The Agile Shift in Composable Technology


The Gist

  • Composable technology. Embrace micro-frontends for agility in digital architecture.
  • Flexibility achieved. Decoupling front ends boosts agility and reduces risks.
  • Composable approach. Modular user interface components improve development speed.

In the era of composable architecture, where flexibility and agility reign supreme, the front end often stands out as the last bastion of monolithic development. While the rest of your tech stack embraces microservices, headless platforms and API-driven solutions, the front end can sometimes feel like a locked-in, rigid entity. It’s the face of your business, the pages on your website, the screens of your mobile app, and, to many customers, it is your business.

However, despite its critical role, the traditional front end has its limitations. Composable architecture has inevitably pushed more complexity than ever to the front end. Your front-end code now bears the responsibility of seamlessly calling APIs to retrieve content, drive functionality and make everything work cohesively.

Consider this: Independent features of your site or application are often bundled together in the front end. When one feature changes, it triggers a domino effect where everything needs to be repackaged, tested and deployed. This not only slows down development but can also introduce unnecessary risks and complexities into your workflow.

The Promise of Composable Front Ends

The solution to these challenges lies in embracing composable front ends — a philosophy that extends the principles of composability to the user interface. Composable front ends provide a structured approach to building modular, reusable and independently deployable user interface components.

Imagine being able to break down your front-end architecture into smaller, self-contained modules — micro-front ends — each responsible for a specific part of your application. These micro-frontends can be developed, tested and deployed independently, offering a level of flexibility and agility that mirrors the rest of your composable technology stack.

Embracing composable technology front ends isn’t just a technological choice; it’s a strategic move that can improve how businesses approach web development. Benefits of this approach include:

  • Agility: Composable front ends enable faster development cycles. You can make changes or introduce new features without disrupting the entire application.
  • Reusability: Front-end components become highly reusable, fostering consistency in design and functionality across your digital experiences.
  • Enhanced collaboration: Development teams can work on different micro-frontends simultaneously, promoting collaboration and parallel development efforts.
  • Streamlined maintenance: Updates and maintenance become more efficient, reducing the risk of regression issues and downtime.

There are multiple ways to approach creating composable front ends. There are several platforms, digital marketing tools and frameworks that each have their own benefits and drawbacks.

Related Article: The Future of Digital Experience: The Shift Toward Composable DXPs

Four increasing arrows surrounding building blocks, representing the path toward building out composable technology for digital experiences.
The building blocks represent the path toward building out composable technology for digital experiences.M-image

Composability Through Routing to Micro-Front Ends

The simplest approach to composable technology front ends is to break your website into micro-front ends based on their path on the website. For instance, if your product catalog resides at “/products,” you can set up networking proxies to route those requests to a separate application hosted on dedicated servers. This strategy enables the isolation of complexity within multiple applications, each managed by different teams. They can iterate and enhance their features independently, minimizing the risk of affecting other parts of the site. 

While straightforward, this does introduce challenges when it comes to sharing elements and components across the different parts of the site. Having a uniform header, navigation and footer is a requirement, and there may be a need to share individual content components as well. Using content from a headless content management system may ensure the content is always correct, but you’ll still need to solve for ensuring the presentation is consistent across each micro-front end.

Related Article: The Heart of Composable Architecture

Build Time Composability

There are several approaches to managing the complexity of sharing components across micro-front ends or even multiple applications. One approach is to package components using a tool like Node Package Manager (npm). You can deploy your components to a private component registry and install them where needed. This can quickly become difficult to manage as you try to keep versions of components in sync especially as you try to manage dependencies and deployments across multiple applications.

There are platforms that help reduce this operational overhead. One such platform, allows you to register components in a shared location and provides the dev ops tooling to support versioning, releases and automatic updates across dependencies. It also provides tools for visualizing the dependency tree so you can see where components are used across applications.

Related Article: The Benefits — and Challenges — of Composable Digital Experience Platforms

Run Time Composability With Module Federation

Module Federation is a feature introduced in Webpack 5 that enables developers to dynamically share and consume JavaScript modules across multiple applications at runtime. This means that you can package and deploy components to a live server and consume that component in another application at run time. So, when you need to release a new version of that component, you can do so in a central place and everything that depends on it will update when it detects the change. It’s important to note that this run time resolution can happen server side and leverage caching techniques like incremental static generation. This can eliminate the latency associated with other techniques.


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