In the broader sense, an item is future-proof when it sustains its properties and functionality as time passes. Some items will deteriorate with time (e.g. wear out) or their properties will be influenced by other items or a changing environment.
In the context of software engineering, a software system rarely deteriorates on its own. A software system is therefore considered future-proof when it continues functioning reliably as technology evolves. For example, a software system that is developed today is future-proof if it continues to provide the same business value in 20-30 years without the need for any modifications or changes.
Future-proofing is the process of making an item/system future-proof by consciously and carefully preparing it for the future and the influences it could impose on it.
Can we fully future-proof software?
We cannot fully future-proof software, this is also universally valid for almost anything in the world as we know it. It is not possible as this would require having the full picture of how the future would look or all possible scenarios, which is unrealistic.
Fortunately, being future-proof not a binary property — we do not need to apply to the maximum degree our software products. Instead, we can minimize the effects of potential future technological changes on our software systems.
Should we future-proof software?
If we expect a software system to be long-lived, it makes sense to invest time and effort into preparing it for the future.
Long-lived software systems need to be updated, maintained, and very often migrated to updated operating environments — for example, newer operating system versions, updated libraries, and even new technologies (sometimes old ones are deprecated).
By future-proofing software systems, you could minimize the effort and cost needed for such activities.
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