Software Architecture

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  • Topic: Unified Modeling Language, Software architecture, Pipeline
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  • Published : January 15, 2013
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3.1. Pipes and Filters
In a pipe and filter style each component has a set of inputs and a set of outputs. A component reads streams of data on its inputs and produces streams of data on its outputs, delivering a complete instance of the result in a standard order. This is usually accomplished by applying a local transformation to the input streams and computing incrementally so output begins before input is consumed. Hence components are termed “filters”. The connectors of this style serve as conduits for the streams, transmitting outputs of one filter to inputs of another. Hence the connectors are termed “pipes”. Among the important invariants of the style, filters must be independent entities: in particular, they should not share state with other filters. Another important invariant is that filters do not know the identity of their upstream and downstream filters. Their specifications might restrict what appears on the input pipes or make guarantees about what appears on the output pipes, but they may not identify the components at the ends of those pipes. Furthermore, the correctness of the output of a pipe and filter network should not depend on the order in which the filters perform their incremental processing—although fair scheduling can be assumed. (See [5] for an in-depth discussion of this style and its formal properties.) Figure 1 illustrates this style. Common specializations of this style include pipelines, which restrict the topologies to linear sequences of filters; bounded pipes, which restrict the amount of data that can reside on a pipe; and typed pipes, which require that the data passed between two filters have a well-defined type.

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Figure 1: Pipes and Filters
A degenerate case of a pipeline architecture occurs when each filter processes all of its input data as a single entity.1 In this case the architecture becomes a “batch sequential” system. In these systems pipes no longer serve the function of providing a stream of data, and therefore are largely vestigial. Hence such systems are best treated as instances of a separate architectural style. The best known examples of pipe and filter architectures are programs written in the Unix shell [16]. Unix supports this style by providing a notation for connecting components (represented as Unix processes) and by providing run time mechanisms for implementing pipes. As another well-known example, traditionally compilers have been viewed as a pipeline systems (though the phases are often not incremental). The stages in the pipeline include lexical analysis, parsing, semantic analysis, code generation. (We return to this example in the case studies.) Other examples of pipes and filters occur in signal processing domains [17], functional programming [18], and distributed systems [19].

Pipe and filter systems have a number of nice properties. First, they allow the designer to understand the overall input/output behavior of a system as a simple composition of the behaviors of the individual filters. Second, they support reuse: any two filters can be hooked together, provided they agree on the data that is being transmitted between them. Third, systems can be easily maintained and enhanced: new filters can be added to existing systems and old filters can be replaced by improved ones. Fourth, they permit certain kinds of specialized analysis, such as throughput and deadlock analysis. Finally, they naturally support concurrent execution. Each filter can be implemented as a separate task and potentially executed in parallel with other filters. But these systems also have their disadvantages.2 First, pipe and filter systems often lead to a batch organization of processing. Although filters can process data incrementally, since filters are inherently independent, the designer is forced to think of each filter as providing a complete transformation of input data to output data. In particular, because of their transformational character, pipe and...
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