min read ·
September 23, 2023

Connecting The Dots: Data Communication Methods for Micro frontends.

Front-END Development

Abhinav Sharma

With over 16-years in front-end development, Abhinav is primarily responsible for UI development, UX analysis, and designing UI architecture.

In our third post from the microfrontend series, we discuss the various approaches to implementing data communication between microfrontends.

You can learn more about micro frontends in our first post about getting started with micro frontends and understand the key factors to consider when selecting an architecture approach for micro frontends.

Micro frontends are fast becoming a pervasive way to achieve agility when building enterprise applications. While teams focus on rapid development, flexibility and scalability are paramount to applications handling data and operations at scale. In such scenarios, micro frontend architectures are the answer to maintaining a competitive edge. However, as teams leverage micro frontends to achieve their goals, architecting data sharing among them becomes a critical puzzle piece. 

There are several important considerations to keep in mind to ensure a cohesive and efficient system:

  • Isolation and Decoupling: It's crucial to maintain the independence of micro frontends, allowing them to evolve separately through individual development and deployment cycles. When it comes to data sharing, avoid creating tight dependencies between them, as this can hinder their autonomy and flexibility.
  • Data Complexity: Think about how complex your data-sharing needs are. If it's straightforward information, simple tools like custom events or local storage may suffice. However, when dealing with intricate data structures or complex states, it's wise to explore the use of a shared state management library to keep things organized and efficient.
  • Communication Overhead: Assess the performance impact of various communication methods. Certain mechanisms may add more overhead than others, potentially impacting your application's responsiveness. It's essential to strike a balance between efficient data sharing and maintaining optimal system performance.
  • Centralized vs. Distributed: Determine if you want to centralize data control through shared state management or distribute it using custom events or GraphQL. Centralized control offers better consistency, while distributed control grants more autonomy to micro frontends. Make your choice based on your specific project's needs and objectives.
  • Consistency and Synchronization: Guarantee data consistency among micro frontends by utilizing shared stores for managing state updates consistently. Be mindful of potential synchronization hurdles, particularly when dealing with asynchronous data updates. Maintaining data integrity is key to a seamless micro frontend architecture.
  • Cross-Cutting Concerns: Consistently tackle overarching issues like authentication, authorization, and error handling across all micro frontends. A unified approach to these shared concerns ensures a cohesive and secure user experience throughout your application.
  • Versioning and Compatibility: When micro frontends evolve, it's essential to plan for data structure versioning. This ensures compatibility both backward and forward, preventing disruptions in data communication as your application grows and adapts.
  • Performance Impact: Take a close look at how different data sharing methods impact your application's performance. Consider factors like I/O overhead, which local storage might introduce, and how a shared state management system could affect rendering performance. Balancing data sharing efficiency with overall system performance is crucial for a smooth user experience.
  • Debugging and Maintenance: Keep in mind the ease of debugging and maintaining your micro frontend architecture when choosing a data sharing approach. Opt for clear and well-structured communication mechanisms, as they simplify troubleshooting and long-term system maintenance, ensuring a more reliable and sustainable development process.
  • Scalability: Look ahead to see how well your chosen data-sharing approach scales as you add more micro frontends to your system. Ensure that the selected method can handle the increasing complexity of a larger ecosystem. Scalability is key to accommodating growth without compromising performance and efficiency.
  • Security and Privacy: Prioritize the protection of sensitive data by implementing robust security measures to prevent unauthorized access. Adhere to best practices in data sharing to maintain the confidentiality and privacy of user information. Safety and privacy should always be at the forefront of your data communication strategy.
  • Third-Party Libraries: Exercise caution when integrating third-party libraries for data sharing. While they can offer useful functionality, they may also introduce complexity and dependencies that don't align with your architectural objectives. Assess their value carefully to avoid unintended complications in your micro frontend setup.
  • Testing: Factor in the impact of data sharing on your testing strategy. Contemplate how you'll test data interactions and guarantee that modifications in one micro frontend don't disrupt others. Robust testing procedures help maintain the integrity of your micro frontend ecosystem, ensuring smooth interactions and minimizing potential conflicts.
  • Future Extensibility: Strategically plan for the adaptability of your data-sharing architecture. Recognize that as your application evolves, new micro frontends may need to integrate into the ecosystem. A flexible architecture ensures a smoother onboarding process for these additions, promoting the long-term growth and scalability of your system.
  • Documentation and Onboarding: Thoroughly document your selected data-sharing approach and provide clear guidelines on how each micro frontend should interact with it. This documentation is invaluable for onboarding new developers, ensuring they grasp the architecture quickly and can contribute effectively to your project.
  • User Experience: Factor in the impact of your chosen data-sharing approach on the user experience. Prioritise seamless data updates that don't disrupt the user's interaction with your application. A smooth and uninterrupted user experience is crucial for retaining user engagement and satisfaction.
  • Project Complexity: Align your data-sharing approach with the complexity of your project. In simpler projects, an elaborate shared state management system may be unnecessary, while complex endeavours can benefit from more structured communication methods. Tailor your approach to match the unique demands of your project, ensuring efficiency without undue complexity.

By taking these factors into account, you can craft a resilient and efficient data-sharing architecture for your micro frontend application. This approach ensures a harmonious balance between data consistency, performance, ease of maintenance, and scalability. 

Now, let's delve into the various methods available for achieving diverse types of data communication between micro frontends, examining the advantages and disadvantages of each option:

1. Custom Events or Pub/Sub:

Custom events or the Publish/Subscribe (Pub/Sub) pattern are versatile mechanisms for data communication between micro frontends. In this approach, components or micro frontends can publish events when they want to share data or notify others about a particular action. Subscribers, on the other hand, listen for these events and react accordingly.

Event Bus Setup:

Advantages of leveraging custom events:

  • Loosely couples micro frontends, enabling independent development and updates: Custom Events or Pub/Sub allow micro frontends to communicate without tightly coupling them together. This loose coupling enables individual teams to develop and update micro frontends independently, reducing the risk of conflicts during development.
  • Well-suited for scenarios where different parts of the application shouldn't directly depend on each other: This approach is beneficial when you want to maintain a degree of independence between micro frontends. It ensures that different parts of the application don't directly depend on each other's internal logic, making it easier to isolate and fix issues.
  • Simplifies communication between independent components: Custom Events or Pub/Sub provide a straightforward way for independent components or micro frontends to communicate. It simplifies data sharing and notification between these components without the need for complex  integrations.

Disadvantages of leveraging custom events:

  • May lead to potential event naming conflicts if not carefully managed: As the application grows, there is a risk of event naming conflicts. If multiple micro frontends use similar event names for different purposes, it can lead to unintended interactions or errors. Careful event naming and documentation are essential to mitigate this issue.
  • Debugging can become challenging as the application grows due to the lack of centralized control: Debugging can become more complex as the number of micro frontends and events increases. The decentralized nature of Custom Events or Pub/Sub means that tracking the flow of events and diagnosing issues can be challenging, especially in larger applications. Thorough documentation and well-defined event patterns can help alleviate this challenge.

2. Shared Store (State Management):

Utilizing a shared state management library like Redux or Mobx is a powerful method to manage and share state across micro frontends. In this approach, a centralized store is created to hold the application's data and state. Each micro frontend can subscribe to this shared store to access and update the data it needs.

Shared Store setup:

Advantages of leveraging Shared Store setup:

  • Centralized and structured state management: Shared stores offer a centralized and structured approach to managing application state. This means that data is stored in a single, organized location, enhancing maintainability and data consistency.
  • Provides a clear separation of concerns between state and UI components: State management libraries like Redux or Mobx promote a clear separation of concerns. They help separate the logic related to state management from the user interface components, making the codebase more modular and easier to maintain.
  • Enables a predictable data flow and makes debugging easier: These libraries establish well-defined data flow patterns, ensuring predictability in how data changes propagate through the application. This predictability simplifies debugging and troubleshooting when issues arise.
  • Well-suited for complex applications with extensive state-sharing needs: Shared stores shine in complex applications where multiple micro frontends or components need access to shared data. They provide a robust solution for managing and distributing this data efficiently.

Disadvantages of leveraging Shared Store setup:

  • Requires additional setup and learning curve for state management libraries like Redux or Mobx: Implementing shared state management with libraries like Redux or Mobx can require additional setup and configuration. Moreover, developers may need time to familiarize themselves with these libraries, resulting in a learning curve.
  • Can introduce some overhead for smaller applications with minimal state requirements: For smaller applications with minimal state-sharing needs, introducing a shared store may add unnecessary complexity. The overhead of setting up and maintaining the store may outweigh the benefits of centralized state management in such cases.

Shared stores are a robust solution for managing state in complex micro frontend applications, offering structured, predictable, and centralized control. However, it's important to assess the project's size and requirements to determine if the added complexity is justified.

3. Local Storage:

Leveraging the browser's local storage is a straightforward approach to store and retrieve data for sharing between micro frontends. This mechanism allows data to be stored on the user's device and accessed by various parts of the application.

Advantages of leveraging Local Storage method:

  • Simple and quick to implement, requiring minimal code changes: Local storage is easy to set up and implement in a micro frontend application. It typically involves minimal code modifications, making it a convenient choice for straightforward data sharing needs.
  • Works across different browser windows or tabs: Data stored in local storage can be accessed by multiple browser windows or tabs simultaneously. This cross-window accessibility can be beneficial when different parts of the application need to share information across various user interactions.
  • Useful for sharing small amounts of data between different parts of the application: Local storage is well-suited for sharing small amounts of non-sensitive data between micro frontends or components. It provides a simple means of passing information without the need for complex data structures.

Disadvantages of leveraging Local Storage method:

  • Limited to string-based key-value pairs, making it less suitable for complex data structures: Local storage primarily deals with string-based key-value pairs. This limitation can be a drawback when attempting to store and share complex data structures, requiring additional serialization and deserialization efforts.
  • Performance impact when dealing with larger amounts of data due to synchronous storage operations: As data volume grows, synchronous storage operations in local storage can introduce performance issues, potentially leading to slower application response times. This can be a concern when dealing with larger datasets.
  • Data stored in local storage persists across sessions, which may not be desired: While persistence can be an advantage, it can also be a disadvantage in certain scenarios. Data stored in local storage remains available across sessions, which may not align with security or data privacy requirements, especially when handling sensitive information.

Local storage is an effective choice for simple data sharing scenarios, offering ease of implementation and cross-window accessibility. However, it's essential to consider its limitations, especially when dealing with complex data structures or when data persistence across sessions is undesirable.

4. GraphQL:

GraphQL is a powerful query language for APIs that enables micro frontends to fetch and share data through a flexible and efficient API. It provides a standardized way to request only the data needed, reducing over-fetching and under-fetching of data.

GraphQL Setup:

Advantages of leveraging GraphQL:

  • Provides a structured way to fetch and update data from a centralized API: GraphQL offers a structured approach to data retrieval and modification through a centralized API. This structured querying and mutation system ensures consistency and predictability in data communication.
  • Well-suited for applications that heavily rely on data from a backend API: Micro frontend applications that heavily depend on data from a backend API benefit from GraphQL's ability to efficiently request and update data as needed. It ensures that only the necessary data is transferred, reducing unnecessary overhead.
  • Enables efficient data fetching with only the required fields: GraphQL allows micro frontends to specify exactly which fields they need in a query. This capability minimizes over-fetching of data, resulting in more efficient data fetching and improved application performance.

Disadvantages of leveraging GraphQL:

  • Requires a backend with GraphQL support to be implemented: Implementing GraphQL requires a backend that supports the GraphQL specification. This may involve additional development effort to set up and maintain the GraphQL server.
  • Data fetching and updates are asynchronous, which might lead to timing-related issues: Asynchronous data fetching and updates in GraphQL can introduce timing-related challenges, especially in cases where multiple micro frontends need to coordinate their actions. Proper error handling and synchronization mechanisms are essential.
  • May not be the most efficient choice for simple data sharing within a single application: In cases where micro frontends within a single application need to share simple data quickly and synchronously, GraphQL might introduce unnecessary complexity. It is typically best suited for applications that involve communication with a backend API and have more complex data requirements.

GraphQL is a powerful tool for micro frontend applications that rely on backend APIs for data. Its structured approach to data communication, efficiency, and flexibility makes it a valuable choice. However, teams should consider the backend requirements, asynchronous nature, and the complexity of their data-sharing needs when deciding to implement GraphQL.

5. Composite Approach (Single SPA):

The Composite Approach involves using a library like Single SPA to create a shell application responsible for managing the rendering and communication between multiple micro frontends. Each micro frontend remains an independent application, but the shell orchestrates their integration into a cohesive user experience.

Composite Approach setup:

Advantages of leveraging Composite Approach:

  • Centralized control over the rendering and communication between micro frontends: The Composite Approach with a shell application provides centralized control over how micro frontends are rendered and how they communicate with each other. This centralization ensures consistent behaviour and a unified user experience.
  • Allows for seamless integration of multiple micro frontends into a single application: The shell application seamlessly integrates multiple micro frontends into a single application. This integration simplifies navigation and user interactions, making it appear as a cohesive whole.
  • Provides a clear structure for managing the lifecycle of micro frontends: The Composite Approach defines a clear structure for managing the lifecycle of micro frontends within the shell. This structure helps in initializing, rendering, and unmounting micro frontends, ensuring predictable behaviour.

Disadvantages of leveraging Composite Approach:

  • Introduces a level of complexity with setting up the shell application: Implementing the Composite Approach with a shell application can introduce complexity during setup. Developers need to configure the shell and micro frontends properly, which may require additional effort and expertise.
  • Micro frontends need to adhere to the lifecycle methods defined by the shell application: Micro frontends integrated into the shell application must adhere to the lifecycle methods defined by the shell. This constraint can be limiting for teams that prefer full autonomy over their micro frontend lifecycles.
  • Can become unwieldy if not managed properly for larger applications: In larger applications with numerous micro frontends, managing the orchestration and communication between components can become unwieldy if not properly organized and optimized. Careful planning and architectural decisions are necessary to maintain scalability and performance.

As an added note, it is advisable to keep a shared state between multiple micro frontends read-only rather than read-write. This helps prevent potential complications and the need to address minor issues that can lead to complex debugging and troubleshooting.

Finally, when picking between different approaches to connecting micro frontends, teams should choose the approach that aligns with their project's needs and architectural considerations. Each approach comes with its own set of trade-offs and is most suitable for specific scenarios. Take into account factors such as your application's size, complexity, isolation requirements between micro frontends, performance considerations, and your existing architecture when selecting the most suitable approach for your use case.


Tick (success) icon
Thanks for your message,
we will be in touch soon!
Oops! Something went wrong. Please try again later.