Once I’ve Built an Architecture, How Can I Prevent It from Gradually Degrading Over Time?

An unfortunate decay, often called bit rot, occurs in many organizations. Architects choose particular architectural patterns to handle the business requirements and “-ilities,” but those characteristics often accidentally degrade over time. For example, if an architect has created a layered architecture with presentation at the top, persistence at the bottom, and several layers in between, developers who are working on reporting will often ask permission to directly access persistence from the presentation layer, bypassing the other layers, for performance reasons. Architects build layers to isolate change. Developers then bypass those layers, increasing coupling and invalidating the reasoning behind the layers.

Once they have defined the important architectural characteristics, how can architects protect those characteristics to ensure they don’t erode? Adding evolvability as an architectural characteristics implies protecting the other characteristics as the system evolves. For example, if an architect has designed an architecture for scalability, she doesn’t want that characteristic to degrade as the system evolves. Thus, evolvability is a meta-characteristic, an architectural wrapper that protects all the other architectural characteristics.

In this book, we illustrate that a side effect of an evolutionary architecture is mechanisms to protect the important architecture characteristics. We explore the ideas behind continual architecture: building architectures that have no end state and are designed to evolve with the ever-changing software development ecosystem, and including built-in protections around important architectural characteristics. We don’t attempt to define software architecture in totality; many other definitions exist. We focus instead on extending current definitions to adding time and change as first-class architectural elements.

Here is our definition of evolutionary architecture:

An evolutionary architecture supports guided, incremental change across multiple dimensions.

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