In today’s world of next-gen application development, it is now possible to build a complete web application (or app) with 90% frontend code. This is what is referred to as Micro frontends.
The question for software-focused companies is, are micro frontends here to stay or just another temporary fad? The 2020 State of Microservices report states that 24% of application developers have already used micro frontends. Besides, the technology is also being adopted by leading enterprises like IKEA, Spotify, and HelloFresh.
Essentially, micro frontends act as an extension of the popular microservices architecture whose functionalities (or advantages) like faster deployments and easier testing can now be applied to the frontend. The “idea” behind micro frontends is to build a frontend (or browser) application that can work over the underlying microservices layer. Each business team “owns” a set of web app features (that are distinct to its business area) and works towards developing end-to-end features right from the UI to the database.
Martin Fowler talks about micro frontends as “an architectural style where independently deliverable frontend applications are composed into a greater whole.” How are micro frontends transforming the world of application development? Let us explore more.
What are Micro Frontends?
Essentially, a micro frontend is the application of the microservices “concept” to frontend development. As web applications evolve to be more “feature-rich,” their frontend layers become more complex and difficult to maintain, thus creating what can be called a “frontend monolith”. The major drawback of this approach is that over time, the architecture becomes part of the overall application, which becomes challenging to maintain.
The Micro frontend architecture enables a cross-functional approach, where different teams of application developers work on their own set of features. This creates a final app that is user-friendly and easier to maintain.
For example, consider an eCommerce platform with 3 features namely a product selector, buy button, and a checkout page. Each of these features is owned by the following teams:
- The product team owns the product selector and determines the product features to be displayed to the shopper.
- Checkout team that owns the buying and checkout process and is responsible for providing a smooth checkout for interested shoppers.
- Product recommendation team that is responsible for displaying products that may interest the shopper.
In short, a micro frontend application is an aggregation of smaller and independent frontend applications. Next, let us look at some of the benefits of adopting the micro frontend approach.
4 Benefits of Micro Frontends
When it comes to developing a variety of web applications, a micro frontend architecture offers multiple benefits to the application frontend, including the following:
- Improved user experience
As more applications are developed and released continuously to the market, a centralized approach towards user experience (or UX) can be a bottleneck. Among its benefits, micro frontends help in “breaking down” the UX and bring a service-oriented approach to the software development lifecycle.
On their part, app developers can adopt the “microservice-based” philosophy and work to develop both frontend and backend capabilities. Essentially, cross-functional teams are now focusing on delivering an app feature (or use case) developed right from scratch. This, in turn, means better communication between frontend and backend development teams, breaking down “restrictive” departmental silos, and eliminating bottlenecks.
- Easier upgrades
As with the innovative microservices approach, micro frontends are designed for better flexibility with product updates and upgrades. By breaking down large monolithic frontend applications into smaller and manageable components, micro frontends can now streamline product changes much faster and efficiently.
With the use of micro frontends, app developers have more flexibility in updating frontend capabilities without any impact on other components of the application, including other frontend components. Iterative product updates can now be released faster, thus optimizing the cost of maintenance.
- Organized codebase
As compared to monolithic frontends, micro frontends have a much smaller and “decoupled” codebase like that of microservices. Smaller codebases make it typically easier to navigate, along with lesser coding errors by app developers. Besides that, various application components are clearly defined, making it easier for different development teams to mitigate any risks that can arise from the coupling.
Overall, an organized codebase makes it convenient for app developers to work the code more efficiently and quickly, thus leading to shorter release cycles for process-driven applications.
Enterprises build many applications with a common functionality that can be reused. Reusability helps enterprises save considerable time and effort in frontend app development. For example, an eCommerce store reuses the “payment processing” component across multiple applications.
On its part, the micro frontend architecture is useful for enterprises building multiple applications with common workflows. Frontend developers can extract and reuse common elements when working on new workflows or business processes.
Now that we are aware of the benefits of micro frontends, let us look at some of its best practices that can make it effective in modern-day product development.
3 Best Practices of Micro Frontend architecture
How does any application development maximize its leverage from micro frontends? Here are some best practices to follow:
- Design web components.
For modern web app development, web components are typically used to encapsulate UI functionalities. Using custom web components, frontend developers can now extend the browser with new components. Like any other frontend framework, micro frontends can use HTML and Shadow DOM APIs to create new components.
- Find the right size of micro frontends.
The size and structure of micro frontends are crucial for proper operations. While the structure depends on the contained elements like the framework and communication among application modules, finding the right size is linked to determining the size of microservices.
Small size can mean a highly fragmented application, while a large size means excessive coupling, both of which can impact performance.
- Organize the workflow.
Among the main plus points of micro frontend architecture, development teams can work independently to achieve their business goals. Organize the development workflow with shared responsibilities for every team. Further, design consistent API contracts on how APIs will function between application modules.
Aligning the modular deliveries with business requirements can be the best practice in getting the most out of the micro front architecture.
By enabling faster app development and scalability, the micro frontend is the answer for the new age of web apps with larger frontend functionality. Additionally, micro frontends are transforming the way applications are built and delivered more frequently. It can be a potential “game-changer” for organizations looking for continuous delivery.
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