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Modular programming

Modular programming (also known as top down design and stepwise refinement) is a software design technique that increases the extent to which software is composed of separate, interchangeable components called modules by breaking down program functions into modules, each of which accomplishes one function and contains everything necessary to accomplish this.[1] Conceptually, modules represent a separation of concerns, and improve maintainability by enforcing logical boundaries between components. Modules are typically incorporated into the program through interfaces.[2] A module interface expresses the elements that are provided and required by the module. The elements defined in the interface are detectable by other modules. The implementation contains the working code that corresponds to the elements declared in the interface.


Language support

Languages that formally support the module concept include Ada, Algol, BlitzMax, COBOL, Component Pascal, D, Erlang, F, Fortran, Haskell, IBM/360 Assembler, IBM RPG, Java (packages are considered modules in the JLS), MATLAB, ML, Modula-2, Modula-3, Morpho, Oberon, NEWP, OCaml, Pascal, Perl, PL/I, Python, and Ruby. The IBM System i also uses Modules in CL, COBOL, and RPG when programming in the Integrated Language Environment (ILE). Modular programming can be performed even where the programming language lacks explicit syntactic features to support named modules.

Software tools can create modular code units from groups of components. Libraries of components built from separately compiled modules can be combined into a whole by using a linker.

Key aspects

With modular programming, concerns are separated such that modules perform logically discrete functions. No (or few) modules interact with other modules of the system; except in the sense that one module may use another module, to achieve its purpose. The desired module goal is to have no interaction between modules [other than that already stated].

Each module (which can contain a number of separate processes) works independently to another module. Something that is best understood at the lowest module hierarchy, when no other module is used. At the highest module hierarchy confusingly, there may be several layers of used modules, before the module achieves its purpose.

When creating a modular system, instead of creating a monolithic application (where the smallest component is the whole), several smaller modules are built (and usually compiled) separately so that, when composed together, they construct the executable application program. A just in time compiler may perform some of this construction "on-the-fly" at run time.

This makes modular designed systems, if built correctly, far more reusable than a traditional monolithic design, since all (or many) of these modules may then be reused (without change) in other projects. This also facilitates the "breaking down" of projects (through "divide and conquer") into several smaller projects. Theoretically, a modularized software project will be more easily assembled by large teams, since no team members are creating the whole system, or even need to know about the system as a whole. They can focus just on the assigned smaller task (this, it is claimed, counters the key assumption of The Mythical Man Month making it actually possible to add more developers to a late software project without making it later still).


Message passing has, more recently, gained ground over the earlier, more conventional, "Call" interfaces, becoming the more dominant linkage between separate modules as an attempt to solve the "versioning problem" (sometimes experienced when using interfaces for communication between the modules).


Traditional programming languages have been used to support modular programming - since at least the 1960s. Modular programming is a loosely defined concept with no official definition. It is, in essence, simply a programming technique. Exactly where modularized programming ends, and Dynamically Linked Libraries or Object-oriented programming starts in this context is subjective. It might be defined as the natural predecessor of OOP, or an evolutionary step beyond it - depending upon viewpoint.


Several programmers can work on individual programs at the same time, thus, making development of program faster. The code base is easier to debug, update and modify. It leads to a structured approach as a complex problem can be broken into simpler tasks. This strategy of developing a program is, therefore, very advantageous.

See also


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