Tuesday Nov 27, 2012

Series On Embedded Development (Part 3) - Runtime Optionality

What is runtime optionality? Runtime optionality means writing and packaging your code in such a way that all of the features are available at runtime, but aren't loaded and used if the feature isn't used. The code is separate, and you can even remove the code to save persistent storage if you know the feature will not be used.

In native programming terms, it's splitting your application into separate shared libraries so you only have to load what you're using, which means it only impacts volatile memory when enabled at runtime. All the functionality is there, but if it's not used at runtime, it's not loaded. A good example of this in Java is JVMTI, Java's Virtual Machine Tool Interface. On smaller, embedded platforms, these libraries may not be there. If the libraries are not there, there's no effect on the runtime as long as you don't try to use the JVMTI features.

There is a trade-off between size/performance and flexibility here. Putting code in separate libraries means loading that code will take longer and it will typically take up more persistent space. However, if the code is rarely used, you can save volatile memory by including it in a separate library. You can also use this method in Java by putting rarely-used code into one or more separate JAR's. Loading a JAR and parsing it takes CPU cycles and volatile memory. Putting all of your application's code into a single JAR means more processing for that JAR. Consider putting rarely-used code in a separate library/JAR.

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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