Application development has transformed dramatically over the last ten years. As SaaS products have transformed the forefront of the development landscape, companies have quickly adapted and modernized their development processes. Today, all of the top companies use diverse collections of technology to build and maintain their applications.
While building a tech stack is essential to the development process, picking the right tech stack for your startup can be a complicated and intimidating ordeal. With the host of different options available, it can be difficult to pick one out from the crowd.
If you’re looking for the perfect tech stack for your startup, you’re in the right place—we’ve compiled a list of guidelines and tips to ensure that your technology meshes with your goals and amplifies the work of your development team.
What is a Tech Stack?
A tech stack, or a technology stack, is a combination of technologies used by developers to build and run applications. Typically constructed from a basket of programming languages, libraries, software applications, and other tools, tech stacks are created by layering the components on top of each other, resulting in a “stack” of tech.
Tech stacks play an enormous role in determining an application’s functionality, user experience, and functionality. Each different programming language, tool, and library has its strengths and weaknesses, and when utilized in a stack, contribute these strengths and weaknesses to the overall stack’s performance. The interactions between each layer or tool are important as well—to create a stable foundation for your app, you first need to make sure you have the correct materials and parts. By picking the right components and layering them optimally, a development team can project the individual strengths of each component to the stack, allowing for efficient future development and easy scalability. Conversely, laying the parts in an inefficient order can impede future development, resulting in a technological nightmare that inhibits scalability and negatively affect user experience.
While individual tech stacks include varying components, most contain a “front-end” section and a “back-end” section.
Front-end (Client Side)
The front-end section, or the client-facing section of a tech stack, powers the app’s client interactions. As the front-end section determines the user experience of the application, the front-end stack should be selected to maximize the user experience and accessibility.
HTML forms the basic elements we see when visiting a webpage. Essentially, HTML draws a “stick” figure of a website, a simple framework that serves as a foundation to build off.
CSS, or Cascading Style Sheets, is the mechanism that adds the visual pop to a website and determines how the HTML elements display to the user.
Without style sheets, websites would look ubiquitous—white backgrounds with black text and blue hyperlinks. Style sheets allow developers to create their website designs and display elements in a way not possible through simple HTML. CSS can set layouts, fonts, and colors.
Back-end (Server Side)
The back-end, or server end, is the backbone of a site—like the front-end, the back-end isn’t designed to be accessed by users. The back-end of a tech stack connects the front-end user interactions with systems that communicate to databases, use logic, handle server hosting, and more. Typically, the back-end often contains database technologies and algorithms crucial to website operation.
Picking the Right Stack
Choosing the right stack is important, as your development’s tech stack will affect both your application’s front-end user experience and back-end development process. Picking the right stack will result in improved performance and contribute to your application’s success.
Often, startups struggle to decide on a tech stack—settling on the wrong stack can also contribute to an application’s failure. For companies faced with extremely limited resources, inefficiencies created by selecting the wrong tech can be crippling.
When committing to a tech stack, your tech stack must suit your company, project, and development team. In particular, it can be beneficial to think about project size, time frame, development team programming knowledge, scalability, maintenance, and cost.
Small and simple projects often utilize small tech stacks while complex projects typically use larger tech stacks.
By using small stacks for small projects, developers can efficiently build prototypes and deliver working products in short timeframes—developers don’t need to make use of multiple languages and tools to accomplish their goals.
For larger projects, more complex stacks allow developers to accomplish a wider range of functions. These larger tech stacks focus on providing the required functionalities and smooth integration between platforms.
In web development, development time equals money. A product and tech stack that requires additional development and testing require additional money—funds that startups often don’t have the luxury of spending. If your application requires integration with third-party services, it’s also important to ensure that your stack works well with your tools.
Development Team Skillset
When deciding between tech stacks, it’s important to consider the skillsets of your development team. While a certain stack may work better theoretically, it’s often more cost-effective to compromise on a stack that better fits your development team.
While developing your application is the initial hurdle, the development doesn’t stop after launch. As your development team will continue to monitor and maintain your app, your developers need the level of expertise required to fix any issues and scale your application.
As your website grows, your application also must handle additional work. If your MVP (Minimum Viable Product) is successful, your development team has to ensure that your application can handle additional users. It may be prudent to invest slightly more development into building your application with a more future-proof tech stack.
Long, messy, and convoluted code is difficult to process and edit. A good stack should utilize a language that allows for code to be re-used and re-purposed.
Maintenance is still required as users and features increase. To this end, your software must be easily scalable.
Investing in development isn’t cheap—salaries, education costs, technology, and maintenance are expensive. While some tech stacks are free and open-source, some require subscriptions or follow a freemium model.
When selecting a stack, you should balance development costs, time to market, and scalability into your decision. While using a certain tech stack may be cheaper in the short-term, it may be less efficient in the long run.
The Best Tech Stacks in 2021
The top tech stacks are powerful, flexible, and affordable. These are some of the most popular tech stacks in 2021, accompanied by strengths and weaknesses.
The MEAN stack is a versatile tech stack that allows for easy creation of an MVP and efficient scaling into enterprise technology.
The LAMP stack is an older, industry-tested tech stack comprised of Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP. The versatile LAMP is particularly suitable for creating dynamic websites and apps with a solid performance at reasonable costs.
While the original LAMP version uses Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP, many effective variants swap out components for other open-source options. PHP can be swapped out for Perl or Python, while Linux can be swapped out for Windows or macOS.
Ruby on Rails
The Ruby on Rails stack is comprised of the Ruby programming language and the Rails framework, accompanied by SQLite and other components.
Ruby on Rails utilizes libraries labeled as “Gems,” which allow for quick development using Ruby. The Ruby on Rails stack is particularly effective at taking ideas to prototypes quickly, allowing for the efficient creation of MVPs. While uncommon among larger enterprises, Ruby on Rails is very common among startups.
The MERN stack is a modern tech stack that utilizes MongoDB, Espress.js, React JS, and Node.js—the MERN stack is almost identical to the MEAN stack, but swaps Angular out for React.
By swapping out Angular for React, developers swap out the full framework of Angular for React, a view and rendering library. Developers using React have significantly more freedom than developers using Angular but do need more creativity.