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Big Ball of Mud: Is This The Best That Agile Can Do?

May 2011 Presentation
Joseph Yoder

Joseph Yoder's plenary address from SATURN 2011 discusses issues with the current state of software architecture.


Software Engineering Institute



While much attention had been focused on high-level software architectural patterns, what is, in effect, the de facto standard software architecture has seldom been discussed: the Big Ball of Mud. A Big Ball of Mud is a haphazardly structured, sprawling, sloppy, duct-tape-and-baling-wire, spaghetti-code jungle. We've all seen them. These systems show unmistakable signs of unregulated growth and repeated, expedient repair. Information is shared promiscuously among distant elements of the system, often to the point where nearly all the important information becomes global or duplicated. Somewhat to our astonishment, since our original statement, no one has ever undertaken to dispute this premise. Still, this approach endures and thrives. Why is this architecture so popular? Is it as bad as it seems, or might it serve as a way-station on the road to more enduring, elegant artifacts? What forces drive good programmers to build ugly systems? Can we avoid this? Should we? And how can we make such systems better?