Thursday Nov 01, 2012

Series On Embedded Development (Part 2) - Build-Time Optionality

In this entry on embedded development, I'm going to discuss build-time optionality (BTO). BTO is the ability to subset your software at build-time so you only use what is needed. BTO typically pertains more to software providers rather then developers of final products. For example, software providers ship source products, frameworks or platforms which are used by developers to build other products.

If you provide a source product, you probably don't have to do anything to support BTO as the developers using your source will only use the source they need to build their product. If you provide a framework, then there are some things you can do to support BTO. Say you provide a Java framework which supports audio and video. If you provide this framework in a single JAR, then developers who only want audio are forced to ship their product with the video portion of your framework even though they aren't using it. In this case, support providing the framework in separate JARs...break the framework into an audio JAR and a video JAR and let the users of your framework decide which JARs to include in their product. Sometimes this is as simple as packaging, but if, for example, the video functionality is dependent on the audio functionality, it may require coding work to cleanly separate the two.

BTO can also work at install-time, and this is sometimes overlooked. Let's say your building a phone application which can use Near Field Communications (NFC) if it's available on the phone, but it doesn't require NFC to work. Typically you'd write one app for all phones (saving you time)...both those that have NFC and those that don't, and just use NFC if it's there. However, for better efficiency, you can detect at install-time if the phone supports NFC and not install the NFC portion of your app if the phone doesn't support NFC. This requires that you write the app so it can run without the optional NFC code and that you write your install app so it can detect NFC and do the right thing at install-time. Supporting install-time optionality will save persistent footprint on the phone, something your customers will appreciate, your app "neighbors" will appreciate, and that you'll appreciate when they save static footprint for you.

In the next article, I'll writing about runtime optionality.

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Darryl Mocek

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