Software development is a young profession, and we are still learning the techniques and building the tools to do it effectively. I've been involved in this activity for over three decades and in the last two I've been writing on this website about patterns and practices that make it easier to build useful software. The site began as a place to put my own writing, but I also use it to publish articles by my colleagues.

In 2000, I joined ThoughtWorks, where my role is to learn about the techniques that we've learned to deliver software for our clients, and pass these techniques on to the wider software industry. As this site has developed into a respected platform on software development, I've edited and published articles by my colleagues, both ThoughtWorkers and others, to help useful writing reach a wider audience.

photo of Martin Fowler

photo: Christopher Ferguson

Martin Fowler

A website on building software effectively

If there's a theme that runs through my work and writing on this site, it's the interplay between the shift towards agile thinking and the technical patterns and practices that make agile software development practical. While specifics of technology change rapidly in our profession, fundamental practices and patterns are more stable. So writing about these allows me to have articles on this site that are several years old but still as relevant as when they were written.

As software becomes more critical to modern business, software needs to be able to react quickly to changes, allowing new features to be be conceived, developed and put into production rapidly. The techniques of agile software development began in the 1990s and became steadily more popular in the last decade. They focus on a flexible approach to planning, which allows software products to change direction as the users' needs change and as product managers learn more about how to make their users effective. While widely accepted now, agile approaches are not easy, requiring significant skills for a team, but more importantly a culture of open collaboration both within the team and with a team's partners.

This need to respond fluently to changes has an important impact upon the architecture of a software system. The software needs to be built in such a way that it is able to adapt to unexpected changes in features. One of the most important ways to do this is to write clear code, making it easy to understand what the program is supposed to do. This code should be divided into modules which allow developers to understand only the parts of the system they need to make a change. This production code should be supported with automated tests that can detect any errors made when making a change while providing examples of how internal structures are used. Large and complex software efforts may find the microservices architectural style helps teams deploy software with less entangling dependencies.

Creating software that has a good architecture isn't something that can be done first time. Like good prose, it needs regular revisions and programmers learn more about what the product needs to do and how best to design the product to achieve its goals. Refactoring is an essential technique to allow a program to be changed safely. It consists of making small changes that don't alter the observable behavior of the software. By combining lots of small changes, developers can revise the software's structure supporting significant modifications that weren't planned when the system was first conceived.

Software that runs only on a developer's machine isn't providing value to the customers of the software. Traditionally releasing software has been a long and complicated process, one that hinders the need to evolve software quickly. Continuous Delivery uses automation and collaborative workflows to remove this bottleneck, allowing teams to release software as often as the customers demand. For Continuous Delivery to be possible, we need to build in a solid foundation of Testing, with a range of automated tests that can give us confidence that our changes haven't introduced any bugs. This leads us to integrate testing into programming, which can act to improve our architecture.

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Melrose, MA (2020)

Data Management

There are many kinds of software out there, the kind I'm primarily engaged is Enterprise Applications. One of the enduring problems we need to tackle in this world is data management. The aspects of data managment I've focused on here are how to migrate data stores as their applications respond to changing needs, coping with different contexts across a large enterprise, the role of NoSQL databases, and the broader issues of coping with data that is both Big and Messy.

Domain-Specific Languages

A common problem in complex software systems is how to capture complicated domain logic in a way that programmers can both easily manipulate and also easily communicate to domain experts. Domain-Specific Languages (DSLs) create a custom language for a particular problem, either with custom parsers or by conventions within a host language.

Books

I've written seven books on software development, including Refactoring, Patterns of Enterprise Application Architecture, and UML Distilled. I'm also the editor of a signature series for Addison-Wesley that includes five jolt award winners.

My Books Page...

Conference Talks

I'm often asked to give talks at conferences, from which I've inferred that I'm a pretty good speaker - which is ironic since I really hate giving talks. You can form your own opinion of my talks by watching videos of some my conference talks.

My Videos Page...

Board Games

I've long been a fan of board games, I enjoy a game that fully occupies my mind, clearing out all the serious thoughts for a bit, while enjoying the company of good friends. Modern board games saw dramatic improvement in the 1990's with the rise of Eurogames, and I expect many people would be surprised if they haven't tried any of this new generation. I also appear regularly on Heavy Cardboard.

My Board Games page...

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Mind the platform execution gap

Tue 27 Apr 2021 09:51 EDT

Recently there's been a lot of interest, indeed hype, around building developer productivity platforms. Done well, they make it easier for developers to build systems aligned with the technology strategy and allow them to build useful features more quickly. However many organizations struggle because in order to do a good job of platforms, you need to have a number of baseline capabilities in place first. That way the platform can be designed and operated as if it were a a software product with a demanding public customer-base.

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Bitemporal History

Wed 07 Apr 2021 10:00 EDT

It's often necessary to access the historical values of some property. But sometimes this history itself needs to be modified in response to retroactive updates. Bitemporal history treats time as two dimensions: actual history records what history should be given perfect transmission of information, while record history captures how our knowledge of history changes.

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Bliki: RefinementCodeReview

Thu 28 Jan 2021 10:38 EST

When people think of code reviews, they usually think in terms of an explicit step in a development team's workflow. These days the Pre-Integration Review, carried out on a Pull Request is the most common mechanism for a code review, to the point that many people witlessly consider that not using pull requests removes all opportunities for doing code review. Such a narrow view of code reviews doesn't just ignore a host of explicit mechanisms for review, it more importantly neglects probably the most powerful code review technique - that of perpetual refinement done by the entire team.

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Bliki: PullRequest

Thu 28 Jan 2021 10:37 EST

Pull Requests are a mechanism popularized by github, used to help facilitate merging of work, particularly in the context of open-source projects. A contributor works on their contribution in a fork (clone) of the central repository. Once their contribution is finished they create a pull request to notify the owner of the central repository that their work is ready to be merged into the mainline. Tooling supports and encourages code review of the contribution before accepting the request. Pull requests have become widely used in software development, but critics are concerned by the addition of integration friction which can prevent continuous integration.

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The Lies that can Undermine Democracy

Tue 12 Jan 2021 09:56 EST

Like many Americans, I was transfixed and horrified by the recent assault on the Capitol. Much of this anger originates in lies perpetrated by irresponsible politicians and spread through media agencies. Lies like this can destroy democracies, and while we must have free speech we must not be free of the consequences of that speech

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Some more Distributed Systems Patterns

Tue 05 Jan 2021 09:43 EST

Unmesh Joshi has a few more of his Patterns of Distributed Systems ready to share with the world.

  • Consistent Core looks at how a large cluster can keep some information strongly consistent,
  • Lease allows unreliable nodes to access limited resources without blocking them when they fail
  • State Watch allows clients to be notified of changes on a server.
  • Idempotent Receiver ensures servers don't process a retried request more than once.

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