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Characteristics of Higher Level Languages for Software Architecture

December 1994 Technical Report
Mary Shaw, David Garlan

System designers use two primary ways of defining software architecture; this paper explains why neither alternative is adequate.


Software Engineering Institute

CMU/SEI Report Number



As the size and complexity of software systems increases, the design and specification of overall system structure or software architecture emerges as a central concern. Architectural issues include the gross organization of the system, protocols for communication and data access, assignment of functionality to design elements, and selection among design alternatives.  

Currently, system designers have at their disposal two primary ways of defining software architecture: they can use the modularization facilities of existing programming languages and module inter connection languages; or they can describe their designs using informal diagrams and idiomatic phrases (such as "client-server organization"). 

In this paper, we explain why neither alternative is adequate. We consider the nature of architectural description as it is performed informally by systems designers. Then we show that regularities in these descriptions can form the basis for architectural description languages. Next, we identify specific properties that such languages should have. Finally, we illustrate how current notations fail to satisfy those properties.