Legacy Software: Raze and Pave or Stand Fast and Refactor

Photo by Tim Rebkavets on Unsplash

Prologue: Merek vs the Old Library

The last tattered shred of hope clung limply to its flagpole and flew at half mast.

“Where did we go wrong?”, Merek grimaced. Hopes in Köd Kingdom had flown so high, higher than the green and black banners billowing proudly atop the castle spires. The day they’d broken ground— the popping corks and howling cheers still echoed mirthfully down his ear canals. Only the wind howled now.

Years earlier, the Queen’s best minds had drafted an unparalleled wonder in architectural grace and technical innovation. It should have been a modern library to rival even those of Alexandrian fame. Instead, Merek’s hazel eyes twitched as they reluctantly traced the jarring contours of a half-finished, dilapidated husk of a monument to what might have been.

A shuffling farmer observed the tight furrows in Merek’s brow and lobbed a toothless, knowing grin in his direction, gesturing to the monstrosity with a gnarled cane. “She’s not pretty,” he cackled over his shoulder, “But the books are good!” Merek grunted out a half smile in return. The thing was, the leathery farmer was right. For some reason, streams of people came flowing in and out of its massive, uninviting doors. Boring doors.

He toyed absentmindedly with the bronze buckle securing his satchel. Within those oiled confines was a parchment scroll bearing the Queen’s own seal. The long journey from the palace afforded ample opportunity to commit its foreboding contents to memory: raze and rebuild the old library, or fortify its sagging buttresses and remodel its moldy halls? He stopped himself just short of rubbing his neck. It was a tough question, one that could leave him swinging from the gallows if he didn’t tread with the caution of a serpent. Köd Kingdom was a wealthy one, endowed with the rich resources of Silly Conifers Valley, but no coffers are bottomless, and neither was the Queen’s patience.

The Big Question

Back in the 21st century, your thoughts turn to your own company, your own sagging buttresses.

Days grind by as you pour organizational resources into an aging software project. The blogs are abuzz with the wonders of the latest language or framework and that old itch starts in again. Should we just burn it all down and rebuild it?

Alternatively known as the “big-bang rewrite”, the Big Rewrite, “burn and rebuild”, or “raze and pave”, the end result is the same — lots of work. Can you do it? You think so. Probably. Maybe…? But there’s an even more important question, one which the business people are usually the first to raise: Should you?

Let’s peer through the medieval eyes of our hero Merek as he explores the motivators for either strategy: “stand fast and refactor”, or “raze it and pave it.”

Merek vs the Torch of Motivation

Night had fallen as Merek stood stone faced in front of the old library, wafting tendrils of smoke whipping and curling off the flaming torch in his hand. His belly was full of ale and roasted lamb, but his mind was awash with the oppressive task in front of him. A part of him wanted to put the torch to the base of the creaking beast and be done with it, but Merek wasn’t a rash man, at least not anymore.

With a sigh he took a few steps back and slumped into an over-engineered bench, which responded with a series of clicks and whirs as intricate gears and pulleys worked to reconfigure the bench to match the contours of his lithe frame.

“Oh the gratuitous extravagance!”, Merek laughed ruefully at the whole project and tapped the bench underneath him. Clearly it hadn’t featured in the original plans. “The scope doth creep too much, methinks,” he chuckled. The library responded only with the hollow tenor of his own echoing voice. Shoulders trembling with mirth, he sat in silence. The flame flickered longingly toward an ornate tower, and he burst out laughing again.

Wiping tears from his eyes, thoughts appeared and coalesced before him in the flickering gilded shadows. He blinked again, but the images remained. Maybe he’d had too much ale.

With a heavy sigh, he tried to refocus. Was it time to let the old library go? As he leaned forward to peer at the coalescing shapes, the only sound was the whirring of the gears under his bench.

To be continued…

Ty Walls
Digital Construction Worker

Ty Walls is a software engineer in love with creating, learning, and teaching.