Enterprises spend incredible amounts of time, effort and capital in building bespoke software solutions to transform processes and experiences for both customers and staff. As use cases evolve, new features get added, teams expand, and the complexity keeps piling up. Over time it gets increasingly challenging to manage this complex software and often due to deep interlinkages, making changes in one part of the application sometimes causes unexpected issues elsewhere.
Micro Frontends help solve this elegantly. Micro Frontends essentially break down a monolithic frontend into smaller, more manageable pieces - akin to the process of decomposing a monolithic backend into microservices. Each piece is developed and maintained by a different team and has its own CI/CD pipeline. This ensures that one team's work doesn't interfere with another's and helps maintain a clean separation of concerns. Other benefits Micro Frontends bring include:
- Enhanced Time-to-market (TTM): Micro frontends embrace the concept of breaking down a monolithic frontend application into smaller, loosely coupled components. Unlike the traditional monolithic approach, where the entire front end is tightly integrated. Micro frontends allow teams to independently develop, test, and deploy their respective components. This decoupling of components results in reduced interdependencies, enabling organizations to achieve a better time to market. This enables individual team autonomy and allows businesses to scale at a faster pace, because of faster development cycles, seamless integration and continuous delivery. It also allows better A/B testing for products without impacting other parts of the product/services and much more.
- Improved Productivity: By breaking the application down into smaller chunks, teams can work independently on their part without having to worry about the entire codebase. This enables parallel development and leads to faster feature releases across the board. This also enables independent deployment since each micro frontend can be deployed independently. If a team completes a feature or fixes a bug, they can deploy their code without having to wait for other teams. This also ensures high ownership levels across the team, since a team owns one part of the application fully there is increased accountability and motivation to deliver high-quality code.
- Better Code Maintenance: Each micro frontend represents a self-contained unit with its own lifecycle. Reduced cross-dependency risk means code can be better organized and maintained with much less effort and involvement from multiple stakeholders. The isolation of each unit also ensures that teams follow best practices such as code modularity and component reusability which in the end makes the code more readable and easier to maintain for the entire team. Moreover, If a bug or a performance issue arises in a micro frontend architecture, it is typically isolated to a specific part of the system. This makes it easier to identify, debug, and fix the issue without impacting the entire application.
- Innovation and Experimentation: With teams owning their micro frontends entirely, they have the freedom to innovate and experiment with new technologies without impacting the entire application. Moreover, given the isolated nature of the application, teams can experiment with new features, designs or user experiences without affecting other parts of the application. This can also translate into higher-value delivery for end users of the technology.
- Easier Upgrades: Upgrading or replacing a piece of technology becomes easier in a micro frontend architecture. Since each micro frontend is independent, technology changes or upgrades can be carried out on one without having a ripple effect on the others. To put it in perspective, in a large monolithic application, migrating to a new technology can be a monumental and risky task. With micro frontends, you can incrementally migrate each part of your application, testing and adjusting as you go, so, If an upgrade issue occurs, it's confined to a single micro frontend rather than causing problems across the whole application. This containment makes issues easier to diagnose, roll back if necessary, and fix.
Choosing MicroFrontends over Monolithic Architecture
Monolithic architecture refers to a style of software development where an application is built as one cohesive unit. The term "monolith" implies that the entire functionality of the software application is tightly coupled and interwoven, often residing in the same project or codebase. This architecture is commonly used in traditional, server-side web applications.
In Monolithic frontends, the frontend of an application — including all of its user interface elements, logic, and state management — is bundled together as a single, tightly-coupled unit. Changes to any section of the system can often require the entire application to be rebuilt and redeployed, which can increase complexity and lengthen the time taken for updates or new features to go live.
While Monolithic architectures do have some advantages, particularly for smaller applications or projects with smaller teams. They can be simpler to develop initially, due to the unified codebase and lack of inter-service communication complexity. Debugging and testing may be easier as well since everything runs in a single process.
However, Let's look at the key differences between the MicroFrontends and Monolithic architectural patterns, two prominent models in the realm of software development.
- Structure: Monolithic Architecture runs as a unified model for the design of a software application. On the other hand, micro frontends are domain driven and break down the application into a collection of loosely coupled services. Each service corresponds to a business capability or domain and can be developed, deployed, and scaled independently.
- Development and Deployment: In a monolithic application, any modification - no matter how small - requires the entire application to be rebuilt and deployed. Conversely, with MicroFrontends, each service can be developed using the most suitable technology stack and deployed independently. This enables continuous delivery and deployment, accelerating the time to market.
- Scaling: Scaling monolithic applications can be a challenging process. Since all components are interconnected, the entire application needs to be scaled even if only one function has a high demand. MicroFrontends offer a more efficient solution. Each service can be scaled individually based on demand, leading to better resource utilisation and cost-effectiveness.
- Fault Isolation: In a monolithic architecture, if a single component fails, it can bring down the entire system. This makes fault isolation and resolution considerably tricky. MicroFrontends, on the other hand, are isolated by nature. A failure in one service does not directly impact the others. This improves the application's resilience and uptime.
- Complexity: While a monolithic architecture might be simpler to develop initially due to its unified codebase, it becomes more complex to manage and understand as the application grows and more developers get involved. MicroFrontends on the other hand require a more complex initial setup due to distributed systems' inherent complexity. However, they tend to be easier to manage in the long run as each service has a smaller codebase and can be understood, updated, and managed independently.
In conclusion, while both architectural patterns have their pros and cons, the choice between MicroFrontends and monolithic architectures depends largely on the business requirements, team expertise, and the specific use case at hand. However, with their flexibility, scalability, and resilience, MicroFrontends often prove to be a powerful tool for businesses looking to adapt and grow in today's dynamic digital landscape.
In our next few posts about Micro Frontends, we will be discussing the different approaches to building MicroFrontends, tools and frameworks and some key best practices to follow when organising MicroFrontend projects.
You can learn more about Micro Frontends here.