The term “microservices” has become almost inescapable in the software development world. Developing large, complex, and layered applications have never been simple, and microservices offer an architectural framework that makes the job much easier.
More and more development projects have undertaken microservices in recent years, with largely positive results so far. In fact, for many developers and teams, this has come close to becoming the default mode of building applications.
Let’s dive into the basics of microservices and why they appeal to so many developers across industries and geographies.
What are Microservices?
Microservices refers to a software architectural approach in which an application is composed of small independent components or processes. These components communicate over lightweight APIs and work together to accomplish necessary tasks. Each of these components or processes (usually owned by self-contained teams) is called a microservice.
The microservices architecture prioritizes granular, low-weight operations that spread out similar processes onto numerous apps. The approach is helpful when building or optimizing software to align with the cloud-native model, which allows for on-demand access across a network of remote servers.
The microservices structure makes apps faster to build and easier to scale, which allows for faster creation and introduction of new features. Since each microservice runs independently, it can be updated, deployed, and modified to change individual functions or features.
Examples of Microservices in Action
Before diving in, let’s quickly understand the opposite of microservices: monoliths.
A single-tiered software is equipped with multiple components (authorization, business logic, database integration, etc.) into a single platform running a single program in a monolithic architecture. Basically, everything required by the business is done by a single software with multiple modules and functions matching various organization needs.
Monoliths are harder to maintain, update and test. Since a single software does everything, any impact on one component will affect the entire ecosystem. It is also larger, which reduces start time, and the entire software has to be redeployed for every update. Needless to say, it is far less manageable, flexible, and reliable than microservices.
For context, notable examples include:
- In 2009, Netflix began to transition its monolithic architecture into microservices. By 2015, Netflix operated in tandem with 500 cloud-based microservices, which increased to 700 by 2017. That number continues to grow.
- With its monolithic structure, Uber had trouble pushing new features to market, debugging issues, and integrating global operations. To resolve this, Uber disseminated their monolith into cloud-based microservices (around 1300) to deal with individual functions like ride management, passenger data, etc. Much like Netflix, Uber ran its microservices via an API gateway.
- With around 12 hours of audio uploaded every minute, it was a matter of time before SoundCloud’s monolith architecture proved inadequate. The platform moved from a legacy Rails monolith to a self-constructed microservices-based architecture built in Scala, Clojure, and Ruby.
Moving from Monolith to Microservices
Moving from monolith to microservices architecture can be complex but offers multiple, tangible long-term advantages. This transition, however, needs to be carefully strategized. One of the most popular approaches to accomplish this move is the Strangler Pattern.
On a high level, the strategy comprises two major steps:
- Whenever a company has to release a new feature, they can incorporate it as a microservice instead of adding it to their existing monolith architecture. This prevents the monolith from expanding and allows developers and company stakeholders to become familiar with the microservices structure.
- Once microservices are introduced into the company’s tech stack, the monolith can be dismantled in stages. Generally, monolith ecosystems contain front-end (the UI), back-end (business logic), and databases. These elements can be split and run more efficiently by manageable, independent applications which can be ported to the cloud via microservices.
Benefits of Microservices
- Each microservice does one thing, which makes it small, lightweight, and much easier to manage.
- A microservices design pattern operates faster and with fewer errors because each independent component takes responsibility for its stability and output.
- With microservices, each unit can develop, test and deploy features independently and faster. It is also easier to debug issues as one bug does not have to affect the whole application.
- Each microservice is relatively independent of the larger tech stack. This makes it easier to innovate and experiment.
- With small self-contained services, it is easier to manage the software. Small changes to one service do not disrupt the entire workflow. Applications can evolve on the go instead of having to be taken down to make minimal changes.
- Applications that are easier to code and maintain are also easier to test. It is much simpler and faster to test a single service in isolation. This makes deployment and debugging less cumbersome.
Microservices are a key component of cloud-native architecture–something organizations are quickly adopting because of its many advantages. The cloud-native approach is used to build applications meant for a cloud environment. Essentially, these apps are designed to be hosted on public, private, or hybrid clouds as opposed to on-premise data centers.
Cloud-native development helps companies deliver new features, products, and services faster and align with customer expectations of speed and efficacy. Cloud-native software uses discrete, reusable microservices (also hosted on the cloud) to integrate with and run on cloud environments. Microservices, often packaged in containers, work together to run the application, providing flexibility, agility, and scalability to the ecosystem.
Difference Between an API and Microservices
Microservices and APIs are almost always in the same conversations. For beginners to the concept, they may seem interchangeable, but they are not. Understanding the distinction between them is key to erecting a microservices architecture.
APIs are the interface via which microservices communicate with each other to process and validate a client request. Developers and end-users can leverage them to access an application data or use one or more of its functionality. Anything from using your Facebook account to access a dating app, using GPay to pay on a delivery app, to activating any IoT device makes use of APIs to operate.
Web pages, gadgets, apps all use APIs to communicate and work in tandem. Microservices use APIs to interact with each other and do what they are meant to. So, while microservices are the building blocks of the application, APIs are the channel by which they communicate to build said application.
Microservices have become a future-forward tool for any company that seeks to have a digital presence. With speed, efficient memory use, agility, and accuracy on its side, microservices make software development, deployment, and usage infinitely easier. Unsurprisingly, more and more industry leaders are choosing to take their monolithic legacy systems into the fluid, well-oiled mechanism of a microservices-based architecture.
Any organization that expects to satisfy the modern customers’ basic demands of speed, efficacy, and regular updates must shift its digital infrastructure to microservices. Not doing so means risking the loss of revenue, traffic, and credibility to competitors more aligned with this particular game-changing innovation in software development. While the process may seem daunting, transition to microservices can be seamless and hassle-free with the right services and platforms in hand.
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