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The benefits of application development frameworks now coming of age
First Published in Front Range TechBiz on 27 December 2001
By Peter Barzen

It has been said that if the construction industry built buildings like the software industry built systems, the first woodpecker to come along would destroy civilization as we know it.

The analogy has some merit, as software often is created without a supporting infrastructure or a solid foundation.

Application development frameworks (ADF) are not new to the IT industry. They have been around for decades but are finally coming of age. This is evident by the recent shift from the traditional forms-based approach to an object-oriented model, which is largely driven by the need to use new languages and tools to satisfy Internet demands.

So what is an ADF? If you ask a dozen people, I expect you’ll get a dozen different answers, including the occasional XP (Extreme Programming) tag. One common theme would be that it provides a much faster delivery of a robust, extensible application.

There are many types of frameworks. Horizontal or system-level frameworks service areas such as screen painting, networks, interfacing, security etc. There are also frameworks to serve vertical industries such as insurance, finance and medical. The ADF is atop the framework pyramid.

ADFs provide common application architecture for the delivery of software solutions. Should the framework also provide a library or repository of components, then applications can be assembled as opposed to developed, providing the combined benefits of packaged software and custom delivery. It can make a 100 percent match to the requirements, with lower risk, lower cost and faster delivery.

Object-oriented framework is the merging of data and behavior into re-usable components. It is like smashing software applications into small pieces that you can put back together in any order even if the pieces weren’t initially intended to go together. It is similar to assembling Lego blocks. An individual Lego block could be used in the side of a building, the deck of a ship, the wing of a plane or the door of a car.

Object-oriented methodology provides enormous run-time flexibility, reduced time to delivery, enhanced software quality, reduced maintenance costs, interfacing and integration, cost-effective development and distributed applications.

However, a poorly planned object-oriented system will fail to achieve these promised benefits. Unlike using a 3gl or 4gl, with which you could just start generating code on day one (“you people start coding and I’ll go find out what the requirements are”.) With object-oriented systems, you need to have a design or blueprint to start with.

So where does an ADF fit?

A framework provides the benefits of object-oriented systems without the complexity or risks of coding them. A framework should automate the repeatable, manage change and provide an architecture for delivery. It is the infrastructure or foundation on which you build your applications and realize the benefits of object-oriented systems. A framework also provides a discipline and methodology for delivery.

An ADF, as opposed to a horizontal or vertical framework, should provide these facilities at all layers of the application, including presentation, business logic, database, deployment and synchronization. This is a tall order. To achieve the true benefits of object orientation, the framework should in part be attribute driven, often referred to as a black box framework. If it’s not, then it’s not much more than a sophisticated code generator.

Code generators simply create more of the same development and maintenance nightmares that we’re trying to avoid. Y2K for object-oriented-based systems, at least in theory and for some in practice, amounted to a one-class change.

Attributes drive the application. For an ADF, that would include all the layers previously mentioned. Attributes are usually in the form of data or parameters. Take Mapquest, for example. If Map-quest was not attribute driven, then it would need to have a library of maps to accommodate every trip ever conceived, not just for you, but also for every user of Mapquest. Since Mapquest is attribute driven, you simply provide the attributes of start location and finish location, and the map is produced. It’s a single abstract component, delivering all possible concrete results.

So what is the benefit of using an ADF?

After completing the requirements definition for a base transaction processing system, a seasoned IT professional provided a 40 person-day estimate to deliver the solution, using a traditional coded forms-based approach. Another provided a seven-day estimate using an object-oriented approach. A third suggested that it should be achievable in just 30 minutes using an ADF.

To conclude, object-oriented systems are assembled rather than developed, and deliver lower-risk, lower-cost and rapid-application solutions.

— Peter Barzen is executive vice president and general manager of Prophecy Americas, a provider of application development frameworks in Greenwood Village.

He can be reached at peterb@prophecyinternational.com.


 

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