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Monolithic vs Microservices? The Question You Shouldn’t Really Ask Yourself

What should you do: staying monolithic or switching to microservices? It depends on what you want to achieve. If your plan is to go for a really quick and flexible solution – and you read this in the 2020s – you should definitely learn more about the pros and cons of both approaches.


Monolithic software architecture has been here for a while, while microservices represent a fairly modern approach to app-building, used by worldwide giants such as Twitter, Uber, Spotify, or Netflix, so it seems it’s here to stay.

But what’s all the fuss about? In this article we will:

  • Familiarize you with the concept of monolith vs microservices approaches

  • Show their main pros and cons

  • Present the microservices architecture in the context of the Jamstack development services

  • Tell you how to migrate from a monolith to microservices

  • Advise on which to choose for your project

Let’s take a look!

What's the difference between monolithic and microservices?

Monolithic architecture of a piece of software – as its name accurately tells us – wherein all the functions of the entire application are put together in one codebase.

A monolithic application is a large block of code with multiple modules, tightly coupled together as a single instance. Its architecture is three-tiered, and consists of a database, a user interface, and a server-side application.

This has many implications which we will discuss later.

Monolithic Architecture in one sentence

Monolithic application is a large block of code with multiple modules, tightly coupled together as a single instance. Its architecture is three-tiered, and consists of a database, a user interface, and a server-side application.

Microservices architecture, on the other hand, means that all the functions and business capabilities of a microservice application are broken down into separate modules that are called microservices – each of them has its own database (there are multiple databases) and communicates with others through API and HTTP protocols.

Each microservice can be hosted and developed as independent services, and this type of architecture is also technology-agnostic, so it offers more flexibility for developers.

Microservices are specialized – each of them is focused on just a single function, and because of that, each is more efficient than a monolithic system.

Microservices Architecture in one sentence

Microservices architecture means that all the functions and business capabilities of an application are broken down into separate modules that are called microservices- each of them has its own database and communicates with other through API and HTTP protocols.

Microservices vs Monolith – Plugins For Architecture Improvement

It's vital to add that we can extend the monolithic architecture (such as WordPress) with add-ons and plugins that may imitate the microservices' functionality to some extent.

It isn't, however, a perfect solution, because it may lead to mistakes:

  • Not all the plugins cooperate together well

  • An overloaded website may load slowly or result in 429 error

  • Plugins may lose the support of their creators (which is a common problem in the open-source world)

Microservices architecture pattern is much more than just a collection of plugins or functions: it's a whole logical system, where none of the functionalities are redundant or duplicated. We will explain it in more detail when talking about migration from monolith to microservices.

Monolith vs Microservices – How It Affects Jamstack Approach?

Microservices are a part of the broader Jamstack approach. And what is Jamstack? We have discussed this idea in many of our blog posts, sometimes directly, and sometimes in the context of other subjects, so feel free to explore our blog!

Here, we will just briefly recall the idea.

To put it shortly, Jamstack (short for JavaScript, APIs and Markup) is an approach to creating websites and apps that grants the advantages of static websites (like efficiency, speed, and security), while at the same time allowing for dynamic and fully interactive content with almost infinite scalability and flexibility.

Static and Dynamic Websites Approach - Monolith vs Microservices

It is possible because, in Jamstack, the front-end layer is decoupled from the back-end layer, and you may be able to use the same back end with many different front ends.

Like microservices, Jamstack is the opposite of the monolithic approach.

Microservices are thus a subset of the Jamstack approach – all the tools like payment services or chats are, thanks to using API, brought directly to the front end, and not to the back end of an app or a website.

Having said that, let’s come back to monolith vs microservices, taking a look at their pros and cons.

Monolith vs Microservices – Pros of Monolith Architecture

This method of development is historically typical, and it still holds some pros that may still be relevant for certain businesses.

  • Simplicity and Ease of Development

  • Reduced Complexity in Deployment and Testing

  • Lower Overhead and Operational Costs

Simplicity and Ease of Development

Monolithic architecture provides a simpler development process as the entire application is contained within a single codebase. This simplicity can lead to faster development cycles and easier maintenance, mainly for smaller projects with limited complexity.

Reduced Complexity in Deployment and Testing

With a monolithic architecture, deployment and testing can be less complicated as the entire application is deployed as a single unit. This can simplify the setup and configuration process, making it easier to manage the deployment pipeline and ensure consistent behavior across the application. You just have one app to build, monitor, use, and test.

Lower Overhead and Operational Costs

Monolithic architecture requires fewer resources to operate and maintain compared to microservices. With a single codebase and deployment unit, there are fewer moving parts to manage, resulting in lower infrastructure costs and reduced operational complexities. You skip lots of operational duties, like interservice communication or decentralized data management.

Microservices vs Monolithic – Drawbacks of Monolith Approach

Monolithic architecture comes, on the other hand, with many disadvantages. But if it didn’t, we wouldn’t have to come up with the microservices idea in the first place. Find them below.

  • Limited Scalability and Flexibility

  • Risk of Single Point of Failure

  • Dependency Management Challenges

  • Limited Technology Stack Flexibility

  • Complex Maintenance and Upgrades

Limited Scalability and Flexibility

Monolithic applications can be challenging to scale horizontally, as the entire application needs to be replicated. This can result in increased resource consumption and limited flexibility in scaling individual components independently to meet changing demands. You are sentenced for a long time to the same technology stack, and the adoption of new solutions or third-party tools is highly problematic.

Risk of Single Point of Failure

In a monolithic architecture, a failure in one component can affect the entire application, leading to potential downtime. The tightly coupled nature of monolithic systems can make it more difficult to isolate and contain failures, potentially impacting the availability and reliability of the entire application. One small change could make it collapse.

Dependency Management Challenges

With a monolithic architecture, all components are tightly integrated, making it harder to manage dependencies between different functionalities. This can result in longer development cycles, slower deployment processes, and increased complexity when introducing changes or updates to specific parts of the application.

Limited Technology Stack Flexibility

Monolithic applications often rely on a specific technology stack, making it more challenging to adopt new technologies or frameworks. This can restrict the ability to leverage emerging trends and advancements in the rapidly evolving technology landscape, potentially impacting the competitiveness and future-proofing of the application.

Complex Maintenance and Upgrades

Monolithic applications can become increasingly complex to maintain and upgrade over time. As the codebase grows larger and more interdependent, making changes or introducing new features can become challenging and time-consuming. Upgrades to libraries, frameworks, or underlying technologies may require extensive testing and validation throughout the entire application, potentially leading to longer development cycles and increased maintenance efforts.

Monolithic Architecture - Pros And Cons

Monolithic Application vs Microservices – Upsides of Adopting Microservices

When considering a transition from a monolithic application to a microservices architecture, there are several compelling benefits to keep in mind.

  • Enhanced Scalability and Flexibility

  • Development Independence of Modules

  • Technological Agnosticism and Freedom

  • Easier Management of Development

  • Fault Isolation and Resilience

  • Rapid Iterations and Deployment

Enhanced Scalability and Flexibility

With microservices, you can scale specific services independently based on demand, allowing for more efficient resource utilization and the ability to handle increased traffic and user loads effectively. This flexibility enables you to adapt quickly to changing business needs and ensure a smooth user experience during peak periods. You can easily scale both individual components and the whole application without affecting the codebase.

Development Independence of Modules

Microservices architecture enables development teams to work independently on specific modules or services. This independence facilitates faster development cycles, as each team can focus on their designated area without worrying about impacting other parts of the application. It allows for parallel development, accelerates time-to-market, and fosters a more agile and collaborative development environment.

Technological Agnosticism

Microservices architecture is known for its technological agnosticism, which means you're not restricted to a particular technology stack. Each microservice can be built using the most suitable technology for its purpose, enabling you to leverage the best tools, frameworks, and languages available. This flexibility allows for the adoption of emerging technologies and the integration of third-party services seamlessly.

Easier Management of Development

Microservices architecture simplifies the management of the development process. With smaller and more focused services, it becomes easier to test, debug, and deploy changes or updates. It reduces the risk of introducing unintended consequences when making modifications, making it simpler to ensure the stability and reliability of the overall system. This streamlined development management approach leads to faster iterations, improved code quality, and faster time-to-market.

Fault Isolation and Resilience

Microservices architecture offers improved fault isolation compared to monolithic applications. If a specific microservice encounters an issue or fails, the rest of the system remains unaffected, ensuring the overall application's resilience. This isolation enhances fault tolerance, reduces downtime, and allows for easier maintenance, as you can address issues in a specific service without disrupting the entire application.

Rapid Iterations and Deployment

Microservices architecture allows for rapid iterations and deployment. Since each microservice can be developed and deployed independently, changes and updates can be implemented without impacting the entire system. This agility enables faster iterations, quicker response to customer feedback, and shorter release cycles, ensuring that you can deliver new features and enhancements to the market more efficiently.

Challenges Associated with Microservices – Choosing Monolithic vs Microservice

Although the microservices architecture allows to solve all the problems linked with a monolith, there are, however, some cons involved such as those listed below.

  • Complex Component Structuring

  • Increased Testing Complexity

  • Communication and Network Overhead

Complex Component Structuring

Microservices architecture introduces the need for careful component structuring. Breaking down an application into smaller services requires thoughtful design and planning to ensure each service has clear boundaries and responsibilities. Without proper structuring, there is a risk of ending up with a distributed monolith, where services become tightly coupled and interdependent, negating the advantages of microservices. It requires architectural expertise and careful consideration to strike the right balance between service granularity and independence.

Increased Testing Complexity

As the number of services increases in a microservices architecture, so does the complexity of testing. Each service needs to be thoroughly tested individually and in combination with other services to ensure seamless integration and compatibility. Implementing comprehensive testing strategies, such as service mocking and end-to-end testing, becomes crucial to maintain the reliability and stability of the overall system. Testing complexities can require additional effort and resources, but they are essential to ensure the robustness of a microservices-based application.

Communication and Network Overhead

Microservices architecture relies heavily on inter-service communication through APIs or message queues. While this decoupled communication allows for independent development and scalability, it introduces network overhead and latency. Services need to communicate with each other, potentially across different servers or even data centers, which can introduce delays and network-related issues. Managing service-to-service communication effectively, ensuring low latency and fault tolerance, requires careful consideration of network architecture and implementation.

Microservices Architecture - Pros And Cons

Monolithic vs Microservices Architecture – Factors To Consider While Switching To Microservices

This is a very important choice that will influence the whole lifecycle of your application and affect its maintenance throughout. You should take into account several factors, such as:

  • The nature of the application – we will provide you with a list of use cases later in the article

  • Business risk – although microservices architecture has many advantages, choosing it may require more work at the beginning because it’s a totally new approach that will likely require some changes to existing business logic and processes

  • Infrastructure – microservices need first-class cloud infrastructure to run smoothly and seamlessly, which may also come at a cost

  • Cost – you should consider all the expenses connected with preparing and running the software

  • Tech expertise – you should have access to developers who are able to set up and handle a product based on microservices architecture in the long run, and have extensive knowledge of systems and tooling. Remember that they are still more difficult to find, and thus more expensive

Monolithic vs Microservice – Determining The Best Fit For Your Business Logic

You might have impatiently waited throughout the article to get the answer to this question – so here we go!

We will provide you with a list of cases or project types that will be well-fitted with either of these two options.

Monolithic Applications over Microservices – Best Option For Smaller Apps and MVPs

A small app

If the project is simple and you want to get it running quickly, monolithic is the way to go. You will have just one codebase to take care of, and to be true, you really don’t need more unless the application grows.

Moreover, if you are convinced your app will not scale (of course, you may never be 100% sure about it), there is no need to go into microservices at all.


With a minimum viable product your goal is to gather feedback from the market instantly, especially if it is a highly competitive one. Other functions may be added later. If your product is still in the ideation phase, you can quickly iterate and shift to microservices in the future.

Nevertheless, MVP can be also done with use of microservices.

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Microservices over Monolith Architecture –Top Choice For Large-Scale And Big Data Apps

A large-scale app

If your software involves a multitude of users, customer journeys, and functions, microservices are the best choice, because they will facilitate iterations. It is also useful in the case of rapidly evolving apps that need enhanced scalability and easily added new functions. Choosing the monolithic approach in this case would mean you have to develop many aspects from scratch.

A big data app

Apps based on big data are usually pipeline-oriented, which means that every stage of the pipeline is responsible for each subsequent stage of data processing. These stages may easily be managed, with each being a microservice of their own.

A real-time data processing app

Apps like Netflix, YouTube, or Soundcloud are based on microservices, because the publish-subscribe messaging pattern used in this type of architecture is just perfect for them.

A CPU-intensive app

If your app handles CPU-intensive processes like NLP or geolocation, it’s better to choose the microservices architecture, because it helps to avoid running these processes every time developers work on the software.

Migration From Monolith To Microservice – Best Strategies and Steps

If you want to enjoy the advantages of adopting microservices architecture, as more and more companies do, you don’t have to build everything from scratch. Yes – it is possible to migrate your existing software!

This means, among others, removing duplicate data, providing a single and unified view, and improving the control and synchronization of the systems.

The main reason one may want to move to microservices is scalability. However, scaling rarely used components may in fact be a waste of time – the first functions that should be migrated are those used the most frequently.

How can you perform this migration? What is the best way to build microservices? There are several steps. Let us briefly guide you through them!

1. Identification of logical components

The components should be understood as logical sets of data objects and the actions performed on them by the system, as well as the jobs performed. The first step involves identifying these modules as separate instances and grouping them into categories.

The components chosen for migration in the first place should be ones that are used by the most users and most frequently, have the fewest dependencies on other components, or their performance is too slow.

2. Flattening and refactoring components

After the unique identification and grouping of the abovementioned components, the groups should be organized internally.

Some data and functions may be merged, if their scope or goal is the same – in the final system there should be just one microservice responsible for one functionality, and there are multiple services.

This may be especially tricky when you decide to merge a few monolithic applications together. You should also take into consideration the data formats, data types, their accuracy, and data units – all should be organized according to one common pattern.

The same data may perform different jobs, which doesn’t mean they should duplicate.

3. Identifying component dependencies

After the previous step, it is important to determine which components are influencing other ones – this can be performed thtough an analysis of the source code, as well as using tools that allow you to automate this process.

4. Identifying component groups

The components must then be structured into cohesive groups that could be later transformed into microservices.

Migration From Monolith to Microservices in 7 Steps

5. Creating an API for remote UI

The remote user interface in the microservices architecture is designed as the only way of communication between the system, including its components and users. It should be planned in a way that allows for easy scaling in the future.

In this step, the developers should provide a unified API, because everything that happens within the system depends on it.

The stateless and versioned API should be able to handle all data-access cases supported by apps that will use it and all data objects represented in the system.

6. Migrating groups of components to macroservices

Previously designed groups of modules should be moved from the monolithic system into separate thematic projects with separate deployments (macroservices). It is an interim step that will eventually lead to microservices.

7. Migrating macroservices to microservices

In the final move we have to break down migrated macroservices into microservices. They may contain more than one of the initial components. Then we should deploy and test the entire new system.

It may all sound a bit sophisticated, but we’ve got you covered – at Naturaily, we have implemented several migrations from monolith to microservices so, working with us, you’re in the best hands.

Wrap-Up – Importance of Knowing The Difference Between Monolithic And Microservices

In this article, we have broken down the differences between the monolithic and microservices architecture, indicating their pros, cons, and use cases.

Definitely lightweight and scalable service oriented architecture is a very promising direction when it comes to the development of complex and evolving applications.

Soon the pros of monolithic systems will not be enough to balance their cons, although this historical approach will be still used for some purposes mentioned in the text.

So, if you want to try the microservices and Jamstack approach in your business, feel free to contact us to talk about your needs and requirements.

We specialize in providing eCommerce & web development services and we'll be happy to support you in migrating or setting up a new architecture.

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