What is Jamstack?
Back in 2016, Netlify coined the term Jamstack as a way to give a tangible description of modern website architecture. With the continued rise of the mobile application and an omnichannel approach to digital content, teams began to move away from the traditional monolith approach to architecture. Tech stacks that had been the darlings of their day, such as LAMP or MEAN stacks, were quickly falling out of favor for developers that were looking to innovate. Jamstack refers to API driven architecture that enables the creation of modern web applications and gives more context to those trying to create powerful applications. Modern architectures for Jamstack purposes are those that take the modular approach by connecting APIs to deliver performant web applications quickly.
But what does Jamstack mean?
Jamstack refers to web applications built using the following stack:
APIs - Reusable APIs, which are either custom built or link 3rd party services, serve as all of the server-side processes or database actions.
Markup - The HTML markup is prebuilt at deployment.
Stack- The technologies are combined together to build a web or mobile application.
Jamstack sites take advantage of how the browser has become essentially a mini operating system which is capable of running complex client side applications. Sites built with the Jamstack are more flexible and can use services that are the best fit for their specific use case. Modular architecture aims to deliver faster performance, easy scalability, better developer experience, and more secure application. Teams trying to leverage both a mobile application and web application benefit from the modular approach as Jamstack enables teams to pull from the same backend as a service to populate both mobile applications and static sites. Jamstack initially referred to purely static sites that were able to be quickly built in a modular way.
In the early days of Jamstack, it was a true disrupter and reexamined what was considered common practice in modern architecture creation. Four years later though, it has moved beyond a developer tool for small projects to being adopted by enterprises launching new products or campaigns. The goal of Jamstack is to decouple the frontend services and backend services. This enables teams to use best of breed services that match their use case. The flexibility and reliability of Jamstack projects make it clear that the Jamstack is here to stay as a heavyweight of website architecture.
Benefits of Jamstack
Modular, decoupled architecture
Decoupled architecture is both essential to Jamstack as well as a benefit of using the tech stack. By separating the frontend and the backend, teams can optimize their tech stacks for their use case and make use of the best of breed approach. Modular architecture enables teams to develop performant websites quickly without being weighed down by monolith systems.
Because the Jamstack is inherently decoupled the frontend is disconnected from the backend. This empowers teams to choose whatever frontend framework fits their use case the best for their project. The flexibility makes it easier for teams to get up and running quickly because they are able to use their preferred framework rather than having to learn a new one.
The modular, decoupled nature of Jamstack websites enables teams to work quickly to build the product. Teams are able to use their preferred frameworks and avoid having to learn new, product specific architecture or logic. Teams with more frontend strength can back-end-as-a-service (BaaS) products, teams do not have to worry about building database structures, but instead just focus on the UI. The tooling in the Jamstack ecosystem is diverse, allowing teams to select what works best for them and their use case without losing valuable development time.
The lower price tag has a lot of different considerations. Faster development times from development teams. Removing the monolith systems also removes the hefty monolith price tag. Many Jamstack architectures are also serverless which is another big cost saver. Finally, Jamstack architectures make it easy to start with an MVP to validate your idea before building a more robust site.
Due to the modular architecture, Jamstack sites are very easy to scale. Teams can quickly create an MVP and continue to add in functionality as the site develops. Files are often stored in CDNs which can simply be connected to new services as the site scales. The engaged community of Jamstack developers are constantly creating exciting tooling which makes it easier to quickly and securely scale.
Jamstack sites tend to be more secure than other sites because of their modular architecture and simpler structure creates fewer vulnerabilities for security breaches. By connecting a plethora of APIs, services are able to use data but not modify it without proper permissions. CMSs or wherever the data is stored can be placed behind an extra level of firewall to further reduce the likelihood of vulnerability.
Jamstack sites are performant in both SEO and speed. The technical side of SEO maintenance gets a boost via Jamstack mostly via simplifying URL structures, serving pre-rendered HTML to bots and fine tuning page creation and taxonomy. Jamstack sites are by nature fast because the HTML is pre-rendered during deploy time and served via CDN without any delays from an interface or backend.
Use Cases for Jamstack
At its inception, Jamstack was assumed to be a stack best suited for purely static content due to the pre-rendered HTML and close association with static site generators. While static content does account for some of the content created with the Jamstack, Jamstack sites do not have to be strictly static sites. In fact, there are many tools that help make sure your website stays performant and true to the spirit of Jamstack. Jamstack is suitable for both the humble developer and the formidable enterprise if teams consider the specific needs of the projects.
Jamstack lends itself well to a wide range of projects from marketing websites including industry heavyweights like Colin Kapernick’s Just Do It campaign for Nike. One of the most famous examples of a successful migration from a monolith to a Jamstack publishing site is how Smashing Magazine rebuilt its website. Smashing Magazine was able to transform a high traffic blog with thousands of pages to a sophisticated project that introduced gated content and ecommerce capabilities as well. Ecommerce presents a good use case for the Jamstack with headless commerce companies, such as Commerce Layer and Commercetools, making integration easy. Any statically generated site is a good match for the Jamstack. Teams can get these up and running quickly by using Static Site Generators, which enable teams to be agile without compromising quality. (You can read more about our favorite SSGs for 2020 in a recent blog post here.)
While purely static sites can be a great option for many projects, Jamstack can also be leveraged to create blended/hybrid sites as well. Hybrid sites are often a combination of SSGs, API connections, and serverless functions which enable teams to add a lot of dynamic functionality to Jamstack sites, including search, user generated content, and handle user authentication. Adding dynamic content to a Jamstack site opens possibilities to use cases such as a Job Board, a Changelog with commenting, or a developer hub.
Jamstack Best Practices
Serve Content from a CDN
Serving content from a CDN increases speeds and performance no matter where the user is. Keeping the content globally distributed improves the user experience and makes it easier for the project to scale.
Use a Version Control System
A version control system, such as Git, ensures that a change history exists for files. They also enable collaboration and productivity while providing safeguards against data loss.
Triggers notify a project when a new build must be performed due to changes in the data, schema, source files. This ensures that when changes are published to the project that they are pushed to production and not forgotten.
Atomic deploys mean that the live website will only be updated once the deploy has finished successfully. Atomic deploys help ensure that the most current version of the site that is live is consistent across the entire project. They can be especially helpful when eliminating downtime is critical.
Embrace Modern Techstacks
Every Jamstack project is different and thus will likely require a slightly different set of tools. Finding your preferred headless CMS, CDN, checkout/payment provider will make it easier as teams begin to build more Jamstack sites and want to combine these tools in different ways.
GraphCMS and the Jamstack
GraphCMS and the Jamstack are natural companions. Content can be stored in GraphCMS and connected to the rest of the chosen frontend via the API. GraphCMS enables SEO to be easily managed and optimized. GraphCMS is a great option for Jamstack projects that want to build performant static sites quickly. Content editors gain independence from development teams to create engaging content while developers can focus on performance and user experience without compromising site performance. Below are some more resources to check out when considering how to use GraphCMS when building a Jamstack project.
Case Study: GraphCMS and Tropo
Case Study: GraphCMS and Quickbridge
Case Study: GraphCMS and Startups.com
Templates and other Resources:
Programmatically create forms, and capture submissions with Next.js and GraphQL
Delivering a DIY Store powered by a Headless CMS for eCommerce
Beyond Static, a Gatsby Tale
Managing Speakers and Talk Submissions with the Serverless Stack
Commerce in Content With GraphCMS