Lowering Coupling in Distributed Applications With Compliance and Conformance

Lowering Coupling in Distributed Applications With Compliance and Conformance

José Carlos Martins Delgado (Instituto Superior Técnico, Universidade de Lisboa, Portugal)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2142-7.ch002
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Abstract

The interaction of applications in distributed system raises an integration problem that application-developing methods need to solve, even if the initial specifications change, which is actually the normal case. Current integration technologies, such as Web Services and RESTful APIs, solve the interoperability problem but usually entail more coupling than required by the interacting applications, since they share data schemas between applications, even if they do not actually exercise all the features of those schemas. The fundamental problem of application integration is therefore how to provide at most the minimum coupling possible while ensuring at least the minimum interoperability requirements. This chapter proposes compliance and conformance as the concepts to achieve this goal by sharing only the subset of the features of the data schema that applications actually use, with the goal of supporting a new architectural style, structural services, which seeks to combine the advantages of both SOA and REST.
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Introduction

A complex software system typically involves many interacting modules, with many decisions to take and many tradeoffs to consider, not only in each module but also in the ways in which the various modules interact. Object-oriented software design tries to minimize the semantic gap (Sikos, 2017) between a problem specification and the architecture of the software application that deals with that problem, by providing a close correspondence between the problem entities and the corresponding software modules (classes).

Ideally, classes should not have dependencies on others, avoiding constraints on one another and exhibiting completely independent lifecycles. This would allow separate development of each class and elimination of software design and programming inefficiencies due to interaction between the specifications of classes, which usually cause iterations in requirements for other classes and consequent changes.

However, classes do need to interact and to cooperate, to fulfill collectively the goals of the system. Therefore, a fundamental tenet in software design is to reduce class coupling as much as possible (Bidve, & Sarasu, 2016) without hindering the interaction capabilities necessary to support the required class interoperability.

Decoupling also translates into higher changeability (a change in a class is less likely to have a significant impact in other classes), higher adaptability (less constraints require less effort to adapt to changes in other classes), higher reusability (a class with less requirements and constraints has an increased applicability range) and higher reliability in a distributed context (a smaller set of requirements simplify the task of finding an alternative in case of failure).

Although decoupling constitutes a fairly obvious goal, as a means to reduce dependencies and constraints, tuning it to the right degree in practice is not an easy task. In general, the fundamental problem of application design, in terms of interaction, is how to provide (at most) the minimum coupling possible while ensuring (at least) the minimum interoperability requirements. This means that the main goal is to ensure that each interacting class knows just enough about the others to be able to interoperate with them but no more than that, to avoid unnecessary dependencies and constraints. This is an instance of the principle of least knowledge (Hendricksen, 2014).

Historically, interoperability has been the main goal in Web-based distributed systems, whereas decoupling has been one of the top concerns in software engineering, when developing an application, along with other metrics such as cohesion.

Software development methods emphasize decoupling, changeability and agility, which means structuring classes of an application so that a change somewhere affects the remaining classes as little as possible and an application developer can deal with it easily and in a short time. Interoperability between classes of a local application is the easy part, since there is usually a single programming language with a shared class inheritance hierarchy.

The interaction between distributed applications is completely different. Interoperability is hard, since these applications are developed, compiled, and linked independently. Most likely, this means different type names, inheritance hierarchies, programming languages, execution platforms, and data formats. Inheritance-based polymorphism, one of the main workhorses of object-oriented software design to increase decoupling, is no longer usable. Current technologies base interoperability on strict data format matching (sharing of data schema). Although decoupling is of paramount importance, application developers have treated it as a side issue in distributed contexts, a best-effort endeavor after achieving the primary goal, interoperability (Delgado, 2019a).

The two most used application integration approaches, Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) (Erl, Merson, & Stoffers, 2017) and Representational State Transfer (REST) (Fielding, Taylor, Erenkrantz, Gorlick, Whitehead, Khare, & Oreizy, 2017) hardly comply with the principle of least knowledge. They achieve interoperability but do not solve the coupling problem, since they require that the schemas used by the interacting applications are the same. The use of polymorphism is restricted and has no formal underlying model.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Service: The set of operations supported by an application that together define its interface (the set of reactions to messages that the application is able to receive and process) and behavior.

Server: A role performed by a resource S in an interaction with another C , which involves waiting for a request from C , honoring it and typically sending a response back to C .

Resource: The computer-based implementation of a service.

Conformance: Asymmetric property between two servers, S 1 and S 2 ( S 1 conforms to S 2 ) that indicates that S 1 fulfills all the expectations of all the clients of S 2 in terms of the effects caused by its requests, which means that S 2 can replace S 1 .

Client: A role performed by a resource C in an interaction with another S , which involves making a request to S and typically waiting for a response.

Compliance: Asymmetric property between a client C and a server S ( C is compliant with S ) that indicates that C satisfies all the requirements of S in terms of accepting requests.

Interoperability: Asymmetric property between a client C and a server S that holds if C is compliant with the set of requests allowed by S and S is conformant with the set of responses expected by C .

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