What’s the Best Tech Stack for Custom Web Applications?

 In Software Development

If you’re building a web app you might be wondering what’s the best stack for custom web applications. If you’re evaluating tech to use in your project, you’ll find some helpful information in this post.

Developing a custom web application is a big decision for any company. Today’s advanced tools and frameworks have made it easier than ever before to do.

Because there is such a large variety of tools available and those tools are ever-evolving, it can make it difficult to know what the best tech stack is for creating your custom web application. You want to make sure the tools you are picking are current, but what if they are so current your team has not had the chance to fully learn them? These are just some of the challenges that can come up as you are deciding what tech to use for your web application project.

Before picking your web application tech stack you must first think about your end goals and walk through outlining your requirements. Read on to find out what other considerations are important to help you pick the right web application tech stack.

questions to ask technology stacks for web app

Define your web application requirements

The technology you choose for your web app may depend on the application requirements you need. While it is true that the same application can often be developed in multiple different technology stacks, it is also true that each technology has its strengths and weakness. Defining and understanding your web app’s technical requirements is the first step in making the best technology decision for your solution.

Here are a few questions to consider:

  • What do you want the app to do?
    • Will it be a content-driven application where customers can find out more about your company and products by clicking through a web site?
    • Will it be an e-commerce application where users can buy products directly through the app and pay via credit card, PayPal or ACH?
    • Will it be a highly functional and customized application used to automate your unique, internal business processes?
  • What kind of data will the app handle? Does the application security model need to conform to any standards such as PCI or HIPAA?
  • How many back-end systems will the app need to interface with?

The answers to each of these questions could lead you down very different technology paths. Those paths could be implementing a content management platform, selecting an existing e-commerce platform or building a completely custom application. Once you’ve determined your web app’s goals, you can begin the process of evaluating the technology you’ll use to build it.

platform foundation web app

Choose the foundation for your web application

Typically, the first technical decision you will make is whether or not you are going to use an existing platform as the basis of the solution or go completely custom.  A platform is a pre-existing software solution that can be implemented and customized.  Examples of platforms include WordPress, Shopify, Salesforce, Magento, Drupal, etc. Some platforms can also be extended using pre-built modules or libraries. You can use these to speed up your development timeline, which can also impact your technology decisions. For example, WordPress, Salesforce, and Magento have large app extension marketplaces with hundreds of premade code modules you can add to your app quickly and easily to expand its capabilities. If you do select a platform as the basis of your application, then your programming language choice is often made for you. Most platforms have a base technology stack that is built-in. For example, if you select WordPress as a platform, then customization work will need to be programmed in PHP.  Alternatively, if you selected Salesforce as your platform, then coding will be done in APEX. APEX is Salesforce’s proprietary language that closely resembles Java. If there is no existing platform that provides any value to your solution and you will be building it custom, then there are many language and technology choices ahead of you.

backend programming language web app

Choose your back-end programming language

Now that you’ve defined your app requirements and decided if it will be a custom application, you will want to select the best programming languages for your solution. Some of the more popular app programming languages are .NET, Java, Node.js, PHP, and Ruby, but that’s just the start. You may also find yourself considering Python, Golang or C++ for some applications.  For mobile apps, you’ll likely consider Java, Objective-C, Swift and React Native

Most applications tend to work with data, and you will also need database services to store information for your app. Some common database solutions include postGRES, MySQL, SQL Server and Mongo. One of the biggest choices you’ll make with regards to the database is whether you want to store data using a relational model or a document model.  Some databases like MySQL are primarily used for relational data and others, like Mongo, are used primarily for document-style data. Whichever approach and database you select, you will want to make sure that your programming language has built-in support for your selected database

So how do you pick the right programming language for your app when there are so many fitting choices? There’s an old adage that answers the question of which programming language is the best … “the one you can support.” It is also very important to know and consider the team that will be supporting the application once it is in production. You should pick a technology your team can support.  If you will be building the development team from scratch, then it helps to look at the job marketplace to see what languages are well represented and easy to fill in your area.

Choose a front-end framework

A front-end framework can help you build, manage, and maintain the front end of your web app more easily. It’s a way for you to structure your files, make requests, style components, associate data with elements, and more. Many developers use front-end frameworks to scale their web apps since it makes it easier and more efficient to do on a larger scale.

popular front end back end frameworks

Popular front-end frameworks

  • Angular: A JavaScript-based open-source framework powered by Google and is used by big brands like General Motors, HBO, Forbes, Nike, and Sony. Angular is:
    • Part of the MEAN stack (Mongo database, Ejb web app server framework, Angular.js, and Node.js server runtime environment)
    • Compatible with a large number of code editors and offers cleaner codebases through the use of the TypeScript programming language
    • Includes simple and powerful templates, IDEs, and command-line tools
    • Maintained by a large community of developers
    • Is best used to create dynamic websites and web apps
  • React: An open-source JavaScript library from Facebook and is used by brands like Instagram, Netflix, and Dropbox. React:
    • Offers a great user experience through its use of a virtual DOM (document object model)
    • Reduces overall development timelines through code re-use and code hot reloading
    • Web apps enjoy robust code stability through downward data binding
    • Allows developers to perform faster testing cycles through Redux
    • Has a large support community
    • Is ideal for building dynamic user interfaces
  • Vue: An open-source model-view JavaScript framework billed as an “incrementally adoptable ecosystem that scales between a library and a fully-featured framework.” Vue is:
    • Built and supported by its founders
    • Includes a robust set of libraries, tools, and partnerships
    • Has an engaged support community
    • Is perfect for building user interfaces and single-page applications

Popular back-end frameworks

  • Spring Boot: A Java-based framework with an extensive ecosystem and a large support community. It’s best suited for large-scale web apps that use a cloud approach.
  • Express: A Node-based framework that offers fast development in a minimalist interface. It includes an extensive library of plugins that can extend your web app functionality.
  • Laravel: A PHP-based framework, it offers beautiful syntax, the MVC architectural pattern, a robust ecosystem and support community, and it can accommodate large development teams.
  • CakePHP: A PHP-based framework that allows developers to build rapidly, uses clean MVC conventions, and it’s easy to use.
  • Django: A Python framework that is highly customizable, scalable, and includes most everything developers need to create and deploy web apps (no third-party plugins required.) It is best suited for large applications.
  • Ruby on Rails: A Ruby-based framework similar to Django, but for Ruby. It offers a large library of plugins, clear syntax, and has a large support community. It’s best for smaller projects, though it can also handle larger ones if needed.

cloud hosting web app

Choose your hosting option

The language you use to build your web app, and the platform and back-end services that support it will narrow down your choice of hosting solutions. However, there will still be a plethora of hosting options available. These days, one of the cloud hosting vendors like AWS, Azure or Google Cloud will likely come up as an early contender in discussion. When making a hosting decision, it is important to realize that hosting is more than just the hardware server your app will live on. The cloud also offers many services that your application may use such as sending emails, directory services, sending push notifications, analytics and more.

When choosing your hosting option, consider what your corporate preferences are. Do you already have a relationship with a hosting provider? What support options are available through your host? Consider whether there are any legal implications of data storage. It’s better to think about your hosting sooner, rather than later, since making wholesale changes later in your web app development lifecycle may be difficult.

Takeaways

Making technology decisions on a new web application development project can be daunting in a world of ever-evolving technology. However, it’s also very exciting and the tools and capabilities available to developers today are truly unprecedented. The key is to approach the decision process in a logical and sequential manner and to balance modern day best practices with the capabilities of your support team.

Knowing what goal you’re trying to achieve with your web app, what technologies you have on hand, and what resources will work on the project is a good starting point. An experienced and talented team of professional web developers will be able to choose the right tools for creating your unique and scalable web app that meets your needs and helps you achieve your business outcomes.

If you’re ready to start your next custom web application project, be sure to check our checklist to building great software below. It’s full of all you need to consider upfront to see your project through from start to finish. Download the checklist below.

software checklist

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