My Stuff

2010 Conferences

OSGi DevCon @ JAX London

February 23 - Keynote titled OSGi in the Enterprise: Agility, Modularity, and Architecture’s Paradox

EclipseCon

March 22 - 25 - Tutorial on Modular Architecture

Über Conf

June 14 - 17 - Sessions titled Turtles and Architecture and Patterns of Modular Architecture

Catalyst

July 26 - 30 - Two sessions on rich mobile applications and one on agile development. Half day tutorial on software process improvement.

Tweets @ Twitter

re: #apple event "We sold more iPads than any PC manufacturer sold of their entire PC line." 2012-09-12

re: #Apple Event ""Our notebooks now rank #1 in the US in Market share in the last three months." 2012-09-12

Right on. I just won a Best Buy drawing worth $1000. Either that or I won a shiny new virus by clicking the link. Hmm...what to do. 2012-08-29

The #osgi alliance response (http://t.co/KrN8XNWg) to the @mreinhold #jigsaw announcement (http://t.co/9YvcDdqC). 2012-08-29

Good Q&A with @mreinhold on project #jigsaw. http://t.co/9YvcDdqC. Modularity will change the way we design and run apps! 2012-08-28

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The opinions expressed on this site are my own, and not necessarily those of my employer.

Applied Modularity - Part 4

Filed Under Agile, Architecture & Design, Java, OSGi | 1 Comment 

In part 3, we applied the SeparateAbstractions pattern so that we could independently manage the two different AuditFacade interface implementations. The result was the module relationships shown at right (click to enlarge). The code can for this version of the system can be found in the SeparateAbstractions project. Also, be sure to check out Part 1, where we introduced our initial version of the system, and Part 2 where we applied a couple of the modularity patterns. Now, we’re going to focus on the financial.jar module and try to decouple bill.jar from financial.jar so the two are completely independent of each other.

I think you’ll really like this one…But first, some additional housekeeping.

Fifth Refactoring

Before we decouple the bill.jar module from the financial.jar module, we’re going to talk about exceptions. In general, we need to answer the question.

Where do exceptions belong?

In the CollocateExceptions project, we introduce an AuditException that is thrown if an error is encountered. The CollocateExceptions pattern says that exceptions should be close to the classes (or interfaces) that throw them. Since the AuditFacade interface throws the exception (shown below), we should put the AuditException in the same module as the AuditFacade interface, which is the auditspec.jar module. Note that if we put the exception anywhere else, we’d create an unwanted dependency between modules.

Sixth Refactoring

Ok, the previous refactoring was pretty simple, and it’s time to move on. Here’s the need, and I think you’ll find the solution quite interesting.

A new requirement has emerged, and we need to use the bill.jar module in another system. In this other system, we don’t need the financial.jar module to make the payment. We just want to use the bill.jar functionality. So, what do we do?

First, recall our initial version of the class structure of the system. In the third refactoring in Part 2, we introduced a Payable interface, and then created the financial.jar module. After we finished Part 3, we were left with the module structure shown at right (click to enlarge). Again, our goal here is to eliminate the dependency between the bill.jar and financial.jar modules so that we can deploy the bill.jar module without the financial.jar module. We’re going to apply a little trick called escalation. Essentially, we’re going to escalate the dependency to a higher level module. How? First, let’s take a look at the new class structure that’s going to allow us to remove the module dependency.

As shown at right (click to enlarge), we see the new class structure that’s going to allow us to decouple the bill.jar and financial.jar modules. Things are starting to get a bit tricky here, so before we allocate these classes to their respective modules, let’s walk through the steps to illustrate how these classes will callaborate to give us what we need.

We start by passing a BillPayAdapter instance to the Bill as a BillPayer type. The BillPayAdapter is going to manage the relationship between Bill and Payment. When the pay method on Bill is called, it will turn around and invoke the generateDraft method on BillPayAdapter. The BillPayAdapter invokes the generateDraft method on Payment, passing itself in as a Payable. This allows the Payment to callback on the Payable and invoke the appropriate method (either getAmount or getAuditedAmount) on BillPayAdapter. The BillPayAdapter can now query the Bill to obtain the audited amount and pass it back to the payment. Once the Payment has this amount, it can make the payment. Whew! A fairly complex callaboration, but enough to ensure we can decouple the bill.jar module from the financial.jar module. The code for the new BillPayAdapter class, which mediates (hmm..possibly naming it a mediator would have been better, huh?) the relationship between Bill and Payment, is shown below.

Now it’s time to allocate these classes to the appropriate modules. The key decision here is where we place the BillPayAdapter. Because this controls the Bill and Payment callaboration, we can’t put it in either of those two modules. In fact, we’re going to create a new module that contains the BillPayAdapter. The new module, which we’ll call billpay.jar, will depend on both the bill.jar and financial.jar modules, as shown at right (click to enlarge). The code for this version can be found in the IndependentDeployment project.

For the most part, our system is complete now. But we do have one nasty little problem that we haven’t solved yet. We have two different AuditFacade implementations, but the current system hardcodes creation of AuditFacade1 within the AuditAction class. All this flexibility compromised by a single line of code. Unnerving how that happens! We really do have to architect all the way down.  Anyway, let’s fix this problem.

Seventh Refactoring

The problem of creating instances is pretty common, so the solution is relative easy. There are a lot of different ways to do this, but we’re going to take the easiest route (and not the most flexibile mind you) by creating an AuditFacadeFactory class, which can be found in the ImplementationFactory project. Now, instead of the AuditAction creating the AuditFacade implementation, it invokes the factory and is returned an instance, as shown below.

Wrapping Up and Getting Ready for the Postmortem

We’ve made considerable progress. Amazing really. From a single monolithic application to a fully modularized architecture with considerable flexibility. But there are a lot of very interesting takeaways that we haven’t talked about yet. A number of positive side affects have resulted that aren’t immediately obvious. In our final post in this series, we’ll take a more in-depth look at the impact of modularity.

Applied Modularity - Part 3

Filed Under Agile, Architecture & Design, Java, OSGi | 3 Comments 

In Part 1, we introduced the system, and broke each layer out into separate modules. In Part 2, we applied two refactorings using two different modularity patterns - AbstractModules and AcyclicRelationships. But we were still left with a problem, which we’ll solve here.

Fourth Refactoring

After the third refactoring, we were left with the modules shown at right (click to enlarge). But this doesn’t entirely solve our problem of how we deploy a new AuditFacade implementation, especially if we want to avoid redeploying the audit.jar module and everything in it. Additionally, because the two implementations of AuditFacade live in the same module, we can’t rip one out (ie. uninstall) when we add the other. In other words, because they are in the same module, they can only be managed together.

To solve this tricky little challenge, we’re going to apply the SeparateAbstractions pattern, which states that we should separate abstractions from the classes that realize them. If you’ll recall from part 2, we applied this pattern when allocating the Auditable interface to the audit.jar module, but we didn’t apply it to the AuditFacade1 class. So we’ll apply it to the AuditFacade1 implementation, as well as a new AuditFacade2 implementation. First, we have to answer the following question.

Where do we put the AuditFacade interface so that new implementations of the interface can be managed separately from the interface and other implementations?

Our answer can be found by looking at the module structure shown at right (click to enlarge). Note that I’ve also included the financial.jar module in this diagram, which was actually introduced in Part 2 when we introduced the Payable interface. We’ll use this soon, but I digress.

Anyway, we separate the AuditFacade interface out into its own module - auditspec.jar. Each of the implementations (AuditFacade1 and AuditFacade2) are also placed in their own modules. The code for this solution can be found in the SeparateAbstractions project. No real coding changes are necessary, other than we’ve added a new class - the AuditFacade2 implementation. Note that we’ve also separated each implementation out into different packages to avoid splitting packages across modules. After adding this new class, we modified our build script to allocate the classes to the appropriate modules.

A Note on the Benefit of OSGi

Now, we have an overall increase in architectural flexibility. Our AuditFacade implementation classes are allocated to separate modules, allowing us to manage the two independently. From a maintenance perspective, we can work on each of the implementations separately, resting assured that changes to one implementation won’t negatively impact changes to the other. We can also test each independently and reuse each independent of the other.

This change also increases the resiliency of the bill.jar module since it’s no longer tightly coupled to any AuditFacade implementation. We can test the bill.jar module using only the auditspec.jar module by creating a mock implementation of AuditFacade for testing purposes. While the billpay.jar module is still dependent on the financial.jar module, we’re going to solve that problem in the next refactoring. In general, we have completely eliminated the dependencies between the bill.jar module and the AuditFacade implementations in the audit1.jar and audit2.jar modules. Remember, at the beginning of Part 2, these modules containing the bill and audit behavior had a cyclic relationship.

While this example doesn’t leverage OSGi, it is important to point out the benefit that OSGi can provide here. Because we don’t have a runtime module system we still need to deploy these modules within the WAR file. The presence of OSGi, however, brings the same degree of flexibility to the runtime that we have at development time (for more information, see The Two Faces of Modularity & OSGi). With OSGi, I would be able to install and uninstall the audit1.jar and audit2.jar modules without redeploying the entire system. When we’re finished with all of our refactorings, we’ll “osgi-ify” the system, deploy it to Tomcat, and realize this benefit.

Wrapping Up and Getting Ready for Part 4

So we’ve made quite a bit of progress from our initial version of the system that completely lacked modularity. By breaking the system out into modules, we ease the maintenance effort and increase overall system flexibility. In part 4, we’re going to to turn our attention to the financial.jar module that focuses on payment. Recall that in Part 2 (when we applied the AcyclicRelationships pattern to the AcyclicRelationships version of the project) , we separated the Payment class out into a separate module and decoupled Bill and Payment through the Payable interface. Part 4 will examine how we can decouple the bill.jar module from the financial.jar module so bill.jar can be managed, tested, and deployed independent of financial.jar. Stay tuned!

Applied Modularity - Part 2

Filed Under Agile, Architecture & Design, Java, OSGi | 3 Comments 

See Part 1 for an overview of how we got started. In this post, we’re going to take the modularization of our application a step further. We’re going to apply two refactorings using two different modularity patterns - AbstractModules and AcyclicRelationships. First, we’re going to separate the bill and audit functionality out into separate modules so we can manage (develop, deploy, etc.) them independently. Second, we’re going to remove the cyclic dependency between these two modules.

A Quick Review

Before we get started with this second installment, let’s review what we did in Part 1. Initially, our billing application was all packaged and deployed in a single WAR file. Since we had a conceptually layered application, it was pretty easy to separate the UI layer from the business object and data access layer. Not sure we explicitly pointed it out in Part 1, but that refactoring essentially applied the PhysicalLayers pattern. After doing this, we were left with the system at right (click to enlarge).

Second Refactoring

Recall the initial class diagram, where we had a Bill class with a bi-directional relationship to the AuditFacade class. This design has two fundamental flaws. The Bill is tightly coupled to the concrete AuditFacade class and the relationship is bi-directional. Bad all around! This can be seen in the following code snippet illustrating the Bill’s audit method.

Notice that the audit method actually creates the AuditFacade, calls the audit method, and passes a reference to Bill. Ugly. Let’s clean this up a little bit. While there are obvious technology reasons why we need to clean this up, there is also a motivating business force.

The system needs to go live with the current vendor’s auditing system, but the business has indicated that they aren’t renewing the contract with the vendor and are in ongoing negotiation with another vendor. The contract expires in 6 months, but we deliver the initial version of the system in 3 months.

So, 3 months after deployment, we know we’ll need to swap out auditing systems. What to do?

The first half of this solution can be found in the AbstractComponents project, where we apply the AbstractModules pattern which states that we should depend upon the abstract elements of a module. So we’re going to refactor the AuditFacade to an interface and create a separate AuditFacade1 implementation. This solves the first half of our problem - the tight coupling between the Bill and AuditFacade implementation. The result is the class diagram shown at right (click to enlarge). Take a look at the refactored Bill class, and you’ll see that the AuditFacade interface is now passed into the Bill, allowing us to swap out AuditFacade implementations. Now we need to decide how to modularize the system.

If we take this flexible class structure and continue to deploy in the single bill.jar module, we have the flexibility to swap out AuditFacade implementations at the class level, but we’re still required to package everything up into a single bundle and deploy it together. So what we really must do is separate the audit functionality out into separate modules from the bill functionality. Separating the AuditFacade interface and AuditFacade1 implementation out into separate modules results in the diagram at right (click to enlarge). We can also see this change reflected in the build file that packages up these modules. Here’s where the bi-directional relationship between Bill and the AuditFacade interface (and AuditFacade1 implementation) rears it’s ugly head. We have a cyclic dependency between our bill.jar and audit.jar modules. We need to fix this problem.

Third Refactoring

The second half of this solution can be found in the AcyclicRelationships project. Now, we need to remove the cyclic dependency between the modules, and we’ll apply the AcyclicRelationships pattern which states that module relationships must be acyclic. To do this, we’ll introduce an additional abstraction, called Auditable, that our Bill class implements. Upon applying this little trick, we can see that we have now removed the bi-directional relationship between Bill and the AuditFacade interface, as shown at right (click to enlarge).

Whereas previously the AuditFacade accepted a Bill to the audit method, it now accepts an Auditable type. The new AuditFacade interface can be seen in the code snippet below.

The Bill will pass itself to the AuditFacade interface as an Auditable type. The key element at this point is how we allocate these classes to their respective modules. Here’s a simple rule to abide by when determining how to allocate classes and interfaces to modules.

Interfaces should be closer to the classes that use them, and farther away from the classes that implement them.

We’ll talk more about this in the next post, because we build on this idea to address another problem that has surfaced. But applying this rule now, it’s clear that Auditable should be bundled with the AuditFacade interface, not in the same module as the Bill class.

While we haven’t talked about the new financial.jar module, we applied a similar refactoring to the Payment class by implementing a Payable interface, and breaking it out into a separate module. Allocation of classes to modules is done at build time, so after modifying our build script, the result is the modules shown at right (click to enlarge).

As I’m sure you’ve noticed at this point, we broke our rule above and bundled the AuditFacade1 implementation close to the interface it implements (btw, this is the other problem that has surfaced). If we apply our rule in this situation, we’d bundle the AuditFacade interface and Bill class in the same bundle, which certainly wouldn’t work because it would result in the cyclic dependency between the bill.jar and audit.jar modules that we’ve worked so hard to remove. Alas, this is the focus of our next refactoring, so we’re going to wait to tackle this challenge.

Wrapping Up and Getting Ready for Part 3

This post involved two refactorings. The first was to separate the bill and audit functionality out into separate modules. The second was to remove the cyclic dependency between the bill and audit modules.This offers us decent flexibility. We can introduce a new AuditFacade implementation, knowing that we’d only need to rebuild the audit.jar module. We can test the audit.jar module independent of any other module because it doesn’t have any outgoing dependencies. And if we wanted to, we could deploy the audit functionality separately (ie. we can reuse it elsewhere). So overall, some decent progress.

But some problems remain. If we really want the ability to swap out Audit systems, bundling the AuditFacade interface and AuditFacade1 implementation into the same module doesn’t give us the flexbility we need. While we can easily create a new AuditFacade implementation and allocate it to the audit.jar, this requires us to redeploy audit.jar unnecessarily. In the next post, we’ll explore how we can change the module structure to allow a new AuditFacade implementation while also allowing the existing AuditFacade1 implementation to be removed from the system.

Applied Modularity - Part 1

Filed Under Agile, Architecture & Design, Java, OSGi | 6 Comments 

This is my first in a series of posts that shows how we can modularize Java applications today. A few notes before we get started. First, the examples are all core Java, with no OSGi. I’ll explain why in just a moment. Second, I’ve applied these techniques on real projects, so I know that they work.

Why No OSGi?

So why didn’t I use OSGi? Good question. One would think that if I’m going to modularize my system, I’d want to use a module framework. There are a couple of reason I chose not to.

  • While OSGi is a module system, OSGi will not help you design more modular software. Among other things, designing modular software requires that we understand the weight and granularity of individual modules, and use the right techniques to manage the coupling between modules. In other words, designing good software is our job. Tools and technologies may help, but make no guarantee. I spend more time talking about this in The Two Faces of Modularity & OSGi.
  • Most of us aren’t able to leverage OSGi today because the platforms and langauges we use don’t support it. I want to use the same tools and techniques that we can leverage in the enterprise right now. This is where the modularity patterns, as well as a few other tools, will help.

In general, I really want to focus on the design paradigm, not the tools and technologies. So instead of answering, “How do I use OSGi?”, I want to focus on “How do I modularize my system?”. Hopefully, that resonates with you. For the curious, if you do want to see the difference that OSGi makes, I have OSGi-ified the final version. But you’ll have to wait.

Let’s Get Started - The System

Interestingly, I’ve found that when designing modular software, it’s tough to identify the modules early in the lifecycle. Instead, shifts typically occur, and as things unfold, the modules become more apparent as development progresses. With a SOLID OO design, it’ll make it much easier to move things around and create new modules. So to start, while the system is small, I favor larger (coarser-grained and heavier-weight) modules.

As specific needs emerge, we’ll break larger modules out into a bunch of smaller (finer-grained and lighter-weight) modules that address specific needs (both functional and non-functional requirements). If you’re interested in the abstract essence of what I’m referring to here, you should read some of my prior blog posts (Agile Architecture might be a good place to start). It’s a deep and very interesting topic, and impacts how we understand software, maintain the system, reuse software entities, and more. Or, you can wait and see what I’m talking about, as we’ll experience this phenomenon as we move through the exercise.

Here’s a simple, high-level description of the system we’ll develop. It’s the common bill payment sample system often used.

We’ve been asked to develop a system to handle payment of of bills. Prior to paying the bill, the system should apply a discount to the bill in an amount that has been negotiated with the payee (we call this the process of auditing the bill). Applying this discount is a fairly complex process, and a 3rd party vendor has been commissioned that will apply this discount. Additionally, we must integrate with a legacy financials system that must be fed payment information for reconciliation.

We’ll flesh out additional details as development progresses.

Version One

The initial version for this system uses Struts as the web framework, and packages everything into a single WAR file. The initial class diagram can be seen at right (click to enlarge). It’s not a complete class diagram, but it does show the main abstractions. I’ve greatly simplified the system for purposes of example.

As you can see, there are some Action and ActionForm classes that leverage Struts. There are also a couple of JSP you don’t see here, but will if you take a look at the project. A Customer has a list of Bills, and each Bill has a reference to an AuditFacade and Payment class. The AuditFacade integrates with the 3rd party vendor software that applies the discount, and the Payment class integrates with the legacy financials system. Of particular interest, note the bi-directional relationship between Bill and these classes - a sure sign of a problem that will haunt us later. But don’t worry, we’ll fix it.

For the sake of simplicity, I’ve hardcoded the database into the data access layer, which is represented by the Loader interfaces. This way, you can experiment with the system without running any DDL scripts to create the database. If you really want to, feel free to add a real database backend. It wouldn’t be very difficult, but it’s not what I want to focus on here. The code for this initial version can be found in my Google Code Repository.

First Refactoring

So packaging everything up into a single WAR file for deployment certainly isn’t modular. In most systems we develop, we try to design layers that encapsulate specific behaviors and isolate certain types of change. Typical layers include a UI layer, a business or domain object layer, and a data access layer. In this system, we have these three layers. The Struts action and Form classes represent a part of the UI layer, which is shown in red. The Customer, Bill, Name, AuditFacade, and Payment form the business object layer, and the Loader classes form the data access layer. These classes are shown in blue. Now, here’s a key statement that you need to take with you.

If I truly have a layered system, then I should be able to break out each layer into a separate module where modules in the upper layers depend on modules in lower layers, but not vice versa.

If you try this, it’s likely you’ll find it’s not so easy. The takeaway here? Most development teams feel they have a layered architecture, but in reality, they don’t because somewhere deep within the bowels of the system lies an import or reference to a class higher up in the food chain that we aren’t aware of.

In fact, if I really do have a layered system, then I shouldn’t have to change anything other than my build script to break the layers out into separate JAR files. If I do have to change more than a build script, then I didn’t have a layered system to begin with, and I should perform some architectural refactoring to clean things up. Anyway, the end result is relatively simple to understand. No code changes. Only a build script change. And the structure shown at right is the result (click to enlarge). You can view the refactored project in the PhysicalLayers project, which includes the change to the build script on line 41.

Wrapping Up and Getting Ready for Part 2

This first refactoring was quite simple, but has significant implications. Foremost, it proves that my class level architecture was pretty decent. I was able to break the system out into modules for the various layers without having to change a bunch of code. Really, that’s the reason why it was so simple…because the design was decent. Had the design been shoddy, it would have been significantly more difficult pulling off this refactoring. Trust me!

Yet, as we’ll see, the existing design may meet the needs of today, but it’s going to have to evolve as change emerges. In part 2 of this series, we’ll take a look at what we need to do to integrate with another auditing system, and how modularity can help us do this. And as we progress, the amazing transformation of a system lacking modularity to a highly modularized version will unfold. Stay tuned!

OSGi Adoption Increasing?

Filed Under Java, OSGi | 2 Comments 

Check out this graph obtained by searching for OSGi job trends on indeed. It’s evidence that interest in OSGi is increasing. That’s a pretty significant spike over the past two years. While it represents only a fraction of overall Java jobs, it’s refreshing to see that folks recognize the benefits of modularity (here’s an example). I can only expect that this graph will continue to trend upward over the next several months

Agile Architecture Deck & Code

Filed Under Agile, Architecture & Design, Development, Java, OSGi | Leave a Comment 

Here’s my Agile Architecture - Patterns & Technology slide deck (bottom of this post) that I presented at SpringOne2GX and OOPSLA. Thank you to all who attended, and for providing such positive feedback. I’ve also uploaded the code samples used to show the modularity pattern examples found toward the end of the presentation. The code can be found under the billpayevolution project in my Google code repository.

A Bit More on the Code

The project is named billpay, and is a very simple system. It starts out in life as a project that’s bundled and deployed using a single WAR file (InitialVersion). Through a number of refactorings (7 in total), the project is broken out into separate modules, and the final version of the system (Refactoring7ImplementationFactory) has a number of modules (JAR files) that are included in the WEB-INF/lib of the WAR.

I intentionally avoided using OSGi for this exercise, primarily to show how we can modularize an application without a runtime module system. I do have an OSGi version of the system that can be deployed to an OSGi runtime (Tomcat using the Equinox Servlet Bridge is what I used), but I haven’t uploaded that code to the repository yet because I have a few things I need to change (like using Spring DM to remove the code dependencies on the OSGi API). That’ll come later, after I’ve had a chance to do a bit more work with it.

Each project along the path toward refactoring the application into modules comes with it’s own build script. For each project, except for the final version (Refactoring7ImplementationFactory), all you’ll need to execute the build is Ant and JUnit.

A Note on JarAnalyzer

Because I used JarAnalyzer in the final refactoring, you’ll need to make sure you have GraphViz installed and then modify the build script to point to the dot executable. Of course, you can also comment out the JarAnalyzer target, too. But JarAnalyzer was very helpful in identifying and managing the dependencies between modules, so I think you’ll find it useful to keep it. If you’re not familar with JarAnalyzer, it produces visual output showing the dependencies among JAR files (shown at right, click to enlarge), as well as an HTML report with some of the Martin metrics. Here’s the JarAnalyzer HTML report for the final version of billpay.

Like with any project, there are a few things I’d like to change. For example, in Refactoring7ImplementationFactory, I’d like to use Spring to inject the implementation classes instead of using the factory. Sometime soon, I hope to walk through these samples in a series of blog entries that shows how modularity can have an amazingly positive influence on the architecture of a software system. Until I do this, or you attend one of my presentations (btw, I’m speaking next week at Agile Development Practices), it may be a tad difficult to understand the forces behind my decisions (hint: they were driven by various business requirements). So please be patient, and stay tuned.

And Now the Presentation

Here’s the presentation, hosted on SlideShare. I look forward to your questions and/or any feedback you might have!

Turtles and Architecture

Filed Under Architecture & Design, Development, OSGi | 16 Comments 

The story of software architecture reminds me of the following story.

“A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: “What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.” The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, “What is the tortoise standing on?” “You’re very clever, young man, very clever”, said the old lady. “But it’s turtles all the way down!”

- A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

Software architecture is “‘turtles all the way down.”

The Ivory Tower

Many of us can relate. In dysfunctional organizations, architects and developers fail to communicate effectively. The result is a lack of transparency and a lack of understanding by both sides, as shown in the diagrm (click to enlarge). The failure often occurs (though I recognize there are other causes) because architecture is about breadth and development is about depth.  Each group has disparate views of software architecture, and while both are warranted, a gap between these views exists. The architect might focus on applications and services while the developer focuses on the code. Sadly, there is a lot in between that nobody is focused on. It is this gap between breadth and depth that contributes to ivory tower architecture.

Turtles and The Tower

Without question, the ivory tower is dysfunctional (regardless of cause), and systems lacking architectural integrity are a symptom of ivory tower architecture. So assuming good intent on the part of the architect and the developer, how can we bridge the gap between breadth and depth? How can we communicate more effectively? How do we increase understanding and transparency?

My favorite definition of software architecture was offered by Ralph Johnson in an article by Martin Fowler. He states:

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.

The key aspect of this definition that differentiates it from many other definitions of architecture is that of “shared understanding.” We must have a shared understanding of how the system is divided into components, and how they interact. Architecture isn’t just some technical concept, but also a social construct. And it is through this that we can break down the divide between architects and developers.

To ensure shared understanding, we have to architect “all the way down.” Architects cannot worry only about services and developers cannot worry only about code. There is a huge middle ground that each must also focus on, as illustrated by the diagram at right (click to enlarge).

Focusing exclusively on top level abstractions is not enough. Emphasizing only code quality is not enough either. We must bridge the gap through other means, including module and package design. Often times, when I speak, I ask the audience to raise their hands if they spend time on service design. Most do. I also ask them to raise their hand if they spend time on class design and code quality. Again, most do. But then I ask if they also spend time on package and module design. Usually, only a small percentage leave their hands raised.

This is unfortunate, because module and package design are equally as important as service and class design. But somewhere along the way, with our emphasis on services and code quality, we’ve lost sight of what lies in between. Within each application or service awaits a rotting design, and atop even the most flexible code sits a suite of applications or services riddled with duplication and lack of understanding. A resilient package structure and corresponding software modules help bridge the divide between services and code.

Certainly, if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it at least a few times, we need to start focusing on modularity to ensure a consistent architecture story is told. It is the glue that binds. It’s the piece that helps bridge low level class design with higher level service design. It’s the piece that helps bring down the ivory tower, enhance communication, increase transparency, ensure understanding, and verify consistency at multiple levels. It is the piece that allows us to “architect all the way down.”