Study these important design principles, which are applicable to any type of design, particularly computer system design, software, and hardware. Consider these principles alongside the other design considerations we use as a guide to computer system design.
Throughout the text, the description of a design principle presents its name in a boldfaced display, and each place that the principle is used highlights it in underlined italics.
Design principles applicable to many areas of computer systems
- Adopt sweeping simplifications. So you can see what you are doing.
- Avoid excessive generality. If it is good for everything, it is good for nothing.
- Avoid rarely used components. Deterioration and corruption accumulate unnoticed—until the next use.
- Be explicit. Get all of the assumptions out on the table.
- Decouple modules with indirection. Indirection supports replaceability.
- Design for iteration. You won't get it right the first time, so make it easy to change.
- End-to-end argument. The application knows best.
- Escalating complexity principle. Adding a feature increases complexity out of proportion.
- Incommensurate scaling rule. Changing a parameter by a factor of ten requires a new design.
- Keep digging principle. Complex systems fail for complex reasons.
- Law of diminishing returns. The more one improves some measure of goodness, the more effort the next improvement will require.
- Open design principle. Let anyone comment on the design; you need all the help you can get.
- Principle of least astonishment. People are part of the system. Choose interfaces that match the user’s experience, expectations, and mental models.
- Robustness principle. Be tolerant of inputs, strict on outputs.
- Safety margin principle. Keep track of the distance to the edge of the cliff or you may fall over the edge.
- Unyielding foundations rule. It is easier to change a module than to change the modularity.
Design principles applicable to specific areas of computer systems
- Atomicity: Golden rule of atomicity. Never modify the only copy!
- Coordination: One-writer principle. If each variable has only one writer, coordination is simpler.
- Durability: The durability mantra. Multiple copies, widely separated and independently administered.
- Security: Minimize secrets. Because they probably won’t remain secret for long.
- Security: Complete mediation. Check every operation for authenticity, integrity, and authorization.
- Security: Fail-safe defaults. Most users won’t change them, so set defaults to do something safe.
- Security: Least privilege principle. Don’t store lunch in the safe with the jewels.
- Security: Economy of mechanism. The less there is, the more likely you will get it right.
- Security: Minimize common mechanism. Shared mechanisms provide unwanted communication paths.
Design Hints (useful but not as compelling as design principles)
- Exploit brute force
- Instead of reducing latency, hide it
- Optimize for the common case
- Separate mechanism from policy
Source: Jerome H. Saltzer and M. Frans Kaashoek, https://ocw.mit.edu/resources/res-6-004-principles-of-computer-system-design-an-introduction-spring-2009/online-textbook/principles_open_5_0.pdf
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