Software Maintainability in the Cloud Era

The shift to cloud, and with that, to PaaS services or low code alternatives like LogicApps push the actual code that developers see to the background.

There is an ISO standard on software quality, and the maintenance best practices are well written and explained in the book Building Maintainable Software. Within low code systems, applying these guidelines can be less obvious and it can be a difficult task automating and testing the quality of your code with tools like SonarQube.

Should we even worry about the underlying code? Absolutely. The principles still adhere to and creating a spaghetti of your low code systems can cause major issues on maintenance or adding new features.

Let’s focus on three points of the maintainability guidelines:

  1. Write code once
  2. Couple architecture components loosely
  3. Automate development pipeline and tests

In no way, these are the most important items, but for this example an easy entry into the low code space.

1. Write code once

Just like any other audit of software, you still can avoid writing duplicate code. In a platform like LogicApps it can be easy to repeat a custom call to something like a custom HTTP API.

In traditional languages like C#, you have many options to reuse your code. You could create a library, or you can create a package and make it available via NuGet. Within low code systems, these same packaging mechanisms not always exist.

Taking the example of LogicApps, the solution could be to create Custom Connectors. These will wrap your custom API calls into a reusable component you can share within your organisation, or even outside.

2. Couple architecture components loosely

If your components are tightly coupled, it can be troublesome to replace or refactor your components. The impact will be on each and every other component that has a high coupling with your part.

Again taking the LogicApps for example, let’s state our LogicApp calls another component directly using HTTP. The Azure Portal gives you this out of the box, letting you call Azure Functions directly from your LogicApp.

This goes against the principle of loosely coupling. The reason is that your call is directly bound to that function, so changing the interface or location of your function, impacts the LogicApp directly. In this case, it would simply break and stop working.

To solve this problem, a simple solution is to decouple the LogicApp and the Azure Function using a queueing mechanism. This way, the message to the Azure Function is put on a queue by the LogicApp, and the Azure Function listens on a queue. Now, if the developer of the Azure Function changes location or even use another platform, there is no need to change the LogicApp.

Obviously this would require you to make an agreement on the contents of the messages in the queue.

3. Automate development pipeline and test

Automating your CICD pipelines allows you to more easily build, test and deploy your code. In the case of a language like C# or Java, you can easily run tests, build your code, and create packages or deployments. A tool like Azure DevOps can combine these steps and lets you create a wealth of quality gates, checks, and processes to guide your team.

When using low code platforms, it can be cumbersome to get the code into your version control systems. Nevertheless, many of those platforms do give you the tooling. LogiApps, for example, has template creators, and systems like OutSystems have their own CICD ecosystem.

In the end, the automation allows you to more easily add steps to your CICD process, and allow you to deploy more frequently without any hassle. The addition of automated testing will absolutely be beneficial to the overall quality of your product.

Concluding

Treat your low code just like you would any other codebase. Almost all guidelines of maintainability can be mapped to your product. Some can may require a bit more investment, but in the end, I truly believe it will help to build a maintainable and high-quality (low) codebase.

If you want to expand on the process part of high-quality software, please also take a look at the follow-up book of this series: Building Software Teams

Peter Rombouts

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