Modern App Development Architecture: Monolithic or Microservices?

Modern approaches to application development practices have evolved to address existing issues and drive developer efficiency forward. One of these current approaches, microservices architecture, has revolutionized app development practices. As a result, industry debates over which architecture is better, microservices or monolithic, have spawned, and comparisons are inevitable.

Technological advancements and their evolution over the past decades are evident. We see it every day in our gadgets and the apps that run in them, which we use as lifelines to power our most basic daily activities. Yet, this digital transformation is palpable to us only on the surface. We know our phones work as they’re supposed to, our apps run smoothly and provide the services we expect from them, and our computers and the websites we visit on them perform at optimal speeds. But what goes on under the hood of those tiny pieces of technology we’ve become so accustomed to? How do they keep performing so efficiently despite the constantly changing technological landscape? In a nutshell, it all relies on app development architecture. And here’s where the two approaches to app development architecture we will be discussing today come in: monolithic and microservices architecture. 

To remain relevant in the modern, ever-changing digital environment, innovative development companies must embrace the most cutting-edge approaches to power our app and software development practices, including how we embrace modern app development architecture tools and methodologies. Luckily, we now have a myriad of options, and with the advent of microservices architecture, we now have a new approach to power our development practices. But how to choose? Should you stick with your good ol’ monolithic architecture, or should you evolve to adopt its modern, newer, but still unknown counterpart? It all depends on your needs. 

So, before you decide which model is the most fitting way forward for your and your company’s development efforts, we want to help you fully understand the differences between monolithic and microservices architecture. Also, we’ll touch on their pros and cons and how well you and your team can adapt to each one. So, let’s dive in.

What is monolithic app development architecture?

Monolithic architecture is a traditional approach to app and software development where everything is unified and managed in one place. Monolithic applications are usually built as one single, autonomous, and indivisible piece with one large codebase and zero modularity. As a result, if you need to make any modifications or updates to the code, you have to make them to the whole platform at once. Think of a vast rock, hence the term monolith. In this case, our monolith is nothing more than a large block of code where the business logic lies in one single deployable binary. 

This “rock” usually consists of three parts: 

  • A database: Several tables on a database management system.
  • A client-side user interface: Multiple running HTML or Java pages.
  • A server-side application: Here’s where domain-specific logic is executed, HTTP requests are handled, and data from the database is updated.

Most of us have probably worked with monolithic app development architecture at least once without any significant issues. While the concept of one large block of code containing all the functionalities seems to contradict most of the current approaches to “proper” app development practices, there are certain cases where monolithic architecture is still relevant. For this reason, we think it is essential to understand the pros and cons of monolithic app development architecture. Let’s see.

 

Monolithic architecture pros

  • Faster development: The simplicity of monolithic applications makes them inherently easier to develop. Since monolithic apps typically use legacy systems and everything is in one place, their development is very straightforward; you build, test, deploy, troubleshoot, and finally, scale as needed. 
  • Easier troubleshooting: Since all of the app’s code is housed in one place, it’s easier to comb through it and pinpoint issues and bugs. Also, monolithic architecture allows you to run end-to-end testing considerably faster, thanks to it being indivisible. 
  • Faster deployment: Since monolithic app development architecture only needs one directory, you don’t need to handle several implementations. As a result, monolithic apps are easier and faster to deploy, decreasing their time to market (TTM) and making them a good alternative if you need to hit the market fast.  
  • Less latency: Monolithic applications are more streamlined since everything is contained in one place. Thus, communication and processing times between services are trimmer and more straightforward, reducing latency issues.
  • Ease of use: Monolithic app development architecture has been the standard until recently, meaning that your team of developers will probably already have good knowledge and understanding of how this type of development works. As a result, it doesn’t have a learning curve, and you don’t have to be bothered by the expenses of hiring external talent.

Monolithic architecture cons

  • Reduced scalability: Monolithic applications don’t adapt quickly to additions in the code. As you add more code and more functionalities, it grows and becomes a behemoth of information that is difficult to understand and impossible to scale. 
  • Code changes: Since monolithic apps contain all the code in a single place, every code change alters the whole system, meaning all modifications need to be carefully planned. In that sense, code changes are harder to make and take significantly more time. 
  • Limitations for modern technologies: Forget about using the latest tech trends here. Adopting new technologies when developing monolithic applications is nearly impossible. You have to use the same tech stack from beginning to end because a tiny change to the system affects the entire app. 
  • Low reliability: One small mistake can destroy the entire app in monolithic app development architecture because of how tightly coupled its components are. In that sense, if even one small thing goes wrong, the risk of the entire application being rendered useless is very high. 
 

As you can see, monolithic app development architecture has its good and bad sides. Now let’s take a closer look at microservices architecture to determine which one is more suitable for you and your company. 

 

What is microservices app development architecture?

Microservices app development architecture is a newer, more popular approach to application development that is often seen as a more modern, efficient, and “mature” alternative to monolithic architecture. In a microservices model, you build your applications and their infrastructure using individual services that are encapsulated and function independently. These individual services, or modules, each have their own separate databases and their own independent logic but still work together as a sort of dispersed system where the parts maintain constant API communication. In other words, a microservices app works the same way and performs the same functions as a monolithic app, but each of its “parts” works as a standalone service. Hence, the term microservices. 

With internet giants such as Google, Amazon, and Netflix acting as advocates of microservices and migrating away from their old monolithic apps, the more agile, modern, and efficient approach is gaining momentum and becoming the norm for most modern applications. As a result, these companies, and many others, are choosing to migrate to a microservices model. They understand that, due to its modularity, scalability, and flexibility, this approach helps deliver more suitable apps for modern, innovative, and fast-paced enterprises. Here are some of the main benefits of microservices architecture to modern development environments.

Microservices architecture pros

  • Increased scalability: Microservices architecture allows you to carry out independent deployments, meaning that you can operate each microservice separately. As a result, you can update each microservice independently instead of the whole app. In addition, you can write each service in a different language, choose the best stack for each module, build once, and then scale as you add more functions and features without compromising the system’s compatibility.
  • Enhanced productivity: Since microservices architecture allows you to manage your app’s components as independent services, you can build and maintain complex applications easier no matter the size of your team. You can divide tasks and have each team perform different tasks simultaneously without sacrificing productivity.
  • Updateable tech stack: Microservices architecture allows you to make simple changes if a newer technology hits the market. Your team can simply make a small change in each service module to adopt any new technologies without any extra hassle or work. 
  • Horizontal scaling: If it turns out your users are overusing a specific functionality and that microservices face a large load, you can simply scale that microservice without needing to scale the entire system. 
  • Debugging: Bugs or glitches that affect one microservice don’t affect the others, meaning that the rest of the app remains untouched and making debugging faster and easier.



Microservices architecture cons

 

  • More expensive: Microservices app development architecture inherently comes with higher workloads, resulting in increased operational overhead. Since all the microservices within the system need to communicate between them, many remote calls occur, leading to higher network latency, runtime, and resource costs. 
  • More complexity: Microservices apps are much more complex than monolithic. Since microservices architecture is a distributed system, its complexity increases as the number of microservices grow.
  • Less secure: Because all the services need to communicate constantly, microservices are less safe than monolithic apps. 
  • More complex testing: Its nature as a distributed system makes microservices architecture and its independently deployable parts a nightmare when it comes to testing. 

 

It becomes evident that microservices app development architecture does streamline most of the problems of building monolithic apps. However, it doesn’t come without its drawbacks. Taking all this information into account before deciding which one of the two approaches is better for you can make the difference between failure and success. 

So, now you have a clear idea of the benefits and challenges of both monolithic and microservices architecture, let’s dig into which solution suits you and your company and how to make that choice. 

Monolithic or Microservices app development architecture: Which one is right for you?

As you already know, the monolithic vs. microservices app development architecture battle is a very passionate, controversial subject in our industry. Contrary to what most people believe, both approaches are still relevant, and they each have their own benefits and drawbacks, which makes choosing between them a bit of a task. However, it’s undeniable that, due to the constant modernization of our development processes, we are currently seeking to adopt the latest trends, tools, and technologies to deliver better, more robust, and innovative apps that stand the test of time and remain competitive in this cutthroat business of ours. This sort of paradigm shift in the trends we adopt becomes evident when we see that, according to Linux, the microservices architecture market grows at a rate of 27.4% in the US, with experts predicting that by 2022, about 90% of all apps will be a result of microservices architecture. That’s insane! But should you go with the flow? Let’s see. 

At first glance, it may look like choosing the microservices approach is the safest bet. I mean, it’s more efficient, scalable, modern, faster, and it seems way easier to work with. Nonetheless, there are many use cases where a monolithic architecture may work in your favor. Still, it all depends on your company’s needs and your project’s specifications. So, to help make things a bit easier for you, let’s look at some scenarios where each of the two approaches may become useful.

When to choose a monolithic app development architecture

  • You’re working with a small team: A microservices architecture may be too complex for your company if you’re working with small teams or developing small, simple apps. Whether it’s because you’re a startup or you’d rather keep it small and work with a reduced staff, working with a microservices architecture may be overdoing it and can be unnecessary. As a result, a monolithic approach can be easier to implement, and it can better meet your company’s needs and your app’s goals. 

 

  • You have a limited budget: Microservices require a more significant investment in both time and money, so it may be a good idea to go the monolithic way if you’re on a limited budget. On the other hand, monolithic app development architecture requires significantly less money and time to be invested, and you can also use smaller teams, as we touched on above.

 

  • You need to hit the market fast: If you need to deploy your application as soon as possible and hit the market fast, a monolithic approach will be your best bet, especially for smaller apps. Not only will you spend less money on it, but you can validate your business idea faster due to its less complicated architecture, fewer team requirements, and fewer developmental demands. You can also use it to deploy your MVPs more quickly and gather user feedback sooner so you can add features and update faster. 

 

  • You can’t afford microservices training: Because monolithic architecture is the traditional approach to app development, the chances are that your developers have already mastered the art of monolithic architecture. So, if, for whatever reason, you can’t afford to train them on microservices or can’t hire new experts, sticking to monolithic app development is the right decision for you.

 

  • You’re developing a simple app: Simple and smaller applications often do not require too much business logic or demand any complex development processes. For this reason, monolithic architectures are often the best approach when building these types of apps. As a result, you don’t need the team growth you would need in microservices, and you can fly past the unnecessary complexity that microservices imply for smaller apps.

When to choose a microservices app development architecture

  • You have a broad tech stack: Oftentimes, development teams love using different technologies to drive their development efforts, and microservices architecture loves that. Since each service works independently, you and your team have the freedom to choose your favorite tools or framework to implement on any given functionality without any limitations or incompatibility issues. 

 

  • Your team already has microservices expertise: Building a microservice application without the proper knowledge and expertise is not a good idea, which is why having an “overall” understanding of it is not enough. However, if your team already has the knowledge and experience required to develop microservices apps, then you’re in the clear if you choose to deploy your applications under this model. 

 

  • You need to develop complex and scalable apps: When building larger, more complex apps, a monolithic architecture will definitely fall short after a while. On the other hand, when apps become larger and more intricate, migrating to a microservices architecture or starting with one will undoubtedly make adding new features and capabilities and scaling your application more manageable. So, if you constantly develop complex apps with multiple requirements, components, modules, technologies, user journeys, and an obvious need to scale, a microservices architecture is the way to go. 

 

  • You want to have an evolutionary edge: If you’re one of those developers, like us, who like to think of the future when building apps, then a microservices model is suitable for you. Since we don’t know how modern devices will evolve or what innovations are to come, microservices allow you to plan ahead and make quick changes so that you can control how your application adapts to changing device requirements without any compatibility issues or downtime.

 

So, as you can see, one approach doesn’t fit everyone. Which one you choose depends entirely on your team and your app’s needs. Don’t be blinded by the bright lights of those big companies using microservices nor by the whispers of those who downplay monolithic apps for being outdated and obsolete. Neither approach is the norm, and both can adapt to every business model depending on its context and its needs. The beauty of any app development architecture approach is that they’re not set in stone. If a microservice model is too intimidating for you, you can simply start with a monolithic app and then convert it to a microservice as you scale your app and it becomes more complex. Yes, doing so will require a migration, but with the right tools and the proper knowledge, anyone can do it and excel at it!  

Monolithic vs. Microservices App Development Architecture: Afterword

The monolithic vs. microservices squabble will surely go on for a while. As with any other framework or technology we have worked with, there will always be choices and alternatives that suit some and burden others. As we discussed in this article, which will certainly not end the monolithic vs. microservices debate, both approaches are valid, and both have their strengths and weaknesses. Still, it is in your hands to evaluate your own business context and put it against the pros and cons of each model to ultimately define which one is better for you. In other words, the crux of the matter isn’t what the architectural model entails, but rather what your and your app’s needs are and what you need to meet them. Do that, and you will make a decision that will help you set in place robust development processes and deliver innovative apps that perpetuate the concept of modern app development for a long time. 

We hope we have managed to help guide you in your quest for the best app development architecture for your company. However, if you still have donuts or concerns or need further guidance and want us to work with you on your next project, don’t hesitate to contact us!

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