Example FuseBox Project
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Best Practices

Ever wonder how a new program gets designed and built?

"There are two ways of constructing a software design:

One way is to make it so simple that there are obviously no deficiencies,

and the other way is to make it so complicated that there are no obvious deficiencies.

The first method is far more difficult."

- C.A.R. Hoare

InSite Media uses methodology based on the FuseBox Lifecycle Process (FLiP) and produces applications that are compliant with the FuseBox Open Source coding standard.

What Is Fusebox?

Fusebox is a framework consisting of a set of helper files and organizational principles, and a methodology consisting of a set of best practices for managing web projects. Used by application designers, developers and architects, the system addresses development problems such as unmanageable complexity, wasteful redundancy of effort, time-consuming code maintenance, and slow development speed.

Why have a coding standard? To put it simply, it's to keep things organized. It is understood that, on average, 70% of the total investment in application software will go to maintenance over its lifetime. Applications get larger. The interconnections between things get tangled. This isn't anyone's fault. It's because every button, every field, every screen, every thing, is connected to many others. This is why most programmers would prefer to develop something from scratch than modify someone else's software.

Figure 1: Application programming, the old way, now called "Point-to-Point." Forms, screens, database objects, etc., become intertwined in a complex "web" of functionality that is often NOT documented anywhere. This will be costly to maintain over time.

FuseBox, in contrast, provides an organized structure with meaning that it is clear to the trained eye at first sight. Best Practices ensure consistent naming conventions and constructs are used. Each module, or "circuit" in FuseBox terminology, is plugged into the central "fusebox" which acts like a big switchboard.

For developers, the FuseBox is both a convenient receptacle for new modules, and a high-level, self-explanitory map of the application workings.

Figure 2: The "FuseBox" provides a Plug-and-Play system that glues the modules together.

Perhaps the best part is that fusebox-compatible applications can be installed inside other fusebox applications. This leads to quantum leaps in productivity as a vibrant developer community creates FuseBox-compatible modules. InSite Media's library of FuseBox modules grows daily, which means we can offer more functionality in less time and at less cost than developers of equal skill using traditional "improvise-test-fix" methods. Over time these differences are very significant.

Note that FuseBox is a language-independent architecture. FuseBox arose from the Cold Fusion developer community, but it has been ported to ASP, J2EE, PHP and environments and is now used by an estimated 19,000 developers (Source: FuseBox.org.)

How does FuseBox Work?

With Fusebox, a clear separation is made between the framework and the methodology. The methodology associated with Fusebox is called the Fusebox Lifecycle Process, or FLiP.

The Fusebox Framework

The first part of Fusebox is the "framework". The Fusebox framework consists of a series of files that aid in the creation of a complex web application. These files, known as the "core files" allow you to easily achieve nested layouts, inherited variables and settings, and break your application into more manageable pieces.

Additionally, a set of best practices for organizing applications falls under the framework.

The goal of the Fusebox framework is to create a standard process for architecting web applications. This goal extends beyond a single technology. The core files have been duplicated for multiple web application languages.

More about the FuseBox framework.

Fusebox Lifecycle Process

"There are two fundamental ideas behind FLiP. The first is to use a process that is, at all times, closely tied to client feedback. The second is to encourage inexpensive changes in the design early in the process, resulting in a reduced need for changes later in the process, when those changes become progressively more expensive.

It is also important to note that FLiP is designed for the technical aspects of the project, starting at a point when you are ready to begin building an application. For many simple web projects, FLiP may be sufficient from the start of the project. For more complex projects, other research techniques may be necessary to understand the business model before starting on the application development with FLiP." *

The precise steps are modified slightly depending on the scale of the project. Database-driven, transaction processing applications of the kind associated with e-Business will use the complete FLiP methodology. Smaller applications and simple web sites are reliably and affordably produced using a four-step process with some steps taking place concurrently.

General Design

Encompassing steps 1 and 2 of FLiP, General Design captures and defines general system requirements. Issues such as audience, scope, expected visitor-system interactions (use case) are identified and tabulated. A wireframe helps present how the application is expected to work.

  • Requirements List

    A requirements document outlines the project goals and key features at a very high level, and helps ensure that the ultimate design meets user expectations, without prejudice as to 'how' the requirement will be met.

  • Wireframe Overview

    A wireframe is a set of pages that illustrate the basic design of the program by describing what will happen on each page. The wireframe is not intended to resemble the finished application.

  • Look and Feel

    Look and feel is a crucial aspect of most, if not all web projects. At this stage, an artist will render visual designs to choose from.

Detailed Design:

Encompassing steps 3 and 4 of FLiP, Detailed Design defines detailed internal and visible function of the proposed system. Issues such as security and performance considerations, data organization and storage are carefully explored and the design documented. Another prototype, a user-interface with no "back end," may be presented to confirm the detailed design with end users before construction begins.

  • Detailed Requirements Document

    Confirms that the design addresses the requirements. All requirements should have associated design elements

  • Data Structure Diagram

    Logical organization of data, including rules for data integrity (i.e. "An "order" always has exactly one "customer," and not the other way around.").

  • Advanced Architecture Explorer *

    Navigatable map of the application design including conditions, required processing and system architecture. Developers will write the code for each "fuse" the Architect calls for.


Having designed the system in great detail, and possibly already being in possession of prototypes of user interface components, construction proceeds in at an impressive pace.

FLiP also provides an elegant testing solution. In the Architecture step, fuse-by-fuse functions are defined and documented (a fuse is the smallest unit of processing FuseBox). These definitions form the basis of developer assignments. Developers submit their fuses which are then tested to ensure that they react to "stimuli" in the expected way. This is like a testing an engine on the bench before installing it in a vehicle. The testing "harness" is the bench. It's a life-support system for the fuse, so that it can run normally and think it's inside the finished application and possibly communicating with a real database, neither of which is the case.

Assignments can be distributed to developers who are not necessarily familiar with every aspect of the whole system. Thus, the fusebox architecture and FLiP methodology is ideal for developers working on large applications in distributed teams.

Another advantage of the approach and tools InSite Media uses to embrace the FuseBox architecture and FLiP methodology is that there are no throw-away components. Materials and code throughout the process are incorporated into the finished product. Competing methodologies often have little use for the diagrams and components that were produced in the early stages, which creates great redundancy in developer activity, whereas we re-use most components in the finished product. This "do it once and do it right" approach is efficient and produces documented, stable and scalable systems that can be easily maintained by any developer familiar with FuseBox architecture, no matter how big the application gets.

Figure 3: Logical organization of a FuseBox application with four large modules (Circuits).

Final assembly is handled by the same person who created the design, the Architect. Daily updates result in a rapidly evolving prototype as developers submit their sections for inclusion in the final assembly.

In summary, Fusebox architecture provides a structural style that is highly productive for programmers, and therefore cost-effective for clients. The FuseBox LifeCycle Process (FLiP) provides a step-by-step approach for tackling complex software projects and ensuring that your next project is a success in every way.

* Source: http://fusebox.org/index.cfm

Copyright (c) 2003 InSite Media, all rights reserved.



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