You’ll often hear developers talk about a tech stack when building software applications. They may say that adding certain features to your app isn’t possible with your current tech stack or that your website is slow because of your tech stack.
If these frequent references to the term “tech stack” have left you puzzled, this article is for you. We’ve explained what a tech stack is, how it’s different from—or similar to—a software stack, what is its importance, and how to choose the right one for your business. We’ve also shared the example of a social media giant that revamped its tech stack to become more customer-friendly.
A tech or technology stack, also called a solution stack, is the set of technologies used to build and run software applications. It includes the web frameworks, programming languages, servers, operating systems, databases, etc., involved in developing and running a web or mobile app.
For instance, if you’ve built a web application (e.g., a website) using programming language Python and hosted it on an Apache web server, then Python and Apache are the elements of your website’s tech stack.
Every technology stack can be divided into two parts:
Server side (back end): It consists of the technology components customers don’t interact with or see but are necessary for the client-side technologies to work. Programming languages such as PHP, web frameworks such as Django, and servers such as Apache are all a part of back-end development.
*Note: Refer to the appendix for the definitions of common tech stack components.
A software stack is a subset of a technology stack and includes only the software components used to build an application. Programming languages, coding frameworks, operating systems, middleware, web servers, and installable files form the software stack. Similar to a tech stack, a software stack has server- and client-side elements.
When you use cloud-based services such as Azure to meet your application’s infrastructure needs, they also become a part of the software stack. In such cases, there is hardly any distinction between your tech stack and software stack.
You don’t need to build your tech stack from scratch. Here are some popular ready-to-use stacks to save you time and effort.
This stack includes the Linux operating system, Apache server, MySQL database, and PHP programming language. All the components are open source; thus, you can customize the stack easily. For instance, you can use Python instead of PHP and keep the other elements the same. The LAMP stack is commonly used to build web applications that can handle dynamic content—i.e., web content that changes according to user characteristics such as in-session behavior, previous interaction data, and preferences.
The primary difference between the MERN and MEAN stacks is that the former uses React instead of Angular as the web framework. This makes it slightly more difficult to work with but offers the benefit of high-quality applications and interactive user interfaces (UIs). Unlike Angular, which has a predefined framework, React allows developers to tweak the codes for creating customized UI elements.
Here are the tech stacks of some popular web applications to help you understand the kind of output features and UI experiences you can expect from different tech stack combinations.
|Tech stack elements||Airbnb||Uber|
|Programming language||Java, Ruby||Python, Java, Go||Python, Java, Go, Objective-C|
|Database||MySQL, Hadoop, Amazon RDS||MySQL, HBase, Memcached, Hadoop, Redis||MySQL, MongoDB, Redis, PostgreSQL|
Your app developer will repeatedly tell you choosing the right tech stack is important. Here are some reasons why they say so:
Your tech stack is akin to the foundation and girders of a building. Just like they determine the strength of the building and what further modifications it can support, your tech stack decides whether you can add more features to your application, improve its speed, or reduce its size for easier download.
Your software should be able to integrate with other third-party applications to offer a full range of features. For instance, if you’re building a payroll management app, it should integrate with human resources (HR) apps. Java, C#, .NET, and NGINX and Apache web servers are some tech stack elements that support easy integration.
Your tech stack choice influences your app development costs. Cost of tech tools and developer compensation directly translate into your app development expenses. For example, developing an app in PHP is less costly than building one in Java or Python, considering the lower developer salaries for PHP programmers.
There is no standard way to choose a tech stack. Your choice will depend on your project’s needs, time to market, and security and scalability requirements. It will also vary based on whether you’re developing a web or mobile app.
Here are five things to consider when choosing a tech stack.
Despite evaluating the above factors and choosing the right tech stack, you may, at times, have to modify or even rebuild your stack to keep up with changing consumer preferences (e.g., videos and dynamic content) or advancements in app development technology.
Today, having a website and/or mobile app is an absolute necessity for your business. And if you're building one for the first time, it can get complicated, technical, or beyond your grasp (at times!). Here are some handy tips for you:
Use tried-and-tested tech stacks: Instead of building a tech stack from scratch, look for ready-made stacks that match your project requirements, integration needs, and resource constraints.
Build an MVP first: Don’t try to build a full-fledged app or service in one go. First, build a prototype or an MVP that supports the most essential features. Test it with users and then decide on developing a full-function application.
Seek help in community forums: Community forums such as GitHub and SourceForge can answer queries around any roadblocks you may face when using a ready-made tech stack. You can also seek freelance developers to build your web or mobile application at a low cost.
Definitions of some common components of a tech stack.
Programming language: A computer language that programmers or developers use to write codes that run an app. E.g., Java, C, C++, Python
Web framework: A standard way to build and deploy web applications on the internet.
Database: Hardware and software tools that help organize and store data in a structured manner.
Web servers: Hardware (computer systems) and software (server software) that help process web requests and display website or app content.
Integrated development environment (IDE): A software application that provides all the needed resources for developers to build a program.
Runtime environment: Software codes, libraries, and other files that support the running or working of program codes.
Middleware: Software that connects applications with users’ operating systems.
Operating system: A system software that manages a computer’s hardware and software components and helps them run smoothly. E.g., Microsoft Windows, Linux, macOS
Hypertext markup language (HTML): A system that is used to define the structure of the content on a web page.
Cascading style sheets (CSS): A mechanism that helps enhance the presentation of content in an HTML framework.