How to Choose the Best Architecture for Your Web Application

What is web application architecture?

Web application architecture describes the relationship between web app components (i.e. - user interfaces, databases, and middleware systems) and the way they interact with each other. In other words, it provides a structure for how the client and server are connected. Properly designed web application architecture ensures that all of your components interact properly and serves as a strong foundation for expanding the app in later rounds of development.

How does web application architecture work?

There are two subprograms, or sets of code, that are common for any web application: client-side code and server-side code. These programs run separately, yet concurrently, with the shared goal of delivering a seamless web experience for users.

  • Client-side code is the code that resides in the browser and responds to user inputs
  • Server-side code is the code that resides in the server and responds to HTTP requests

When developing a web application, the developer is responsible for deciding which code should go on the server and what they should do in relation to the client-side code. Any code that is capable of responding to HTTP requests can run on a server, and languages like PHP, Java, Python, C#, and Ruby on Rails are widely used for server-side coding. The server-side code is also responsible for creating any page requested by users as well as storing various types of data like user profiles and inputs.

On the other hand, the client-side code communicates through HTTP requests exclusively and cannot read server files directly. Instead, it is parsed by the web browser and reacts to user inputs. In contrast to server-side code, client-side code can be viewed and modified by the user, and a combination of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript is utilized to build pages and content.

Corridor of a large server room where server-side code is stored.

Types of web application architecture

We classify the different types of web application architectures based on the way the app logic is distributed between the client and server. The most common types of web architectures, along with examples of each, can be found below:

1. Single Page Applications (SPAs)

Single Page Applications are increasingly popular due to their minimalist layout and architectural structure. SPA architecture is organized in such a way that only part of the page content gets updated when a user moves on to a new page, so there's no need to reload the same components. This alone makes it extremely convenient for both developers and users alike! Utilizing popular JavaScript frameworks like Angular and React, developers use SPA architecture to deliver a unique and interactive user experience by allowing single-page apps.

Gmail, Google Maps, and Facebook are just a few great examples of Single Page Applications.

2. Multi-Page Applications

Multi-Page applications are very common on the web since all web applications used MPA architecture in the past. This architecture type reloads web pages for sending from/to the server through the user's browser, and developers generally opt for MPA architecture if the application is pretty large.

Amazon and eBay are two of the most well-known multi-page applications around today.

3. Microservices

Microservices are a kind of service-oriented architecture (SOA) used to build distributed software systems. With this style of architecture, developers build web apps using a collection of loosely coupled services which can be independently deployed. In turn, this functionality fragmentation makes it easier to build, expand, and scale an application.

Some well-known projects with Microservices architecture are Netflix, Uber, Spotify, and PayPal.

Open MacBook Pro with Spotify, an example of microservice architecture, on the screen.

4. Serverless architectures

With this type of application architecture, developers no longer have to configure or manage servers using server management software. However, that does not signify a complete lack of servers—third-party cloud providers like Amazon and Microsoft offer virtual servers that dynamically handle the allocation of machine resources.

5. RAD Stack

RAD stack is a relatively new player and is a combination of React Native, APIs, and Django. It allows developers to assemble applications of any size quickly and deploy them in critical contexts. Moreover, it's the default stack of the Crowdbotics App Builder!

Here are a few case studies featuring applications built with Crowdbotics: Prehab 101, Solace, and Aura.

Strengths and weaknesses of different app architectures

1. Single Page Applications (SPA)

Strengths

  • Super fast performance compared to traditional architectures
  • Excellent functionality on both desktop and mobile devices
  • More flexibility and responsiveness since there's no need to reload or re-render web pages
  • Simplified and optimized development

Weaknesses

  • Heavy browser workload
  • They require high data protection due to their use of cross-site scripting (XSS), which makes it easier for hackers to get access to the client-side code and potentially add harmful scripts

2. Multi-Page Applications (MPA)

Strengths

  • Rich functionality, as MPAs allow for integrating a lot of features while maintaining an intuitive interface
  • High SEO optimization can be achieved through multi-page apps since they enable distributing various keywords among different pages–unlike SPAs, which can end up cluttering everything on a single page
  • Better analytics, as MPAs can be easily tracked and monitored by analytics tools like Google Analytics

Weaknesses

  • A lot of complexity in backend development. MPAs heavily depend on server-side code, which means that developers have to spend more time on backend development
  • Low performance and speed. MPAs are a lot bulkier than SPAs, which leads to reduced loading speed and less responsiveness
  • Complicated debugging as developers need to check the GUI (Graphical User Interface) and relations of each page to ensure there are no broken requests

3. Microservices

Strengths

  • A clear division of the application by modules helps to easily understand how any part of the code works and to add new features conveniently
  • High scalability. Developers can add new services at any stage of the development process without altering the entire architecture
  • High availability. The application will continue to work even if non-critical services break
  • Ability to select a variety of tools and technologies when developing each service
  • Ease of deployment compared to other architectures since services are independent of each other

Weaknesses

  • The complexity of the development
  • Difficulties in support since each microservice needs to be maintained separately, which requires constant or automated monitoring

4.  Serverless Architectures

Strengths

  • Lower cloud costs
  • Reduction of development costs
  • High scalability
  • Faster releases
  • Integrated registration and control mechanisms

Weaknesses

  • Limitation of resources like runtime, memory, throughput, and CPU usage
  • Security issues due to many applications running on a common platform
  • Limited options for monitoring and debugging

5. RAD Stack

Strengths

  • Highly flexible and adaptable to change
  • Thanks to code generators and code reuse, there's less need for manual coding
  • The use of code generators and reusable code means that you won't require as large of a team to accomplish tasks. This also means that you and/or your team can focus on more valuable work
  • Incredibly useful when you're looking to reduce your overall project risk
  • The use of scripts, intermediate codes, and high-level abstractions makes it easier to transmit deliverables

Weaknesses

  • RAD projects can fail if developers are not committed to delivering software on deadline
  • Requires highly skilled designers or developers
A developer working through some code for a RAD stack project.

How to choose the right architecture for your project

Choosing the appropriate application architecture sets the foundation for your entire application's development. Therefore, it's essential to consider the whole development process and its future expansion when selecting it. After all, the application architecture is not something that can be easily changed later! It's definitely worth your time to do a little research in order to determine that you're making the right decision for your needs.

Multi-page applications are a strong option if you have to deliver a lot of content. They may not be well-suited for real-time responsive applications, but they work well as an enterprise application architecture. Large companies with a wide range of services and products will benefit more using the traditional MPA structure. Online stores, company websites, catalog sites, and marketplaces are a few examples of large businesses that should consider taking this route.

In contrast, single-page applications are well matched for dynamic applications with small volumes of data. They are also a great option if you are planning to create a mobile app down the road. While the main downside of this architecture is SEO, it is well suited for Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platforms, social networks, and closed communities since they don’t need to be search engine optimized.

Microservices architecture is suitable for large and complex projects, as each service can be modified without having a detrimental effect on any other existing blocks or modules. For instance, if you have to update payment logic, there's no need to shut down the whole website during that time. However, if you need a fast solution like a prototype, small application, or an app with a tight deadline, a microservices architecture may not be the right solution for you.

If you don't want to manage or support the servers or hardware infrastructure required for the application, a serverless architecture is going to be your best bet.

If you want maximum scalability and performance across all platforms, RAD stack is the way to go. Rather than being specialized for a few niche use cases, RAD is built to support a huge range of business types and app requirements.

Trends and best practices in web application architecture

As technology evolves at a rapid pace, so does web application architecture. One popular trend you'll see is the use of service-oriented architecture. With this architecture type, most of the code for the application remains as services, and each service has its own HTTP API. This allows one segment of code to make requests to another segment of code that may be running on a different server.

Another major trend that we've already touched on are single-page applications. The UI of this web application is delivered via a rich JavaScript application, and it resides in the user's browser over various interactions. It also uses AJAX or web sockets to make asynchronous/synchronous requests to the web server, eliminating the need to refresh the pages. This offers a more robust experience for users thanks to limited page loads and interruptions.

With the above two trends, web applications have become more sophisticated and capable of proving an optimal view on multiple platforms and devices. While most of the code for the application remains the same, it can still be viewed comfortably on smaller screens.

A woman sketching out a wireframe for a web application.

Best practices for web application architecture

In order to provide users with a great web experience, you should go beyond just having a functional web application. Here are some best practices that you should keep in mind:

Consistency: The architecture you select should provide a uniform approach for solving all of your development problems, and you should analyze the application requirements to pick a solution that covers most of your development goals.

Fast performance: It's better to keep the architecture as lightweight and responsive as possible. Analyze some of the best web apps in the industry—measure their page speed and responsiveness in order to set up standards for your product.

Simplicity: If you can build your app with a minimalistic architecture, choose the simplest option possible. While it's essential to consider the possible scaling options, there's no need to overcomplicate things in advance.

Self-maintenance: The application architecture should be able to identify issues and repair them on its own.

Automation: Try to automate as much development, testing, and deployment as possible. This will be useful when you decide to scale your app!

Convenient and error-free data management: Consider your data storing and processing practices and pick the easiest ways to manage databases while avoiding unnecessary costs.

Summary

Application architecture is the foundation of all web application development. Whatever application architecture you choose determines all of the following logic for developing the application, the interaction between its elements, and the functionality. Therefore, it is critical to identify the peculiarities of each architecture type and select the right one for you prior to developing your application.

Not sure which application architecture is the right one for you? Crowdbotics provides expert PMs and devs to ensure that your applications are properly built and continuously maintained. Get in touch with us today for a detailed quote and build timeline!

Shanika Wickramasinghe

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Originally published:

April 21, 2021