If you’re like me and have had to sit through a product discovery phase of a web development project, you’ve probably heard lengthy — often esoteric — discussions about a tech stack. Developers will backlog features and come up with a plan of action. But how exactly do they decide which technologies to use? Why are those frameworks the best fit for the job? What difference does technology really make? Deciding on a tech stack is a vital part of the discovery phase and sets the stage for further development. It makes sure you end up with the app that best serves the needs of your target market. Get it wrong and your product may struggle to gain traction. Get it slightly wrong and you’ll have a more complex application than you actually need. 
In any discussion with an external development team, it’s good to know some of the basics of what goes into these decisions. Complexity, features and scale are all part of what influences the tech stack of a web app. Find out some of the strategies we use to advise our clients in our own work.

Front-end Technologies

An app’s front end is what an end-users sees and interacts with. It’s important that this part of the app is responsive and intuitive. Responsiveness, after all, is a function of how well tech different layers of an application work together. Technologies such as React and Angular are typically part of a modern front-end stack. Why you might use one over the other depends on how fast you want the app to go to market versus how customizable you want it to be. 

For example, a very simple application that only does a few things can be set up very quickly with ready solutions like material design. A front-end developer can then use Angular to create an app quickly and cheaply. Think of it a bit like a drag-and-drop website template. You can still tweak layout, color and font, but end up with an app that looks like others on the market. That’s fine if this isn’t important to your end-users. In fact, it’s ideal for apps you want to get to market as quickly as possible. 

Meanwhile, a more customized app that requires more features and a unique design takes more time to develop. For this, you’ll want to use React. React allows for a more customized UI that also takes more development hours to launch. 

SEO friendliness may also be a key consideration for front-end development. Server side rendering with Angular improves latency and can give you a boost in SEO rankings. These benefits come at a cost, however. While SSR can improve site speed, it lowers the flexibility of the product due to the limits of the SSR mechanism. A classic template app in React, however, is more involved. Depending on your exact business case, site speed may be important for your end-users. In others, custom design and credibility matter more.

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Some common front-end technologies include: 

  • JavaScript — This language helps add interactiveness to the front end by reading the HTML source code and creating dynamic components.  JavaScript also makes it easier to develop front and back ends that work well together.
  • UI Frameworks — Angular and React are the popular front-end frameworks. These allow developers to build apps from existing components. Angular is a good choice if you need to get an app to market quickly. React is a better choice if you want a more customizable app.
  • HTML — This is the code that describes website structure. Elements such as text and images are all described here.
  • CSS — Format, style, font and layout are all details in the CSS. It’s what helps a browser interpret the raw HTML code.

Technology decisions about what framework to use in an app’s front end heavily depend on the type of app you want to create. Different features need different solutions.

Back-end technologies

For any app to be successful, it has to have a good foundation. A solid back end that integrates seamlessly into the app’s front end is essential to a functional app. Back-end technologies like Java, Node.js and the database and cloud technologies it has to integrate with have to come together to form a solid app. The thing about an app’s back end is that it will have to coordinate with several components such as the operating system, external databases, servers and hosting services. 

Just as in front-end design, the type of tool you want to create affects the type of frameworks that are part of your tech stack. An app that has to deal with a lot of documents would need stronger integrations with databases and cloud providers.

Some common back-end frameworks and programming languages you’ll need to choose from include:

  • Node.js — Node is an open-source, cross-platform runtime environment for developing server-side web applications. For about a decade, Node has gotten very popular for its lightweight design and quick response times. Using Node.js in a back-end tech stack unifies your front end and back end in one JavaScript environment, reducing the app’s complexity. 
  • Ruby on Rails — Rails is a server-side web app framework that emphasizes web standards such as JSON and XML for transferring data and a front-end framework such as JavaScript for UI components. 
  • Java — Java is one of the most widely used programming languages today, due in large part to how well it works across platforms. It’s been around for more than 20 years, and it’s still going strong.
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With a language like Node.js, you can hire JavaScript developers to do both front-end and back-end development for the app. By creating an entire JavaScript ecosystem, you’ll have a cohesive code base. The primary advantage of this is that your development team is operating in one language so setting up your CI/CD is considerably simpler. Another advantage of keeping everything in JavaScript is that you can move front-end developers to work on the back end if the need arises and vice versa. Recruiting will also be simpler since you don’t have to retain developers with narrow specialties and maintain the separate code bases they built. 

For smaller projects, Node.js is a good choice because it allows your development team to build product prototypes much more quickly than other methods. Larger projects, however, have to contend with existing architecture and any new code would have to conform to. 

One big consideration for what tech stack to choose is whether the ecosystem offers ready-made solutions for your business challenge. Say you’d like to develop a streaming platform. Each language has a different pool of libraries that your development team can reuse. Since you’ll want to use your development budget wisely, this could have a major effect on which tech stack you choose.  

Project scope is a critical detail for your project manager and development team as a whole. To get the right tech stack for the app you want to build, you’ll have to clearly lay out the requirements of the project (or at least what you want the app to do), how quickly you want to launch, future plans for scalability and security. All these metrics determine which tech stack to use and who will work on the team.

Tech stacks of some of our successful projects

In the project discovery phase of all our development projects, we make sure we understand the project scope and then advise on a tech stack to best suit the unique business challenges. Here are a few successful examples of the work we’ve done.

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Digital Platform for RxS

RxS is a pharmaceutical app that makes it easy for healthcare practitioners to order drug samples through the app. It supports doctors in getting the pharmaceuticals they need to prescribe to their patients. 

An existing app already had integrations in .NET and C#, so in the discovery phase, we decided to use Angular as a JavaScript framework because of its very user-friendly UI and its long list of features. Additionally, it’s one of the most secure frameworks. This keeps the app HIPAA compliant, which was a crucial feature for RXS due to the nature of their industry. 

Leave Tracking App for FreeQuest

FreeQuest intuitively manages and tracks paid time off, sick leave and remote work in teams across the world. It simplifies leave management across teams by consolidating these processes in one easy-to-use application. This internal project uses Node.js and React to create a single-language ecosystem and so we could easily swap out developers throughout the development phase.

Weather Forecast App for Cautus GEO AS

Cautus GEO AS helps individuals and companies predict weather conditions. It uses a multitude of data points and analytics systems to notice anomalies and make better predictions for a given location. At Applandeo, we decided to use Angular and C# to make this app fast and easy to use for end-users. The back end needed to communicate with several external databases through APIs so making sure the app loaded quickly and remained responsive was a crucial part of our decision.

New Group Booking Platform for Groups AQ 

Groups AG is a leading Swiss booking platform for group accommodation. This project involved a comprehensive overhaul of an existing platform. Group AG not only had to be easy to use, it also needed to rank highly in search engines. Since the project involved designing a totally new application, we decided to use Node.js in the back end. Node is lightweight and efficient and can handle the type of requests the app receives constantly. Angular was our choice for the front end for the intuitive user interfaces that we could design for Groups.

Conclusion

Tech stack decisions can be daunting. Building an app with the right frameworks will set you up for future success, and should save you in development hours. Hiring experts to help you decide and then carry out development is vital to a successful end product. Carefully pinpointing the needs of your target market and the scope of your web app development project is a vital early step. Building solutions that consolidate and simplify the app development landscape can be the difference between a successful program and one that fails to gain traction.

Get the right tech stack for your app with expert advice. We’re here to help. Contact us today. 

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Technology Stack for Web Development: How To Choose The Right One - marcel-100px Hi, I’m Marcin, COO of Applandeo

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