Common Types of Software Architecture

Table of contents

When referring to common types of software architecture, often people refer to the general blueprint or structure that software developers follow when building applications. Relying on common architectural styles makes it easier for project managers and programmers to make products efficiently. Development teams can choose software architecture patterns they know can offer the functionality they need. Instead of “reinventing the wheel,” they select frameworks and patterns that have proven useful.

Software architects have built a broad range of options with varying features. Before starting a large development project, it’s important for managers to review their options and choose a software and system architecture that meets their overarching needs.

Here's the key things to know about the common types of software architecture:

  • Different software architecture patterns are available for building successful products.
  • The Model-View-Controller (MVC) pattern uses three components: model, view, and controller.
  • Client-Server architecture involves clients sending requests to servers.
  • There are four types of client-server architecture, including 1-tier, 2-tier, 3-tier, and N-tier.
  • The Microkernel pattern focuses on core systems and customizable plug-in modules.
  • Peer-to-Peer architecture aids communication between devices, often used for file sharing..
  • Choosing the right architecture depends on project requirements, complexity, team expertise, technology stack, scalability needs, maintenance, and cost.

Popular Types of Software Architecture Patterns

Dozens of different types of software architecture patterns could help development teams build successful products. Understanding a few characteristics of the most popular architectures and design patterns should make it easier for teams to reach their goals.

Model-View-Controller Pattern (MVC)

Model-view-controller architectural patterns use three components:

  • A model component acts like a business layer that can manipulate requests and responses to create a coherent experience.
  • A view component that controls the user interface logic and helps improve the user’s experience.
  • A controller component that processes incoming requests, business logic, and other factors so the model and view components can operate efficiently.

Developers typically use MVC when building web pages that use lightweight applications.

Related reading: gRPC vs. REST: How Does gRPC Compare with Traditional REST APIs?

Java EE (Enterprise Edition)

Java EE is a flexible architectural style that can coordinate tasks between web service specifications, web specifications, enterprise specifications, and other factors. Developers commonly use it when building web pages and managing distributed systems that need to coordinate with each other.

Using Java EE requires some knowledge of Java API for XML binding, JSON binding, and JSON processing. You might also need to learn about using APIs for persistence layers and transaction layers.

Client-Server Architecture

Client-server architecture is a layered architecture pattern that must include at least two factors:

  • A client sending requests to a server.
  • A server that can respond to the client’s requests.

People use client-server architecture often without realizing it. For example, someone might order a pizza on their smartphone. In this scenario, the person’s smartphone (the client) sends a request to a pizza restaurant’s computer system (the server) to place an order.

In real-world applications, client-server architecture usually becomes much more complex than this. Even in the provided example, the pizza restaurant doesn’t have an on-site server. It probably relies on a cloud server to handle requests.

Since there are diverse, often complex versions of client-server architectural designs, software engineering professionals refer to four types of client-server architecture.

1-Tier Architecture

1-tier client-server patterns can include multiple settings that influence how applications handle requests. When using 1-tier architecture in a professional setting, you would probably add layers for business logic and data logic, among others. It’s a very flexible approach to building software, so you can adapt it to meet unique needs.

While useful in many ways, 1-tier software design patterns tend to create a lot of data, which means applications require significant, frequent management. When left unmanaged, data variances will eventually corrupt the results and interfere with performance.

2-Tier Architecture

2-tier architecture is a very simple, straightforward pattern that only relies on a client and a server. This approach works by installing any necessary database on the server’s side and the user interface on the client’s device. In this scenario, “device” is used loosely because it can refer to a web browser just as easily as hardware, such as a laptop computer.

In a simplified world, the pizza-ordering system uses 2-tier architecture without relying on cloud servers or other networks.

3-Tier Architecture

3-tier adds an intermediary to the structure of 2-tier architecture. When the client submits a request, it goes to middleware. The middleware passes the request to the server. Once received, the server sends a response to the middleware, which passes it to the client.

Why add another layer? Users won’t notice it, but stakeholders can use the intermediary to improve data control and security. Essentially, the middle layer acts like a filter that protects the server from dangerous information, such as malware and potentially even distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks.

N-Tier Architecture

N-tier architecture, also called multi-tier architecture, involves at least five tiers:

  • Client
  • Internet
  • Server
  • Middle
  • Data

With n-tier architecture, a client’s request goes to the internet before it gets sent to a web server (server tier). The web server sends the request to the middle tier, where it encounters business logic that can augment the request to meet system standards. Finally, the request goes to the database, which responds accordingly and sends a reply back through the tiers. Alternatively, a tier between the client and server can deny the request or reply.

Microkernel Pattern

The Microkernel architecture pattern relies on:

  • A core system that processes the application’s fundamental operations.
  • Customizable plug-in modules that can add functionality to the software.

Mikrokernel patterns work well in environments where users demand novelty. For example, many social media users enjoy frequent updates that make apps fun to use. They also expect their social media apps to work quickly. Too much lag will bore them, and they will choose a different service.

If you need to build a service that gives users big dopamine bursts, microkernel architecture will probably get the job done.

Peer-to-Peer Architecture

Peer-to-peer architecture uses distributed systems to aid communication between devices. At its most basic form, you can use peer-to-peer architecture to let computers share information directly with each other. When you submit a request, another computer in the network responds. Alternatively, several computers can transfer file portions and complete concurrent tasks faster.

In practice, most peer-to-peer models rely on software that coordinates all of the computers in the virtual network. For example, when you download torrent software, you can use it to search for a large file — such as a movie — stored on other connected devices. The software will coordinate with those devices to pull small pieces of the file from each and add them to your computer. It’s like having a group of people working on a project instead of relying on a single person. More hands make less work!

Event-Driven Architecture

Event-driven architecture relies on specific events that trigger communications between decoupled services. Currently, those decoupled services are microservices that can act independently to process tasks quickly. DevOps teams can add various microservice modules to web applications to meet the user’s anticipated needs.

The actual architecture consists of:

  • Event producers
  • Event routers
  • Event consumers

When a user — the event producer — submits a request, it goes to the event router. The event router filters the events so it can pass appropriate events to the event consumer.

E-commerce sites often use event-driven architecture because important events trigger useful actions. For instance, after you place an order, the application can notify you via email. When the item has been prepared for shipping, the app can send you a notification about that event. These types of event-driven tasks help lower any anxiety consumers feel when shopping online and waiting for deliveries to arrive.

As an e-commerce store’s needs change, managers can reuse or remove applicable modules. Reusable solutions mean developers can swap features quickly without constantly building new products.

Microservices Architecture

Netflix is one of the best-known use cases for microservices architecture. Anyone who has streamed a movie or series on Netflix has used microservices architecture. Netflix’s microservices architecture lets the company handle a large number of diverse requests without getting overwhelmed. The user interface (what you see on your screen) can interact with multiple microservices at once to stream content. In turn, each of those microservices can interact with different databases to retrieve the requested content.

It makes sense for Netflix and similar data-intensive companies to use microservices architecture because the technology offers excellent:

  • Data security
  • Fault isolation
  • Scalability

If Netflix took a monolithic or enterprise app approach instead of a microservices approach, a single error could affect countless users. With a microservices pattern, the error would only affect users trying to perform similar tasks. For example, people might get an error message when trying to watch “Stranger Things Season 2, Episode 1” because that specific file has been corrupted. The inconvenience would only affect those viewers. Depending on where Netflix stores its files, those people might discover that they can watch the next episode without any problems.

Successful microservices architecture relies on small applications communicating with each other. That’s where APIs get involved. With so many microservices working together, you need a way to create and manage the APIs that make communication efficient and accurate. Additionally, it doesn’t matter which programming languages were used to create the microservices. APIs can work with most languages, software systems, and operating systems.

Choosing the Right Architecture

Choosing the right architecture for your software project is a critical decision that can significantly impact its success. Each architecture pattern comes with its own strengths and weaknesses, making it essential to align your choice with your project's specific requirements. Here are some key considerations to help you make an informed decision:

1. Project Requirements: Start by understanding the unique requirements of your project. Consider factors like scalability, performance, maintainability, and security. Some architectures excel in certain areas, so choose one that aligns with your project's priorities.

2. Complexity: Assess the complexity of your project. Smaller, less complex applications may benefit from simpler architectures like the 1-tier or 2-tier models, while larger, more intricate systems may require the flexibility of a microservices architecture.

3. Team Expertise: Evaluate your team's expertise and familiarity with different architecture patterns. Choosing an architecture that your team is experienced with can streamline development and reduce the learning curve.

4. Technology Stack: Take into account the technology stack you plan to use. Some architectures, like Java EE, are tightly coupled with specific technologies, so ensure compatibility with your chosen stack.

5. Scalability Needs: If your project demands rapid scalability, architectures like microservices or event-driven may be more suitable due to their inherent scalability features.

6. Maintenance and Updates: Consider long-term maintenance and updates. Monolithic architectures may be easier to maintain, but microservices can provide better agility for updates and feature enhancements.

7. Cost: Factor in the cost of implementing and maintaining the chosen architecture. Some architectures may require more infrastructure, licensing, or operational costs than others.ity.

Ultimately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to choosing the right architecture. It's essential to weigh these factors carefully and, if needed, consult with experienced architects or developers to make an informed decision that aligns with your project's goals and objectives. Remember that the right architecture can provide a solid foundation for your software project's success.

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Frequently Asked Questions: Common Types of Software Architecture

What is a software architecture pattern?

A software architecture pattern is a recurring solution to a common software design problem. It provides a structured template for solving specific architectural challenges in software development.

Why is choosing the right software architecture pattern important?

Selecting the right architecture pattern is crucial because it directly impacts the performance, scalability, maintainability, and security of your software project. The wrong choice can lead to inefficiencies and difficulties down the road.

How do I determine which software architecture pattern to use for my project?

To choose the right pattern, consider factors such as your project's requirements, complexity, team expertise, scalability needs, technology stack, and long-term maintenance goals. Evaluating these aspects will guide your decision.

Can I use a combination of different architecture patterns in my project?

Yes, it's possible to use a combination of patterns, especially in larger and more complex projects. This approach is often referred to as a hybrid architecture and allows you to leverage the strengths of different patterns where they are most suited.

Are there any industry-specific considerations when choosing an architecture pattern?

Yes, certain industries may have specific compliance and regulatory requirements. It's essential to ensure that your chosen architecture pattern can accommodate these industry standards, such as healthcare's Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) or finance's Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS).

How does scalability factor into choosing an architecture pattern?

Scalability needs play a significant role in selecting an architecture pattern. Patterns like microservices and event-driven are inherently scalable, making them suitable for applications with rapidly changing demands and high traffic loads.

Is there a single best architecture pattern for all projects?

No, there is no one-size-fits-all architecture pattern. The best choice depends on your project's unique requirements and constraints. Each pattern has its strengths and weaknesses, making it essential to align the pattern with your specific goals.

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