Non-functional Requirements in Architectural Decision Making

This article first appeared in IEEE Software magazine and was then published by InfoQ at their website.

In software engineering, a tight relationship exists between nonfunctional requirements (NFRs) and software architectures (SAs). As early as 1994, Rick Kazman and Len Bass asserted that SA is intimately connected to NFR achievement.1 This idea has pervaded software development over the years and explains why development projects invest a lot into fulfilling NFRs.

This general statement becomes more concrete when we consider how the concept of SA has evolved from a simple structural representation to a decision-centric viewpoint.3 In this perspective, NFRs serve as selection criteria for choosing among myriad designs and implementations. For instance, we can justify choosing a layered architectural style in terms of maintainability or portability, or choosing a particular database technology in terms of efficiency.  Software architects must continually deal with NFRs as part of their SA design responsibility. They must know a systems NFRs and how architectural decisions affect the NFRs fulfillment.

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