Software Engineering-Software Configuration Management

The output of the software process is information that may be divided into three broad categories: (1) computer programs (both source level and executable forms); (2) documents that describe the computer programs (targeted at both technical practitioners and users), and (3) data (contained within the program or external to it). The items that comprise all information produced as part of the software process are collectively called a software configuration.

As the software process progresses, the number of software configuration items (SCIs) grows rapidly. A System Specification spawns a Software Project Plan and Software Requirements Specification (as well as hardware related documents). These in turn spawn other documents to create a hierarchy of information. If each SCI simply spawned other SCIs, little confusion would result. Unfortunately, another variable enters the process—change. Change may occur at any time, for any reason. In fact, the First Law of System Engineering states: “No matter where you are in the system life cycle, the system will change, and the desire to change it will persist throughout the life cycle.”

What is the origin of these changes? The answer to this question is as varied as the changes themselves. However, there are four fundamental sources of change:
New business or market conditions dictate changes in product requirements or business rules.
New customer needs demand modification of data produced by information systems, functionality delivered by products, or services delivered by a computer-based system.
Reorganization or business growth/downsizing causes changes in project priorities or software engineering team structure.
Budgetary or scheduling constraints cause a redefinition of the system or product.

Software configuration management is a set of activities that have been developed to manage change throughout the life cycle of computer software. SCM can be viewed as a software quality assurance activity that is applied throughout the software process. In the sections that follow, we examine major SCM tasks and important concepts that help us to manage change.


Change is a fact of life in software development. Customers want to modify requirements. Developers want to modify the technical approach. Managers want to modify the project strategy. Why all this modification? The answer is really quite simple. As time passes, all constituencies know more (about what they need, which approach would be best, how to get it done and still make money). This additional knowledge is the driving force behind most changes and leads to a statement of fact that is difficult for many software engineering practitioners to accept: Most changes are justified!

A baseline is a software configuration management concept that helps us to control change without seriously impeding justifiable change. The IEEE (IEEE Std. No. 610.12-1990) defines a baseline as:

A specification or product that has been formally reviewed and agreed upon, that thereafter serves as the basis for further development, and that can be changed only through formal change control procedures.

One way to describe a baseline is through analogy:
Consider the doors to the kitchen in a large restaurant. One door is marked OUT and the other is marked IN. The doors have stops that allow them to be opened only in the appropriate direction.

If a waiter picks up an order in the kitchen, places it on a tray and then realizes he has selected the wrong dish, he may change to the correct dish quickly and informally before he leaves the kitchen.
If, however, he leaves the kitchen, gives the customer the dish and then is informed of his error, he must follow a set procedure: (1) look at the check to determine if an error has occurred, (2) apologize profusely, (3) return to the kitchen through the IN door, (4) explain the problem, and so forth.

A baseline is analogous to the kitchen doors in the restaurant. Before a software configuration item becomes a baseline, change may be made quickly and informally. However, once a baseline is established, we figuratively pass through a swinging oneway door. Changes can be made, but a specific, formal procedure must be applied to evaluate and verify each change.

In the context of software engineering, a baseline is a milestone in the development of software that is marked by the delivery of one or more software configuration items and the approval of these SCIs that is obtained through a formal technical review . For example, the elements of a Design Specification have been documented and reviewed. Errors are found and corrected. Once all parts of the specification have been reviewed, corrected and then approved, the Design Specification becomes a baseline. Further changes to the program architecture (documented in the Design Specification) can be made only after each has been evaluated and approved. 
The progression of events that lead to a baseline is also illustrated in figure . Software engineering tasks produce one or more SCIs. After SCIs are reviewed and approved, they are placed in a project database (also called a project library or software repository). When a member of a software engineering team wants to make a modification to a baselined SCI, it is copied from the project database into the engineer's private work space. However, this extracted SCI can be modified only if SCM controls (discussed later in this chapter) are followed. The arrows  illustrate the modification path for a baselined SCI.

Software Configuration Items

We have already defined a software configuration item as information that is created as part of the software engineering process. In the extreme, a SCI could be considered to be a single section of a large specification or one test case in a large suite of tests. More realistically, an SCI is a document, a entire suite of test cases, or a named program component (e.g., a C++ function or an Ada package).

In addition to the SCIs that are derived from software work products, many software engineering organizations also place software tools under configuration control. That is, specific versions of editors, compilers, and other CASE tools are "frozen"  as part of the software configuration. Because these tools were used to produce documentation, source code, and data, they must be available when changes to the software configuration are to be made. Although problems are rare, it is possible that a new version of a tool (e.g., a compiler) might produce different results than the original version. For this reason, tools, like the software that they help to produce, can be baselined as part of a comprehensive configuration management process.

In reality, SCIs are organized to form configuration objects that may be cataloged in the project database with a single name. A configuration object has a name, attributes, and is "connected" to other objects by relationships. The configuration objects, Design Specification, data model, component N, source code and Test Specification are each defined separately. However, each of the objects is related to the others as shown by the arrows. A curved arrow indicates a compositional relation. That is, data model and component N are part of the object Design Specification. A double-headed straight arrow indicates an interrelationship. If a change were made to the source code object, the interrelationships enable a software engineer to determine what other objects (and SCIs) might be affected.
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