A prototype is a toy implementation of the system. A prototype usually exhibits limited functional capabilities, low reliability, and inefficient performance compared to the actual software. A prototype is usually built using several shortcuts. The shortcuts might involve using inefficient, inaccurate, or dummy functions. The shortcut implementation of a function, for example, may produce the desired results by using a table look-up instead of performing the actual computations. A prototype usually turns out to be a very crude version of the actual system.
Need for a prototype in software development

There are several uses of a prototype. An important purpose is to illustrate the input data formats, messages, reports, and the interactive dialogues to the customer. This is a valuable mechanism for gaining better understanding of the customer’s needs:

  • how the screens might look like
  • how the user interface would behave
  • how the system would produce outputs

Another reason for developing a prototype is that it is impossible to get the perfect product in the first attempt. Many researchers and engineers advocate that if you want to develop a good product you must plan to throw away the first version. The experience gained in developing the prototype can be used to develop the final product.

A prototyping model can be used when technical solutions are unclear to the development team. A developed prototype can help engineers to critically examine the technical issues associated with the product development. Often, major design decisions depend on issues like the response time of a hardware controller, or the efficiency of a sorting algorithm, etc. In such circumstances, a prototype may be the best or the only way to resolve the technical issues.

A prototype of the actual product is preferred in situations such as:
• User requirements are not complete
• Technical issues are not clear

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