In the IT-powered world of the 21st century, people use dozens if not hundreds of digital products every day. We read emails, look through the newsfeed of our social media accounts, pay for groceries using e-banking, click on apps to get access to various services, etc. The involvement of computer technologies is even higher in our professional activities, none of which can do without respective software. And all the programs you use – even the most primitive ones – rely on architecture of a kind.
The notion of software architecture denotes the organization of the system that encompasses the list of components, the way they interact and integrate with each other, the environment in which they function, and the underlying principles of the system’s design. Moreover, visionary software architects see to it that the system has the evolution potential with room to grow.
Small apps involving boxed solution elements can be built without specified and documented architectural decisions. For more complex and professional systems, the explicit definition of a system’s architecture has to be laid out fair and square otherwise the project is doomed to failure.
When is system architecture defined?
When experts design the architecture of a software product, they do it with an eye to its mission as well as its basic safety and availability requirements. It is also critical that the system’s operations shouldn’t interfere with the operation of other devices or tools. Naturally, such a mission must be outlined before the project gets actually launched, so some overarching architectural decisions are made at this initial stage. However, having a decade-long experience in software development, we at DICEUS know well that system architecture is conceptually evolving as long as the project lasts. Why?
While coding and engineering are being implemented, there are always some corrections and improvements to the original plan. Certain approaches don’t live up to expectations and the viability of other concepts turns out dubious. Customers come up with new ideas as to the products’ look, feel, and functionalities. Fresh requirements and novel tech stack crop up, necessitating fine-tuning or total revamping of some components.
Even when the product is launched and has been running for years, architectural changes may be introduced as well. Some of them are conditioned by the exposed inadequacies others aim to modernize the solution, make it compatible with innovations, or sustain its functioning (while it is still worthwhile or cheaper than replacing the legacy system with new-generation software).
Yet, whatever possible alterations of the initial design might creep in, all of them must take into account the underlying architecture type. Various digital products can have microkernel, event-based, or other architectural patterns at their foundation. For application development, the principal choice that software architects have to make is related to solving the microservices monolithic dilemma. What is the difference between microservices and monolithic architecture and when should either type be preferred? Let’s zoom in on each of them.
What is monolithic architecture?
This is the app development classics. Such apps are built as a single-block unit having a universal code-base for all modules. The number of modules depends on the complexity of the project and its prospective features. Typically, such solutions contain a database, a server-side app, and a client-side UI. All their functions are served in one place.
Monolithic architecture pros and cons
What perks does such an arrangement entail?
- Foolproof development. Being practiced for quite a time, the monolithic app development today refers to bread-and-butter skills that all software architects must possess. Naturally, it is easy to find experts with the expertise of this kind.
- Foolproof deployment. All you have to deploy to run a monolithic app is a single file or directory.
- Better performance. The reason for it is shared memory access utilized in such apps, making them faster if we compare monolithic architecture to microservices.
- Minimal cross-cutting concerns. Logging, caching, and performance monitoring affect the operation of the entire application. In monolithic apps, where all components are hooked up, running them together is considerably simpler.
- Faster debugging and testing. Being a single unit, such apps can be tested and then debugged in (relatively) no time.
- Fewer operational expenses. Not requiring service detection and registration, interservice communication, load balancing, and other microservices, monolithic app development is more cost-efficient.
Despite evident merits, there are some disadvantages of monolithic architecture vs microservices.
- Resistance to change. Any attempts at modification or upscaling must be sustained throughout the whole codebase since separate modules of the structure can’t be changed independently. The same refers to introducing new technologies and upgrades into the app. If the app does accept changes (for instance, third-party tool integration), their implementation is extremely time- and effort-consuming.
- The complexity of code. Being utilized across the entire system, the code becomes too complicated and bewildering to understand and manage due to the multiple layers and dependencies it has to cover.
- Programming language limitation. Typically, it allows only one language to write code in. If any element is written in a different language, its integration is impossible.
What is microservices architecture?
This is a younger technology, but during the seven years of its presence on the market, it has done much to revolutionize app creation endeavors. The major difference between monolithic and microservices architecture is that the latter contains a collection of independent modules that run every process as a separate service. Each has its scope, database, and operational logic, but they communicate via APIs. Basically, they can be treated as independent software products, which determines microservices benefits over monolithic structures.
Microservices architecture pros and cons
The different principle of the organization determines advantages microservices architecture sports.
- Independence of components. Each module can be independently deployed and upgraded, which translates into enhanced flexibility, a cost-efficient scalability process, and easier bug detection within each module.
- Relative simplicity. Being split into separate elements, the entire system is quite transparent in terms of its functioning and handling.
- Fewer mistakes. Error-generating power is effectively curtailed since the boundaries between units are hard to cross. Thus, for instance, cascading faults never creep into microservices systems.
- Freedom of choosing vendors. You can hire various vendors that excel in building different modules if there is a need to replace the one that underperforms.
- Freedom of choosing technologies. An essential reason why use microservices over monolithic is the absence of tech stack limitations when you can switch to a different tool or framework to build another module.
- The agility of onboarding new developers. Since each of them has to know only the nuts and bolts of their module, they can come to grips with their assignment much quicker.
This architecture type has certain shortcomings as well.
- Limited usage. The tasks of some apps can’t be split into separate components.
- Cross-cutting issues. Logging, externalized configuration, health checks, and other details require special attention while building a microservices app.
- Connection management. Setting up links between the modules has to be approached with utmost care.
- Additional points of concern. There are multiple complexities that have to be dealt with (data consistency between disparate databases of the services, tool incompatibilities, dealing with multiple frameworks and their languages, and opting for the best microservices pattern, to name a few).
- Greater expenditures. Unit-by-unit deployment and cloud reliance cause the higher cost of the microservices app and even operational overheads.
- Prolonged and more complicated testing and debugging. Each module has to be tested and debugged piecemeal utilizing separate tools and techniques. However, automated testing can somewhat mitigate this problem.
- Slower performance. The complicated system of interconnections and distribution of tasks between modules accounts for the lag in loading speed.
- Greater volume of paperwork. All schema and interface documents are more numerous in comparison to the monolithic architecture apps. Moreover, the necessity to keep them up-to-date may eventually snow you under.
- Security threats. A greater number of software elements spells more potential areas for cyber-attacks. And more security risks require more attention to pay to bolster protection measures.
As you see, each type of architecture has both advantages and drawbacks. What should you steer by while selecting the one for your project?
How to choose the right software architecture?
There is no universal answer to the question: is microservices better than monolithic? First off, you should rather ask when to use microservices vs monolith. Secondly, to select the architecture type that will be the best fit, you must have a close look at what you have and what you want to obtain.
If you are a small startup on short commons and plan to launch an app of yours as soon as possible, a product with a monolithic architecture is just what the doctor ordered. This option is also good for simple apps that don’t have to be over flexible nor scalable and don’t require superior business logic. Finally, you may just lack the expertise to create such a complex product as an app with microservices architecture, so monolith will be the only choice for you.
In case you own a full-fledged business and bargain for a scalable app with a plethora of modules, functions, and user journeys, you can bet big on microservices. You must remember, though, that such projects can be successfully accomplished only if you can ensure communication — both between services technologically-wise and between development teams operationally-wise.
Yet, whatever architecture type of your app you will eventually opt for, it is the implementation that will ultimately bring its triumph – or failure. DICEUS has specialists with sufficient skills and experience to see through an app development project based on any architectural pattern that will impress you with affordability as well as superb quality and exquisite design.
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Planning to create an app, you should solve several basic organizational and technical problems, one of the most serious of which is choosing architecture type. To make the right choice between monolith and microservices, it is necessary to review your goals and requirements for the final product as well as gauge the expertise level you can engage to accomplish a project of either type.