software engineering

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software engineering

[′sȯf‚wer ‚en·jə′nir·iŋ]
(computer science)
The systematic application of scientific and technological knowledge, through the medium of sound engineering principles, to the production of computer programs, and to the requirements definition, functional specification, design description, program implementation, and test methods that lead up to this code.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Software engineering

The process of manufacturing software systems. A software system consists of executable computer code and the supporting documents needed to manufacture, use, and maintain the code. For example, a word processing system consists of an executable program (the word processor), user manuals, and the documents, such as requirements and designs, needed to produce the executable program and manuals. See Software

Software engineering is ever more important as larger, more complex, and life-critical software systems proliferate. The rapid decline in the costs of computer hardware means that the software in a typical system often costs more than the hardware it runs on. Large software systems may be the most complex things ever built. This places great demands on the software engineering process, which must be disciplined and controlled.

To meet this challenge, software engineers have adapted many techniques from older engineering fields, as well as developing new ones. For example, divide and conquer, a well-known technique for handling complex problems, is used in many ways in software engineering. The software engineering process itself, for example, is usually divided into phases. The definition of these phases, their ordering, and the interactions between the phases specify a software life-cycle model. The best-known life-cycle model is the waterfall model consisting of a requirements definition phase, a design phase, a coding phase, a testing phase, and a maintenance phase. The output of each phase serves as the input to the next. See Systems engineering

The purpose of the requirements phase is to define what a system should do and the constraints under which it must operate. This information is recorded in a requirements document. A typical requirements document might include a product overview; a specification of the development, operating, and maintenance environment for the product; a high-level conceptual model of the system; a specification of the user interface; specification of functional requirements; specification of nonfunctional requirements; specification of interfaces to systems outside the system under development; specification of how errors will be handled; and a listing of possible changes and enhancements to the system. Each requirement, usually numbered for reference, must be testable.

In the design phase, a plan is developed for how the system will implement the requirements. The plan is expressed using a design method and notation. Many methods and notations for software design have been developed. Each method focuses on certain aspects of a system and ignores or minimizes others. This is similar to viewing a building with an architectural drawing, a plumbing diagram, an electrical wiring diagram, and so forth.

The coding phase of the software life-cycle is concerned with the development of code that will implement the design. This code is written is a formal language called a programming language. Programming languages have evolved over time from sequences of ones and zeros directly interpretable by a computer, through symbolic machine code, assembly languages, and finally to higher-level languages that are more understandable to humans. See Programming languages

Most coding today is done in one of the higher-level languages. When code is written in a higher-level language, it is translated into assembly code, and eventually machine code, by a compiler. Many higher-level languages have been developed, and they can be categoriged as functional languages, declarative languages, and imperative languages.

Following the principle of modularity, code on large systems is separated into modules, and the modules are assigned to individual programmers. A programmer typically writes the code using a text editor. Sometimes a syntax-directed editor that “knows” about a given programming language and can provide programming templates and check code for syntax errors is used. Various other tools may be used by a programmer, including a debugger that helps find errors in the code, a profiler that shows which parts of a module spend most time executing, and optimizers that make the code run faster.

Testing is the process of examining a software product to find errors. This is necessary not just for code but for all life-cycle products and all documents in support of the software such as user manuals.

The software testing process is often divided into phases. The first phase is unit testing of software developed by a single programmer. The second phase is integration testing where units are combined and tested as a group. System testing is done on the entire system, usually with test cases developed from the system requirements. Acceptance testing of the system is done by its intended users.

The basic unit of testing is the test case. A test case consists of a test case type, which is the aspect of the system that the test case is supposed to exercise; test conditions, which consist of the input values for the test; the environmental state of the system to be used in the test; and the expected behavior of the system given the inputs and environmental factors.

When software is changed to fix a bug or add an enhancement, a serious error is often introduced. To ensure that this does not happen, all test cases must be rerun after each change. The process of rerunning test cases to ensure that no error has been introduced is called regression testing. See Software testing and inspection

Walkthroughs and inspections are used to improve the quality of the software development process. Consequently, the software products created by the process are improved. A quality system is a collection of techniques whose application results in continuous improvement in the quality of the development process. Elements of the quality system include reviews, inspections, and process audits.

Large software systems are not static; rather, they change frequently both during development and after deployment. Maintenance is the phase of the software life-cycle after deployment. The maintenance phase may cost more than all of the others combined and is thus of primary concern to software organizations. The Y2K problem was, for example, a maintenance problem.

Maintenance consists of three activities: adaptation, correction, and enhancement. Enhancement is the process of adding new functionality to a system. This is usually done at the request of system users. This activity requires a full life-cycle of its own. That is, enhancements demand requirements, design, implementation, and test. Studies have shown that about half of maintenance effort is spent on enhancements.

Adaptive maintenance is the process of changing a system to adapt it to a new operating environment, for example, moving a system from the Windows operating system to the Linux operating system. Adaptive maintenance has been found to account for about a quarter of total maintenance effort. Corrective maintenance is the process of fixing errors in a system after release. Corrective maintenance takes about 20% of maintenance effort.

Since software systems change frequently over time, an important activity is software configuration management. This consists of tracking versions of life-cycle objects, controlling changes to them, and monitoring relationships among them. Configuration management activities include version control, which involves keeping track of versions of life-cycle objects; change control, an orderly process of handling change requests to a system; and build control, the tracking of which versions of work products go together to form a given version of a software product.

McGraw-Hill Concise Encyclopedia of Engineering. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

software engineering

(SE) A systematic approach to the analysis, design, implementation and maintenance of software. It often involves the use of CASE tools. There are various models of the software life-cycle, and many methodologies for the different phases.
This article is provided by FOLDOC - Free Online Dictionary of Computing (

software engineering

The design, development and documentation of software. See software engineer, systems analysis & design, programming, object-oriented programming, software metrics, CASE and Systemantics.
Copyright © 1981-2019 by The Computer Language Company Inc. All Rights reserved. THIS DEFINITION IS FOR PERSONAL USE ONLY. All other reproduction is strictly prohibited without permission from the publisher.
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