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Engineering LibreTexts

1.3: Reengineering Patterns

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  • Patterns as a literary form were introduced by the architect Christopher Alexander in his landmark 1977 book, A Pattern Language. In this book, Alexander and his colleagues presented a systematic method for architecting a range of different kinds of physical structures, from rooms to buildings and towns. Each issue was presented as a recurring pattern, a general solution which resolves a number of forces, but must be applied in a unique way to each problem according to the specific circumstances. The actual solution presented in each pattern was not necessarily so interesting, but rather the discussion of the forces and tradeoffs consisted of the real substance they communicated.

    Patterns were first adopted by the software community as a way of documenting recurring solutions to design problems. As with Alexander’s patterns, each design pattern entailed a number of forces to be resolved, and a number of tradeoffs to consider when applying the pattern. Patterns turn out to be a compact way to communicate best practice: not just the actual techniques used by experts, but the motivation and rationale behind them. Patterns have since been applied to many aspects of software development other than design, and particularly to the process of designing and developing software.

    The process of reengineering is, like any other process, one in which many standard techniques have emerged, each of which resolves various forces and may entail many tradeoffs. Patterns as a way of communicating best practice are particularly well-suited to presenting and discussing these techniques.

    Reengineering patterns codify and record knowledge about modifying legacy software: they help in diagnosing problems and identifying weak- nesses which may hinder further development of the system, and they aid in finding solutions which are more appropriate to the new requirements. We see reengineering patterns as stable units of expertise which can be consulted in any reengineering effort: they describe a process without proposing a complete methodology, and they suggest appropriate tools without “selling” a specific one.

    Many of the reverse engineering and reengineering patterns have some superficial resemblance to design patterns, in the sense that they have something to do with the design of software. But there is an importance difference in that design patterns have to do with choosing a particular solution to a design problem, whereas reengineering patterns have to do with discovering an existing design, determining what problems it has, and repairing these problems. As a consequence, reengineering patterns have more to do with the process of discovery and transformation than purely with a given design structure. For this reason the names of most of the patterns in this book are process-oriented, like Always Have a Running Version, rather than being structure-oriented, like Adapter or Facade.

    Whereas a design pattern presents a solution for a recurring design problem, a reengineering pattern presents a solution for a recurring reengineering problem. The artifacts produced by reengineering patterns are not necessarily designs. They may be as concrete as refactored code, or in the case of reverse engineering patterns, they may be abstract as insights into how the system functions.

    The mark of a good reengineering pattern is (a) the clarity with which it exposes the advantages, the cost and the consequences of the target artifacts with respect to the existing system state, and not how elegant the result is, (b) the description of the reengineering process: how to get from one state of the system to another.

    Reengineering patterns entail more than code refactorings. A reengineering pattern may describe a process which starts with the detection of the symptoms and ends with the refactoring of the code to arrive at the new solution. Refactoring is only the last stage of this process, and addresses the technical issue of automatically or semi-automatically modifying the code to implement the new solution. Reengineering patterns also include other elements which are not part of refactorings: they emphasize the context of the symptoms, by taking into account the constraints that reengineers are facing, and include a discussion of the impact of the changes that the refactored solution may introduce.