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10 Best Practices for Building a Microservice Architecture

An illustration depicting composite UI and backend microservices

Building a microservice architecture for your project is no easy task, especially if you are trying to create a complex product. This is an essential part of software development that must be done right of your project is to succeed.

Experienced development teams all have their own best practices on how to design microservices architecture and implement it.

That you are reading this article suggests that you are searching for tips on how to building a Microservice Architecture of your own. Right?

Well, the great news is that you are in safe hands. In this article, I will explain the 10 best practices for building a microservice architecture. Let’s start from the beginning.

Contents

What is software architecture?
The importance of software architecture
What is the microservices architecture?
Pros and cons of the microservices architecture
Other prominent software architecture patterns
The best practices for building a microservice architecture
Planning to build a microservices architecture?

What is software architecture?

A schema of software architectural patterns

Software architecture is, in essence, the structure of any given software system. It is used to provide a pictorial representation the overall system, something which helps developers.

The typically has multiple components, each of which addresses one or more functions.

The software architecture diagram example above shows how these components interact with each other. Read more about it in “Software architecture”. Keep in mind that the above diagram is only a basic example though.

The schematic view that we call a software architecture is simply a visual representation. Each system diagram shows a series of design principles that software architects have decided upon to ensure the best possible overall system functionality. Architectural decisions are made to ensure the best possible security, performance, manageability, etc.

These design principles, architectural decisions, and the schematic diagram are all parts of software architecture. Together, they enable the system to meet its’ business, operational, and technical objectives. Read more in this Techopedia definition of software architecture.

The importance of software architecture

Software architecture is extremely important to a product’s success. There are several reasons why.

The first set of decisions

During the ‘software development lifecycle’ (SDLC), the development team makes the key system-related decisions during the creation of the software architecture. Before this process, only the business requirements will have been outlined.

As you may know, ensuring that you get these first set of decisions correct will put your project on the best footing to run smoothly. On the other hand, if these decisions aren’t correct, your project will almost certainly encounter serious problems. Read more about this in “The Importance of good software architecture”.

The visually represented communication tool

Software architecture is a tool that helps with communication by providing schematic representations that show underlying decisions that relate to improving core functionality. Get this right, and all your project stakeholders as well as your development team will understand exactly how your product will function.

Reusability

A software architecture aids continuous development, specifically with future projects. Since you have developed and implemented architectural decisions once, and have the schematic diagram, these can be reused or expanded upon for future projects.

This means that you can reuse much of core structure for new products since only the development tools, programming language etc. will be different. Without a good software architecture, the project or product can fail. Read more about it in this Quora Q&A thread.

What is the microservices architecture?

A schematic representation of the differences between monolithic and microservices architecture

The microservices architecture pattern helps developers to create multiple smaller programs, instead of one large program. A big program can often be hard to maintain, moreover, adding new features can be hard. With the microservices architecture, programmers create a small program for each feature. A new feature addition only requires the creation of another small program.

The video on demand platform Netflix is a great example of this architectural pattern. Each section in the Netflix ‘user interface’ (UI) is a different service. In effect, the UI is like a collection of different websites, although it looks like just one. Read “Microservice architecture (examples and diagram)” for more details.

Pros and cons of the microservices architecture

There are numerous advantages to this pattern:

  • When a business offers features that are clearly separated from each other, this architectural pattern can make their app highly scalable.
  • Individual services may have different demand profiles, therefore, the business will implement scaling strategies for these individual services. This helps with optimizing and prioritizing resources.
  • It’s easier to maintain the app.
  • Individual microservices can be deployed separately.

Read more about these advantages in “What are microservices?”.

There are disadvantages too:

  • If we can’t separate services clearly from each other, this pattern adds to the complexity.
  • If multiple services use the same tasks, this pattern can adversely impact performance.
  • Users might find the UI confusing if there are too many microservices due to different page speed for different sections of the website.

Other prominent software architecture patterns

The importance of microservices architecture becomes clearer when we review the characteristics of other software architecture patterns.

There are four other key patterns of microservices architecture:

Layered architecture

This is the most common pattern of software architecture. Most business applications store information in database tables. This pattern has code in layers. The top-most layer accepts the data. The data then navigate the layers to reach the bottom-most one, which is a database.

Most key frameworks like Java EE use this pattern. A layered architecture offers some advantages, for e.g., the application is easily maintainable, and testing is easier. Read more about it in “Large enterprise Java projects architecture”.

The disadvantages are large and unorganized code, much of which only passes data between layers without executing any business logic. This impacts on the product’s performance.

Event-driven architecture

Many use cases involve programs acting only when there is data to process. In the case of event-driven architecture, a central unit receives all data inputs. Specific data inputs are events. The central unit then delegates to appropriate components that deal with specific types of data.

Not all modules deal with all data. This makes applications scalable, moreover, developers can easily extend the system to address new events. Read more about it in “The top 5 software architecture patterns: how to make the right choice”.

There are a few disadvantages. When modules impact each other, testing becomes harder. If multiple modules handle the same event, it can complicate the error-handling. The system can become slower due to messaging overhead.

Microkernel architecture

Commonly used tools have a set of tasks that users perform repeatedly. The famous ‘integrated development environment’ (IDE) Eclipse is one such example, with repeatable tasks like opening files, editing them, etc.

The microkernel architecture uses a microkernel to include these basic functions. We can consider everything else on top of it as ‘plugins. This pattern is great for popular tools since it enhances the performance. However, it’s hard to define common tasks. Read more about it in “Software architecture: the 5 Patterns you need to know”.

Space-based architecture

The objective of space-based architecture is to provide robustness and stability to web apps when load is high. Most websites are built around databases, therefore, they are dependent on the database to handle the load.

With space-based architecture, software architects split the processing and storage in multiple servers. Data and service calls are spread across nodes. This helps in avoiding the collapse of the database under conditions of high-load. Note that testing the entire system can be hard, since simulating the load conditions can be tricky.

 

The best practices for building a microservice architecture

An image of a building under construction

Best practices for microservices architecture implementation

  1. Find the best microservices architecture
  2. Outline your microservices
  3. Domain-Driven Design
  4. Get everyone onboard
  5. Utilize RESTful APIs
  6. Build teams for specific microservices
  7. Setup server and data storage environment
  8. Document API’s
  9. Use the best DevOps toolkit
  10. Monitoring is key

Best practice #1: Determine if the microservices architecture fits your requirements

Amazon, Twitter, eBay, and PayPal are examples of organizations that have successfully implemented the microservices architecture design. It’s a popular pattern, however, that doesn’t mean it will work for you.

If you can’t break down your web app into functions that provide value then the microservices architecture won’t make sense for you. Read “Pattern: Decompose by business capability” for more insights.

Best practice #2: Define your microservices

You need to make a clear differentiation between your business functions, your services, and microservices. Without this, there is a possibility that you will build microservices that are too large. This is a form of under-fragmentation, and you will see no benefits from using the microservices approach.

At the other end of the spectrum lies the possibility of creating too many microservices. This will result in the over-fragmentation of your architecture. Remember that to manage a microservices architecture, you need a matured operations team. Read about it in “Microservice Trade-Offs”.

If you have too many microservices, the operational management cost will be high. You will see the surge in operational cost overshadowing the benefits you accrue from microservices.

Best practice #3: Use ‘Domain-Driven Design’ (DDD) to design microservices

While this step is closely related to the exercise of defining your microservices, it goes one step further. Here, you design your microservices around your business domains. Let’s review the Netflix example once more. They run their content delivery and different tracking services from separate servers.

‘Domain-Driven Design’ (DDD) is a design principle that expresses an object-oriented model using practical rules and ideas. It helps software architects to understand the different business domains, therefore, they can focus on building microservices architecture that the business can understand well. Read more about it in “DDD 101 — the 5-Minute tour”.

Best practice #4: Get early buy-in from the organizational leaders and the team

Implementing the microservice architecture design isn’t simply a technical decision. Such a transformation is expensive, moreover, the impact goes beyond just the in-house development team. The transition from a monolithic architecture is a long-drawn out project. The senior management in the organization must commit the funds for it.

The impact on your development team will be significant. Your team will have so far been using an end-to-end testing process to test the entire system in case of an enhancement. You will now need to modularize the system around microservices. This requires a cultural transformation.

The transformation will help your business agility since it will facilitate continuous delivery. However, the team must fully buy into the transformation. Read our guide “5 ways Agile can help with change management” to learn how you can effectively aid this transformation.

Best practice #5: Use RESTful APIs optimally

The microservices architecture pattern can deliver a significant value if you make optimal use of RESTful APIs. RESTful APIs offer numerous advantages, for e.g., you don’t need to install anything on the client side. You don’t need SDKs or frameworks since HTTP requests to consume the API service is sufficient. Read more about the advantages of RESTful APIs in this Quora Q&A thread.

Leonard Richardson, an expert in the subject of RESTful APIs, has propounded a maturity model for REST API usage. To realize the best value from your microservices architecture, you should try to reach the highest level in this maturity model. Read “10 best practices for microservice architectures” for more insights.

Best practice #6: Organize your team around microservices

You need to build separate teams to tackle different microservices. These teams should be empowered sufficiently to work on their microservice. However, all teams should be cross-functional and aware of the overall project plan.

Each team should have the necessary skills to build cloud-native applications. You need business analysts, developers, testers, and DevOps engineers in each team. Each team should have its’ own project manager (PM). Our guide “How to build a scrum development team?” can help you with organizing these teams.

Best practice #7: Provision of separate data storage for each microservice

Each microservice should have provision for its’ data storage. Each microservice should fully own its’ data. Of course, data can be shared between microservices, however, this should happen via APIs.

If multiple microservices share the same data storage, this will lead to coupling between services. This will defeat the purpose of the microservices architecture considerably. Read more about it in “Top 5+ microservices architecture and design best practices”.

Best practice #8: Design APIs based on domain and document them well

Take adequate care to design your APIs based on business domains. Document APIs well. Consider using tools like Swagger. We have a guide “How to Build RESTful API for Your Mobile App?” which you can consult.

Best practice #9: Use a good DevOps toolset

By now, you should have designed your microservices well enough to deploy them independently. To realize optimal value from these microservices, you need to automate build and deployment management. Therefore, you will need a good set of DevOps tools.

Jenkins for deployment automation and Docker for containerization are a good combination. However, if you want more examples, read “The 10 best DevOps tools for 2019”.

Best practice #10: Invest in monitoring

If you were using a monolithic architecture and are transitioning to a microservices architecture, you have to address increased complexity. Increased demand for performance and the dynamic environment requires more advanced monitoring.

A good monitoring solution should address ongoing changes to resource allocation. Such a solution should store data gathered from monitoring in a central database. The insights that it generates should throw light on the dynamic nature of the application.

Monitoring agents should be used for each microservice. The monitoring system should support root cause analysis. Read more about its’ importance in “5 fundamentals to a successful microservice design”.

Planning to build a microservices architecture?

This guide discusses the best practices for implementing microservices architecture and covers the key elements. Note that this kind of project is complex and requires end-to-end project management in addition to microservices best practices.

If you need to engage a software development partner, consult our guide “How to find the best software development company?”. Best of luck.