Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Architecture, smarchitecture.

Now begins our discussion of Rich Internet Application Architecture. This is a work in progress, which is to say that what is below is really a draft of a post, but we're exposing the salami-making process to invite collaboration from our friends and lovers.

The first thing we need to discuss is what we mean by "architecture", since this is surely an overloaded term in our industry. It seems to mostly say something about how a system's functionality (domain-specific and otherwise) is partitioned both logically and physically across application code, software platforms, and physical hosts. For the purposes of this discussion we'll define architecture as any set of implementation constraints imposed on a team during some project.

By this definition, a project without a pre-defined architecture is one in which their might be a "design", for example consisting of major classes and how they interact with each other, and choices about what platforms things will run on, but beyond that it is left up to each developer to determine how to implement each piece of functionality assigned to their work queue. We say that the project has no pre-defined architecture because one will almost inevitably "emerge" as various mechanisms and partitioning strategies get worked out and discussed among the team, and people naturally clone already working code when they need to do something similar. It could be argued that the resulting "architecture" is one that is tightly adapted to meet the actual (emerging) needs for one, rather than something possibly over-engineered beyond what we find is really needed after we've been coding on the project for a while.

Of course the real choice is not a binary one between having a pre-defined architecture and not having one. We can rigorously define some aspects of a system's architecture while letting other aspects emerge. But that still leaves the question: "How much architecture do we need?"

I propose that the answer to that question should be "Just enough to mitigate risk" and in summary will close with the proposition that:

A system's architecture definition should consist of the minimal set of implementation constraints needed to mitigate implementation risks.

In our next installment, we'll discuss the most commons risks confronting Enterprise RIA system implementations.

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