Since the early years of IT automation, the focus of businesses has been on building large, monolithic software packages that covered a wide spectrum of business processes. Major enterprise applications introduced only one major version upgrade and three to four updates per year. A version upgrade would also be an event in itself with companies allocating separate budgets and timelines for upgrades.
The monolithic applications, in the present-day context, are akin to heavyweights who find it difficult to move swiftly. It is time-consuming and expensive to make changes to the existing codes of these applications. Code changes are also ridden with risks with an enterprise-wide impact. A slight error in code can have an adverse effect on an organisation’s business operations.
Over the past few years, high growth in internet-driven businesses and pervasive adoption of enterprise mobility have changed the picture. The speed of change has become the defining factor behind success or failure across industries. Companies have to upgrade and update their applications more frequently than before. Organisations like Amazon, Facebook, and Google issue releases several times a day! Developers face tremendous pressure to ship their software faster than ever before.
A new approach
With speed becoming a critical parameter, developers and software architects have been exploring a new approach to application architecture: decoupling the frontend from backend. This approach involves decoupling of the application’s backend and frontend components but connecting them with the help of APIs. As these two parts are loosely connected, their development can be carried out independent of each other.
Benefits of a decoupled architecture
The frontend – backend decoupling is relevant especially in case of Web applications and mobile apps as the speed of development and releases is very high. User experience, in these domains, takes precedence over other aspects including depth of functionality. Let’s look at a few key benefits that a decoupled architecture offers.
1. Speedy development and testing: As the biggest advantage, a decoupled architecture allows the frontend and backend developers to work independently. Since development is carried out in parallel, it reduces the overall project time. Business teams usually take keen interest in the progress of the UI/UX part of the project resulting in faster frontend rollout. This helps the backend developers with creation of data structures suitable for the frontend. Decoupled architecture allows the project teams to test their builds independently and in parallel, further optimising the project duration.
2. Agility: As another benefit, the UI team can make suitable changes to the frontend designs without worrying about dependencies and/or making corresponding changes to the backend. In the same fashion, the backend developers can modify their code without venturing into the frontend territory. For instance, the backend developers do not have to consider exactly how a particular data point is going to be displayed on screen (and vice versa). This improves an organisation’s operational efficiency enabling it to respond to changing market needs with a greater agility.
3. Freedom for developers: As the application’s backend and frontend components are loosely coupled with a careful use of APIs, it minimizes the overall complexity of the architecture. The reduced complexity allows developers to freely make changes to the code, thus, increasing the update-release frequency.
4. Streamlined recruitment: Traditionally, the application development projects required the frontend developers to possess a good understanding of the backend systems and components such as the core programming language, middleware, and business logic. However, a decoupled architecture allows the frontend developers to be able to focus on their core skills most effectively. The HR department too finds it easier to hire specialists in single domains rather than identifying candidates with a multi-domain expertise.
While application decoupling offers many such benefits, it may also increase the overall human resource count. As the two parts are developed and tested independently, it introduces a few redundancies in the development and testing processes. The CIO’s team may, therefore, need to carry out a due diligence process assessing the organisation’s specific business and technology needs before choosing a suitable architectural approach.