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The C4 model for visualising software architecture

posted Jun 3, 2020, 6:04 PM by Chris G   [ updated Jun 3, 2020, 6:05 PM ]

The C4 model for visualising software architecture

Context, Containers, Components and Code

Ask somebody in the building industry to visually communicate the architecture of a building and you'll be presented with site plans, floor plans, elevation views, cross-section views and detail drawings. In contrast, ask a software developer to communicate the software architecture of a software system using diagrams and you'll likely get a confused mess of boxes and lines ... inconsistent notation (colour coding, shapes, line styles, etc), ambiguous naming, unlabelled relationships, generic terminology, missing technology choices, mixed abstractions, etc.

As an industry, we do have the Unified Modeling Language (UML), ArchiMate and SysML, but asking whether these provide an effective way to communicate software architecture is often irrelevant because many teams have already thrown them out in favour of much simpler "boxes and lines" diagrams. Abandoning these modelling languages is one thing but, perhaps in the race for agility, many software development teams have lost the ability to communicate visually.

Maps of your code

The C4 model was created as a way to help software development teams describe and communicate software architecture, both during up-front design sessions and when retrospectively documenting an existing codebase. It's a way to create maps of your code, at various levels of detail, in the same way you would use something like Google Maps to zoom in and out of an area you are interested in.


Container diagram for Internet Banking System

C4-PlantUML combines the benefits of PlantUML and the C4 model for providing a simple way of describing and communicate software architectures - especially during up-front design sessions - with an intuitive language using open source and platform independent tools.

C4-PlantUML includes macros, stereotypes, and other goodies (like VSCode Snippets) for creating C4 diagrams with PlantUML.