The microservice architecture enables us to write scalable and agile backend systems. Writing independent, self-contained services give us the flexibility to quickly add a new feature or easily change an existing one without affecting the whole system. Independently deployable services also allow us to scale our services as per the demand.
We will show you how you can use a similar approach for frontend applications. You will learn about micro frontend architecture, its benefits, and strategy to break down a monolith web app into micro frontends.
What is micro frontend architecture?
Micro frontend architecture is an approach to developing web application as a composition of small frontend apps. Instead of writing a large monolith frontend application, the application is broken down into domain specific micro frontends, which are self-contained and can be developed and deployed independently.
Advantages of using micro frontends
Micro frontends bring the concept and benefits of micro services to frontend applications. Each micro frontend is self-contained, which allows faster delivery as multiple teams can work on different parts of the application without affecting each other. This also gives each team the freedom to choose different technology as required. Since the micro frontends are highly decoupled, they have a lower impact on other parts of the application and can be enhanced and deployed independently.
Let’s say we want to build an online shopping website using micro frontend architecture. Instead of developing the site as one large application, we can split the website into micro frontends. For example, the pages to display lists of products and product details can be one micro frontend and the pages to show order history of a user can be another micro frontend.
The user interface is made up of multiple micro frontends, but we do not want our users to feel that different pages are part of different apps. Here are some of the practices we can use to decompose a frontend application into smaller micro frontends, without compromising user experience.
The first thing to consider is how to split an application into smaller apps so that each app can be developed and deployed independently. When teams are working on the different micro frontends, we want the apps to be highly decoupled so that a change in one app would not affect the other apps.
This can be achieved by building domain specific micro frontends with single responsibility and well-defined bounded context. Just like our code, we want our micro frontends to have high cohesion and low coupling i.e. all the related code should be close to each other and less dependent on other modules.
If we take the example of our online shopping site again, we want all the product related UI components in the product micro frontend and all the order related functionality in the order micro frontend. Let’s say we have a user dashboard screen where users can see information from different domains, they can see their pending orders and also products which are on specials. Instead of creating a dashboard micro frontend, it is recommended to have the pending order UI component as part of order micro frontend and product related components as part of product micro frontend. This will allow us to split our system vertically and have domain specific frontend and backend services.
Common interface for communication and data exchange
For micro frontends to work harmoniously as a single web application, they need a common and consistent way to communicate with each other. Even if they are highly independent, they still need to talk to each other. One of the common approaches is to have an application that works as an integration layer. The app can work as a container to render different micro frontends and also facilitate communication between them.
For example, in our online shopping website, once a user submits an order through the shopping cart micro frontend, we want to take the user to their order lists screen. Since both the order and shopping cart micro frontends are highly decoupled and do not know about each other, we can use the container app as the orchestration layer.
On receiving order submission events from the shopping cart micro frontend, the container app will navigate the user to the order micro frontend. The container app can also be used to handle cross cutting concerns like user session management, analytics, etc.
This approach works well with existing monolith frontends where the existing monolith application can work as the container and any new feature can be independently developed as a micro frontend and can be integrated into the existing app. The existing functionality can be also extracted and rewritten as micro frontends as required.
Consistent look and feel
Although our user interface is divided into multiple micro frontends, we still want our users to feel as if they are interacting with a single application. We want our apps to have a consistent look and feel, and also the ability to make UI changes easily across multiple apps. For example, we should be able to change the font or the primary colors across multiple micro frontends. This can be done by sharing CSS and assets like images, fonts, icons, etc.
We also want the apps to use same UI components, for example, if we have date picker on multiple screens, we want all the date pickers to look the same. This can be achieved by creating a common library of UI components, which can be shared by micro frontends. Using shared assets and a UI component library will allow us to make changes easily instead of having to update multiple micro frontends.
In this post, we discussed micro frontends, their benefits, and things to consider before migrating to micro frontend architecture. To deliver faster, we want the ability to build, test, and deploy features independently and this can be achieved by using micro frontends and microservices. Implementing micro frontends may present its own challenges and there will be technical hurdles to overcome but the benefits outweigh the complexity.
If you are using micro frontend architecture, please share your experience with us.
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