12 min

October 18, 2023

Composable architecture: introduction to web composability

Explore how composable architecture revolutionizes web development. Uncover its advantages, learn how to implement it, and see real-world success stories.

In a world of ever-evolving customer and user needs, staying competitive means being agile and adaptable. The fast pace of change requires quick reactions, and here's where the challenge comes in: traditional platforms, once known for their stability as monoliths, can now be slow when it comes to updates.

Imagine needing a critical new feature or a security update urgently. Dealing with this in a monolithic system can turn into a lengthy process lasting months. On the other hand, starting from scratch to build a platform can take years. The issue? By the time your new creation is ready, the business landscape might have changed again, making it out of touch with the current needs.

Clearly, we need a better approach. This is where composable architecture comes in, offering the agility required for rapid innovation and a shorter time-to-market. In this guide, we will explore composable architecture and how it delivers on the promise of composability.

What is composable architecture?

Composable architecture is a modern approach to designing and building software systems that emphasizes agility, flexibility, and scalability. In the domains of e-commerce and web development, it has gained significant popularity for enhancing the digital experience for both customers and retailers.

At its core, composable architecture is centered around the idea of breaking down large, monolithic platforms into agile, specialized tools. These tools are modular technology systems, each with specific expertise and purpose. Unlike traditional one-size-fits-all solutions, composable architecture empowers you to carefully select the right tools and services that align with your unique business requirements.

A key feature of composable architecture is its interchangeability. These technology components are designed to be easily swapped and combined, or "composed," in various ways to meet your specific business needs. This flexibility ensures that you're not locked into a single monolithic solution and can always choose the best-in-class tools that continuously innovate while remaining cost-effective.

A vital aspect of composable architecture is its reliance on APIs (application programming interfaces). APIs serve as the connectors that enable these individual technology components to communicate seamlessly with each other. This eliminates vendor lock-in, freeing businesses from the constraints of integrating multiple services that might not share a common language or functional alignment.

In a nutshell, composable architecture is about assembling a web platform from a collection of specialized components that can be easily combined and recombined to create customized solutions. It's a response to the limitations of monolithic platforms, offering the freedom to choose the best tools for your business, resulting in a more agile, efficient, and adaptable digital landscape.

The origins of composable architecture

Composable architecture, a term that has gained attention in recent years, has its roots in the concept of composable commerce. This term was first coined by Gartner in June 2020. Composable commerce represents a modular approach to digital commerce, based on the principles of composable architecture. Essentially, it offers a collection of best-in-breed solutions, allowing organizations to create a customized and agile technology stack tailored to their specific needs.

The evolution leading to composable architecture can be traced back through several stages. It began with the adoption of software as a service (SaaS), followed by the emergence of headless architectures. The journey continued with the introduction of MACH principles. Composable commerce, as articulated by Gartner, emerged as the latest evolution in this continuum.

In this context, Gartner's role was to take existing technical elements, such as those in the MACH stack and other relevant technologies, and assemble them into a more business-oriented framework. This framework empowers businesses to construct commerce experiences from modular and interchangeable components, which Gartner referred to as "package business capabilities."

Packaged business capabilities: the building blocks of composable architecture

In the world of composable commerce, there's a powerful concept that drives flexibility and innovation: Packaged Business Capabilities, or PBCs. Think of them as digital building blocks, ready to be pieced together to create solutions tailored to your business's unique needs.

PBCs simplify complexity. Picture managing an online store with tasks like handling the shopping cart, ensuring smooth checkouts, and organizing customer data. Each of these functions can be treated as an independent microservice. Combine these microservices, and you've got a PBC that handles the entire online shopping experience.

What's remarkable about PBCs is their independence. They operate on their own, with minimal reliance on external systems. This independence keeps your digital ecosystem running smoothly and simplifies the management of complex interdependencies.

These building blocks communicate through APIs, ensuring rapid and secure data exchange. This means different components work together seamlessly.

Think of PBCs as the digital equivalent of Lego bricks, pre-equipped with various functionalities crucial for businesses. You can use them to construct complex systems from reusable components, whether you need a small set of microservices for a simple task or a larger collection for more extensive operations.

In software terms, PBCs can be one or more microservices accessible through a single API, like a bundle combining the functionalities of a shopping cart and checkout.

Composable architecture takes this foundational concept and puts it into practical use. It's all about assembling autonomous, modular components, which can include microservices, headless applications, and versatile PBCs, to create a complete and adaptable system.

These Packaged Business Capabilities are usually implemented within a modern, cloud-native microservices architecture following the principles of MACH architecture.

MACH architecture: enabling composability

In our exploration of composable architecture, we've come across a crucial technical framework that plays a vital role in enabling the vision of composable commerce: MACH architecture. MACH, short for Microservices, API-first, Cloud-Native, and Headless, represents a modern, distributed approach to building softwares and systems.

Microservice - at the heart of MACH architecture are microservices, small independent services that focus on specific functions. They bring agility and scalability to development and maintenance.

API-First - MACH architecture emphasizes the importance of APIs as the connectors between different components. APIs ensure smooth communication between microservices, promoting interoperability and reducing vendor lock-in.

Cloud-Native - MACH architecture is designed to make the most of cloud computing infrastructure and services. This approach provides flexibility, scalability, and cost efficiency, enabling businesses to adapt quickly to changing demands.

Headless - the headless aspect of MACH architecture means separating the frontend presentation from the backend functionality. This separation empowers businesses to create highly customizable and adaptable user experiences.

MACH principles align perfectly with composable architecture, enabling organizations to construct their digital ecosystems using the best available vendors and technologies. By embracing MACH, marketing, merchandising, and sales teams can bring their unique digital visions to life.

However, it's important to note that while MACH is a powerful enabler of composable architecture, it's not the only approach. In practice, achieving composability often involves a blend of architectural strategies as businesses transition from monolithic systems to more modern and flexible architectures like MACH.

Benefits of composable architecture

Composable architecture is packed with great advantages that can really change how your businesses work. Netlify lists eight key benefits of composable architecture. Let's explore these benefits in simple terms:

1. Faster time to market

Traditional monolithic systems can be slow to adapt and upgrade. Composable architectures are up to 10 times faster, allowing for swift responses to market demands. This speed enables real-time marketing and quick feature deployments.

2. Cost reduction

Legacy systems often require expensive version upgrades. With a composable approach, you only purchase what you need, reducing unnecessary expenses. Adopting one module doesn't come with the cost of acquiring everything else.

3. Omnichannel experiences

Composable architectures enable businesses to cater to various customer channels. Omnichannel shoppers tend to spend more, making this approach crucial for retailers. It allows you to provide a seamless experience across different platforms.

4. Flexibility

Composable architecture empowers you to build your own tech stack. You can select and customize components that match your site's unique needs. This flexibility fosters innovation and adaptability.

5. Security

Traditional monolithic systems are often targeted by malware due to their exposed build process. Composable architectures are designed with security in mind, making them more resilient to attacks. By decoupling the frontend from the backend, security risks are reduced.

6. Speed

Speed is crucial for online success. Slow sites can lead to customer loss. Composable architectures allow for faster loading times and automated operations. Every millisecond matters, with even small speed improvements leading to higher conversions.

7. Scalability

Composable approaches handle scalability efficiently. They adapt to traffic spikes without the need for extensive server upgrades. Multiple points of origin and cloud-based solutions support scalability.

8. Increased employee retention

Most developers prefer working with modern tools. Legacy stacks can lead to developer turnover. Embracing composable architectures can help retain talented developers.

These fantastic advantages demonstrate why composable architecture is a smart choice for businesses looking to stay competitive and flexible. Whether it's speeding up your work, saving money, enhancing security, or sparking new ideas, composable architecture sets the stage for a brighter and more adaptable future in web development.

Implementing composable architecture

To determine if composable architecture is the right fit for your organization, consider several factors. Larger organizations with complex needs can benefit from its flexibility. If you require extensive system integration or significant modifications to existing systems, composable architecture becomes a viable option. Additionally, for growing organizations looking to expand or experiment with new tools, adopting composable architecture can provide significant value.

Now, let's explore how to implement composable architecture effectively:

Start with a clear business case

Begin by showcasing the business value of composable architecture, emphasizing agility, faster time-to-market, and cost-efficiency.

Staffing and skillset

Ensure you have the right skills in-house. Engineers should adapt to a mindset focused on best practices and collaboration to effectively build and manage composable systems.

Non-technical considerations

Understand the non-technical implications, such as shared responsibility across teams, legal and compliance considerations, and vendor assessments based on security and scalability.

Gradual transition

Transitioning to composable architecture can be gradual. Focus on developing and testing individual components before integrating them into the overall system to minimize disruptions.

Specialized assistance

Consider engaging specialized software development companies that understand your specific components and requirements to aid in the transition.

Agile frameworks

Utilize scalable agile frameworks to govern the transition and ensure ongoing evolution and alignment with your organization's goals.

Component identification

Start by identifying small, independent units of functionality within your system that can be broken down into reusable components.

Documentation

Ensure these components are well-documented for clarity and ease of use.

Dependency analysis

Understand the dependencies and interfaces between components, with a focus on interfaces like APIs that facilitate communication.

Individual development and testing

Develop and rigorously test components individually and as part of the overall system. Implement automated tests to ensure correct functionality and interoperability.

Infrastructure automation

Manage infrastructure components independently and automate their management to increase efficiency and reduce human errors.

Multicloud strategy

Consider a multi-cloud approach to share workloads across data centers and private clouds, enhancing security and streamlining DevOps processes.

Rationalize your portfolio

Continuously assess APIs for overlaps and remove those that don't align with your current business needs, ensuring a streamlined and efficient composable architecture.

By following these steps, your organization can effectively implement composable architecture, leveraging its advantages of agility, flexibility, and scalability to meet your digital transformation goals.

Challenges of composable architecture

While composable architecture offers numerous advantages, it's important to acknowledge the challenges that can arise when implementing it.

Increased complexity

One challenge arises from integrating systems that weren't originally designed to work together. This can make your architecture more complex, as you're essentially combining different building blocks.

Managing more components

With composable architecture, you have more components to oversee. Each component may have its own updates and requirements, which can become overwhelming if not managed efficiently.

Lack of standardization

Because you're mixing and matching components, there might not be a standard way of doing things across your system. This can lead to inconsistencies and make maintenance more challenging.

Reliability and performance

Using multiple components that weren't initially meant to work together can lead to issues with reliability and performance. Unlike monolithic architectures, where problems are often ironed out before release, composable systems require careful consideration.

Interoperability

Effective communication between components is crucial. This is typically achieved through APIs, but ensuring that these interfaces work seamlessly can be a challenge.

Data consistency

In composable architecture, components are loosely coupled, which can make it tricky to maintain consistent data across all of them. Failing to address this issue can result in data inconsistencies and redundancy.

Feature overload

The flexibility of composable architecture can sometimes lead to a focus on adding too many features, which can be distracting. It's important to prioritize and consider what truly sets your system apart.

To tackle these challenges effectively, meticulous planning, seamless communication between components, and a focus on core features are essential. These steps enable you to fully leverage the advantages of composable architecture while minimizing any associated risks.

Composable architecture, MACH, and Jamstack

In the modern web and e-commerce world, terms like Jamstack, MACH, and composable architecture often get mixed up. They may seem similar, but they each have their own job in making flexible digital systems. Let's untangle these terms and see how they work together to make adaptable digital setups.

Jamstack and its frontend brilliance

Jamstack, short for JavaScript, APIs, and Markup, is all about delivering lightning-fast, secure, and highly customizable frontend experiences. It decouples the frontend presentation layer from the backend functionality, allowing developers to create dynamic websites and applications using various tools and services.

In the context of composable architecture, Jamstack plays a crucial role in crafting user interfaces that are not only visually appealing but also agile and scalable. By implementing a Jamstack approach on the frontend, businesses can ensure that their web pages load swiftly and provide seamless user experiences. This aligns perfectly with the goals of composable architecture, which emphasize flexibility and agility.

MACH architecture and the robust backend

MACH provides the robust technical foundation necessary for a composable enterprise. It focuses on breaking down complex systems into modular, independent microservices that communicate through APIs.

Composable architecture: the unified vision

When MACH and Jamstack work together in composable architecture, they create a dynamic duo that fosters flexibility and innovation. Backend services can be swapped or extended seamlessly, while the frontend remains adaptable, delivering user-centric experiences.

In essence, Jamstack, MACH, and composable architecture are interconnected facets of modern web development and e-commerce. Whether applied together or separately, these concepts provide the tools and frameworks necessary for businesses to thrive in the digital landscape.

Examples of composable architecture in practice

Composable architecture is a versatile approach that can be applied to various domains of web development. Here are some examples of composable architecture in action:

[@portabletext/react] Unknown block type "showcase", specify a component for it in the `components.types` prop

Conclusion

Composable architecture is like breaking free from the old idea of one-size-fits-all or monolithic systems. It's more like playing with building blocks when you create a platform or a website, where each block has its unique purpose. With composable architecture, you get the freedom to pick the right tools and services for your needs, whether it's content management systems, frameworks, or hosting.

Composable architecture helps you become agile, adaptable, and strong. It's the modern way to build websites, and it's the path to resilience in a fast-changing digital world.

Authors

Mojtaba SeyediMojtaba Seyedi

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