Application maintainability refers to the ease with which a software application can be maintained, updated, and modified over time to meet changing business requirements and to fix defects. A maintainable application is well-designed, well-documented, and easy to modify, with a clear separation of concerns, a modular structure, and standard and well-understood technologies and programming practices.
The maintainability of an application is a critical factor in the long-term success of a software project, as it affects the application’s ability to adapt to changing business requirements, and to fix defects, and resolve performance issues over time. A maintainable application is also typically easier and less expensive to update and upgrade, and is less likely to experience long periods of downtime or other issues that can impact the user experience.
The Importance of Application Maintainability
Application maintainability is important because it helps ensure that a software application remains efficient, reliable, and user-friendly over time, even as the technology and requirements evolve. Planning and development are important initial steps in building a software application, but they are not enough to ensure that the application will continue to meet the needs of its users over time.
Without proper attention to maintainability, software applications can become difficult to modify, update, or extend as new requirements arise. This can lead to increased costs and time-to-market for new features, increased risk of errors and downtime, decreased user satisfaction, and a lower return on investment.
By considering maintainability from the beginning and incorporating best practices for maintainable software design, development teams can build applications that are more flexible, scalable, and cost-effective to maintain over the long term.
Software products must be maintained for several reasons:
To meet changing business needs: As the needs of the business and its users evolve, software products may need to be updated or extended to remain relevant and meet changing requirements.
To address bugs and security issues: Over time, software products can develop bugs and vulnerabilities that need to be fixed to ensure the application remains stable and secure.
To improve performance: When more users access the application, and the amount of data processed by the application grows, its performance may degrade, and updates are often required to enable it to maintain an adequate level of performance.
To stay current with technology: As new technologies emerge and old technologies become obsolete, software products may need to be updated to take advantage of new features and capabilities or to ensure compatibility with the latest hardware and software platforms.
Reusability and modularization are two key design principles that help to improve the maintainability of software applications. Reusability refers to the ability to reuse software components and code across multiple parts of the application, while modularization refers to the separation of the application into smaller, independent, and reusable components.
Finding the right balance between these two principles is important, as over-modularization can result in too many difficult components to manage and test, while under-modularization can lead to tightly-coupled and difficult-to-maintain code.
Keep Track of Dependencies
Keeping track of the dependencies that a software application has on external libraries, frameworks, and other components is an important aspect of maintainability. This allows development teams to understand the impact of changes to dependencies on the application, and to plan for updates and upgrades in a controlled manner.
This can be achieved through dependency management tools, such as package managers or version control systems, that track the versions of dependencies used by the application.
Proper documentation is an important aspect of maintainability, as it helps to ensure that the software application is well understood by all members of the development team, as well as by future maintainers. This can include:
Coding standards that describe the preferred style and format of the code. These standards are well established across the industry, so there’s no need to invent them from scratch.
Project governance documents that describe how the project is managed and how decisions are made. For example, the number of reviews required before committing code changes and how to handle conflicts.
Feature descriptions that describe the intended behavior and use cases of the application. This documentation should be high-level and easily accessible so developers can understand the function of components and how to deploy them.
Contribution guidelines describe how new contributors can get involved and contribute to the project. This is especially important if multiple teams work on the same project.
Invest in Observability
Increasingly, software teams are realizing that observability is critical for maintainability. Monitoring infrastructure and application helps to identify and resolve issues before they become critical. This can include monitoring the performance and availability of the application, as well as the underlying infrastructure such as servers, databases, and networks.
Monitoring methods and tools can detect problems and trigger alerts or automated remediation actions as needed. An advanced monitoring solution might also use synthetic user transactions to simulate events and identify system degradation, even when real users aren’t using the application.
Implement Automated Tests
Automated testing helps to ensure that changes to the code do not introduce new bugs or regressions. Three main types of automated tests are important for achieving maintainability: unit tests, which test individual components or units of code in isolation; functional tests, which test the application as a whole, from the user’s perspective; and regression tests, which test for regressions, or unintended consequences of changes to the code. Automated testing helps to catch and prevent problems early in the development process, reducing the time and effort needed to fix them later on.
Improve Error Messages
Providing clear and concise error messages that users can understand is an important aspect of maintainability. Error messages that are confusing or vague can lead to frustration and decreased user satisfaction, making it difficult for developers to diagnose and fix problems.
By designing easy-to-understand error messages that provide relevant information, development teams can improve the overall user experience and ensure that problems are addressed more quickly and effectively.
Achieving maintainable software applications requires careful planning and attention to detail throughout the software development life cycle. By tracking dependencies, balancing reusability and modularization, automating tests, displaying error messages that users can understand, monitoring the infrastructure and application, and maintaining proper documentation, development teams can build applications that are flexible, scalable, and cost-effective to maintain over the long-term.
Investing in maintainability from the beginning can help to ensure that software applications remain relevant, efficient, and user-friendly over time, even as technology and requirements evolve. By following best practices for maintainable software design, you can ensure your applications are reliable, secure, and able to meet the changing needs of your business and its users.
About the Author
Gilad David Maayan is a technology writer who has worked with over 150 technology companies including SAP, Imperva, Samsung NEXT, NetApp and Check Point, producing technical and thought leadership content that elucidates technical solutions for developers and IT leadership. Today he heads Agile SEO, the leading marketing agency in the technology industry. Connect with him on LinkedIn.
Disclaimer: The author is completely responsible for the content of this article. The opinions expressed are their own and do not represent IEEE’s position nor that of the Computer Society nor its Leadership.