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by Dinesh Thakur

The output of the requirements phase of the software development process is Software Requirements Specification (SRS) (also known as requirements document). This document lays a foundation for software engineering activities and is created when entire requirements are elicited and analyzed. SRS is a formal document, which acts as a representation of software that enables the users to review whether it (SRS) is according to their requirements. In addition, it includes user requirements for a system as well as detailed specifications of the system requirements.

IEEE defines software requirements specification as, 'a document that clearly and precisely describes each of the essential requirements (functions, performance, design constraints and quality attributes) of the software and the external interfaces. Each requirement is defined in such a way that its achievement can be objectively verified by a prescribed method, for example, inspection, demonstration, analysis or test.' Note that requirements specification can be in the form of a written document, a mathematical model, a collection of graphical models, a prototype, and so on.

Essentially, what passes from requirements analysis activity to the specification activity is the knowledge acquired about the system. The need for maintaining a requirements document is that the modeling activity essentially focuses on the problem structure and not its structural behavior. While in SRS, performance constraints, design constraints, and standard compliance recovery are clearly specified. This information helps in developing a proper design of the system. Various other purposes served by SRS are listed below.

  1. Feedback: Provides a feedback, which ensures to the user that the organization (which develops the software) understands the issues or problems to be solved and the software behavior necessary to address those problems.
  2. Decompose problem into components: Organizes the information and divides the problem into its component parts in an orderly manner.
  3. Validation: Uses validation strategies applied to the requirements to acknowledge that requirements are stated properly.
  4. Input to design: Contains sufficient detail in the functional system requirements to devise a design solution.
  5. Basis for agreement between the user and the organization: Provides a complete description of the functions to be performed by the system. In addition, it helps the users to determine whether the specified requirements are accomplished.
  6. Reduce the development effort: Enables developers to consider user requirements before the designing of the system commences. As a result, 'rework' and inconsistencies in the later stages can be reduced.
  7. Estimating costs and schedules: Determines the requirements of the system and thus enables the developer to have a 'rough' estimate of the total cost and schedule of the project.

SRS is used by various individuals in the organization. System customers need SRS to specify and verify whether requirements meet the desired needs. In addition, SRS enables the managers to plan for the system development processes. System engineers need a requirements document to understand what system is to be developed. These engineers also require this document to develop validation tests for the required system. Lastly, requirements document is needed by system maintenance engineers to use the requirement and the relationship between its parts.

                                      SRS Users

The requirements document has diverse users. Therefore, along with communicating the requirements to the users it also has to define the requirements in precise detail for developers and testers. In addition it should also include information about possible changes in the system, which can help system designers avoid restricted decisions on design. SRS also helps maintenance engineers to adapt the system to new requirements.

Characteristics of SRS

Software requirements specification should be accurate, complete, efficient, and of high quality, so that it does not affect the entire project plan. An SRS is said to be of high quality when the developer and user easily understand the prepared document. Other characteristics of SRS are discussed below.

  1. Correct: SRS is correct when all user requirements are stated in the requirements document. The stated requirements should be according to the desired system. This implies that each requirement is examined to ensure that it (SRS) represents user requirements. Note that there is no specified tool or procedure to assure the correctness of SRS. Correctness ensures that all specified requirements are performed correctly.
  2. Unambiguous: SRS is unambiguous when every stated requirement has only one interpretation. This implies that each requirement is uniquely interpreted. In case there is a term used with multiple meanings, the requirements document should specify the meanings in the SRS so that it is clear and easy to understand.
  3. Complete: SRS is complete when the requirements clearly define what the software is required to do. This includes all the requirements related to performance, design and functionality.
  4. Ranked for importance/stability: All requirements are not equally important, hence each requirement is identified to make differences among other requirements. For this, it is essential to clearly identify each requirement. Stability implies the probability of changes in the requirement in future.
  5. Modifiable: The requirements of the user can change, hence requirements document should be created in such a manner that those changes can be modified easily, consistently maintaining the structure and style of the SRS.
  6. Traceable: SRS is traceable when the source of each requirement is clear and facilitates the reference of each requirement in future. For this, forward tracing and backward tracing are used. Forward tracing implies that each requirement should be traceable to design and code elements. Backward tracing implies defining each requirement explicitly referencing its source.
  7. Verifiable: SRS is verifiable when the specified requirements can be verified with a cost-effective process to check whether the final software meets those requirements. The requirements are verified with the help of reviews. Note that unambiguity is essential for verifiability.
  8. Consistent: SRS is consistent when the subsets of individual requirements defined do not conflict with each other. For example, there can be a case when different requirements can use different terms to refer to the same object. There can be logical or temporal conflicts between the specified requirements and some requirements whose logical or temporal characteristics are not satisfied. For instance, a requirement states that an event 'a' is to occur before another event 'b'. But then another set of requirements states (directly or indirectly by transitivity) that event 'b' should occur before event 'a'.

Structure of SRS

The requirements document is devised in a manner that is easier to write, review, and maintain. It is organized into independent sections and each section is organized into modules or units. Note that the level of detail to be included in the SRS depends on the type of the system to be developed and the process model chosen for its development. For example, if a system is to be developed by an external contractor, then critical system specifications need to be precise and detailed. Similarly, when flexibility is required in the requirements and where an in-house development takes place, requirements documents can be less detailed.

Since the requirements document serves as a foundation for subsequent software development phases, it is important to develop the document in the prescribed manner. For this, certain guidelines are followed while preparing SRS. These guidelines are listed below.

  1. Functionality: It should be separate from implementation.
  2. Analysis model: It should be developed according to the desired behavior of a system. This should include data and functional response of a system to various inputs given to it.
  3. Cognitive model: It should be developed independently of design or implementation model. This model expresses a system as perceived by the users.
  4. The content and structure of the specification: It should be flexible enough to accommodate changes.
  5. Specification: It should be robust. That is, it should be tolerant towards incompleteness and complexity.

The information to be included in SRS depends on a number of factors, for example, the type of software being developed and the approach used in its development. If software is developed using the iterative development process, the requirements document will be less detailed as compared to that of the software developed for critical systems. This is because specifications need to be very detailed and accurate in these systems. A number of standards have been suggested to develop a requirements document. However, the most widely used standard is by IEEE, which acts as a general framework. This general framework can be customized and adapted to meet the needs of a particular organization.

Each SRS fits a certain pattern; thus, it is essential to standardize the structure of the requirements document to make it easier to understand. For this IEEE standard is used for SRS to organize requirements for different projects, which provides different ways of structuring SRS. Note that in all requirements documents, the first two sections are the same.

This document comprises the following sections.

  1. Introduction: This provides an overview of the entire information described in SRS. This involves purpose and the scope of SRS, which states the functions to be performed by the system. In addition, it describes definitions, abbreviations, and the acronyms used. The references used in SRS provide a list of documents that is referenced in the document.
  2. Overall description: It determines the factors which affect the requirements of the system. It provides a brief description of the requirements to be defined in the next section called 'specific requirement'. It comprises the following sub-sections.
  3. Product perspective: It determines whether the product is an independent product or an integral part of the larger product. It determines the interface with hardware, software, system, and communication. It also defines memory constraints and operations utilized by the user.
  4. Product functions: It provides a summary of the functions to be performed by the software. The functions are organized in a list so that they are easily understandable by the user:
  5. User characteristics: It determines general characteristics of the users.
  6. Constraints: It provides the genera1 description of the constraints such as regulatory policies, audit functions, reliability requirements, and so on.
  7. Assumption and dependency: It provides a list of assumptions and factors that affect the requirements as stated in this document.
  8. Apportioning of requirements: It determines the requirements that can be delayed until release of future versions of the system.
  9. Specific requirements: These determine all requirements in detail so that the designers can design the system in accordance with them. The requirements include description of every input and output of the system and functions performed in response to the input provided. It comprises the following subsections.
  10. External interface: It determines the interface of the software with other systems, which can include interface with operating system and so on. External interface also specifies the interaction of the software with users, hardware, or other software. The characteristics of each user interface of the software product are specified in SRS. For the hardware interface, SRS specifies the logical characteristics of each interface among the software and hardware components. If the software is to be executed on the existing hardware, then characteristics such as memory restrictions are also specified.
  11. Functions: It determines the functional capabilities of the system. For each functional requirement, the accepting and processing of inputs in order to generate outputs are specified. This includes validity checks on inputs, exact sequence of operations, relationship of inputs to output, and so on.
  12. Performance requirements: It determines the performance constraints of the software system. Performance requirement is of two types: static requirements and dynamic requirements. Static requirements (also known as capacity requirements) do not impose constraints on the execution characteristics of the system. These include requirements like number of terminals and users to be supported. Dynamic requirements determine the constraints on the execution of the behavior of the system, which includes response time (the time between the start and ending of an operation under specified conditions) and throughput (total amount of work done in a given time).
  13. Logical database of requirements: It determines logical requirements to be stored in the database. This includes type of information used, frequency of usage, data entities and relationships among them, and so on.
  14. Design constraint: It determines all design constraints that are imposed by standards, hardware limitations, and so on. Standard compliance determines requirements for the system, which are in compliance with the specified standards. These standards can include accounting procedures and report format. Hardware limitations implies when the software can operate on existing hardware or some pre-determined hardware. This can impose restrictions while developing the software design. Hardware limitations include hardware configuration of the machine and operating system to be used.
  15. Software system attributes: It provide attributes such as reliability, availability, maintainability and portability. It is essential to describe all these attributes to verify that they are achieved in the final system.
  16. Organizing Specific Requirements: It determines the requirements so that they can be properly organized for optimal understanding. The requirements can be organized on the basis of mode of operation, user classes, objects, feature, response, and functional hierarchy.
  17. Change management process: It determines the change management process in order to identify, evaluate, and update SRS to reflect changes in the project scope and requirements.
  18. Document approvals: These provide information about the approvers of the SRS document with the details such as approver's name, signature, date, and so on.
  19. Supporting information: It provides information such as table of contents, index, and so on. This is necessary especially when SRS is prepared for large and complex projects.