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Monolithic Architecture- Everything You Need to Know

Monolithic Architecture- Everything You Need to Know

By Anjaly Chandran, content developer @WAC, adept at scoping out interesting technical facts to produce concise and user-friendly content that best reflects the business goals.
  • Published in Blog on April 29, 2024
  • Last Updated on May 24, 2024
  • 8 mins read
Monolithic Architecture- Everything You Need to Know

Deploying the technology stacks for software applications places businesses between two broad choices: either leverage a unified platform that combines multiple functions, or adopt a best-of-breed strategy with the use of microsystems to enable integration of different services from different vendors.

Popular brands like Netflix, Shopify, GitHub, and Atlassian initially started as monolithic applications. Though they’ve migrated most of their features towards microservices-oriented architecture, they still have legacy systems and significant components in the monolithic codebase.

This blog gives you a detailed overview of monolithic architecture, its characteristic features, advantages, disadvantages and applications.

What is Monolithic Architecture?

Monolithic architecture is a conventional model of a software program, built as a single unit that is self contained. Being an independent unit from the other applications, it acts as a single-tiered architecture.

In terms of web applications, monolithic architecture has different components combined to form a single centralised unit. The term “monolith” describes something glacial and large, which also resembles the concept of monolithic architecture. The architectural style of monoliths is conventional and has been prevalent during the early stages of software development.

Monolithic architecture is highly convenient in the beginning phases of the lifecycle of a project for easy code management, ease of deployment and cognitive overheads. This allows the release of everything in the monolith at once. 

A Detailed Insight to Monolithic Architecture

Detailed Insight to Monolithic ArchitectureIn monolithic architecture, applications are classified to three layers: presentation layer, business logic layer and data storage layer. Every layer is integrated tightly with other layers, and changes in a layer can impact the other layers.  

In the above monolithic architecture diagram, it is evident that all services are built into a single application and these are tightly coupled. The functionalities created in individual classes are integrated into the main class.

When a change in one class is made, we need to test its complete functionality. If any class poses a concern, it impacts all functionality. For instance, when catalogue service experiences an issue, this impacts the complete order process.

Now, let’s consider an example of a social networking site, Facebook. The first stage of Facebook was a monolithic application, though it has now evolved into a microservices architecture with multiple languages. Some of the features of the application include:

  • User posts
  • Comment system
  • Marketplace
  • Facebook groups 
  • Portal ads
  • Live streaming
  • Photo storage
     

Apart from these features, Facebook also incorporates a recommendation system to recommend the latest and most contextual content on the platform to its audience.

In a monolithic Vs microservices architecture perspective, every module is coded in a unified codebase that is tightly coupled with each other, unlike having different dedicated microservices running specific features.

Monolithic applications are easy to build, test, and deploy while compared to the microservices architecture, which has additional overhead of deploying logic to take care of microservices (infrastructure management), adopt inter-microservice communication, etc. 

Characteristics of Monolithic Architecture

Monolithic applications include the following characteristics: 
Unified Codebase: With a single codebase, monolithic applications operate as a single atomic entity.

Unified Deployment: The deployment of all components of the monolithic applications is done at once, instead of individual components.

Tight Coupling: The modules and components within the application are dependent and highly connected to each other. Any changes in one component demand modifications in the other parts of the application.

Shared Memory: The components of monolithic applications operate in the same memory space and usually on single infrastructure.

Cross-Component Communication: The functions in a monolithic application can be directly called each other with no need for inter-process communication. 

Major Advantages of Monolithic Architecture

Monolithic Architecture

Ease of Development

In monolithic architecture, every functionality lies within a single codebase. This helps developers analyse the flow and logic of an application, which is particularly advantageous for small-to-mid sized applications. Since it involves launching a unified executable or the deployment of a WAR file to the server, its deployment is straightforward. This makes it ideal in environments where it doesn’t require rapid scaling.

Optimised Performance

Components in the monolithic application share a common memory space, which leads to quicker access times and high data processing speeds when compared to the distributed systems, which involve data transmission across networks. A single application to manage every process minimises the complexity and overheads that relate to data consistency and distributed transactions. 

Reliability

The changes made in an area of application can be easily tracked and tested in monolithic systems without the complicated network failures and service incompatibilities that are usual in microservice architecture.

Ease of Testing

Testing monolithic applications could be efficient as it involves only a single set of technologies and a unified deployment. This enables comprehensive and end-to-end testing with no need to sub out external services. 

Low Operational Overhead

Monolithic applications usually need a simpler operational setup in comparison to microservices, which require mechanisms that include service discovery, complicated load balancing, and distributed messaging.

Data Management Consistency

Since every component of a monolithic application accesses a single database, maintaining transactional integrity is easier. This is highly advantageous for applications that require a strong guarantee in terms of ACID (Atomicity, Consistency, Isolation, and Durability).

High State Management

State management can be simpler in monolithic architecture, as the application components can efficiently manage state data without the requirement of sophisticated coordination protocols. 

Ideal for Small Team

Small development teams find it easier to work with monolithic architecture due to a centralised codebase. This reduces the burden of coordination and avoids the potential complexities of managing multiple repositories or services. 

Disadvantages of Monolithic Architecture

Sl no.LimitationDescription
1Lack of scalabilityCan’t scale a part of the application. Instead of a component, the entire application needs to be scaled.
2Difficulty adapting to new technologiesAdopting new technologies demands the entire application to be rewritten.
3Complexity and maintenance issuesAs the application evolves, the codebase becomes difficult to understand. Since changes in one module can affect the entire application, maintaining the app can be complex.
4Challenges in continuous deploymentSmall changes require redeployment of the entire platform, which introduces risks and side effects on existing functionalities.
5Decreasing developer productivityAdding new features slows down the development process, thereby creating longer development cycles.
6Not ideal for highly evolving systemsSystems that demand rapid evolution and regular updates are unable to accommodate the fast-paced changes effectively.

When is Monolithic Ideal for Your Business?

A monolithic architecture is suitable for your business if:

  • Your application is not particularly large;
  • You are not certain about the nature of the applications, or the requirements are not clear;
  • You hold a proof-of-concept project; 
  • You have a brand-new domain;
  • Your team is small;
  • Your app has only a few business rules.

Small-to-Medium Sized Applications

The simplicity of monolithic architecture is beneficial for smaller applications as it becomes easier to build, deploy and manage with no overhead of managing multiple projects or complicated distributed systems. 

Limited Scope and Functionality

Projects with well-laid requirements which are unlikely to evolve dramatically with time can find benefits from monolithic design. Applications that manage a cohesive and single business capability can also make use of the functionalities of monolithic architecture. 

Applications with Synchronous Processing & Tight Coupling

If various modules of the application must communicate synchronously or remain dependent on each other, the monolithic architecture can be beneficial since it supports tight coupling and enables efficient management of synchronous operations. 

Lower Traffic Applications

Applications work under optimised load conditions, which offers cost efficiencies of running a system. It outweighs the advantages of using a microservices architecture to scale out. 

Having Constraints with Budgets & Resources

Monolithic applications typically require fewer investments in infrastructure and tools compared to microservices, which makes them cost-effective and ideal for small companies, startups, etc. If the development team is small, managing a single codebase without having to spend time in multiple services or technologies can be more practical. 

Faster Iterations

When the key objective is to build a prototype swiftly to evaluate a business idea or present a proof of concept, monolithic architecture facilitates faster iterations without the burden of coordinating multiple services. 

Legacy Systems Integration

In phases where new applications need to integrate with existing systems, monolithic architecture can be effective in aligning with the technological stack and the operational dynamics that legacy systems incorporate. 

Less Frequent Updates

Applications that don’t demand frequent updates or continuous deployments find monolithic models ideal, since the impact of possible downtimes or complexities can be minimised. 

Efficient Resource Utilisation

When applications are compute-intensive, but not essentially distributed in nature, monolithic applications can be useful to leverage high performance computing resources within a centralised environment. 

Use-cases of Monolithic Architecture

1. Internal Business Applications

Case: Consider an internal HR system used to manage employee records, benefits and payroll. These systems usually have a moderate number of users and requirements and don’t demand high scalability. Deploying this as a monolithic application makes development and maintenance aspects simpler and minimises the entire IT burden of the company.

2. Small Ecommerce Websites

Case: Think of a boutique online store that sells handmade goods with an online ordering system. These sites need basic ecommerce functionalities such as order processing, inventory management and customer management, which can be effectively managed within a monolithic architecture.

3. Learning Management Systems

Case: A digital learning portal for a school needs to integrate the course materials, student’s assessments and feedback into a unified platform. These use monolithic architecture with tight integration of all components, thereby ensuring synchronisation of operations.

4. Prototypes and MVPs

Case: A technology startup developing Minimum Viable Product (MVP) for social media tools should validate the concept with the targeted users and investors quickly. With monolithic architecture, you can rapidly build and deploy MVP, without any complexities of scaling or managed distribution services.

5. Content Management Systems (CMS)

Case: A corporate website managed through a CMS such as WordPress or Drupal, in which the administrative panel, user interface, and server-side logic are all part of a single software stack. Due to the ease of setup, customization and maintenance, these systems are typically deployed as monolithic applications.

Conclusion

Choosing the right architecture requires a comprehensive evaluation of the application’s needs, scalability needs, expected load and the potential of the team. 

In many cases, a monolithic architecture offers the foundation required to evaluate an idea before potentially transitioning to a more complex, distributed architecture like a microservices architecture, with the evolution of the application.

Monolithic architecture is ideal for small-scale applications where speed of deployment and simplicity are key factors. For small teams with limited resources, monolithic architecture is effective to manage as it doesn’t need the complex deployment orchestration or the complications of inter-service communication. 

If you’re a small-to-medium sized business and wish to use monolithic architecture for your software development project, that’s why we have a dedicated team at WAC to hear you. Let’s talk!

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