SOA by Ivar Jacobson

March 30, 2004

Before being invited to Tallahassee, I had never heard about it. I flew in to the city in the morning and back in the evening. I spent a day with the State of Florida. Bill Lucas did a wonderful job in making me feel very welcome and everyone I met was very friendly and interested in my work. I enjoyed my day very much. One of the questions we discussed was web services. The last couple of years services have become important elements for describing and building software. As with everything new, the software world has a tendency to believe that something fundamentally different has surfaced and that a new way of thinking is required. As a consequence we have got a whole arsenal of new concepts around the concept of services. We have got “service-oriented architectures”, “on demand”, “utility computing” name it. However, there is nothing fundamentally new with services. To organize software in services is an old practice.

Services were once a very important construct in RUP, actually in the version of RUP that we called 3.8. (It was the version prior to Rational buying my company, so it was called Objectory 3.8.) Unfortunately, the RUP team thought that downplaying services in RUP would make it significantly simpler. I disagreed with this opinion, but accepted it because almost everything else was adopted. It was very hard to argue for service-oriented design when the concept hadn’t hit the software industry. With Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) on the table, the need is there.

In 1998, I wrote about services in the Unified Software Development Process book: Apart from providing use cases to its users, every system also provides a set of services to its customers. I made a distinction between end-users of the system and the customer who purchases a system for its users. For instance, a bank system has users which may be clients of the bank, and the bank itself is a customer of the system (maybe buying it from some system integrator). A customer acquires a suitable mix of services. Through these services the system will provide the necessary use cases for the users to do their business:

  • A use case specifies a sequence of actions: a thread is initiated by an actor, followed by interactions between the actor and the system, and completed and stopped after having returned a value to the actor. Usually, use cases don’t exist in isolation. For instance, the Withdraw Money use case assumes that another use case has created a user account and that the user’s address and other user data are accessible.
  • A service represents a coherent set of functionally related actions - a package of functionality - that is employed in several use cases. A customer of a system usually buys a mix of services to give its users the necessary use cases. A service is indivisible in the sense that the system needs to provide it completely or not at all.
  • Use cases are for users, and services are for customers. Use cases cross services, that is, a use case requires actions from several services. A service usually provides several use cases or parts of several use cases.

In the Unified Process, the service concept is in analysis (platform independent modelling) supported by service packages. The following can be noted about service packages:

  • A service package contains a set of functionally related classes.
  • A service package is indivisible. Each customer gets either all classes in the service package or none at all. Thus a service package is a configuration unit.
  • When a use case is realized, one or more service packages may be participants in the realization. Moreover, it is common for a specific service package to participate in several different use-case realizations.
  • A service package often has very limited dependencies toward other service packages.
  • A service package is usually of relevance to only one or a few actors.
  • The functionality defined by a service package can when designed and implemented be managed as a separate delivery unit. A service package can thus represent some “add-in” functionality of the system. When a service package is excluded, so is every use case whose realization requires the service package.
  • Service packages may be mutually exclusive, or they may represent different aspects or variants of the same service. For example, “spell checking for British English” and “spell checking for American English” may be two different service packages provided by a system. You configure the system with one or the other, but maybe not with both.
  • The service packages constitute an essential input to subsequent design and implementation activities, in that they will help structure the design and implementation models in terms of service subsystems. In particular, the service subsystems have a major impact on the system’s decomposition into binary and executable components. This is of course only true if the development is going top-down with no reuse of existing components: legacy systems, packaged solutions, web services. And fact is, we develop more and more with reusable components.

By structuring the system according to the services it provides, we prepare for changes in individual services, since such changes are likely to be localized to the corresponding service package. This yields a robust system that is resilient to change.  

Given that most software of today is developed with ready made components, why would you like to design an analysis model (a platform independent model) with service packages. There is one good reason: we still need to understand what we are doing. Building software is about understanding, understanding components developed by different vendors, divisions, teams. An analysis model - maybe even just a partial model - used as a start help you overcome these difficulties.  

  1. Boomerang | November 11, 2010 at 11:23 am Reply


    I would have bet that the reason the service oriented architecture was not welcomed by your team was the poor network infrastructure compared to what we have today. A typical example can be Africa where Software as a service and even entire cloud computing can be of valubale importance because of the little revenue of companies to purchase expensive servers and softwares licenses but the fact that the network infrastructure is so poor prohibit us even from envisaging it.

  2. Philippe Back | September 9, 2010 at 4:56 pm Reply


    UP Analysis: the most misunderstood yet utterly important thing.

    “why would you like to design an analysis model (a platform independent model) with service packages. There is one good reason: we still need to understand what we are doing.”

    Amen to that! Times two!!! It is amazing (well, depressing could fit as well) how people prefer being busy drowning in technology instead of knowing why things are done…

    Don’t be a pair of hands when what’s needed is a brain!