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The continuous, rapid expansion of technology makes us interact with software more and more with each passing day. Whether it is the greetings from Windows when we start our computers or the application that helps us write and store emails, they are all software. Making our lives a bit easier and tasks less complicated.
As a result, it should not come as a surprise when we tell you that software development remains one of the most explored and preferred tech domains. And also a highly in-demand career.
Did you know that in 2019, the total number of software developers in the world reached a whopping 26.4 million? In fact, it is expected to cross 28 million by 2024, as per the DDIY research.
Moreover, a study conducted by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that there would be about 22% growth in the demand for software developers by 2029.
In the light of all this, it makes all the sense for one to get curious and know everything about software development. It is, after all, not only bringing a transformation to the way we function but also impacting our everyday lives. But you don’t need to go surfing the internet for it as this article covers everything - from software development definition to its process and methodologies - in detail.
So, let’s dive straight in!
» What is Software Development?
Before understanding software development, let’s first find out what software is.
Software, in simple words, is a computer program with instructions and data responsible for the successful execution of a specific task. Take VLC media player, for instance, which enables you to play a range of multimedia files, or Google Chrome that helps you surf the internet. Or Adobe Photoshop that provides seamless image editing.
Basically, the software is an intangible component, independent of hardware, that tells a computer what it should do. Think of it as a program that helps you accomplish your work the smarter way.
Now let’s move onto the definition of software development.
Software development is the process of building such software or computer programs. It is a well-planned, comprehensive process that includes designing, developing, testing, deploying, and maintaining the software. This elaborated process is also known as software development lifecycle or SDLC, more of which, we will see in a dedicated section later on.
The aim here is to solve a particular problem or bring automation to a task or make it more efficient through a logical set of functions in the form of software.
To top it all, you would come across different types of software available in the market. What are they? Let’s find out.
» What are the Types of Software?
There are four primary categories of software:
1. System Software
System software is a software solution that provides a platform or an environment for other applications and software to function in. When you start your computer or laptop or even a hand-held device, it is the system software that first loads in the memory. Think of it as the foundation stones of a building that allow you to keep building higher, keeping everything together and solid at the base.
Thanks to this type of software, users, hardware, and apps can communicate and work together seamlessly.
However, as a user, you never use system software directly. It runs in the background, always, without you even knowing it. That is also why it is often referred to as “low-level software.” Without its proper functioning, your apps would also fail to offer smooth operations.
Examples of System Software:
Operating systems are the most common examples of system software.
Be it your tablet, smartphone or desktop, all of these run on an OS. The most popular operating systems across the world for computers are Microsoft Windows and Mac OS. For smartphones and tabs, it is Android by Google and iOS by Apple.
2. Application Software
Application software (or “apps” as we call them) are user-centric computer programs that help carry out and accomplish a task. As a user, these are the productive software solutions, you end up engaging with on an everyday basis.
You can call application software a non-essential software solution since they are not mandatorily required to make a computer function. Instead, such software undergoes installation and operation as and when a user feels the need to use it.
What’s more interesting is, the advancements in technologies and changing user requirements are consistently contributing to the growth of these apps. As a result, you can find a pool of application software out there to perform a range of tasks - from creating word documents to making a video call.
To makes things easier, this type of software has been further categorized into different groups. Here’s the list:
- Word processors like Notepad, MS Word, Wordpad
- Spreadsheet software like MS Excel
- Presentation software like MS Powerpoint
- Database software like Oracle
- Communication software like Zoom and Slack
- Graphics software like InDesign and Inkscape
- Multimedia software like Windows Multimedia Player
- Email programs like Gmail and Apple Mail
- Education software like the edX
- Web browsers like Google Chrome and Firefox
- Enterprise software like Project Management Tools and CRM system
- Content management software like WordPress and Drupal
Examples of Application Software
If you dig in deeper, then you would come across hundreds of examples for application software. To name a few, we can point out VLC Media Player, Skype, MS Word, and Photoshop.
3. Programming Software
As the name suggests, programming software is meant for programmers or professionals who write code. It has no use for general end-users.
Thanks to this type of software, it becomes easier for programmers to write, build, debug, and test software programs. Those programs include both the system software and application software. Let’s say you are developing an image editing app which is a type of application software. So, while writing the code for the software or testing it, you would be using the environment provided by the programming software.
Examples of Programming Software
These include the editors, compilers, integrated development environment (IDEs), and debuggers for diverse programming languages. Take Notepad++, for instance, which is an open-source windows editor. Or Sublime Text, which is a cross-platform markup and code editor.
4. Driver Software
Driver software is a software program that controls and operates the devices plugged into your system. Often thought of as a type of system software, such drivers enable the peripherals to carry out their designated functions optimally. Wondering how? They translate the OS commands for the devices so that the devices can perform their assigned duties effectively.
Let’s understand this better through an example.
The printer you use is an external device that needs to connect to your computer in order to operate. Now, most of the Operating Systems comes in with preloaded device driver software for printers, keyboards, display, and mouse. And thus, it won’t ask for any external software installations but prompt a series of simple steps for the initial set-up for you to start using it right away.
However, there are some advanced devices, like external hard drives, that may require you to install external driver software.
Now that we have explored different software types, let’s move onto discover the stages involved in the standard software development lifecycle (SDLC).
» What are the Steps to the Software Development Process?
SDLC, or the process of software development, is a comprehensive one. And contrary to what many believe, it does not only consist of coding. There are far too many aspects involved. And each has its own significance - from conceptualization to research to coding to debugging to deployment to updates. The process, spread over six crucial steps, is iterative in nature. And all the involved components are correlated and interdependent.
6 Stages of SDLC
Think of SDLC as a standard code of conduct the entire software industry adheres to. It helps outline the quality expectations and achieve the same through well-defined steps. Furthermore, the process enables you to project and stick to the logical timeline and budget estimates. The end goal is to create a product that fulfills both your and your clients’ expectations.
1. Requirements Analysis & Resource Planning
Like any other business, your software project, too, needs a feasible plan of action. And the very first step of that plan is to analyze your own requirements. Why do you need the software in the first place? What are the base requirements of your software project? What are you expecting out of the end product? How would the system better your business operations? These are some of the questions that may pop up during the requirement analysis phase.
It also helps you determine whether the software is in line with your business objectives, as well as your long-term goals. Besides, requirement analysis is critical to identifying the tasks you should automate & optimize and how.
Once you are done analyzing project requirements, it is time to determine, plan and allocate project resources. The resources include your human workforce along with the tools and technologies. From which technologies you will use to how many developers, designers, and engineers you will have on the team, resource planning involves everything. In fact, drawing out a functional budget is also a part of your resource planning activity.
After you have figured out what you need on paper, allocating them as and when required for optimal output is no longer chaotic.
2. Designing & Prototyping
After the completion of planning and analysis, it is time for you to begin with your software design. Here, you will witness your software designers compose the architecture of your end product. By architecture, we mean how your software would appear to the users, together with the way it would function.
Thus, the designing phase includes both the user interface and user experience. You can clearly communicate your UI expectations, preferences, and how you want your users to interact with the system. From action buttons to the main menu and color schemes, software design covers it all. The designers will replicate your choices through precise wireframes with all the interactive elements in place. They use several tools for that, such as InVision and Adobe.
The best thing is, you can make innumerable changes during wireframing until you are satisfied with the design. Doing so is both easier and convenient compared to the development stage that deals with complicated codes.
Once your initial design is ready, you can opt to create a working prototype of your product. The prototype would be a smaller version of the software application, featuring the complete functionality of your product. It comes in handy to demonstrate the workflow and identify any limitations. You can release the prototype to a limited set of users and modify the program as per the feedback.
Development, the next phase after designing, is when your team of software developers would start writing codes for the system programs. And understandably, it is the most vital stage in the software development process since it can make or break your product. Therefore, unless you are sure of the project plan, designs and features, it is best to delay this step.
Think of it as an implementation stage where you will put everything you have planned to practice. Whether it is your chosen technology, programming language, or a development tool and environment, this phase will test your knowledge. Also, development is going to be the most time-consuming process in the entire software development lifecycle. Plus, it will also require you to identify and mitigate potential risks to ensure desired quality and performance on an ongoing basis.
Now, there are various methods to approach software development which we will explore later in a dedicated section. Which one is correct for you depends on the type of project and your requirements.
Despite what many people believe, testing is not a separate phase in the software development process. It runs alongside development, where each line of code gets checked simultaneously for its usability, stability, and functionality.
Typically, a software development team includes qualified testers or Quality Assurance analysts to perform this duty. They test every block of code with either a manual process or automated tools. The aim is to ensure the smooth performance of the product across devices and platforms, free from any bugs. They also prepare a thorough report with test cases detailing the glitches, if any, for the developers to resolve.
Once the reported glitches are fixed, the testers test the code yet again for its potency. In short, testing is a continuous process while your product is under development.
When your software demonstrates desired functionality and is free from errors, it is time to deploy it on the intended servers and machines. The duration of deployment would completely depend on the complexities of your software.
Prior to deployment, it is imperative to ensure that the product is stable, scalable, and possesses the necessary level of performance. Therefore initially, you can release the alpha version (a pre-release version of the software) for a limited number of users. That would not only let you test the product quality and efficiency but also garner vital feedback. Based on that feedback, you could incorporate adequate changes in the product so that the final release meets all the product expectations.
6. Maintenance & Support
If you thought deployment marks an end to the software development lifecycle, let us bust the myth. After deploying the software, your team is charged with the critical job of maintaining the product consistently.
Users and clients expect prompt support services if and when they encounter glitches while using the system. Thus, offering support through multiple channels - chat support, phone calls, emails, and in-person (and often same-day) visits - becomes a priority. Sufficient product training and jargon-free user manuals also help to a great extent.
In addition to that, you need to be on your toes to release timely, relevant, and effective updates in the product. That’s because users’ demands change over time. And technologies, too, keep evolving. Therefore, your product has to scale with changing times, needs, and user feedback to remain usable.
As pointed out earlier, it is an iterative procedure. You build a product and then keep improving it as time passes.
» What are the Different Software Development Methodologies?
Every software development company follows a distinct software development model for its diverse range of software projects. While these methods bring in the necessary structure to the software planning and implementation activities, they also help fulfill project requirements.
What’s fascinating is, there are not just one or two but as many as 12 software development models. And each of these frameworks has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. The primary purpose behind any of them, however, remains the same. To make the software development process smoother and more transparent for all the stakeholders.
Here, we have collated the top nine of the 12 methodologies for you to dive deep into the concept. So, let’s begin!
Top 9 Software Development Models
1. Agile Software Development Model
One of the most popular methodologies for software development, Agile is highly iterative and dynamic in nature. It doesn’t require you to gather the list of requirements all at once. You can begin with the basics and explore more along the way.
It’s the same with product functionalities too. You can build the fundamental features, collect & analyze the user feedback, and then take the next step. Such consistent user involvement saves you a lot of time and effort in the entire development lifecycle.
And that’s not all. The agile approach lets you easily modify your initial project plans, thanks to its inherent flexibility. It also makes way for simplified risk assessment and process improvements. Besides, the iterative development ensures your final product has minimal to no errors.
Interestingly enough, the agile methodology has several subtypes. Its most popular methods are Scrum, Kanban, Extreme Programming (XP), Feature-driven Development (FDD), Crystal, and Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM).
Phases of the Model
- Gather requirements
- Collect feedback
- It is highly flexible to accommodate changes at any point in time.
- It offers continuous, rapid delivery of the product.
- It decreases the overall duration of development, getting the product to market faster.
- It facilitates direct communication with clients/users, taking the guesswork out of the system.
- It includes minimum documentation. That creates confusion and misinterpretations later, especially while scaling & maintenance.
- It depends greatly on the customers. So if they are unclear of the requirements, the project can head in the wrong direction.
- It isn’t suitable for large, complex deliverables.
Small projects with flexible timelines, budget, and frequent changes. And an experienced team to helm it.
2. Waterfall Software Development Model
The Waterfall Model is the oldest software development methodology in use. Also known as the “Linear Sequential Lifecycle Model,” this software development framework is uncomplicated to understand and execute.
In this type of model, each phase in the software development process starts only after the completion of the previous one. In other words, you can implement each phase in a set sequence without instances of any overlaps. That way, the output of one stage automatically becomes the input for the upcoming phase in sequence.
As a result, this model requires you to have a thorough understanding of your project requirements, resource details, deadlines, and schedules to accomplish project objectives successfully.
Phases of the Model
- Collect and analyze requirements
- Design the software system
- Develop & conduct unit testing
- Integrate & perform system testing
- Deploy the system
- Maintenance & updates
- It has a fixed set of requirements, declared at the start of the project.
- It has clearly defined phases with a known beginning and end-points.
- It is easy to manage, track and implement as each phase is executed one at a time.
- It includes proper documentation of processes and outcomes.
- It does not offer the flexibility to accommodate changes in requirements or project scope during the ongoing development. In case the client requires changes, you have to restart the development process from the very beginning.
- It comes in with greater risks and uncertainties since testing is done much later during its development cycle.
- It has a longer delivery time. Moreover, you get a working software almost at the end of development.
- It requires you to set aside significant time for documentation.
Small projects where requirements, resources, and project scope remain constant and known well in advance.
3. Spiral Software Development Model
The Spiral Model for software development is a combination of the Waterfall Model’s systematic, controlled approach and the Prototype Model’s iterative nature. That, with a significant emphasis on risk assessment.
In this approach, you develop a software system in a series of incremental product releases in spiral-like iterations. Each such iteration goes through specific development phases, expanding the scope of development with every spiral. You start with the identification of requirements, then move on to designing, then development, followed by evaluation and risk assessment. Then, correct the errors based on the analysis and plan the next cycle. This completes one milestone. The process is repeated, and each loop brings you closer to the end product.
Phases of the Model
- Requirements identification
- Evaluation & risk assessments
- It allows accurate identification of requirements.
- It is a flexible model, accommodating changing needs easily.
- It offers a precise analysis of risks, which, in turn, facilitates effective risk management.
- It allows active participation from the clients/users, enabling them to see the solution early.
- It is an expensive and time-consuming software development model, especially for small or low-risk projects.
- It has a complex process with the probability of the spiral going on indefinitely.
- It requires extensive documentation.
- It is tough to gauge the timeline since you may not know when you’ll be ready with the final deliverable.
Big, complex projects with high risks. It is suitable for projects that have ample budget and require frequent deliverables with highly dynamic requirements.
4. Iterative Software Development Model
In the Iterative Software Development Methodology, you will build your product over multiple iterations. What that means is, you begin by collating the initial requirements and developing the first version of your software solution. The next step is to release that version, gather the user feedback, and make the required changes.
Now, that completes one iteration post which, you would move on to the next one, repeating the same steps over and over. The iterations are repeated until the final solution is ready. With each such iteration, your system evolves with enhanced features and functionalities. That brings you closer to the final deliverable consistently.
To break it down in simple terms, the iterative approach will have you build many intermediate versions of your software to achieve a robust end product.
Phases of the Model
- Requirement gathering and analysis
The product enters the deployment phase only when the final iteration, complete with all the features, generates desired outcomes, meeting all the project requirements. The next phase, maintenance, begins after the successful deployment of the software.
- It supports the incorporation of changing product needs and demands.
- It lets you easily visualize how the final version may turn out early on.
- It simplifies risk identification and resolution with every iteration.
- It enables you to fix the glitches and user feedback, improving the system in every iteration.
- It involves user participation in the product right from the first iteration.
- It makes way for parallel planning of development with periodic deliverables.
- It may require more resources. And thus, increase the budget.
- It is not apt for small projects with little to no risks.
- It is hard to determine the final date of delivery due to the indefinite number of iterations.
- Frequent changes in requirements can derail the project.
Big projects with flexible requirements and higher risks. It is a suitable model if the project needs detailed architecture and frequent risk analysis.
5. Incremental Software Development Model
The incremental model for developing software is quite similar to the iterative one. You would build the end product over multiple versions, in increments, following the waterfall approach in a less rigid way.
Every increment of this model goes through the steps of requirement collection, design & development, and validation. Each increment would add to the product’s set of features and functionalities. Something that the previous incremental release lacks. This process is repeated until you get to the final product with all the necessary functions.
Think of it as an MVP where the product gets feature upgrades to its core release after gathering user feedback.
Phases of the Model
- Identification of specifications and needs
- Design & development
Once you achieve the complete system solution, you can carry out product deployment and maintenance.
- It allows easy identification and management of risks.
- It lets you detect and resolve glitches during each product increment.
- It is flexible to incorporate changing needs and functions with each increment.
- It provides a working version of the product early on.
- It is a time-consuming software development methodology.
- It requires thorough planning, even for future upgrades.
- It needs precisely defined modules.
- It may be difficult to determine the project completion date.
Projects that require more flexibility.
6. Prototyping Software Development Model
As the name suggests, the Prototype Software Development Framework involves building a small, working prototype of the expected final software solution. The prototype would exhibit basic features with decent performance and limited reliability. The aim is to gauge user reactions and reviews on this version and make changes accordingly so that the final product is free from flaws and inefficiencies.
The prototype provides accurate insights into the feasibility and usability of the product design. It also empowers you to perform risk analysis before your product hits the market.
The general practice is to get rid of the prototype and start developing afresh once you have the test results. However, many software development companies turn the prototype into the end product through upgrades and modifications.
Phases of the Model
- Identification of specifications and requirements
- Defining functionality
- Developing prototype
- Evaluation of user feedback
- Prototype modifications & refinement
- Product engineering
- It makes error detection easy and quick.
- It involves users from the very beginning.
- It is flexible enough to include changing requirements.
- It allows detailed analysis and timely management of risks.
- It involves extensive collaboration with consumers.
- It may turn out to be a lengthy development methodology where it becomes tough to determine definite timelines.
- It may increase the budget with its costly tools for prototyping.
You can resort to this approach for any project. In fact, even when you employ other software development frameworks mentioned here, you can still build prototypes for your project to be sure of the final product.
7. Big Bang Software Development Model
The Big Bang Model for software development is an unrestricted framework. It does not follow any set process or phases. Furthermore, the model requires you to spend little to no time in planning.
So, how does one begin with development? All you need to start the process is some resources in the form of money, a development platform, and efforts. Even the customer requirements are not fully known. You discover the needs, along with the scope, as you go along the way.
Phases of the Model
This model does not have a well-defined set of phases.
- It offers flexibility to accommodate requirements on the go.
- It is simple to manage from the developers’ perspectives.
- It requires fewer resources.
- It doesn’t require precise planning and analysis.
- It includes greater uncertainties and risks.
- There is minimal to zero clarity on what is expected out of the project.
- It can increase the costs due to uncertain or misinterpreted requirements.
Smaller projects where the risks are very low, for instance, practical or academic projects. Or projects with no definite deadlines or specified requirements. It is also apt to use when the development team is small.
The V-Model for developing software is an extension of the Waterfall Model. Popularly known as Verification and Validation Model, this SDLC methodology requires you to carry out development in a set sequence. And since the process sequence is in a V-Shape, it is called the V-Model.
In this model, every development stage has a corresponding testing stage. In other words, both these phases happen simultaneously.
Moreover, like the waterfall approach, this model does not allow you to move onto the next phase without completing the previous one.
Phases of the Model
- Analysis of business requirements
- Designing the system
- Designing the architecture
- Designing the module
- Unit testing
- Integration testing
- System testing
- Acceptance testing
- It is an extremely disciplined model.
- Phases take place one at a time.
- It is simple to comprehend, implement and manage.
- Its phases have well-specified deliverables.
- Its corresponding testing method identifies and resolves risks and issues at every stage.
- It is not a flexible model when the project comprises varying requirements.
- It does not offer early prototypes.
- You get the working software quite late in the development lifecycle.
- It becomes tough to go back and modify a functionality once the product is in the testing phase.
Small to mid-size projects with well-defined, fixed requirements.
9. RAD Software Development Model
RAD or Rapid Application Development is a type of software development methodology that is based on Iterative and Prototyping models. It emphasizes actual development and creating a prototype rather than indulging in extensive planning and gathering requirements. There would be rapid releases of the prototypes and iterations of your product to capture user feedback and evolving needs continuously.
What’s more? This model involves building functional modules in parallel, which are then integrated in order to develop a complete product. At the same time, it is imperative to make the prototypes or existing components reusable for the successful implementation of the framework.
Phases of the Model
- Analysis and quick design
- Prototyping: Developing, demonstrating, and refining
- It offers ease in adapting to the changing project requirements and client demands.
- It speeds up the duration of iterations with robust RAD tools.
- It encourages reusability of components, codes and prototypes, shortening development time.
- It involves users from the early stage, facilitating quick reviews from the beginning.
- It allows effective risk analysis and management, thanks to continuous testing and collaboration between stakeholders.
- It involves early integrations, letting you detect and solve integration issues early on.
- It requires a skilled team of designers and developers.
- It needs active participation from users/clients throughout the project lifecycle, which may increase complexities.
- It does not focus much on documentation.
- It only works well on systems that can be modularized.
Projects that you can divide into modules. Plus, this model is apt for projects that require a high budget, availability of expert teams, tools and technologies, dynamic requirements, and shorter timelines. You must note that this model may not render desired results if the client is unavailable for constant collaboration.
» Who Develops Software?
The development of software is a team effort. There are multiple experts involved, right from initial planning for the solution to its installation and maintenance. However, the actual development part sees only a handful of critical roles in action. Which ones are those? Let’s find out.
Software engineers are professionals who put engineering principles in action to design, build, maintain, test, and evaluate software application projects. They handle things on a larger scale, binding the team together to achieve individual project goals.
In a project, software engineers would be the ones responsible for connecting the requirements of the clients with the most appropriate tech solutions. They create systematic processes and tools with specific functionalities that help developers perform their tasks effectively. Software engineers carve a well-organized process of collecting and understanding client needs, collaborating with different stakeholders, and building a fitting solution.
To put it in simple words, they look at the whole project, with its life cycle, rather than just the programming part.
As one can gauge by the name, software developers are experts responsible for the system’s end-to-end development process. These are the professionals who actually craft the software so that it runs fine across platforms and devices. The software, here, could be anything from a desktop solution to a mobile or web one, for instance, Facebook, Instagram, or Microsoft Office.
Developers can handle everything a software engineer does but on a limited scale. They are involved in the full scope of the project, tracking and juggling multiple tasks at diverse stages of the development process simultaneously. They are the in-charge of the project’s development aspect, creating the entire roadmap, bringing the team together, and ensuring the execution of plans the right way.
Think of developers as PMs (project managers) who can also write codes. They are the ones with the duty of finding and fixing a problem through a powerful technical architecture. They work under software engineers while programmers work under them.
Programmers are the qualified technical professionals who write codes of your software and applications to bring them to life. Think of them as technicians who accomplish the tasks assigned to them by the developers or project managers. Their job is to understand the developers’ ideas and translate them into a functioning system.
Thus, unlike developers and software engineers, a programmer’s scope of work is restricted to only coding. Many companies, though, don’t have dedicated programmers. It is the developers who handle everything.
A software tester or software testing engineer is someone with the responsibility of finding out glitches or bugs in your product. The bugs can be in the form of blocks of codes or the working of the software. The aim of testing is to identify software limitations or possible ways that could break the system.
Testers employ several methodologies to carry out testing, both manual and automated. They prepare detailed test reports and ensure that the flaws are fixed. Testing is an extensive process that runs alongside development, precisely at the end of each coding module/cycle. Testers work closely with the software programmers and developers. Both work towards the same goal in their own different way.
QA engineers or quality assurance engineers are professionals who ensure that your product meets the pre-defined quality standards. Although often used interchangeably with testers, QA engineers have distinct roles.
Unlike testers, they are an active part of the entire lifecycle of the software. They influence the way a product would undergo testing as well as its development process. What’s more? These professionals offer valuable suggestions to improve the product and its user experience. They think from the users’ perspectives, keeping the quality in check while ensuring that your product satisfies all the specified needs.
As technology has become an integral part of our everyday lives, it is only wise to make the most of it. And software development is one of the ways to do just that. It is an elaborated field where you will come across multiple types of software and software development methodologies. Different software development companies use different methods to accomplish distinct projects. The core objective of SDLC, however, remains the same. To build a powerful, functional software system that solves user problems.
What is your take on the software development process? Which models have you used? Which software development process steps do you find hard to execute? Feel free to share your thoughts.