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Software Architecture & Its Importance

This post is about understanding architecture of an application and it’s role in web application development.

I have worked in various domains writing softwares. All of us know that although developing software for each business domain throws new challenges and their needs differ vastly but there are many tools and systems which are used commonly everywhere.

So, most of the web applications are following this approach what we can call 3-tier applications.

You have got a presentation layer, business layer and a database layer. When you deploy you should be able to deploy on 3 boxes. Surprisingly lot of times you will end up deploying only on 2 boxes. Reason why some company might do this is that they did not segregate between physical and logical layers. One with all the logic and other one with just RDBMS running in background. Even sites like twitter and GroupOn had one big chunk of monolithic softwares where everybody was coding. Later on they decided to dismantle it into smaller blocks as it was impossible to scale this big piece.

Most of seasoned developers understand the meaning of layers but one important thing that they do not understand that a layer can be logical as well as physical.

A logical layer (separation of concerns, modular programming ..whatever you call them) sits in the same process space as other layers and just segregates logic.

You create a layer and expose it’s various functionality via interface. Client of your layer injects them using some fancy library like Guice, Spring or does a “new”.

Many start-up companies at least in India are taking this approach. They start small develop code in one big chunk and when they grow they start dismantling their code into various modules.

It might have worked for some companies but it puts a huge pressure on ROI and dependency increases on the existing developers. If one of them leaves you are doomed. And If I am not wrong you went with no documentation at all by following practices of agile programming (in wrong way). So all you can do is further increase the costs by offering higher wages :-).

On the other hand new people are feeling bad because they are not able to participate much as multiple activities are going on in parallel. Refactoring of current architecture, new feature development, pressure of management to develop new feature and bug fixing/maintenance of existing systems.

For refactoring you have probably cut a new branch and start working there but by the time you are finished your existing branch in production and your re-factored branch have been diverged so much that it becomes another exercise to merge them.

People do it though but almost on daily basis you will get regressions and all this mess will lead to another mess and increase the costs significantly. It will hamper the growth of the company.

There is no one solution to it. Different situations will require different solutions but I have also seen systems which have been managed pretty well over the years and thousands of new developers come and join the new team yet things remain in control.

So how come these two sides of same coin exists. When technology stack is same aren’t we supposed to have same kind of maintainable system?

What different one company did then others. As per me answer lies in Architecture of the systems.

One company was able to get it’s application’s architecture spot on right from the beginning  Another company was doubtful about it’s growth and quickly wanted to put something on dashboard of users and praying that when they grow they will think about it.

This is also not a bad approach it works in many cases but getting the design right in first place does not take so much effort as it looks like.

Web frameworks like Ruby on Rails, Grails and Java script library JQuery are built on the very concept of plugins. It keeps things under control and these small piece of softwares can be maintained easily. If some component starts behaving badly you just stop using it by unloading that particular component.

It is well known practice adopted by experts and computer scientists that one should write code as if he is writing a library. It automatically brings modularity in system and maintenance become very easy (comparatively). and same is true about architecture also. One should develop modules to be consumed by others. Modules or components are supposed to expose a certain functionality. Others are just consuming it.

Great..looks like this is holy grail for solving our problems. Not yet. Once we have created different components and decided to deploy them on different machines we are actually facing host of other issues Deployment, Inter process communication, Fault Tolerance, Centralized logging to name a few.

We will try to solve these problems one by one in upcoming articles.