If you are planning to develop and launch a web product, sooner or later you will come across the concept of web application architecture. This term is used by software developers to describe the high-level structure of a digital product, including data storage and server operation specifics.
The quality of the web architecture determines the reliability, performance, and security of your product. In this article, we will describe the most popular types of modern web application architecture, its components, and tips on how you can optimize your work on it.
What Is Web Application Architecture?
Web app architecture is a kind of software architecture that describes the processes associated with programs running in a browser. That’s why the architecture of mobile apps or programs for IoT uses another type of digital architecture.
Web app architecture contains a set of components and a description of their logic interaction. Within the web development process in general, it determines the future design of your product, its IT infrastructure, user experience, software modules (web architecture design), as well as the promotion and monetization of your future web application. Working on it is the first step when creating your product.
Based on decisions related to the high-level architecture of an app (for example, whether it will be monolithic or based on the microservice pattern), the team forms more specific technical requirements for the future software and its tiers and plans further work.
Here are the following parameters by which the quality of web app architecture can be described:
- Safety level and stability
- Request processing speed
- Component reusability
- Clarity towards program code
- Ability to collect analytics and test different components independently
- Scalability of the product and its components
- System automation level
In addition, when working on high-level web architecture, the client's business tasks and some marketing factors are taken into account. For instance, the startup owner can focus on the experience of competitors and take into account their weaknesses when designing a web app architecture with their development team.
Why Does Web Architecture Matter?
As we already know, web application architecture design is the first stage of software development, and web architecture, in turn, is the backbone of your web app. So what makes digital product architecture so important?
First, the web architecture is literally the foundation onto which you put all the other product components. If this foundation is solid and stable, further work on the product will be time- and cost-effective. If you make mistakes at this critical stage, all the other stages of software development, including scale changes or writing components using a particular programming language, will be slowed down.
Second, high-level web architecture is difficult to amend or modify in the later stages of product development. Typically, major changes of this kind literally mean you have to rebuild the product you want from scratch. Such a decision means postponing the release date, as well as losing financial resources associated with your inability to use components from the previous version of your Node.js, Python, or Java web application architecture.
Third, web app maintenance can become more expensive if you made bad decisions at the overall architecture development stage.
It is, of course, impossible to foresee everything when you create your web application. The technology, market, user needs, and business goals of your company can change very quickly in these turbulent times. However, we will try to arm you with the basic rules of working on a web architecture that will save you time and effort.
Are you about to develop your first IT product? We’ve got a guide for you — How to Do Market Research for a Startup.
What Is the Difference Between Software Architecture and Software Design?
If you are new to the process of building web applications, there is a chance that you will confuse the concepts of software architecture and software design. For this reason, we would like to elaborate on the differences between them.
Website development architecture is the result of the first phase of your product development. The documents that describe such an architecture detail things like the high-level components of your system, as well as the connections between them. Within the framework of web app development, digital architecture work involves finding a relevant pattern and identifying other key characteristics of the system components (for example, deciding in favor of NoSQL or SQL).
The issue of software design is raised in the later stages of product development (the code level) once the web application design patterns are already known. Software design is about the direct code writing for the web app architecture components and forming software modules and classes.
Sometimes, at the stage of working on the software design of a new web product, programmers find that they can borrow some parts of the code from open sources and thereby optimize their work. At the same time, an already created web architecture for one product is usually difficult to adapt to a new product.
Web Application Architecture Diagram
Regardless of what your future digital product will be and the high loads it will have to support, the architecture of a web application that you deliver at the initial stage can be described with a simple diagram. In brief, any interaction between a server and a user on the Internet looks as follows:
- A person uses a browser to enter their request (this can be an address of the website they want to go to (URL), or a command they send via a web page interface).
- The browser translates the user's request into digital language, and then determines the path to the site that the user needs and requests access to it.
- When the server is found, it receives the browser request, processes it, and, in response to it, sends the required data.
- The user's browser processes this data and displays the result on the user's screen: a new or updated web page.
Modern web architecture is based on the principles described in this diagram. While this scheme of user-server interaction may seem simple and straightforward, there are many approaches and architectural patterns that are suitable for specific types of web applications.
Among the web application architecture best practices, you can find the following example: a scheme in which layers such as administrative, API, application, database, data mining, and client are all present. This configuration is considered the most stable and reliable and allows the system to support high loads.
In the next paragraph, we'll describe the essence of the different layers and components of the web app architecture.
Components of Web Application Architecture
App components are the most important part of web application architecture, but not the only part. As well as this, you will be dealing with data for your database and middleware system design. Nevertheless, it is the components of your system that determine the functions of your future product and the quality of the user experience that your web application will offer to Internet users.
Modern web application architecture operates in two categories of components: structural and UI & UX components. Components of the first group are created using programming languages such as Java, .Net, NodeJS, or Python. UI and UX components are created by designers. After being created, their design layouts are commonly sent for further implementation by programmers in the form of a working web application interface.
Structural (server) components: your server and database
UI and UX (client) components: includes interface notification elements and input controls, navigational components, admin and other dashboards, design layouts, activity tracking tools, informational elements, and many others
The goal of the UI and UX web application architecture components is to design a perfect user experience. At the same time, structural components are more about the smooth running of the web app and its features. You can use a web application model that consists of one server and one database, or you can design an application that operates on multiple servers and databases. The second approach is considered to be more sustainable and reliable.
Layers of Web App Architecture
Components of the web architecture are about the general configuration of the system, without specifying its tiers. And layers of web app architecture are about the vertical structure of your future system. It is the layer diagram that describes how many of them you need and how they are interconnected and gives you an idea of the complexity of your product.
Understanding the logic of layers also enables you to more precisely estimate your web application development budget.
Presentation layer (PL)
This layer is responsible for receiving input data, processing them, then displaying the results that the server provided in the client browser. The presentation layer covers the user interface as a whole. It includes all UI elements, as well as potential interactions that can occur between the user and the web page.
Business logic layer (BLL)
Your web application, regardless of whether you choose a monolithic or microservice approach, has certain features. To make them available to the user, you need to add them as functions in the business logic layer of your system. These functions include the logging-in process, the online ordering feature, messaging, as well as other forms of interaction with the content on the page.
Data access layer (DAL)
This layer is also part of a typical web architecture design. It is a portal to the data that you store in the memory of your server. With this layer, you can access and manipulate your data, including taking such actions as creating, reading, updating, and deleting your stored data (CRUD).
Data service layer (DSL)
This layer ensures the security of your database as well as the data you store after interacting with clients. The data that is stored on your server is transferred to the presentation layer of the system through the data service layer. Thus, you have the option of additional data protection.
Types of Web Application Architecture
There are several popular web application architecture patterns, and below we have described them for you.
Regardless of the programming language and infrastructure features of your product, you are most likely to exploit this type of web architecture for your product as a whole or for its particular features.
This is the basic model for any web application to function. According to it, the client sends a request to a server, and the server, in turn, sends a data packet in response. If you are not using other web application architecture models, then your architecture is called monolithic.
Have questions about how to get started on your web app?
Contact Lanars for help
Microservices (Service-Oriented Architecture, SOA)
If you are planning to launch a large and complex online product, this web application architecture design is likely to suit your needs. The key advantage of it is that it enables you to easily change the scale of your product, as well as add things to its functionality.
The model is based on the idea that a separate microserver is responsible for each function in your system (or a group of functions) and is in constant contact with other microservers. This approach simplifies testing different parts of the system, as well as their maintenance.
In simple terms, the serverless model is one of the web application design patterns that help you to optimize your budget by outsourcing certain operations using cloud-based services.
Fully serverless solutions are very rare for web applications, however, most modern startups are trying to use third-party services to speed up product launch and even increase its reliability. The functionality that can be provided by using third-party cloud servers (for example, offered by Amazon or Microsoft) is messaging, authorization, banking operations, object recognition in images, and many others.
More on this topic — Cloud-based applications development: All you need to know.
Progressive Web Apps (PWA)
Progressive web apps are the latest trend in the world of website development architecture. By opting for this approach, you can offer your client an advanced user experience. In particular, your website will behave like a mobile app but your users won't need to download anything to their devices (as in the case of mobile apps).
Progressive web apps can run offline, send push notifications to users, and interact with your hardware's APIs.
Single-Page Applications (SPA)
Full webpage reloading takes time and degrades the user experience. The longer a user needs to wait to see the content or perform a necessary operation, the higher the bounce rate of your product.
Among web application architecture best practices, you will find many examples of single-page application technology (take any social network to see how it works). So what is a single-page app about? Instead of completely reloading a web page, in response to the user's request, only a certain area of this page is reloaded, thus, it saves resources for each web app layer.
Monolith or Microservice?
As you already know, there are two major modern web architecture approaches. To help you choose the one that is more likely to be suitable for you, let's analyze their key features, benefits, and use cases.
Best works for — small-scale products with simple functionality, single-purpose products designed to handle low traffic (example: currency conversion web apps, blogs)
The advantage of this model is its simplicity. To create and maintain an application of this type, you need the minimum of resources and, accordingly, a small budget. At the same time, monolith architecture does not restrict you in the development of your product, since this type of architecture can be transformed in the future by turning it into a microservice architecture type.
Traffic surges can be a serious problem for monolithic web apps. In cases of significant traffic growth, an application might fail due to the limited capabilities of its servers. That often leads to a high bounce rate, as well as lowering your SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) positions.
Microservice architecture of web application
Best works for — large-scale or complex products or web apps that you plan to scale; systems whose functionality you plan to upgrade regularly; testing different approaches to customer service within your product (example: social media)
Modern web architecture should be as flexible as possible to allow you to easily and quickly adapt your product to the needs of the market and the expectations of your users. Moreover, if you are planning to launch an international project, the number of users of which can grow exponentially, the microservice model will be a safe option. It enables you to add new components to the system and fix any bugs without shutting everything down.
Microservice architecture is built on the principle of one server responsible for one function (for example, messaging, uploading files, registering users, and so on). That’s why you can assign different teams to work on each server and thus speed up the development process. Moreover, you can use cloud servers to execute some of your operations.
How do you choose between monolithic and microservice models? We recommend that you always keep your business objectives (including long-term goals) and product requirements in mind.
If you are limited in time and budget and want to study demand before investing heavily in your products, start with a monolith architecture being focused on the main feature of your web application.
If you are up to create an MVP, read our article — How to Build a Minimum Viable Product (MVP).
Web Architecture Best Practices
The quality of web application architecture is difficult to evaluate from the outside. Only the development team knows whether their decisions were successful and whether the architecture helps to achieve the goals set for the business.
In the first paragraph of this article, we provided you with a list of parameters that can help you evaluate the quality of web architecture in general and being a part of a team. Let’s recall the most important of them:
- System flexibility
- Component reusability
- Clarity and well-thought structure of your code
- Stability and reliability
- Easy bug-detection
- Performance level regarding your system as a whole
Keep in mind that in addition to the modern web application architecture that you applied to your project, the final result is influenced by the performance and location of your servers, as well as the way data is processed and protected. As for web architecture best practices, we invite you to learn more about products that have become the gold standards of their industries:
- Microservice apps (SOA) — Uber, Amazon, Etsy, Netflix
- Single-page apps (SPA) — Gmail, PayPal, Pinterest
- Progressive web apps (PWA) — AliExpress, Forbes, Twitter
At the same time, remember that each case is different, and what has worked well regarding a particular product may not necessarily be a good solution for you. When looking for web architecture solutions, start from your needs and business goals, team competencies, timeframes, and budget.
Working on a web app architecture is a key stage in the development of your digital product. Mistakes made at this stage are very costly: they can lead to a significant delay in the release date of the web app and budget losses due to reworking your system components.
In this article, we have provided you with the key parameters by which you can evaluate the viability of web architecture design, as well as explaining the various models of such an architecture, along with their layers and tiers. If you still have questions about how to get started on your web app and what to choose, microservice architecture or monolithic, contact Lanars for help.
Have questions about how to get started on your web app?
Contact Lanars for help