Per Lundholm

Per Lundholm

Everyday Software Development

Qualities Attributed to the Architecture

Functional requirements describe how a system delivers value. However, the quality attributes of those functions will make or break it. For example, if your functional requirment is about something that takes you from one city to another, I have a car to sell. Really cheap, for that matter.

Every system has an architecture. It may be elegant or it may be ugly. It may be described or it may be unknown. But it is.

Architecture is what determines the qualities that the system delivers. Is it fast? Is it secure? Can it be extended? Does it scale?

The qualities you strive for should determine the design of the architecture – not the other way around.

What do I mean with quality, then? I’m not in the philosphical mode today so there will be no Zen-talk. I’m simply refering to measurable requirements such as response time and throughput. Quality to an engineer.

Some say non-functional requirements. I’d say, stop saying that!

You can’t have response time without refering to a function or a group of functions. E.g. all interactive functions. Therefore, "response time" is an attribute of those functional requirements.

Since it is an attribute, it does not live on its own. There has to be a functional requirement, at least one. Also, functional requirements always have attributes even if they are not determined or poorly understood. Remember the cheap car? Well, forget it, it disintegrated on the way to that other city.

So, once you have understood what quality attributes are, why should it matter? Well, my point is, it is about the design of your system’s architecture!

It is how you divide your system in components, software-wise and hardware-wise, how these components interact and how new components can be added, that determine qualities of your system.

Say, you like security for your website. Is that a requirement on the website? No, it is the requirment on some of your pages. You probably have at least one public page.

So you decide you need people to login with name and password. That doesn’t make your system deliver any value to anyone, it only lowers usability. But still, you need that security so you put in some components for that. Considering using LDAP? Well, here comes a LDAP-server to your architecture.

Not all quality attributes determine architecture but those that do, are really handy when it is your job to design the architecture. They help you by narrowing your design options. Stay tuned.

You think architecture means Big Design Up Front (anti-pattern from the agile community)? Wrong. Every system has an architecture, regardless of you did it in increments or in one go.