Modern web development with JAMstack

JAMstack is an architectural approach that decouples the web experience layer (front end) from data and business logic (back end), adding flexibility, scalability, performance, and maintainability. JAMstack empowers developers to quickly and efficiently create and serve static websites to end users.

JAMstack - a definition

Plant

JAMstack is an architectural approach that decouples the web experience layer (front end) from data and business logic (back end), adding flexibility, scalability, performance, and maintainability. JAMstack empowers developers to quickly and efficiently create and serve static websites to end users.

In a JAMstack web application, most of the pages, if not all, are completely pre-built in a build system and stored in a content delivery network (CDN).

JAMstack - what does it stand for

JAM stands for JavaScript, APIs and Markup.

JavaScript offers the mechanism for the web application to interact with APIs and transform the data as needed for the front end to display it to the user. JavaScript adds the necessary dynamic functionalities, such as validating forms, posting to APIs, and getting data from APIs, so the application rises to a full-fledged web application.

API, the acronym for application programming interface, is usually a headless CMS that offers management tools for storing, editing and creating data. This data will then be exposed to the front end via JavaScript.

The markup, consisting of HTML, is needed to structure the data in the front end, while the CSS provides visual formatting according to the company's identity.

JAMstack - the benefits

The top benefit of the JAMstack approach is performance. The time it takes for a request to be fulfilled is impacted by the distance it must travel, the number of systems it must interact with, and the work being done in each of those systems. When built with JAMstack, visitors don't need to interact with any of the machinery involved in generating each view at all! We can deliver the result of all that prior work directly from a distributed network of caches (a CDN), making the distance that requests travel short, and steering clear of interacting with any of the systems.

Another advantage is scalability, meaning that JAMstack applications respond well to large increases in usage. It stems from the fact that serving static HTML pages consumes very little server resources.

Developer experience also increases consistently because, in a JAMstack application, developers focus on building a compelling front-end user experience, without worrying too much about the backend or performance issues.

In addition, the use of JAMstack leads to better security. Pre-rendered pages in a JAMstack application have very few vectors for malicious attacks. When we remove the need for servers to perform logic and work, we hinder bad actors from “injecting” them with malicious code.

Last but not least, we benefit from a simplified hosting infrastructure. Considering that in a JAMstack application there is no need to access databases, perform logical operations, or modify resources for every view, we can drastically simplify the hosting infrastructure-usually a simple web server would suffice. This also further improves security, as there are physically fewer servers involved in handling requests.

Static site generators

We can not talk about JAMstack without referring to static site generators. These are tools that can be run as part of a build system to transform content, data, and templates into files, which will later be deployed to a hosting environment as a ready-to-serve website.

The greatest difference between a static site generator and a traditional web application stack is that instead of waiting until a page is requested and then generating its view on demand each time, a static site generator does this in advance. This way the view is ready to serve ahead of time. And it does so for every possible view of a site at build time.

This has several valuable implications, but the most important one is that it shifts this work away from "request time" (when users ask for the view) to "build time", which is unrelated to when users ask for the view of a page. This "decoupled" architecture breaks the relationship between the number of visits to a site and the overhead of generating the views that service all of those visits.

Headless CMS

A headless CMS, also known as headless software or headless system, is any type of back-end content management system where the content repository, the “body,” is separated or decoupled from the presentation layer, the “head.”

These types of content management systems are usually holding the entire data layer, which can be exposed to a static site generator via JavaScript, or any other device or service like games, IoT, smart devices, etc. Most of the time, headless CMS are hosted and delivered from the cloud.

One of the most important features of the headless CMSes is that they have limitless scalability, being able to support any number of devices that are connected to them. This makes content in a headless CMS endlessly reusable, no matter the omnichannel customer experience you are after today, or the channels that will emerge in the future. This is different from WordPress and other monolithic CMSes that tightly couple the frontend with the backend, keeping you locked into how content can (and cannot) be displayed.

Exchanging data with a headless CMS is rather straightforward: they expose a REST API that is easy to consume and easy to manage via visual tools.

Think about headless architecture and APIs like this: the main job of a headless CMS is to store and manage your content. APIs are the magical connection points that allow these backend (e.g. headless CMS) and frontend systems (e.g. website) to communicate in the specific ways a digital team wants them to.

Most used headless CMSs are:

Deployment

Websites built with JAMstack architecture need to be hosted somewhere to be accessible to the public. The number of companies offering hosting and static site generator tools has also increased lately. They offer a plethora of tools and services, facilitating the developer’s work/job.

The most important actors playing in the hosting JAMstack projects are:

Conclusion

JAMstack was invented as a way to put a nomenclature to the new way of building websites and apps that delivers better performance, higher security, lower cost of scaling, and a better developer experience. JAMstack is not about specific technologies, it is a modern web development architecture based on client-side JavaScript, reusable APIs, and prebuilt Markup.

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