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Chapter: Software Architectures : Documenting the Architecture

Documenting a View

There is no industry-standard template for documenting a view, but the seven-part standard organization that we suggest in this section has worked well in practice.

Documenting a View


There is no industry-standard template for documenting a view, but the seven-part standard organization that we suggest in this section has worked well in practice. First of all, whatever sections you choose to include, make sure to have a standard organization. Allocating specific information to specific sections will help the documentation writer attack the task and recognize completion, and it will help the documentation reader quickly find information of interest at the moment and skip everything else.


1.     Primary presentation shows the elements and the relationships among them that populate the view. The primary presentation should contain the information you wish to convey about the system (in the vocabulary of that view) first. It should certainly include the primary elements and relations of the view, but under some circumstances it might not include all of them. For example, you may wish to show the elements and relations that come into play during normal operation, but relegate error handling or exceptional processing to the supporting documentation.


The primary presentation is usually graphical. In fact, most graphical notations make their contributions in the form of the primary presentation and little else. If the primary presentation is graphical, it must be accompanied by a key that explains, or that points to an explanation of, the notation or symbology used.


Sometimes the primary presentation can be tabular; tables are often a superb way to convey a large amount of information compactly.

A textual presentation still carries the obligation to present a terse summary of the most important information in the view.


2.     Element catalog details at least those elements and relations depicted in the primary presentation, and perhaps others. Producing the primary presentation is often what architects concentrate on, but without backup information that

explains the picture, it is of little value. For instance, if a diagram shows elements A, B, and C, there had better be documentation that explains in sufficient detail what A, B, and C are, and their purposes or the roles they play, rendered in the vocabulary of the view. For example, a module decomposition view has elements that are modules, relations that are a form of "is part of," and properties that define the responsibilities of each module. A process view has elements that are processes, relations that define synchronization or other process-related interaction, and properties that include timing parameters.


In addition, if there are elements or relations relevant to the view that were omitted from the primary presentation, the catalog is where those are introduced and explained.


The behavior and interfaces of elements are two other aspects of an element catalog; these will be discussed shortly.


3. Context diagram shows how the system depicted in the view relates to its environment in the vocabulary of the view. For example, in a component-and- connector view you show which component and connectors interact with external components and connectors, via which interfaces and protocols.


4.     Variability guide shows how to exercise any variation points that are a part of the architecture shown in this view. In some architectures, decisions are left unbound until a later stage of the development process, and yet the architecture must still be documented. An example of variability is found in software product lines where the product line architecture is suitable for multiple particular systems

. A variability guide should include documentation about each point of variation in the architecture, including


-   the options among which a choice is to be made. In a module view, the options are the various versions or parameterizations of modules. In a component-and-connector view, they might include constraints on replication, scheduling, or choice of protocol. In an allocation view, they might include the conditions under which a software element would be allocated to a particular processor.


-   the binding time of the option. Some choices are made at design time, some at build time, and others at runtime.


5.     Architecture background explains why the design reflected in the view came to be. The goal of this section is to explain to someone why the design is as it is and to provide a convincing argument that it is sound. An architecture background includes


-   rationale, explaining why the decisions reflected in the view were made and why alternatives were rejected.


-   analysis results, which justify the design or explain what would have to change in the face of a modification.


-   assumptions reflected in the design.


6.     Glossary of terms used in the views, with a brief description of each.


7.     Other information. The precise contents of this section will vary according to the standard practices of your organization. They might include management information such as authorship, configuration control data, and change histories. Or the architect might record references to specific sections of a requirements document to establish traceability. Strictly speaking, information such as this is not architectural. Nevertheless, it is convenient to record it alongside the architecture, and this section is provided for that purpose. In any case, the first part of this section must detail its specific contents.



Figure 9.1. The seven parts of a documented view


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