that these initial decisions are easy to change as answers to the unknown emerge. For this, modularity is a missing component that helps minimize the impact and cost of change, and it’s why agile architecture requires modularity.
In the UML User Guide (P. 163), Booch talks about “modeling the seams in a system.” He states:
Identifying the seams in a system involves identifying clear lines of demarcation in your architecture. On either side of those lines, you’ll find components that may change independently, without affecting the components on the other side, as long as the components on both sides conform to the contract specified by that interface.
Where Booch talks about components, today we talk about modules. Where Booch talks about seams, I talk about joints. Modularity combined with design patterns and SOLID principles, represent our best hope to minimize the impact and cost of change, thereby eliminating architecture.