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Dissection of an Application Frameworks

  • May 17, 2005
  • By Xin Chen
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The Foundation Framework

The foundation framework represents the programming model on which the application framework and business application are built. This layer is developed by the software vendor. Some of the best-known foundation frameworks are Sun's Java environment and Microsoft's .NET Framework. The foundation framework is used to develop a wide variety of applications, and it contains no specific business-domain knowledge. Changes to the foundation framework are driven primarily by the need for higher performance or the support of newer technologies.

OS

The OS layer represents, as its name implies, the operating system level. It provides access to system resources, such as CPU, memory, and disks, and to all the layers that sit on top of it.

With a basic understanding of the different layers in the overall picture and how they are positioned in an application, let's take a look at how to actually build an application framework. First, we will look at the application framework's development process.

The Framework Development Process

After you have decided that you need an application framework, you should first determine the major phases involved in a framework development process. Figure 2 shows four majors phases: analysis, design, development, and stabilization.

Figure 2. Framework development process

The gray inner circle indicates the phase, and the outer circle indicates some of the major tasks involved in each phase. Let's take a look at what is involved in each phase.

Analysis

As we start the process of developing an application framework, the first phase we enter is the analysis phase. As with application development, framework development starts by first setting the scope and objectives of the project or framework. We need first to identify the key features that are to be included in the framework. What types of business applications will be relying on this framework? What use cases will the framework support? In other words, how will developers be able to develop their business applications on top of this framework? The framework is built to support the development of the business application, so it is important to figure out what business domains the framework will able to support. Many questions will be asked during the analysis phase of framework development to set the scope and objectives of the framework.

During the analysis phase, we also need to create an iteration plan for improving the framework over time. Framework development involves complex and abstract tasks, and you shouldn't expect to get everything right on the first iteration. You may discover that certain items need to be added to or removed from the framework as you start implementing it. You may also decide to modify how some parts of the framework work to help developers become more productive in adapting the framework. You need to set up a plan to collect ideas for enhancements and fixes as developers start using the framework for use as the input to the next iteration. In addition to such an iteration plan, you will also need to draft a project plan and establish a timeline and documentation of major milestones for all phases of the process.

Design

After we have set the objectives for the application framework, the next phase is the design phase. The design phase for framework development involves two major tasks. First, we need to identity the common spots and the hot spots in both the domain-specific layer and the cross-domain framework layer. Second, we need to devise an architecture for the framework that will be used as a blueprint during the construction phase.

"Common spot" and "hot spot" are special terms relating to framework development. You will learn more about them later in the chapter. In a nutshell, a common spot is an area in the framework where variation is unlikely. A common spot is often a framework component or service that is ready for use without significant customization by application developers. On the other hand, a hot spot is an area in the framework where variation is frequent. Developers must provide their specific business logic in those hot spots in order to use the framework component. A hot spot is an abstract method that requires the developer to implement specific business logic. Identifying the common spots and hot spots in a business application allows you to identify the specific components and services in the framework. Identifying what is variable and what is fixed in a business domain is not an easy task. The business experts and software architects need to work together to identify those spots among the different layers of the framework in order to design a framework that is both easy to use and extensible.

After the business experts and software architects have come up with a list of components and services and identify which are common spots and which hot spots, the software architects can start designing the blueprint of the framework. As part of the architectural design of the framework, you need to create a number of design deliverables, such as class diagrams and activity diagrams, which will be used during the construction phase of the framework. Software architects also spend their time thinking about the techniques they can use on various components and services, such as design patterns, to maximize code reuse and extensibility in the final framework.

During the design phase, you can also begin to create a prototype of the application framework and then build a sample application on top of it. Testing the prototype with a sample application helps you learn how the framework you develop will be used to build the business application and gain insight into potential improvements in the design of the framework.





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