Spencer Nguyen - April 16, 2024
diagram showing microapps vs. microservices

From the end user’s perspective, the microapps and microservices often seem to provide the same functionality. However, development teams need to think about microapps vs. microservices when building products. Before you commit time to microapps or microservices architecture, take some time to consider how these options will affect user experience (UX), user interface (UI), and security of your websites, web apps, and mobile apps.

In the following article, we’ll look at the similarities and differences of microapps vs. microservices to help you decide which option works best for your mobile app, web application, or website.

Here’s the key things to know about Microapps vs Microservices:

  • Microapps are minimalistic applications focused on performing specific tasks within larger systems, enhancing user engagement and streamlining processes with their targeted functionality.
  • They are developed using standard web technologies and are designed to be small and independent, functioning within broader systems but capable of operating independently and integrating smoothly via APIs.
  • Microservices are small, independently deployable services that manage specific portions of business logic within a larger application, facilitating better scalability and flexibility.
  • Microservices function by breaking down a monolithic application into several smaller, loosely coupled services that communicate over APIs, supported by modern containerization platforms like Docker and Kubernetes for deployment.
  • Choosing between microapps and microservices depends on specific organizational needs; microapps are ideal for quick, targeted user experience enhancements, while microservices suit extensive, scalable application restructuring.
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What are Microapps?

Microapps are minimalistic, targeted applications designed to perform specific functions or tasks within larger systems. They embody the principle of “do one thing and do it well,” focusing on a singular functionality that addresses specific user needs or business processes. This approach allows microapps to deliver highly focused and efficient user experiences.

How Do Microapps Work?

Microapps are designed to function as small, independent applications that address a specific workflow or task within a broader system. They are developed using standard web technologies and are often deployed on platforms that support lightweight web or mobile apps. Each microapp is equipped with a minimal user interface and enough backend logic to perform its designated function, operating independently from other applications but able to communicate via APIs. This setup allows microapps to be swiftly integrated into existing digital environments, where they can interact with other applications and services without disruption.

The deployment of microapps is typically managed through a microapp platform or a containerized architecture, which provides the necessary infrastructure to run each app in isolation. This method ensures that updates, scaling, or changes to one microapp do not impact others, facilitating a more robust and flexible application ecosystem.

What are Microservices?

Microservices are small, independently deployable units of an application that each perform a specific role within a larger system. Unlike monolithic architectures where all processes are tightly integrated and interdependent, microservices are designed to operate autonomously and communicate with each other using lightweight protocols, typically over HTTP/REST APIs. This architectural style is based on the principle of breaking down an application into smaller pieces that can be developed, tested, deployed, and scaled independently.

Each microservice is focused on a single business capability, ensuring that it remains simple and manageable despite the overall complexity of the full application. This modularity allows teams to implement continuous delivery practices effectively, pushing updates for specific parts of an application without impacting other components. The microservices approach aligns with modern agile and DevOps practices, promoting a faster iteration cycle and more resilient system design.

How Do Microservices Work?

Microservices work by dividing a traditional, monolithic application into separate services that run as independent processes and communicate over well-defined APIs. Each microservice handles a specific segment of business logic and operates its database, making them loosely coupled and highly cohesive. This separation allows developers to work on discrete sections of an application without overlapping or interfering with others’ code.

The deployment of microservices is typically orchestrated through containerization platforms like Docker and Kubernetes, which provide the necessary tools to manage the lifecycle of each service independently. Containers encapsulate microservices with their dependencies, ensuring consistency across different environments and simplifying deployment and scaling operations. Service meshes such as Istio or Linkerd can further enhance microservice architectures by providing advanced networking features, including service discovery, load balancing, failure recovery, and security.

Replacing Monolithic Applications: Microapps vs. Microservices

When you take inventory of your IT assets, you will likely find that some of your legacy applications have monolithic architecture. These monolithic applications often have complex dependencies that make it difficult for app development teams to release codebase updates without unintentionally affecting functionality.

Microservices and microapps can replace monolithic, complex applications to fulfill tasks faster and give DevOps teams more flexibility when updating products.

Microapps Benefits

Some of the most noteworthy benefits of micro-applications include:

  • Small sizes that make them suitable for mobile devices without the processing power of desktop computers.
  • Better security than monolithic apps that often have such large codebases that developers miss vulnerabilities.
  • Custom features that developers can add, delete or update without affecting other features.
  • Lightweight, interactive features that can make products (such as e-commerce pages and messaging apps) more appealing to users.
  • Self-contained backend features that avoid challenges of code duplications.
  • Faster server-side scalability that doesn’t put as much strain on AWS and other cloud providers.

Recommended reading: A Beginner’s Guide to Microservices

Microservices Benefits

Microservices often share some of the benefits that microapps provide. Notable reasons to use microservices include:

  • Shorter development cycles that help get the product to market faster.
  • Rapid scalability that adjusts to user needs.
  • Agnostic cloud software architecture that developers can build with JavaScript or other popular coding languages for websites and mobile applications.
  • Design patterns (such as Circuit Breaker and Retry) that lead to improved fault-tolerance.
  • Better accessibility for developers that need to understand how components function before they can update services.

Make it easier than ever to connect your API endpoints to improve the performance of microservices and microapps. Start your free trial with DreamFactory today.

Microapps vs. Microservices: Use Cases

Microapps and microservices offer numerous advantages that make everything from automation to user authentication easier while avoiding the pitfalls of monolithic apps. The following microapps vs. microservices use cases should help you understand how these advantages benefit real-world users.

Collecting E-commerce Big Data with a Microservice

Big data makes it possible for e-commerce stores to understand buyer behaviors and predict emerging trends. Of course, data collection doesn’t happen on its own. Gathering, sending, and processing data requires the work of applications or services.

An e-commerce company wants to start collecting data related to what products customers look at after putting their flagship product into their shopping carts. They decide to build a microservice that executes this specific function. When a shopper puts the flagship product into their shopping cart, the microservice records where they go next and sends that information to a database.

Over time, the company decides to shift its approach. Now, it also wants to know what products shoppers look at before putting items into their shopping carts.

The change doesn’t create much additional work for the development team. Instead of changing the code of a monolithic data-collection app, the team members use the existing microservice as a template to build a slightly different microservice that functions alongside it. Now, they can collect data about consumer behavior before and after purchases.

Approving Expenses with a Microapp

Currently, a delivery company uses an expense management app that has features for approving expenses, requesting payments, sending payments, and other tasks. Managers find the process time-consuming and difficult because they must open the app, wait for it to load on their tablets, and use drop-down menus to choose the feature they need to use.

The DevOps team decides to improve the process with microapps. The developers start by building a small app that only approves expenses. When an employee submits an expense request for approval, managers can open the app with a single touch. From there, they only need to tap “Approve” or “Disapprove.”

Soon, the development team rolls out other microapps that perform other features from the legacy app. Now, managers can perform all functions quickly without scrolling their unnecessary features.

Microapps vs. Microservices: Which Is Best?

Choosing between microapps and microservices largely depends on your organization’s specific needs, budget, and existing infrastructure. Microapps are best suited for situations where you need to quickly deploy small, user-focused applications that enhance or simplify user interaction within larger systems. They are particularly effective for organizations looking to rapidly improve end-user experience with minimal disruption to the existing backend systems. Microapps can be developed and deployed quickly and economically, making them ideal for companies with limited budgets or those requiring immediate solutions to specific problems.

On the other hand, microservices are more appropriate for comprehensive restructuring or scaling of complex systems. They are ideal for organizations looking to build robust, scalable, and flexible applications from the ground up. Implementing a microservices architecture requires a larger upfront investment in both time and resources compared to microapps. This includes setting up a development environment that supports continuous integration and deployment, as well as potentially investing in new tools and technologies for managing distributed systems. However, the long-term benefits include easier maintenance, better scalability, and the ability to deploy new features quickly without affecting the entire system. For larger organizations or those with complex applications requiring high scalability and flexibility, microservices offer a compelling advantage.

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Microapps vs. Microservices: How DreamFactory Can Help

Where do you fall on the microapps vs. microservices discussion? The answer probably depends on the problem you want to solve. Regardless of the option you choose, DreamFactory can help.

Start a free trial with DreamFactory to quickly create the REST APIs your microservices need to work together.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What are microapps?

Microapps are minimalistic, standalone applications designed to address specific tasks within a broader system. They focus on a single functionality and are typically used to streamline processes or enhance user engagement through targeted features.

What are microservices?

Microservices are independently deployable units of software that handle discrete portions of business logic within a larger application. They communicate with each other via APIs and are characterized by their small size, loose coupling, and the ability to be developed and deployed independently.

How do microapps and microservices differ?

The primary difference lies in their scope and usage. Microapps are user-centric, designed to simplify and enhance specific user interactions within a system. Microservices, however, are architectural components that manage distinct chunks of business logic, supporting the backend of an application more comprehensively.

When should I use microapps?

Microapps are ideal when there is a need to improve user experience quickly and efficiently without overhauling the entire system. They are cost-effective, easy to deploy, and do not require significant changes to existing backend infrastructure, making them suitable for organizations looking to implement solutions with minimal disruption.

When should I use microservices?

Microservices are best used when building complex applications that require high scalability, flexibility, and robustness. They are suitable for enterprises that are looking to future-proof their applications or those undergoing significant transformations in their IT landscape.

Can microapps and microservices be used together?

Yes, microapps and microservices can be used in conjunction to leverage the strengths of both. Microservices can serve as the backend, handling business logic and data processing, while microapps can be used on the frontend to deliver specialized, streamlined user experiences.

What are the main benefits of microapps?

Microapps offer rapid deployment, targeted functionality, improved security due to their limited scope, and better user engagement. They are particularly beneficial for mobile and lightweight applications where performance and quick accessibility are critical.

What are the main benefits of microservices?

Microservices provide greater scalability, easier maintenance, and more efficient deployment cycles. They allow for continuous development and testing, which is ideal for large-scale and complex applications requiring regular updates or enhancements.