How to choose the needed tech stack for web application development

Let’s outline the essential aspects every developer needs to know about a technology stack and how its selection can affect the entire process of software development. Further, we’ll stress the top things you should pay attention to when choosing the tech stack for your project. 

We do hope that this article will help you get a full picture of the tech stack’s purpose and understand how to make a smart choice of the one that fits your project at best. 

Let’s start!

What is a tech stack in software development?

Even if you are already well-familiar with the concept, let’s recap its definition. 

A tech stack (also known as a solutions stack) is a bundle of tools, namely programming languages, libraries, frameworks, and databases that come together for the development of a particular web, mobile, or hybrid application. 

Such a name is given to this concept not without a reason – each subsequent layer of the stack builds on top of the features of one underneath it. All of them are brought together around one common goal – to assist in building, testing and running your application. 

Though this concept can be found in many areas, the term itself emerged in the software development community. It meant to simplify communication between developers and help to indicate the application’s strong and weak points. 

Structure of a tech stack

Every tech stack is different, yet, they all share a common structure. It’s comprised of two major components –  front end and back end. The front end is responsible for the client-side part of your app while the back end is in charge of its server-side functionality. 

What is a back end stack?

A back end is the backbone of your application. It refers to everything that is not visible to users but ensures the proper functioning of the app. Behind the scenes, it takes care of things like security, content management and the structure of your app. 

Structurally, the back end consists of the following components:

  • Programming languages (JavaScript, Node.js, Ruby, C#, Perl, PHP, Python, Java, Go, Scala, Elixir, etc)
  • Server-side web frameworks (e.g., .NET, Django, Flask, Mojolicious, Laravel, CakePHP, Ruby on Rails, Phoenix, Express JS, AdonisJS, Spring Boot, etc)
  • Databases (MySQL, Oracle, MongoDB, GraphQL, etc)
  • Web servers (Nginx, Express, Apache, Apache Tomcat, IIS, Google Web Server, etc)

Let’s break down the purposes of all the back end’s building blocks. A back-end developer has to work with programming languages that databases understand to ensure the communication between web services, database systems and the application itself. A framework simplifies and speeds up development. A database is used for storing your application’s data. In addition to a database, a caching system is required to be set up to reduce the load on your database (e.g., Memcached, Redis, etc). A web server handles requests that come from the client-side, i.e., your app’s users. 

What is a front end stack?

And now let’s look at the front-end more closely. 

A front end is responsible for a visual part of an application. It defines what your users see and how they can interact with your app. The core purpose of front-end web development is to create a seamless user experience and maximize its quality by making the interface accessible to any user.

As a rule, a front end is a part of the project where the development starts since it’s the most important thing to show to your customers in the first stages. 

What are the cornerstones of the client-side?

  • HTML
  • CSS
  • JavaScript

This is a classical trio of tools for implementing designs on the web. HTML defines the structure and layout of the application’s content. CSS tells the browser how this content has to be styled with colors, fonts, etc. JavaScript is a scripting language that is responsible for making web pages interactive (i.e. defining the rules of how, when and where the content should be modified, hidden or removed). Often, front-end development becomes heavily JavaScript-oriented, especially if a web application is highly interactive.

A modern front-end developer needs to be familiar with the principles of responsive design, test-driven development, front-end frameworks and libraries (React, AngularJS, Angular, Vue, Ember, Bootstrap, Foundation), and basics of server-side rendering. Also, knowledge of the principles of working with SASS and LESS adds a competitive advantage since these pre-processors for CSS provide more flexibility and modularity when it comes to your app’s styling. Front-end developers should know how to use graphic design tools that allow building the application’s prototypes, experiment with the user interface and deliver the final variant. The most popular software is Balsamiq Mockups, Illustrator, Figma, Photoshop, Sketch. Try at least several of them to find your perfect match. 

Why tech stack matters

The technology stack is a foundation of your application. The underlying technologies make a significant impact on how your app is functioning and how it will perform in the future. It also can affect the scalability of your app. That’s why developers should take the task of selection responsibly and with exceptional care.

Once you’ve chosen the tech stack, try to understand its strengths and weaknesses. This will help you to know how to benefit from the former and alleviate the latter. 

How to choose your tech stack

If you struggle to make the right choice on the tech stack, there are some general guidelines for you to follow.

  • Take into account the size of your project – it can be small, mid-range or large. Small projects are often built on top of Node.js – React and Python-Django stacks. If you need only a simple landing page, consider using WordPress. Mid-size projects (e.g., online stores, etc) need more complex stacks such as MEAN, LAMP, or MERN that prove to perform well. Large projects require more scalability, speed, and maintainability. So, you need to find the stack that leverages well both performance and customer satisfaction. 
  • Scalability. Depending on the technologies you choose, your app may have different scalability capabilities. This factor should be taken into consideration as early as possible. If you are building a service that will be accessed by thousands and millions of users, think about programming languages that support high-read operations and databases that are scalable. In this case, you can try MEAN stack.
  • Consider your app’s type. Will it be a mobile or desktop app? If a mobile, then for which platform – Android or iOS? If a desktop, which browser will it use? It’s always better to launch the MVP of your app only on a single platform – web or mobile. After you made enough process in developing and distributing your product, you can proceed to build the second app’s interface. 
  • Stick to the mobile-first design paradigm and build a responsive web application.
  • Make sure you have enough engineers with the required skills.
  • Try to predict whether your tech stack will scale. However, the lion’s share of performance issues is related to application design rather than a choice of technologies. So, be ready to tune and optimize your app’s design. 
  • Evaluate the cost of development. After studying carefully the tech stacks that correspond to the needs of your app. Before choosing the paid tools for development, compare the cost of a resulting stack and usability of the features it provides. Rather than investing in expensive tools or building custom ones from the ground up, try researching their free alternatives. You can reap a lot of benefits from the open-source products.