Abstraction can be defined as a general concept and/or idea that lack any concrete details. Throughout history this type of thinking has led to an array of new ideas and innovations as well as increased confusion and conspiracy. If one was to look back at our history they will see that abstraction has been used in various forms throughout our past. When I was growing up I do not know how many times I heard politicians say “Leave no child left behind” or “No child left behind” as a major part of their campaign rhetoric in regards to a stance on education. As you can see their slogan is a perfect example of abstraction because it only offers a very general concept about improving our education system but they do not mention how they would like to do it. If they did then they would be adding concrete details to their abstraction thus turning it in to an actual working plan as to how we as a society can help children succeed in school and in life, but then they would not be using abstraction.
By now I sure you are thinking what does abstraction have to do with software architecture. You are valid in thinking this way, but abstraction is a wonderful tool used in information technology especially in the world of software architecture. Abstraction is one method of extracting the concepts of an idea so that it can be understood and discussed by others of varying technical abilities and backgrounds. One ways in which I tend to extract my architectural design thoughts is through the use of basic diagrams to convey an idea for a system or a new feature for an existing application. This allows me to generically model an architectural design through the use of views and Unified Markup Language (UML). UML is a standard method for creating a 4+1 Architectural View Models.
The 4+1 Architectural View Model consists of 4 views typically created with UML as well as a general description of the concept that is being expressed by a model.
The 4+1 Architectural View Model:
- Logical View: Models a system’s end-user functionality.
- Development View: Models a system as a collection of components and connectors to illustrate how it is intended to be developed.
- Process View: Models the interaction between system components and connectors as to indicate the activities of a system.
- Physical View: Models the placement of the collection of components and connectors of a system within a physical environment.
Recently I had to use the concept of abstraction to express an idea for implementing a new security framework on an existing website. My concept would add session based management in order to properly secure and allow page access based on valid user credentials and last user activity. I created a basic Process View by using UML diagrams to communicate the basic process flow of my changes in the application so that all of the projects stakeholders would be able to understand my idea. Additionally I created a Logical View on a whiteboard while conveying the process workflow with a few stakeholders to show how end-user will be affected by the new framework and gaining additional input about the design. After my Logical and Process Views were accepted I then started on creating a more detailed Development View in order to map how the system will be built based on the concept of components and connections based on the previously defined interactions. I really did not need to create a Physical view for this idea because we were updating an existing system that was already deployed based on an existing Physical View.
What do you think about the use of abstraction in the development of software architecture? Please let me know.