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Software Life Cycle Model

A software life cycle model (also called process model) is a descriptive and diagrammatic representation of the software life cycle. A life cycle model represents all the activities required to make a software product transit through its life cycle phases. It also captures the order in which these activities are to be undertaken. In other words, a life cycle model maps the different activities performed on a software product from its inception to its retirement. Different life cycle models may map the basic development activities to phases in different ways. Thus, no matter which life cycle model is followed, the basic activities are included in all life cycle models though the activities may be carried out in different orders in different life cycle models. During any life cycle phase, more than one activity may also be carried out. For example, the design phase might consist of the structured analysis activity followed by the structured design activity.

The Need for a Life Cycle Model

The development team must identify a suitable life cycle model for the particular project and then adhere to it. Without using a particular life cycle model, the development of a software product would not be in a systematic and disciplined manner. When a software product is being developed by a team there must be a clear understanding among team members about when and what to do. Otherwise it would lead to chaos and project failure. Let us try to illustrate this problem using an example. Suppose a software development problem is divided into several parts and the parts are assigned to the team members. From then on, suppose the team members are allowed the freedom to develop the parts assigned to them in whatever way they like. It is possible that one member might start writing the code for his part, another might decide to prepare the test documents first, and some other engineer might begin with the design phase of the parts assigned to him. This would be one of the perfect recipes for project failure.

A software life cycle model defines entry and exit criteria for every phase. A phase can start only if its phase-entry criteria have been satisfied. So without a software life cycle model, the entry and exit criteria for a phase cannot be recognized. Without models (such as classical waterfall model, iterative waterfall model, prototyping model, evolutionary model, spiral model etc.), it becomes difficult for software project managers to monitor the progress of the project.

Many life cycle models have been proposed so far. Each of them has some advantages as well as some disadvantages. A few important and commonly used life cycle models are as follows:

  • Classical Waterfall Model
  • Iterative Waterfall Model
  • Prototyping Model
  • Evolutionary Model
  • Spiral Model

Classical Waterfall Model 

The classical waterfall model is intuitively the most obvious way to develop software. Though the classical waterfall model is elegant and intuitively obvious, we will see that it is not a practical model in the sense that it can not be used in actual software development projects. Thus, we can consider this model to be a theoretical way of developing software. But all other life cycle models are essentially derived from the classical waterfall model. So, in order to be able to appreciate other life cycle models, we must first learn the classical waterfall model.

Classical waterfall model divides the life cycle into the following phases as shown in fig. 33.7:

  • Feasibility study
  • Requirements analysis and specification
  • Design
  • Coding and unit testing
  • Integration and system testing
  • Maintenance

Introduction to Software Engineering - 2 | Embedded Systems (Web) - Computer Science Engineering (CSE)

Fig. 33.7 Classical Waterfall Model 

Feasibility Study

The main aim of feasibility study is to determine whether it would be financially and technically feasible to develop the product

  • At first project managers or team leaders try to have a rough understanding of what is required to be done by visiting the client side. They study different input data to the system and output data to be produced by the system. They study what kind of processing is needed to be done on these data and they look at the various constraints on the behaviour of the system.
  • After they have an overall understanding of the problem, they investigate the different solutions that are possible. Then they examine each of the solutions in terms of what kinds of resources are required, what would be the cost of development and what would be the development time for each solution.
  • Based on this analysis, they pick the best solution and determine whether the solution is feasible financially and technically. They check whether the customer budget would meet the cost of the product and whether they have sufficient technical expertise in the area of development.

The following is an example of a feasibility study undertaken by an organization. It is intended to give one a feel of the activities and issues involved in the feasibility study phase of a typical software project.

Case Study 

A mining company named Galaxy Mining Company Ltd. (GMC) has mines located at various places in India. It has about fifty different mine sites spread across eight states. The company employs a large number of mines at each mine site. Mining being a risky profession, the company intends to operate a special provident fund, which would exist in addition to the standard provident fund that the miners already enjoy. The main objective of having the special provident fund (SPF) would be to quickly distribute some compensation before the standard provident amount is paid. According to this scheme, each mine site would deduct SPF instalments from each miner every month and deposit the same with the CSPFC (Central Special Provident Fund Commissioner). The CSPFC will maintain all details regarding the SPF instalments collected from the miners. GMC employed a reputed software vendor Adventure Software Inc. to undertake the task of developing the software for automating the maintenance of SPF records of all employees. GMC realized that besides saving manpower on bookkeeping work, the software would help in speedy settlement of claim cases. GMC indicated that the amount it could afford for this software to be developed and installed was 1 million rupees.

Adventure Software Inc. deputed their project manager to carry out the feasibility study. The project manager discussed the matter with the top managers of GMC to get an overview of the project. He also discussed the issues involved with the several field PF officers at various mine sites to determine the exact details of the project. The project manager identified two broad approaches to solve the problem. One was to have a central database which could be accessed and updated via a satellite connection to various mine sites. The other approach was to have local databases at each mine site and to update the central database periodically through a dial-up connection. These periodic updates could be done on a daily or hourly basis depending on the delay acceptable to GMC in invoking various functions of the software. The project manager found that the second approach was very affordable and more fault-tolerant as the local mine sites could still operate even when the communication link to the central database temporarily failed. The project manager quickly analyzed the database functionalities required, the userinterface issues, and the software handling communication with the mine sites. He arrived at a cost to develop from the analysis. He found that the solution involving maintenance of local databases at the mine sites and periodic updating of a central database was financially and technically feasible. The project manager discussed his solution with the GMC management and found that the solution was acceptable to them as well.

Requirements Analysis and Specification

The aim of the requirements analysis and specification phase is to understand the exact requirements of the customer and to document them properly. This phase consists of two distinct activities, namely

  • Requirements gathering and analysis, and
  • Requirements specification

The goal of the requirements gathering activity is to collect all relevant information from the customer regarding the product to be developed with a view to clearly understand the customer requirements and weed out the incompleteness and inconsistencies in these requirements.

The requirements analysis activity is begun by collecting all relevant data regarding the product to be developed from the users of the product and from the customer through interviews and discussions. For example, to perform the requirements analysis of a business accounting software required by an organization, the analyst might interview all the accountants of the organization to ascertain their requirements. The data collected from such a group of users usually contain several contradictions and ambiguities, since each user typically has only a partial and incomplete view of the system. Therefore it is necessary to identify all ambiguities and contradictions in the requirements and resolve them through further discussions with the customer. After all ambiguities, inconsistencies, and incompleteness have been resolved and all the requirements properly understood, the requirements specification activity can start. During this activity, the user requirements are systematically organized into a Software Requirements Specification (SRS) document.

The customer requirements identified during the requirements gathering and analysis activity are organized into an SRS document. The important components of this document are functional requirements, the non-functional requirements, and the goals of implementation.


The goal of the design phase is to transform the requirements specified in the SRS document into a structure that is suitable for implementation in some programming language. In technical terms, during the design phase the software architecture is derived from the SRS document. Two distinctly different approaches are available: the traditional design approach and the objectoriented design approach.

Traditional design approach: Traditional design consists of two different activities; first a structured analysis of the requirements specification is carried out where the detailed structure of the problem is examined. This is followed by a structured design activity. During structured design, the results of structured analysis are transformed into the software design.

Object-oriented design approach: In this technique, various objects that occur in the problem domain and the solution domain are first identified, and the different relationships that exist among these objects are identified. The object structure is further refined to obtain the detailed design.

Coding and Unit Testing

The purpose of the coding and unit testing phase (sometimes called the implementation phase) of software development is to translate the software design into source code. Each component of the design is implemented as a program module. The end-product of this phase is a set of program modules that have been individually tested.

During this phase, each module is unit tested to determine the correct working of all the individual modules. It involves testing each module in isolation as this is the most efficient way to debug the errors identified at this stage.

Integration and System Testing

Integration of different modules is undertaken once they have been coded and unit tested. During the integration and system testing phase, the modules are integrated in a planned manner.

The different modules making up a software product are almost never integrated in one shot. Integration is normally carried out incrementally over a number of steps. During each integration step, the partially integrated system is tested and a set of previously planned modules are added to it. Finally, when all the modules have been successfully integrated and tested, system testing is carried out. The goal of system testing is to ensure that the developed system conforms to the requirements laid out in the SRS document. System testing usually consists of three different kinds of testing activities:

  • α – testing: It is the system testing performed by the development team.
  • β – testing: It is the system testing performed by a friendly set of customers.
  • Acceptance testing: It is the system testing performed by the customer himself after product delivery to determine whether to accept or reject the delivered product.

System testing is normally carried out in a planned manner according to the system test plan document. The system test plan identifies all testing-related activities that must be performed, specifies the schedule of testing, and allocates resources. It also lists all the test cases and the expected outputs for each test case.


Maintenance of a typical software product requires much more than the effort necessary to develop the product itself. Many studies carried out in the past confirm this and indicate that the relative effort of development of a typical software product to its maintenance effort is roughly in the 40:60 ratio. Maintenance involves performing any one or more of the following three kinds of activities:

  • Correcting errors that were not discovered during the product development phase. This is called corrective maintenance.
  • Improving the implementation of the system, and enhancing the functionalities of the system according to the customer’s requirements. This is called perfective maintenance.
  • Porting the software to work in a new environment. For example, porting may be required to get the software to work on a new computer platform or with a new operating system. This is called adaptive maintenance.

Shortcomings of the Classical Waterfall Model 

The classical waterfall model is an idealistic one since it assumes that no development error is ever committed by the engineers during any of the life cycle phases. However, in practical development environments, the engineers do commit a large number of errors in almost every phase of the life cycle. The source of the defects can be many: oversight, wrong assumptions, use of inappropriate technology, communication gap among the project engineers, etc. These defects usually get detected much later in the life cycle. For example, a design defect might go unnoticed till we reach the coding or testing phase. Once a defect is detected, the engineers need to go back to the phase where the defect had occurred and redo some of the work done during that phase and the subsequent phases to correct the defect and its effect on the later phases. Therefore, in any practical software development work, it is not possible to strictly follow the classical waterfall model.

Phase-Entry and Phase-Exit Criteria

At the start of the feasibility study, project managers or team leaders try to understand what the actual problem is, by visiting the client side. At the end of that phase, they pick the best solution and determine whether the solution is feasible financially and technically.

At the start of requirements analysis and specification phase, the required data is collected. After that requirement specification is carried out. Finally, SRS document is produced. At the start of design phase, context diagram and different levels of DFDs are produced according to the SRS document. At the end of this phase module structure (structure chart) is produced.

During the coding phase each module (independently compilation unit) of the design is coded. Then each module is tested independently as a stand-alone unit and debugged separately. After this each module is documented individually. The end product of the implementation phase is a set of program modules that have been tested individually but not tested together. After the implementation phase, different modules which have been tested individually are integrated in a planned manner. After all the modules have been successfully integrated and tested, system testing is carried out. Software maintenance denotes any changes made to a software product after it has been delivered to the customer. Maintenance is inevitable for almost any kind of product. However, most products need maintenance due to the wear and tear caused by use.

Prototyping Model

A prototype is a toy implementation of the system. A prototype usually exhibits limited functional capabilities, low reliability, and inefficient performance compared to the actual software. A prototype is usually built using several shortcuts. The shortcuts might involve using inefficient, inaccurate, or dummy functions. The shortcut implementation of a function, for example, may produce the desired results by using a table look-up instead of performing the actual computations. A prototype usually turns out to be a very crude version of the actual system.

The Need for a Prototype

There are several uses of a prototype. An important purpose is to illustrate the input data formats, messages, reports, and the interactive dialogues to the customer. This is a valuable mechanism for gaining better understanding of the customer’s needs.

  • How screens might look like
  • How the user interface would behave
  • How the system would produce outputs, etc.

This is something similar to what the architectural designers of a building do; they show a prototype of the building to their customer. The customer can evaluate whether he likes it or not and the changes that he would need in the actual product. A similar thing happens in the case of a software product and its prototyping model.

Spiral Model 

Introduction to Software Engineering - 2 | Embedded Systems (Web) - Computer Science Engineering (CSE)

The Spiral model of software development is shown in fig. 33.8. The diagrammatic representation of this model appears like a spiral with many loops. The exact number of loops in the spiral is not fixed. Each loop of the spiral represents a phase of the software process. For example, the innermost loop might be concerned with feasibility study; the next loop with requirements specification; the next one with design, and so on. Each phase in this model is split into four sectors (or quadrants) as shown in fig. 33.8. The following activities are carried out during each phase of a spiral model.

First quadrant (Objective Setting):

  • During the first quadrant, we need to identify the objectives of the phase.
  • Examine the risks associated with these objectives

Second quadrant (Risk Assessment and Reduction): 

  • A detailed analysis is carried out for each identified project risk.
  • Steps are taken to reduce the risks. For example, if there is a risk that the requirements are inappropriate, a prototype system may be developed

Third quadrant (Objective Setting): 

  • Develop and validate the next level of the product after resolving the identified risks.

Fourth quadrant (Objective Setting): 

  • Review the results achieved so far with the customer and plan the next iteration around the spiral.
  • With each iteration around the spiral, progressively a more complete version of the software gets built.

A Meta Model 

The spiral model is called a meta-model since it encompasses all other life cycle models. Risk handling is inherently built into this model. The spiral model is suitable for development of technically challenging software products that are prone to several kinds of risks. However, this model is much more complex than the other models. This is probably a factor deterring its use in ordinary projects.

Comparison of Different Life Cycle Models

The classical waterfall model can be considered as the basic model and all other life cycle models as embellishments of this model. However, the classical waterfall model can not be used in practical development projects, since this model supports no mechanism to handle the errors committed during any of the phases.

This problem is overcome in the iterative waterfall model. The iterative waterfall model is probably the most widely used software development model evolved so far. This model is simple to understand and use. However, this model is suitable only for well-understood problems; it is not suitable for very large projects and for projects that are subject to many risks.

The prototyping model is suitable for projects for which either the user requirements or the underlying technical aspects are not well understood. This model is especially popular for development of the user-interface part of the projects. The evolutionary approach is suitable for large problems which can be decomposed into a set of modules for incremental development and delivery. This model is also widely used for object-oriented development projects. Of course, this model can only be used if the incremental delivery of the system is acceptable to the customer. The spiral model is called a meta-model since it encompasses all other life cycle models. Risk handling is inherently built into this model. The spiral model is suitable for development of technically challenging software products that are prone to several kinds of risks. However, this model is much more complex than the other models. This is probably a factor deterring its use in ordinary projects.

The different software life cycle models can be compared from the viewpoint of the customer. Initially, customer confidence in the development team is usually high irrespective of the development model followed. During the long development process, customer confidence normally drops, as no working product is immediately visible. Developers answer customer queries using technical slang, and delays are announced. This gives rise to customer resentment. On the other hand, an evolutionary approach lets the customer experiment with a working product much earlier than the monolithic approaches. Another important advantage of the incremental model is that it reduces the customer’s trauma of getting used to an entirely new system. The gradual introduction of the product via incremental phases provides time to the customer to adjust to the new product. Also, from the customer’s financial viewpoint, incremental development does not require a large upfront capital outlay. The customer can order the incremental versions as and when he can afford them.


The document Introduction to Software Engineering - 2 | Embedded Systems (Web) - Computer Science Engineering (CSE) is a part of the Computer Science Engineering (CSE) Course Embedded Systems (Web).
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FAQs on Introduction to Software Engineering - 2 - Embedded Systems (Web) - Computer Science Engineering (CSE)

1. What is software engineering?
Ans. Software engineering is a discipline that deals with the design, development, and maintenance of software systems. It involves applying engineering principles and practices to create high-quality, reliable, and efficient software solutions.
2. What are the key activities in the software engineering process?
Ans. The key activities in the software engineering process include requirements gathering and analysis, system design, coding, testing, deployment, and maintenance. These activities are performed in a systematic and structured manner to ensure the development of a reliable and functional software system.
3. What are the main challenges in software engineering?
Ans. Some of the main challenges in software engineering include managing complexity, meeting customer requirements, ensuring software quality, handling changing requirements, and maintaining the software over time. These challenges require careful planning, effective communication, and the use of proven engineering practices.
4. What is the importance of software engineering in today's digital age?
Ans. Software engineering plays a crucial role in today's digital age as it enables the development of innovative and complex software systems that power various industries. It helps in creating reliable and efficient software solutions that improve productivity, enhance user experiences, and drive business growth.
5. What are the career opportunities in software engineering?
Ans. Software engineering offers a wide range of career opportunities. Some of the popular roles in this field include software developer, software engineer, systems analyst, quality assurance engineer, and project manager. With the increasing demand for software solutions, there is a growing need for skilled professionals in the software engineering field.
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