You’re probably familiar with the term “tech stack.” Or, maybe this is the first time you hear it.
While the two words that form the expression are easy to comprehend on their own, a Technology Stack has a specific meaning that helps developers better understand and improve their work in the context of software development.
Let’s dive into the term and learn the meaning of “tech stack” and also how you too can use it to your (and your organization’s) benefit.
What Is a Tech Stack?
Put simply, a tech stack is a set of software, tools, frameworks, libraries, and programming language (or languages) that a company or development team decides to use to develop and deploy an application or solution.
The requirements of any software technology stack will largely depend on the type of application being developed and its target device. Trends established tools/frameworks, and preferred (sometimes obligatory) programming languages for any layer of the project can dictate how the tech stack will be built.
Importance of Tech Stacks in Modern Development
The importance of tech stacks should not be underestimated. Having a defined pipeline helps all the people involved in the project understand the relationships their work – and thus their output – have in the grand scheme of the creation of the final product.
Having a strong tech stack can help alleviate many common problems of compatibility and inefficiency between the various layers of the project. If a developer knows what they are interfacing with, it is easier to predict and plan for any possible problems that derive from the communication/interfacing between those layers. For example, the MEAN stack allows developers to reuse code, creating flexible and extensible applications and is supported by an active online community.
A tech stack is also important for project leads and developers alike since they can discern at a glance the needs of the project in terms of skills and more easily find and/or prepare people to fill in those positions.
Components of a Tech Stack
- Hardware: The Foundation
- Includes physical servers, computers, routers, and data storage devices.
- Forms the base upon which all software runs, determining the performance and reliability of the tech stack.
- Hardware choices affect scalability, security, and overall system efficiency.
- Operating System: The Core Platform
- The interface between hardware and the other software layers.
- Determines which applications and middleware can be run.
- Popular choices include Windows, Linux, and macOS, each with its own set of features and compatibilities.
- Database Systems: Managing Data
- Responsible for storing, retrieving, and managing data.
- Types include relational databases like MySQL and PostgreSQL, and NoSQL databases like MongoDB.
- The choice of database system affects data structure, scalability, and how data is accessed.
- Backend Programming: Server-Side Operations
- Involves server-side languages and frameworks that power the application’s backend.
- Examples include Java, Python, Ruby on Rails, and Node.js.
- This layer handles business logic, server interactions, and API services.
- Frontend Programming: User Interface and Experience
- Frameworks and libraries like React, Angular, and Vue.js are used to create interactive and dynamic user interfaces.
- This layer is crucial for user experience, accessibility, and interface design.
- Networking and Cloud Services
- Involves the technologies that connect different parts of the tech stack over the internet.
- Includes cloud platforms like AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud, which provide scalable and flexible infrastructure services.
- Networking is key for data transfer, connectivity, and access to cloud resources.
A tech stack for a desktop application will differ from one for an application to be deployed for mobile, which in turn will differ from a web app tech stack. We’ll focus on the last two and provide a comparison.
The Difference Between Web And Mobile App Tech Stacks
Web and mobile apps can target the same devices, namely mobile phones and/or tablets. However, the major difference is the way the user accesses the application itself.
|Aspect||Web App Tech Stack||Mobile App Tech Stack|
|Installation||No installation required; accessed via web browsers.||Requires downloading and installation from app stores.|
|Operating System||OS-independent; runs on any system with a compatible web browser.||OS-specific; separate versions needed for iOS, Android, etc.|
|Hardware Dependency||Minimal; primarily relies on the browser’s capabilities.||High; must consider the device’s hardware specifications.|
|Development Tools||Broad range of tools and libraries that are generally cross-browser.||Requires specific tools and SDKs for each operating system (e.g., Xcode for iOS, Android Studio for Android).|
|User Interface||Designed for desktop and mobile browsers; responsive design is key.||Tailored for mobile user experience, utilizing native components and gestures.|
|Accessibility||Accessed via URLs; needs internet connectivity.||Installed on the device; can offer offline functionality.|
|Performance||Dependent on the web browser and internet speed.||Generally faster and more efficient, as it’s optimized for the device’s hardware.|
|Browser Compatibility||Must ensure compatibility across various browsers and their versions.||Not a concern; focuses on compatibility with the operating system.|
On a mobile application, the user will usually access the mobile app store and download and install the said application. A mobile app tech stack will likely need specific technology based on the target’s operative system and sometimes even the target’s hardware. The whole stack can change, sometimes drastically, if another operating system or hardware needs to be considered.
On a web application, the user will open said application in a web browser, with no need for installation. A web app tech stack has similar, yet different, problems to consider. Whereas the mobile app is dependent on the type of mobile device, a web app needs to take into consideration the types of browser that can open it, and make sure those browsers provide the technology needed for the app to function.
In a web app tech stack, the problem of tools and libraries becomes less pronounced, since most of them work interchangeably with all major browsers. However, this is not always guaranteed; the tool/library could also have some quirks/limitations depending on the target browser. As such, developers should still take care when picking the components for their project’s tech stack if they want maximum compatibility.
How to Choose a Technology Stack
Choosing a tech stack for any given project will depend on a multitude of factors. We’ll go over the most important ones to consider when picking the right one for a given project.
Firstly, you should decide on the type of project. This is the most important step when choosing the right tech stack. Different projects that target different types of devices and platforms will inevitably narrow the choices for the kinds of technology you can use.
Afterward, you should take into consideration your team and project limits. This includes variables such as:
- Budget: Invariably, all projects live or die by their budget. Take into account the various costs both the tech and the staff of the project will entail. Most times, tech costs will be unavoidable, especially if it targets specific hardware or needs some proprietary tool/software. The budget will dictate in one way or another how the project will handle all other variables.
- Tech: Another very important part in the project’s conception is to decide early on what kind of technology to run. Depending on the type of project, you may need some tech that is very restricted and can limit your choices. Also, consider if there are alternative open-source libraries/tools that can be used to alleviate the project’s budget.
- Time: Depending on the time you have available, you can implement more or less complex solutions for your tech stack. Simplicity is always better, of course, but sometimes complexity is unavoidable, especially if the project is a large undertaking.
Some other important considerations include:
- Size of the project: Different-sized projects will need different types of technology to deal with the data and information needed for it to function. Also, consider if your project will need to be resized at any point before and/or after deployment: scaling the project will usually be easier if you prepare for it beforehand with the right tools and frameworks.
- Team’s expertise: If your team is experienced with certain technologies and/or tools, it’s usually a good idea to try to incorporate them into the project whenever possible. Otherwise, the necessary training will invariably increase your project’s overall time and budget. If the project really needs a skill your team lacks, try to pick a technology or language that is more commonly used. This increases the chances of finding more training resources for your team to tap into and, failing that, people who can be recruited with those skills.
Choosing a tech stack for a project ultimately comes down to considering all of these variables and finding a good fit for the project’s specific needs. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, but there are some popular tech stacks due to their flexibility and ease of integration.
Best Tech Stacks in 2023
Now that we know what tech stacks are and their uses, let’s go over some of the more popular tech stacks used in current web development.
LAMP is an acronym for a web app tech stack combining 4 layers:
- Linux (Operating System)
- Apache (HTTP Server)
- MySQL (Relational Database Management)
- PHP (Programming Language)
LAMP is one of the most popular and widespread tech stacks for a reason. It is a tried and tested solution over many years that is extremely efficient, performant and, more importantly, flexible.
All of these layers use free and open source options, making this solution budget-friendly.
However, every layer of this tech stack can be changed for another framework or language. The stack can easily adapt to another operative system, such as Windows (WAMP) and even MacOS (MAMP), other relational databases (e.g. MariaDB), and even programming languages (popular alternatives include Perl and Python).
MEAN, much like LAMP, is an acronym for a web app tech stack combining 4 layers:
- MongoDB (NoSQL Database)
- Express.js (Backend Web Framework)
- Angular.js (Frontend Web Framework)
MEAN is also extremely flexible and scalable, with several tools and plugins that are themselves popular and widely used, allowing for the creation of easily extendable, fast applications.
A variant of MEAN that switches Angular.js with React as the Frontend Web Framework.
React is well known for providing a flexible and powerful toolset, and is used especially when trying to develop highly interactive frontends and interfaces.
A variant of MEAN that uses Vue.js in place of Angular.js as the Frontend Web Framework.
Vue.js is extremely popular due to its extensive set of features and tools, while being easy to learn, very lightweight, and boasting better performance for web applications.
Ruby on Rails
Ruby on Rails, sometimes referred to as Rails, is an open-source environment for developing web apps based on Ruby, a dynamic programming language.
Despite its many applications, Ruby has earned the reputation of being primarily a web app development language, specifically because of solutions like Ruby on Rails.
By default, Ruby on Rails is a full-stack web app development environment using:
- Ruby (Programming Language)
- SQLite (Relational Database Management)
Worthy of note is its use of JSON or XML for data transfer.
Django is an open-source web framework that primarily uses Python, a dynamic programming language.
Python has been steadily increasing in popularity, earning the reputation of being very beginner-friendly. It is used as a scripting language in many applications, as well as Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Language Processing environments.
By default, Django uses:
- Python (Programming Language)
- SQLite (Relational Database Management)
Django officially supports many Relational Databases, and even more, are supported by third-party-developed backends.
ASP.NET is a web app tech stack developed by Microsoft that relies on open-source libraries (some developed by Microsoft themselves) to create a tech stack whose layers work and communicate seamlessly.
By default, ASP.NET uses:
- C# (Programming Language)
- Microsoft SQL Server (Relational Database Management)
ASP.NET boasts a multitude of tools and premade templates that help developers organize and structure their code. One such example is their Model View Controller (MVC) pattern, which comes pre-templated and working out-of-the-box.
ASP.NET web applications are commonly coupled with Microsoft’s own Internet Information Services (IIS) web server. Microsoft further includes services to host web apps using Azure. As expected, these services are tailor made to work very well with other Microsoft solutions.
Flutter is an open-source framework developed by Google that started as a UI framework to build mobile applications, namely for the iOS and Android systems. Nowadays, Flutter expanded its toolset to allow developers to build applications for the web and even desktop. All from a single code base.
Flutter web app development will largely consist of interacting with the Flutter Framework, which uses:
- Dart (Programming Language)
- Flutter Engine
The Flutter Engine includes core libraries for development, such as Animation, Graphics, File, and Network Input/Output. It also features a robust plugin architecture that allows developers to develop plugins and share them with the community to speed up development.
Flutter is very flexible, and the tech stack can be used with any manner of backend tools.
The framework uses:
- MongoDB (NoSQL Database)
This list is by no means extensive or definitive. Every day new technologies and frameworks are being developed, and you should always be on the lookout for the best solutions that work for a given project.
Remember that choosing an appropriate tech stack will depend on many factors, and choosing one purely because of its popularity will ignore many crucial aspects that can be integral to a project’s success. Take time to reflect and analyze the pros and cons of each one, and how they play a part in the project’s development. That time will invariably save you a lot of headaches in the future.
Remember to take the project’s team and their skills into account, as well as research the most appropriate solution for the kind of app to be developed. Most of them will provide similar features, but sometimes a crucial feature or out-of-the-box integration will be the dictating factor.
As a final note, if all else fails, don’t be afraid to ask for help when choosing your tech stack (or any of its layers for that matter). Our team’s expertise may be invaluable in giving you insights on the best (or the most appropriate) choice.
DistantJob’s recruitment specialists focus on finding the best remote developer for you and evaluating their performance across all relevant technologies, so when the top 3-5 CVs reach your inbox, you can be confident that they meet 100% of your project’s tech stack requirements.