There’s a new acronym on the block: MACH (pronounced “mock”) architecture. 

But like X is to Twitter, MACH is more a rebrand than a reinvention. In fact, you’re probably already familiar with the M, A, C, and H and may even use them across your digital properties. While we’ve been helping our clients implement aspects of MACH architecture for years, organizations like the MACH Alliance have recently formed in an attempt to provide clearer definition around the approach, as well as to align their service offerings with the technologies at hand. 

One thing we’ve learned at Oomph after years of working with these technologies? It isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. There are many degrees of MACH adoption, and how far you go depends on your organization and its unique needs. 

But first, you need to know what MACH architecture is, why it’s great (and when it’s not), and how to get started. 

What Is MACH?

MACH is an approach to designing, building, and testing agile digital systems — particularly websites. It stands for microservices, APIs, cloud-native, and headless. 

Like a composable business, MACH unites a few tried-and-true components into a single, seamless framework for building modern digital systems. 

The components of MACH architecture are: 

  1. Microservices: Many online features and functions can be separated into more specific tasks, or microservices. Modern web apps often rely on specialized vendors to offer individual services, like sending emails, authenticating users, or completing transactions, rather than a single provider to rule them all. 
  2. APIs: Microservices interact with a website through APIs, or application programming interfaces. This allows developers to change the site’s architecture without impacting the applications that use APIs and easily offer those APIs to their customers.
  3. Cloud-Native: A cloud-based environment hosts websites and applications via the Internet, ensuring scalability and performance. Modern cloud technology like Kubernetes, containers, and virtual machines keep applications consistent while meeting the demands of your users. 
  4. Headless: Modern Javascript frameworks like Next.js and Gatsby empower intuitive front ends that can be coupled with a variety of back-end content management systems, like Drupal and WordPress. This gives administrators the authoring power they want without impacting end users’ experience. 

Are You Already MACHing? 

Even if the term MACH is new to you, chances are good that you’re already doing some version of it. Here are some telltale signs:

If you’re doing any of the above, you’re MACHing. But the magic of MACH is in bringing them all together, and there are plenty of reasons why companies are taking the leap. 

5 Benefits of MACH Architecture

If you make the transition to MACH, you can expect: 

  1. Choice: Organizations that use MACH don’t have to settle for one provider that’s “good enough” for the countless services websites need. Instead, they can choose the best vendor for the job. For example, when Oomph worked with One Percent for America to build a platform offering low-interest loans to immigrants pursuing citizenship, that meant leveraging the Salesforce CRM for loan approvals, while choosing “Click and Pledge” for donations and credit card transactions. 
  2. Flexibility: MACH architecture’s modular nature allows you to select and integrate individual components more easily and seamlessly update or replace those components.  Our client Leica, for example, was able to update its order fulfillment application with minimal impact to the rest of its Drupal site. 
  3. Performance: Headless applications often run faster and are easier to test, so you can deploy knowing you’ve created an optimal user experience. For example, we used a decoupled architecture for our client Wingspans to create a stable, flexible, and scalable site with lightning-fast performance for its audience of young career-seekers.     
  4. Security: Breaches are generally limited to individual features or components, keeping your entire system more secure. 
  5. Future-Proofing: A MACH system scales easily because each service is individually configured, making it easier to keep up with technologies and trends and avoid becoming out-of-date. 

5 Drawbacks of MACH Architecture

As beneficial as MACH architecture can be, making the switch isn’t always smooth sailing. Before deciding to adopt MACH, consider these potential pitfalls. 

  1. Complexity: With MACH architecture, you’ll have more vendors — sometimes a lot more — than if you run everything on one enterprise system. That’s more relationships to manage and more training needed for your employees, which can complicate development, testing, deployment, and overall system understanding. 
  2. Challenges With Data Parity: Following data and transactions across multiple microservices can be tricky. You may encounter synchronization issues as you get your system dialed in, which can frustrate your customers and the team maintaining your website. 
  3. Security: You read that right — security is a potential pro and a con with MACH, depending on your risk tolerance. While your whole site is less likely to go down with MACH, working with more vendors leaves you more vulnerable to breaches for specific services. 
  4. Technological Mishaps: As you explore new solutions for specific services, you’ll often start to use newer and less proven technologies. While some solutions will be a home run, you may also have a few misses. 
  5. Complicated Pricing: Instead of paying one price tag for an enterprise system, MACH means buying multiple subscriptions that can fluctuate more in price. This, coupled with the increased overhead of operating a MACH-based website, can burden your budget. 

Is MACH Architecture Right for You? 

In our experience, most brands could benefit from at least a little bit of MACH. Some of our clients are taking a MACH-lite approach with a few services or apps, while others have adopted a more comprehensive MACH architecture. 

Whether MACH is the right move for you depends on your: 

  1. Platform Size and Complexity: Smaller brands with tight budgets and simple websites may not need a full-on MACH approach. But if you’re managing content across multiple sites and apps, managing a high volume of communications and transactions, and need to iterate quickly to keep up with rapid growth, MACH is often the way to go. 
  2. Level of Security: If you’re in a highly regulated industry and need things locked down, you may be better off with a single enterprise system than a multi-vendor MACH solution.  
  3. ROI Needs: If it’s time to replace your system anyway, or you’re struggling with internal costs and the diminishing value of your current setup, it may be time to consider MACH. 
  4. Organizational Structure: If different teams are responsible for distinct business functions, MACH may be a good fit. 

How To Implement MACH Architecture

If any of the above scenarios apply to your organization, you’re probably anxious to give MACH a go. But a solid MACH architecture doesn’t happen overnight. We recommend starting with a technology audit: a systematic, data-driven review of your current system and its limitations.

We recently partnered with career platform Wingspans to modernize its website. Below is an example of the audit and the output: a seamless and responsive MACH architecture. 

The Audit

  1. Surveys/Questionnaires: We started with some simple questions about Wingspan’s website, including what was working, what wasn’t, and the team’s reasons for updating. They shared that they wanted to offer their users a more modern experience. 
  2. Stakeholder Interviews: We used insights from the surveys to spark more in-depth discussions with team members close to the website. Through conversation, we uncovered that website performance and speed were their users’ primary pain points. 
  3. Systems Access and Audit: Then, we took a peek under the hood. Wingspans had already shared its poor experiences with previous vendors and applications, so we wanted to uncover simpler ways to improve site speed and performance. 
  4. Organizational Structure: Understanding how the organization functions helps design a system to meet those needs. The Wingspans team was excited about modern technology and relatively savvy, but they also needed a system that could accommodate thousands of authenticated community members. 
  5. Marketing Plan Review: We also wanted to understand how Wingspans would talk about their website. They sought an “app-like” experience with super-fast search, which gave us insight into how their MACH system needed to function. 
  6. Roadmap: Wingspans had a rapid go-to-market timeline. We simplified our typical roadmap to meet that goal, knowing that MACH architecture would be easy to update down the road. 
  7. Delivery: We recommended Wingspans deploy as a headless site (a site we later developed for them), with documentation we could hand off to their design partner. 

The Output 

We later deployed Wingspans.com as a headless site using the following components of MACH architecture:

  1. Microservices: Wingspans leverages microservices like Algolia Search for site search, Amazon AWS for email sends and static site hosting, and Stripe for managing transactions.
  2. APIs: Wingspans.com communicates with the above microservices through simple APIs. 
  3. Cloud-Native: The new website uses cloud-computing services like Google Firebase, which supports user authentication and data storage. 
  4. Headless: Gatsby powers the front-end design, while Cosmic JS is the back-end content management system (CMS). 

Let’s Talk MACH

As MACH evolves, the conversation around it will, too. Wondering which components may revolutionize your site and which to skip (for now)? Get in touch to set up your own technology audit.

In our previous post we broadly discussed the mindset of composable business. While “composable” can be a long term company-wide strategy for the future, companies shouldn’t overlook smaller-scale opportunities that exist at every level to introduce more flexibility, longevity, and reduce costs of technology investments.

For maximum ROI, think big, then start small

Many organizations are daunted by the concept of shifting a legacy application or monolith to a microservices architecture. This is exacerbated when an application is nearing end of life.

Don’t discount the fact that a move to a microservices architecture can be done progressively over time, unlike the replatform of a monolith which is a huge investment in both time and money that may not be realized for years until the new application is ready to deploy.

A progressive approach allows organizations to:

Prioritizing the approach by aligning technical architecture with business objectives

As with any application development initiative, aligning business objectives with technology decisions is essential. Unlike replatforming a monolith, however, prioritizing and planning the order of development and deployments is crucial to the success of the initiative.

Start with clearly defining your application with a requirements and feature matrix. Then evaluate each using three lenses to see priorities begin to emerge:

  1. With a current state lens, evaluate each item. Is it broken? Is it costly to maintain? Is it leveraged by multiple business units or external applications?
  2. Then with a future state lens, evaluate each item. Could it be significantly improved? Could it be leveraged by other business units? Could it be leveraged outside the organization (partners, etc…)? Could it be leveraged in other applications, devices, or locations?
  3. Lastly, evaluate the emerging priority items with a cost and effort lense. What is the level of effort to develop the feature as a service? What is the likely duration of the effort?

Key considerations when planning a progressive approach

Planning is critical to any successful application development initiative, and architecting a microservices based architecture is no different. Be sure to consider the following key items as part of your planning exercises:

  1. Remember that rearchitecting a monolith feature as a service can open the door to new opportunities and new ways of thinking. It is helpful to ask “If this feature was a stand alone service, we could __
  2. Be careful of designing services that are too big in scope. Work diligently to break down the application into the smallest possible parts, even if it is later determined that some should be grouped together
  3. Keep security front of mind. Where a monolith may have allowed for a straightforward security management policy with everything under one roof, a services architecture provides the opportunity for a more customized security policy, and the need to define how separate services are allowed to communicate with each other and the outside world

In summary

A microservices architecture is an approach that can help organizations move faster, be more flexible and agile, and reduce costs on development and maintenance of software applications. By taking a progressive approach when architecting a monolith application, businesses can move quickly, reduce risk, improve quality, and reduce costs.

If you’re interested in introducing composability to your organization, we’d love to help! Contact us today to talk about your options.

Many organizations today, large and small, have a digital asset problem. Companies are amassing huge libraries of images, videos, audio recordings, documents, and other files — while relying on shared folders and email to move them around the organization. As asset libraries explode, digital asset management (DAM) is crucial for keeping things accessible and up to date, so teams can spend more time getting work done and less time hunting for files.

First Things First: DAM isn’t Dropbox

Some folks still equate DAM with basic digital storage solutions, like Dropbox or Google Drive. While those are great for simple sharing needs, they’re essentially just file cabinets in the cloud.

DAM technology is purpose-built to optimize the way you store, maintain, and distribute digital assets. A DAM platform not only streamlines day-to-day content work; it also systematizes the processes and guidelines that govern content quality and use.

Today’s DAMs have sophisticated functionality that offers a host of benefits, including:

Is it time for your business to invest in a DAM? Let’s see if you recognize the pain points below:

The 5 Signs You Need a DAM

There are some things you can’t afford not to invest in if they significantly impact your team’s creativity and productivity and your business’s bottom line. Here are some of the most common signs it’s time to invest in a DAM:

It takes more than a few seconds to find what you need.

As your digital asset library grows, it’s harder to keep sifting through it all to find things — especially if you’re deciphering other people’s folder systems. If you don’t know the exact name of an asset or the folder it’s in, you’re often looking for a needle in a haystack.

Using a DAM, you can tag assets with identifying attributes (titles, keywords, etc.) and then quickly search the entire database for the ones that meet your criteria. DAMs also offer AI- and machine-learning–based tagging, which automatically adds tags based on the content of an image or document. Voila! A searchable database with less manual labor.

You have multiple versions of documents — in multiple places.

Many of our clients, including universities, healthcare systems, libraries, and nonprofits, have large collections of policy documents. These files often live on public websites, intranets, and elsewhere, with the intent that staff can pull them up as needed.

Problem is, if there’s a policy change, you need to be sure that anywhere a document is accessed, it’s the most current version. And you can’t just delete old files on a website, because any previous links to them will go up in smoke.

DAMs are excellent at managing document updates and variations, making it easy to find and replace old versions. They can also perform in-place file swaps without breaking the connections to the pieces of content that refer to a particular file.

You’re still managing assets by email.

With multiple team members or departments relying on the same pool of digital assets for a variety of use cases, some poor souls will spend hours every day answering email requests, managing edits, and transferring files. The more assets and channels you’re dealing with, the more unwieldy this gets.

DAMs facilitate collaboration by providing a single, centralized platform where team members can assign tasks, track changes, and configure permissions and approval processes. As a result, content creators know they’re using the most up-to-date, fully approved assets.

Your website doubles as a dump bin.

If your website is the source of assets for your entire organization, it can be a roadblock for other departments that need to use those assets in other places. They need to know how to find assets, download copies, and obtain sizes or formats that differ from the web-based versions… and there may or may not be a web team to assist.

What’s more, some web hosting providers offer limited storage space. If you have a large and growing digital library, you’ll hit those limits in no time.

A DAM provides a high-capacity, centralized location where staff can easily access current, approved digital assets in various sizes and formats.

You’re duplicating assets you already have.

How many times have you had different teams purchase assets like stock photography and audio tracks, when they could have shared the files instead? Or, maybe your storage folders are overrun with duplicates. Instead of relying on teams to communicate whenever they create or use an asset, you could simplify things with a DAM.

Storing and tagging all your assets, in various sizes and formats, in a DAM enables your teams to:

When Should You Implement a DAM?

You can implement a DAM whether you have an existing website or you’re building a new one. DAM technology easily complements platform builds or redesigns, helping to make websites and intranets even more powerful. Organizing all of your assets in a DAM before launching a web project also makes it easier to migrate them to your new platform and helps ensure that nothing gets lost.

Plus, we’ve seen companies cling to old websites when too many departments are still using assets that are hosted on the site. Moving your assets out of your website and into a DAM frees you up to move on.

If you’re curious about your options for a DAM platform, there are a number of solutions on the market. Our partner Acquia offers an excellent DAM platform with an impressive range of functions for organizing, accessing, publishing, and repurposing assets, automating manual processes, and monitoring content metrics.

Other candidates to consider include Adobe Experience Manager AssetsBynderPictureParkCantoCloudinaryBrandfolder, and MediaValet.

Given the number of DAMs on the market, choosing the right solution is a process. We’re happy to share our experience in DAM use and implementation, to help you find the best one for your needs. Just get in touch with any questions you have.


The Challenge

After six successful years of operating the platforms with steady growth year over year, COVID-19 and the rise of the at-home economy fundamentally changed the consumer relationship with healthcare.

This change resulted in more people than ever turning to digital platforms from the brands they trust for advice and information on the pandemic, mental health, wellness, at-home fitness, and at-home nutrition. This created a massive opportunity for increased brand engagement, but also a risk that members could turn to other sources. While we worked to shift the experience toward at-home health strategies, a deep look at the system architecture was in order to ensure performance at a scale we had not experienced before.

The Approach

While the legacy data center hosting model easily supported planned year-over-year growth, it was not up for the task of handling the uncertainty that came with the pandemic. In order to smoothly handle spikes in traffic without additional fixed costs of scaling the data center hosting model, we researched and vetted a number of cloud providers. AWS was selected as the cloud solution with support from HIPAA/HITRUST managed services provider Cloudticity. In partnership with our client and Cloudticity, our platform team planned and executed on this important transition in three short months.

The Results

Performance, Security, Autonomy, and Agility

The transition to the cloud resulted in performance improvements during both normal and peak periods. Partner Cloudticity brings advanced threat monitoring and hardened security. AWS and the add-ons available provide auto-scaling as well as granular system access and flexibility that gives our engineering team more power and autonomy.

And finally, the cloud environment provides increased agility in responding to disaster recovery activities. While the transition to the cloud started with COVID, the platform now has a strong foundation for success far into the future.

While the terminology was first spotlighted by IBM back in 2014, the concept of a composable business has recently gained much traction, thanks in large part to the global pandemic. Today, organizations are combining more agile business models with flexible digital architecture, to adapt to the ever-evolving needs of their company and their customers.

Here’s a high-level look at building a composable business.

What is a Composable Business?

The term “composable” encompasses a mindset, technology, and processes that enable organizations to innovate and adapt quickly to changing business needs.

A composable business is like a collection of interchangeable building blocks (think: Lego) that can be added, rearranged, and jettisoned as needed. Compare that with an inflexible, monolithic organization that’s slow and difficult to evolve (think: cinderblock). By assembling and reassembling various elements, composable businesses can respond quickly to market shifts.

Gartner offers four principles of composable business:

These four principles shape the business architecture and technology that support composability. From structural capabilities to digital applications, composable businesses rely on tools for today and tomorrow.

So, how do you get there?

Start With a Composable Mindset…

A composable mindset involves thinking about what could happen in the future, predicting what your business may need, and designing a flexible architecture to meet those needs. Essentially, it’s about embracing a modular philosophy and preparing for multiple possible futures.

Where do you begin? Research by Gartner suggests the first step in transitioning to a composable enterprise is to define a longer-term vision of composability for your business. Ask forward-thinking questions, such as:

These kinds of questions provide insights into the market forces that will impact your business, helping you prepare for multiple futures. But you also need to adopt a modular philosophy, thinking about all the assets in your organization — every bit of data, every process, every application — as the building blocks of your composable business.

…Then Leverage Composable Technology

A long-term vision helps create purpose and structure for a composable business. Technology is the tools that bring it to life. Composable technology begets sustainable business architectures, ready to address the challenges of the future, not the past.

For many organizations, the shift to composability means evolving from an inflexible, monolithic digital architecture to a modular application portfolio. The portfolio is made up of packaged business capabilities, or PBCs, which form the foundation of composable technology.

The ABCs of PBCs

PBCs are software components that provide specific business capabilities. Although similar in some respects to microservices, PBCs address more than technological needs. While a specific application may leverage a microservice to provide a feature, when that feature represents a business capability beyond just the application at hand, it is a PBC.

Because PBCs can be curated, assembled, and reassembled as needed, you can adapt your technology practically at the pace of business change. You can also experiment with different services, shed things that aren’t working, and plug in new options without disrupting your entire ecosystem.

When building an application portfolio with PBCs, the key is to identify the capabilities your business needs to be flexible and resilient. What are the foundational elements of your long-term vision? Your target architecture should drive the business outcomes that support your strategic goals.

Build or Buy?

PBCs can either be developed internally or sourced from third parties. Vendors may include traditional packaged-software vendors and nontraditional parties, such as global service integrators or financial services companies.

When deciding whether to build or buy a PBC, consider whether your target capability is unique to your business. For example, a CMS is something many businesses need, and thus it’s a readily available PBC that can be more cost-effective to buy. But if, through vendor selection, you find that your particular needs are unique, you may want to invest in building your own.

Real-World Example

While building a new member retention platform for a large health insurer, we discovered a need to quickly look up member status during the onboarding process. Because the company had a unique way of identifying members, it required building custom software.

Although initially conceived in the context of the platform being created, a composable mindset led to the development of a standalone, API-first service — a true PBC providing member lookup capability to applications across the organization, and waiting to serve the applications of the future.

A Final Word

Disruption is here to stay. While you can’t predict every major shift, innovation, or crisis that will impact your organization, you can (almost) future-proof your business with a composabile approach.

Start with the mindset, lay out a roadmap, and then design a step-by-step program for digital transformation. The beauty of an API-led approach is that you can slowly but surely transform your technology, piece by piece.

If you’re interested in exploring a shift to composability, we’d love to help. Contact us today to talk about your options.

From code to launch

4.5 mos.

Sites launched within a year

25

Performance improvement

350 %

THE BRIEF

A Fractured System

With a network of websites mired in old, outdated platforms, Rhode Island was already struggling to serve the communication needs of government agencies and their constituents. And then the pandemic hit.

COVID accelerated the demand for better, faster communication and greater efficiency amid the rapidly changing pandemic. It also spotlighted an opportunity to create a new centralized information hub. What the government needed was a single, cohesive design system that would allow departments to quickly publish and manage their own content, leverage a common and accessible design language, and use a central notification system to push shared content across multiple sites.

With timely, coordinated news and notifications plus a visually unified set of websites, a new design system could turn the state’s fragmented digital network into a trusted resource, especially in a time of crisis.


THE APPROACH

Custom Tools Leveraging Site Factory

A key goal was being able to quickly provision sites to new or existing agencies. Using Drupal 9 and Acquia’s Site Factory, we gave the state the ability to stand up a new site in just minutes. Batch commands create the site and add it to necessary syndication services; authors can then log in and start creating their own content.

We also created a set of custom tools for the state agencies, to facilitate content migration and distribution. An asynchronous hub-and-spoke syndication system allows sites to share content in a hierarchical manner (from parent to child sites), while a migration helper scrapes existing sites to ensure content is properly migrated from a database source.

Introducing Quahog: A RI.gov Design System

For organizations needing agility and efficiency, composable technology makes it easier to quickly adapt digital platforms as needs and conditions change. We focused on building a comprehensive, component-based visual design system using a strategy of common typography, predefined color themes and built-in user preferences to reinforce accessibility and inclusivity.

The Purpose of the Design System

The new, bespoke design system had to support four key factors: accessibility, user preferences, variation within a family of themes, and speedy performance.

Multiple color themes

Site authors choose from five color themes, each supporting light and dark mode viewing. Every theme was rigorously tested to conform with WCAG AA (and sometimes AAA), with each theme based on a palette of 27 colors (including grays) and 12 transparent colors.

User preferences

Site visitors can toggle between light or dark mode or use their own system preference, along with adjusting font sizes, line height, word spacing, and default language.


Mobile first

Knowing that many site visitors will be on mobile devices, each design component treats the mobile experience as a first-class counterpart to desktop.

Examples: The section menu sticks to the left side of the viewport for easy access within sections; Downloads are clearly labelled with file type and human-readable file sizes in case someone has an unreliable network connection; galleries appear on mobile with any text labels stacked underneath and support swipe gestures, while the desktop version layers text over images and supports keyboard navigation.

High Accessibility

Every design pattern is accessible for screen readers and mobile devices. Color contrast, keyboard navigation, semantic labelling, and alt text enforcement all contribute to a highly accessible site. Extra labels and help text have been added to add context to actions, while also following best practices for use of ARIA attributes.


Performance aware

Each page is given a performance budget, so design components are built as lightly as possible, using the least amount of code and relying on the smallest visual asset file sizes possible.


THE RESULTS

Efficient and Effective Paths to Communication

The first sites to launch on the new system, including covid.ri.gov, went live four and a half months after the first line of code was written. A total of 15 new sites were launched within just 8 months, all showing a 3-4x improvement in speed and performance compared with previous versions.

Every site now meets accessibility guidelines when authors adhere to training and best practices, with Lighthouse accessibility and best practice scores consistently above 95%. This means the content is available to a larger, more diverse audience. In addition, a WAF/CDN provider increases content delivery speeds and prevents downtime or slowdowns due to attacks or event-driven traffic spikes.

State agencies have been universally pleased with the new system, especially because it provides authors with an improved framework for content creation. By working with a finite set of tested design patterns, authors can visualize, preview, and deploy timely and consistent content more efficiently and effectively.

We were always impressed with the Oomph team’s breadth of technical knowledge and welcomed their UX expertise, however, what stood out the most to me was the great synergy that our team developed. All team members were committed to a common goal to create an exceptional, citizen-centered resource that would go above and beyond the technical and design expectations of both agencies and residents alike.

ROBERT MARTIN
ETSS Web Services Manager, State of Rhode Island

Second chances are expensive. Why? Because it takes five positive experiences to counterbalance the effects of a negative one. If someone’s first experience with your platform is disappointing, you have a long way to go to win back their confidence — if they even complete your sign-up form.

More than 67% of site visitors will completely abandon a sign-up process if they encounter any complications. If you’re lucky, maybe 20% of them will follow up with your company in some way. Whether you’re trying to get people to sign up for your mobile app, e-commerce platform, or company intranet, you must make the process as seamless as possible.

Here are six tips to reduce sign-up friction for your platform.

1. Use a Single Sign On Service

This is crucial for larger platforms that are part of a vast ecosystem with multiple logins, like a complex hospital platform providing access to multiple systems. On the other hand, for a basic paywall, you may want to manage user info yourself. The key is to think strategically about what your systems may look like down the road and how unwieldy your sign-up process may become.

Here are a few things to consider:

Pros

Cons

In the end, the advantages of SSO significantly outweigh the downsides. But you’ll likely need expert guidance when planning and implementing SSO to ensure you reap the benefits while minimizing the risks.

2. Keep It Short

More than a quarter of users who abandon online forms do so because they’re too long. To maximize the number of sign-ups, minimize the steps involved.

How do you decide which fields to keep? Try asking, “If I didn’t have this piece of information, would I still be able to provide a good customer experience?” If it’s something you don’t really need to know, then don’t ask.

Here are two more ways to shorten form length:

3. Use a Single Column Layout

In general, your form should adhere to this core UX principle:

Make the user experience smoother, faster, and better; not messier, slower, and worse.

The simpler the flow of your form, the faster and easier it feels to fill out. Here are a few tips:

4. Play Nice with Autofill

Nothing makes our sanguine CEO spout expletives faster than a platform that doesn’t allow browser-suggested passwords. While many of those suggested passwords are long strings of characters saved securely to the browser, the letter/number/special character combination may not meet your platform’s arbitrary standards.

In addition, some accessibility checkers will flag fields where autofill is turned off, indicating a possible issue for people with disabilities.

Here are a few more ways to make the experience smoother:

And, don’t forget to test the autofill function on both a desktop and phone — the experience can be very different between the two.

5. Allow Guest Checkout for eCommerce

To put it bluntly, don’t get in the way of someone spending money on your site. Instead, make it easy to open an account just by creating a password. Or, create a new user account automatically with the info you have, then send users an email with instructions on how to finalize the sign-up process.

What we’ve seen work well: after a successful shopping experience, follow up with an email to the customer that sells the benefits of having an account and asks if they would like to activate theirs.

6. Don’t Use a CAPTCHA

That’s right, we said it. It’s time to get rid of CAPTCHA on your sign-up form. Here are three good reasons why:

Instead, confirm any new account the tried-and-true way: with an email to the registered address. And consider if there are ways to clean up your security features on the back end, instead of presenting barriers to customers upon sign-up.

Don’t put the onus on the people who are trying to give you money. Put it on your systems instead.

You Only Get a First Impression Once

As the gateway to onboarding users, the sign-up process is the most crucial piece of your user experience to get right. Whether your goal is to acquire and retain customers, or to engage and inform employees, your success depends on getting your target audience past the initial sign-up hurdle. If their first task is difficult, it doesn’t bode well for the rest of the experience.

Don’t let your sales and marketing be better than your user onboarding. Once someone has decided your platform offers what they need, you’re more than halfway to converting them into a user. Just make sure your sign-up process lives up to your marketing promises.

Why are microservices growing in popularity for enterprise-level platforms? For many organizations, a microservice architecture provides a faster and more flexible way to leverage technology to meet evolving business needs. For some leaders, microservices better reflect how they want to structure their teams and processes.

But are microservices the best fit for you?

We’re hearing this question more and more from platform owners across multiple industries as software monoliths become increasingly impractical in today’s fast-paced competitive landscape. However, while microservices offer the agility and flexibility that many organizations are looking for, they’re not right for everyone.

In this article, we’ll cover key factors in deciding whether microservices architecture is the right choice for your platform.

What’s the Difference Between Microservices and Monoliths?

Microservices architecture emerged roughly a decade ago to address the primary limitations of monolithic applications: scale, flexibility, and speed.

Microservices are small, separately deployable, software units that together form a single, larger application. Specific functions are carried out by individual services. For example, if your platform allows users to log in to an account, search for products, and pay online, those functions could be delivered as separate microservices and served up through one user interface (UI).

In monolithic architecture, all of the functions and UI are interconnected in a single, self-contained application. All code is traditionally written in one language and housed in a single codebase, and all functions rely on shared data libraries.

Essentially, with most off-the-shelf monoliths, you get what you get. It may do everything, but not be particularly great at anything. With microservices, by contrast, you can build or cherry-pick optimal applications from the best a given industry has to offer.

Because of their modular nature, microservices make it easier to deploy new functions, scale individual services, and isolate and fix problems. On the other hand, with less complexity and fewer moving parts, monoliths can be cheaper and easier to develop and manage.

So which one is better? As with most things technological, it depends on many factors. Let’s take a look at the benefits and drawbacks of microservices.

Advantages of Microservices Architecture

Companies that embrace microservices see it as a cleaner, faster, and more efficient approach to meeting business needs, such as managing a growing user base, expanding feature sets, and deploying solutions quickly. In fact, there are a number of ways in which microservices beat out monoliths for speed, scale, and agility.

Shorter time to market

Large monolithic applications can take a long time to develop and deploy, anywhere from months to years. That could leave you lagging behind your competitors’ product releases or struggling to respond quickly to user feedback.

By leveraging third-party microservices rather than building your own applications from scratch, you can drastically reduce time to market. And, because the services are compartmentalized, they can be built and deployed independently by smaller, dedicated teams working simultaneously. You also have greater flexibility in finding the right tools for the job: you can choose the best of breed for each service, regardless of technology stack.

Lastly, microservices facilitate the minimum viable product approach. Instead of deploying everything on your wishlist at once, you can roll out core services first and then release subsequent services later.

Faster feature releases

Any changes or updates to monoliths require redeploying the entire application. The bigger a monolith gets, the more time and effort is required for things like updates and new releases.

By contrast, because microservices are independently managed, dedicated teams can iterate at their own pace without disrupting others or taking down the entire system. This means you can deploy new features rapidly and continuously, with little to no risk of impacting other areas of the platform.

This added agility also lets you prioritize and manage feature requests from a business perspective, not a technology perspective. Technology shouldn’t prevent you from making changes that increase user engagement or drive revenue—it should enable those changes.

Affordable scalability

If you need to scale just one service in a monolithic architecture, you’ll have to scale and redeploy the entire application. This can get expensive, and you may not be able to scale in time to satisfy rising demand.

Microservices architecture offers not only greater speed and flexibility, but also potential savings in hosting costs, because you can independently scale any individual service that’s under load. You can also configure a single service to add capability automatically until load need is met, and then scale back to normal capacity.

More support for growth


With microservices architecture, you’re not limited to a UI that’s tethered to your back end. For growing organizations that are continually thinking ahead, this is one of the greatest benefits of microservices architecture.


In the past, websites and mobile apps had completely separate codebases, and launching a mobile app meant developing a whole new application. Today, you just need to develop a mobile UI and connect it to the same service as your website UI. Make updates to the service, and it works across everything.

You have complete control over the UI — what it looks like, how it functions for the customer, etc… You can also test and deploy upgrades without disrupting other services. And, as new forms of data access and usage emerge, you have readily available services that you can use for whatever application suits your needs. Digital signage, voice commands for Alexa… and whatever comes next.

Optimal programming options

Since monolithic applications are tightly coupled and developed with a single stack, all components typically share one programming language and framework. This means any future changes or additions are limited to the choices you make early on, which could cause delays or quality issues in future releases.

Because microservices are loosely coupled and independently deployed, it’s easier to manage diverse datasets and processing requirements. Developers can choose whatever language and storage solution is best suited for each service, without having to coordinate major development efforts with other teams.

Greater resilience

For complex platforms, fault tolerance and isolation are crucial advantages of microservices architecture. There’s less risk of system failure, and it’s easier and faster to fix problems.

In monolithic applications, even just one bug affecting one tiny part of a single feature can cause problems in an unrelated area—or crash the entire application. Any time you make a change to a monolithic application, it introduces risk. With microservices, if one service fails, it’s unlikely to bring others down with it. You’ll have reduced functionality in a specific capacity, not the whole system.

Microservices also make it easier to locate and isolate issues, because you can limit the search to a single software module. Whereas in monoliths, given the possible chain of faults, it’s hard to isolate the root cause of problems or predict the outcome of any changes to the codebase.

Monoliths thus make it difficult and time-consuming to recover from failures, especially since, once an issue has been isolated and resolved, you still have to rebuild and redeploy the entire application. Since microservices allow developers to fix problems or roll back buggy updates in just one service, you’ll see a shorter time to resolution.

Faster onboarding

With smaller, independent code bases, microservices make it faster and easier to onboard new team members. Unlike with monoliths, new developers don’t have to understand how every service works or all the interdependencies at play in the system.

This means you won’t have to scour the internet looking for candidates who can code in the only language you’re using, or spend time training them in all the details of your codebase. Chances are, you’ll find new hires more easily and put them to work faster.

Easier updates

As consumer expectations for digital experiences evolve over time, applications need to be updated or upgraded to meet them. Large monolithic applications are generally difficult, and expensive, to upgrade from one version to the next.

Because third-party app owners build and pay for their own updates, with microservices there’s no need to maintain or enhance every tool in your system. For instance, you get to let Stripe perfect its payment processing service while you leverage the new features. You don’t have to pay for future improvements, and you don’t need anyone on staff to be an expert in payment processing and security.

Disadvantages of Microservices Architecture

Do microservices win in every circumstance? Absolutely not. Monoliths can be a more cost-effective, less complicated, and less risky solution for many applications. Below are a few potential downsides of microservices.

Extra complexity

With more moving parts than monolithic applications, microservices may require additional effort, planning, and automation to ensure smooth deployment. Individual services must cooperate to create a working application, but the inherent separation between teams could make it difficult to create a cohesive end product.

Development teams may have to handle multiple programming languages and frameworks. And, with each service having its own database and data storage system, data consistency could be a challenge.

Also, when you choose to leverage numerous 3rd party services, this creates more network connections as well as more opportunities for latency and connectivity issues in your architecture.

Difficulty in monitoring

Given the complexity of microservices architecture and the interdependencies that may exist among applications, it’s more challenging to test and monitor the entire system. Each microservice requires individualized testing and monitoring.

You could build automated testing scripts to ensure individual applications are always up and running, but this adds time and complexity to system maintenance.

Added external risks

There are always risks when using third-party applications, in terms of both performance and security. The more microservices you employ, the more possible points of failure exist that you don’t directly control.

In addition, with multiple independent containers, you’re exposing more of your system to potential attackers. Those distributed services need to talk to one another, and a high number of inter-service network communications can create opportunities for outside entities to access your system.

On an upside, the containerized nature of microservices architecture prevents security threats in one service from compromising other system components. As we noted in the advantages section above, it’s also easier to track down the root cause of a security issue.

Potential culture changes

Microservices architecture usually works best in organizations that employ a DevOps-first approach, where independent clusters of development and operations teams work together across the lifecycle of an individual service. This structure can make teams more productive and agile in bringing solutions to market. But, at an organizational level, it requires a broader skill set for developing, deploying, and monitoring each individual application.

A DevOps-first culture also means decentralizing decision-making power, shifting it from project teams to a shared responsibility among teams and DevOps engineers. The goal is to ensure that a given microservice meets a solution’s technical requirements and can be supported in the architecture in terms of security, stability, auditing, etc…

3 Paths Toward Microservices Transformation

In general, there are three different approaches to developing a microservices architecture:

1. Deconstruct a monolith

This kind of approach is most common for large enterprise applications, and it can be a massive undertaking. Take Airbnb, for instance: several years ago, the company migrated from a monolith architecture to a service-oriented architecture incorporating microservices. Features such as search, reservations, messaging, and checkout were broken down into one or more individual services, enabling each service to be built, deployed, and scaled independently.

In most cases, it’s not just the monolith that becomes decentralized. Organizations will often break up their development group, creating smaller, independent teams that are responsible for developing, testing, and deploying individual applications.

2. Leverage PBCs

Packaged Business Capabilities, or PBCs, are essentially autonomous collections of microservices that deliver a specific business capability. This approach is often used to create best-of-breed solutions, where many services are third-party tools that talk to each other via APIs.

PBCs can stand alone or serve as the building blocks of larger app suites. Keep in mind, adding multiple microservices or packaged services can drive up costs as the complexity of integration increases.

3. Combine both types

Small monoliths can be a cost-effective solution for simple applications with limited feature sets. If that applies to your business, you may want to build a custom app with a monolithic architecture.

However, there are likely some services, such as payment processing, that you don’t want to have to build yourself. In that case, it often makes sense to build a monolith and incorporate a microservice for any features that would be too costly or complex to tackle in-house.

A Few Words of Caution

Even though they’re called “microservices”, be careful not to get too small. If you break services down into many tiny applications, you may end up creating an overly complex application with excessive overhead. Lots of micro-micro services can easily become too much to maintain over time, with too many teams and people managing different pieces of an application.

Given the added complexity and potential costs of microservices, for smaller platforms with only one UI it may be best to start with a monolithic application and slowly add microservices as you need them. Start at a high level and zoom in over time, looking for specific functions you can optimize to make you stand out.

Lastly, choose your third party services with care. It’s not just about the features; you also need to consider what the costs might look like if you need to scale a particular service.

Final Thoughts: Micro or Mono?

Still trying to decide which architecture is right for your platform? Here are some of the most common scenarios we encounter with clients:

  1. If time to market is the most important consideration, then leveraging 3rd party microservices is usually the fastest way to build out a platform or deliver new features.
  2. If some aspect of what you’re doing is custom, then consider starting with a monolith and either building custom services or using 3rd parties for areas that will help suit a particular need.
  3. If you don’t have a ton of money, and you need to get something up quick and dirty, then consider starting with a monolith and splitting it up later.

Here at Oomph, we understand that enterprise-level software is an enormous investment and a fundamental part of your business. Your choice of architecture can impact everything from overhead to operations. That’s why we take the time to understand your business goals, today and down the road, to help you choose the best fit for your needs.

We’d love to hear more about your vision for a digital platform. Contact us today to talk about how we can help.

How we leveraged Drupal’s native API’s to push notifications to the many department websites for the State.RI.gov is a custom Drupal distribution that was built with the sole purpose of running hundreds of department websites for the state of Rhode Island. The platform leverages a design system for flexible page building, custom authoring permissions, and a series of custom tools to make authoring and distributing content across multiple sites more efficient.

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The Challenge

The platform had many business requirements, and one stated that a global notification needed to be published to all department sites in near real-time. These notifications would communicate important department information on all related sites. Further, these notifications needed to be ingested by the individual websites as local content to enable indexing them for search.

The hierarchy of the departments and their sites added a layer of complexity to this requirement. A department needs to create notifications that broadcast only to subsidiary sites, not the entire network. For example, the Department of Health might need to create a health department specific notification that would get pushed to the Covid site, the RIHavens site, and the RIDelivers sites — but not to an unrelated department, like DEM.

A visualization of the heirarchal structure of notifications and the way in which the system needed to work

Exploration

Aggregator:

Our first idea was to utilize the built in Drupal aggregator module and pull notifications from the hub. A proof of concept proved that while it worked well for pulling content from the hub site, it had a few problems:

  1. It relied heavily on the local site’s cron job to pull updates, which led to timing issues in getting the content — it was not in near real-time. Due to server limitations, we could not run cron as often as would be necessary
  2. Another issue with this approach was that we would need to maintain two entity types, one for global notifications and a second for local site notifications. Keeping local and global notifications as the same entity allowed for easier maintenance for this subsystem.

Feeds:

Another thought was to utilize the Feeds module to pull content from the hub into the local sites. This was a better solution than the aggregator because the nodes would be created locally and could be indexed for local searching. Unfortunately, feeds relied on cron as well.

Our Solution

JSON API

We created a suite of custom modules that centered around moving data between the network sites using Drupal’s JSON API. The API was used to register new sites to the main hub when they came online. It was also used to pass content entities from the main hub down to all sites within the network and from the network sites back to the hub.

Notifications

In order to share content between all of the sites, we needed to ensure that the data structure was identical on all sites in the network. We started by creating a new notification content type that had a title field, a body field, and a boolean checkbox indicating whether the notification should be considered global. Then, we packaged the configuration for this content type using the Features module.

By requiring our new notification feature module in the installation profile, we ensured that all sites would have the required data structure whenever a new site was created. Features also allowed us to ensure that any changes to the notification data model could be applied to all sites in the future, maintaining the consistency we needed.

Network Domain Entity

In order for the main hub, ri.gov, to communicate with all sites in the network, we needed a way to know what Drupal sites existed. To do this, we created a custom configuration entity that stored the URL of sites within the network. Using this domain entity, we were able to query all known sites and passed the global notification nodes created on ri.gov to each known site using the JSON API.

Queue API:

To ensure that the notification nodes were posted to all the sites without timeouts, we decided to utilize Drupal’s Queue API. Once the notification content was created on the ri.gov hub, we queried the known domain entities and created a queue item that would use cron to actually post the notification node to each site’s JSON API endpoint. We decided to use cron in this instance to give us some assurance that a post to many websites wouldn’t timeout and fail.

Batch API

To allow for time sensitive notifications to be pushed immediately, we created a custom batch operation that reads all of the queued notifications and pushes them out one at a time. If any errors are encountered, the notification is re-queued at the end of the stack and the process continues until all notifications have been posted to the network sites.

A visualization of the batch process we created to handle queueing updates and pushing them out to the sites that needed them

New site registrations

In order to ensure that new sites receive notifications from the hub, we needed a site registration process. Whenever a new site is spun up, a custom module is installed that calls out to the hub using JSON API and registers itself by creating a new network domain entity with it’s endpoint URL. This allows the hub to know of the new site and can push any new notifications to this site in the future.

A visualization of the way in which new satellite sites ping the home base “hub” site and become registered feed destinations

The installation process will also query the hub for any existing notifications and, using the JSON API, get a list of all notification nodes from the hub to add them to it’s local queue for creation. Then, the local site uses cron to query the hub and get the details of each notification node to create it locally. This ensured that when a new site comes online, it will have an up to date list of all the important notifications from the hub.

Authentication

Passing this data between sites is one challenge, but doing it securely adds another layer of complexity. All of the requests going between the sites are authenticating with each other using the Simple Oauth module. When a new site is created, an installation process creates a dedicated user in the local database that will own all notification nodes created with the syndication process. The installation process also creates the appropriate Simple OAuth consumers which allows the authenticated connections to be made between the sites.

Department sites

Once all of the groundwork was in place, with minimal effort, we were able to allow for department sites to act as hubs for their own department sites. Thus, the Department of Health can create notifications that only go to subsidiary sites, keeping them separate from adjacent departments.

Translations

The entire process also works with translations. After a notification is created in the default language, it gets queued and sent to the subsidiary sites. Then, a content author can create a translation of that same node and the translation will get queued and posted to the network of sites in the same manner as the original. All content and translations can be managed at the hub site, which will trickle down to the subsidiary sites.

Moving in the opposite direction

With all of the authorization, queues, batches, and the API’s in place, the next challenge was making this entire system work with a Press Release content type. This provided two new challenges that we needed to overcome:

  1. Instead of moving content from the top down, we needed to move from the bottom up. Press release nodes get created on the affiliate sites and would need to be replicated on the hub site.
  2. Press release nodes were more complex than the notification nodes. These content types included media references, taxonomy term references and toughest of all, paragraph references.

Solving the first challenge was pretty simple – we were able to reuse the custom publishing module and instructed the queue API to send the press release nodes to the hub sites.

Getting this working with a complex entity like the press release node meant that we needed to not only push the press release node, but we also needed to push all entities that the initial node referenced. In order for it all to work, the entities needed to be created in reverse order.

Once a press release node was created or updated, we used the EntityInterface referencedEntities() method to recursively drill into all of the entities that were referenced by the press release node. In some cases, this meant getting paragraph entities that were nested two, three, even four levels deep inside of other paragraphs. Once we reached the bottom of the referenced entity pile, we began queuing those entities from the bottom up. So, the paragraph that was nested four levels deep was the first to get sent and the actual node was the last to get sent

A sample visualization of a node collection, like a press release, and all of the entities within it that need to be queued and communicated to our hub’s JSON API endpoint

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Conclusion

Drupal’s powerful suite of API’s gave us all the tools necessary to come up with a platform that will allow the State of Rhode Island to easily keep their citizens informed of important information, while allowing their editing team the ease of a create once and publish everywhere workflow.


THE BRIEF

Wingspans’ primary audience is digital natives — young, tech-savvy users who expect fast, frictionless interactions and relevant content. Fail to deliver, and they’ll abandon you in a heartbeat.

The new platform needed to provide a scalable, flexible foundation for a range of content and tools being developed by the Wingspans team. We had to turn a collection of disparate pieces — story content, user data, school information, and more — into a cohesive digital framework that could grow and evolve. Above all, Wingspans needed a design-first approach, wrapping the educational aspects in an intuitive, engaging digital experience.


THE APPROACH

While storytelling formed the heart of the Wingspans platform, the site’s interactive features would be crucial for getting students to explore and engage with the content. Building on Lindsay’s familiarity with the educational market, we mapped out the content architecture, workflows, and functions for a host of interactive features to keep students engaged.

For the tech stack, we turned to a mix of microservices to provide a stable, flexible, and scalable architecture with lightning-fast performance. These included a Gatsby front end, Firebase database, AWS cloud storageAlgolia site search, Cosmic JS content management system, and more. We also worked to ensure the technology reflected Lindsay’s empathy-driven approach. For instance, we customized Algolia to deliver search results specifically tailored to a student’s profile and interests—in other words, an encyclopedia that understood its users and presented its information in a distinctly human way.


THE RESULTS

The platform’s most impactful feature is how easily students can find and bookmark career stories that resonate with who they are. With over 700 stories and 40 mini-documentaries available, each with an associated set of lessons, the site’s personalized search function and ultrafast content delivery are key. On the backend, the customized CMS and robust content architecture make it easy for the Wingspans team to align content with users’ profiles and browsing activity.

Bringing it all together, the Career Builder feature lets students select stories and content to create a customized career roadmap that they can share with parents, teachers, and counselors. A core element of the platform’s personalized user experience, the Career Builder brings Wingspans’ central premise to life: If you can see it, you can be it.

Oomph really fulfilled their commitment to building an immersive and radically personal platform that brought my vision to life.

— Lindsay Kuhn, Wingspans Founder and CEO

If you live in an area with a lot of freight or commuter trains, you may have noticed that trains often have more than one engine powering the cars. Sometimes it is an engine in front and one in back, or in the case of long freight lines, there could be an engine in the middle. This is known as “Distributed power” and is actually a recent engineering strategy. Evenly distributed power allows them to carry more, and carry it more efficiently.1

When it comes to your website, the same engineering can apply. If the Content Management System (CMS) is the only source of power, it may not have enough oomph to load pages quickly and concurrently for many users. Not only that, but a single source of power may slow down innovation and delivery to multiple sources in today’s multi-channel digital ecosystems.

One of the benefits of decoupled platform architecture is that power is distributed more evenly across the endpoints. Decoupled means that the authoring system and the rendering system for site visitors are not the same. Instead of one CMS powering content authoring and page rendering, two systems handle each task discreetly.

Digital properties are ever growing and evolving. While evaluating how to grow your own system, it’s important to know the difference between coupled and decoupled CMS architectures. Selecting the best structure for your organization will ensure you not only get what you want, but what is best for your entire team — editors, developers, designers, and marketers alike.

Bombardier Zefiro vector graphic designed for Vexels

What is a traditional CMS architecture?

In a traditional, or coupled, CMS, the architecture tightly links the back-end content administration experience to the front-end user experience.

Content creation such as basic pages, news, or blog articles are created, managed, and stored along with all media assets through the CMS’s back end administration screens. The back end is also where site developers create and store customized applications and design templates for use by the front-end of the site.

Essentially, the two sides of the CMS are bound within the same system, storing content created by authenticated users and then also being directly responsible for delivering content to the browser and end users (front end).

From a technical standpoint, a traditional CMS platform is comprised of:

  1. A private database-driven CMS in which content editors create and maintain content for the site, generally through some CMS administration interfaces we’re used to (think WordPress or Drupal authoring interfaces)
  2. An application where engineers create and apply design schemas. Extra permissions and features within the CMS give developers more options to extend the application and control the front end output
  3. A public front end that displays published content on HTML pages

What is a decoupled CMS architecture?

Decoupled CMS architecture separates, or decouples, the back-end and front-end management of a website into two different systems — one for content creation and storage, and another for consuming content and presenting it to the user.

In a decoupled CMS, these two systems are housed separately and work independently of the other. Once content is created and edited in the back end, this front-end agnostic approach takes advantage of flexible and fast web services and APIs to deliver the raw content to any front-end system on any device or channel. It is even possible that an authoring system delivers content to more than front-end (i.e. an article is published in the back-end and pushed out to a website as well as a mobile App).

From a technical standpoint, a decoupled CMS platform is comprised of:

  1. A private database-driven CMS in which content editors create and maintain content for the site, generally through the same CMS administration interfaces we’re used to — though it doesn’t have to be2
  2. The CMS provides a way for the front-end application to consume the data. A web-service API — usually in a RESTful manner and in a mashup-friendly format such as JSON — is the most common way
  3. Popular front-end frameworks such as React, VueJS, or GatsbyJS deliver the public visitor experience via a Javascript application rendering the output of the API into HTML

Benefits of decoupled

By moving the responsibility for the user experience completely into the browser, the decoupled model provides a number of benefits:

Push the envelope

Shifting the end-user experience out of the conventions and structures of the back-end allows UX Engineers and front-end masterminds to push the boundaries of the experience. Decoupled development gives front-end specialists full control using their native tools.

This is largely because traditional back-end platforms have been focused on the flexibility of authoring content and less so on the experience of public visitors. Too often the programming experience slows engineers down and makes it more difficult to deliver an experience that “wows” your users.

Need for speed

Traditional CMS structures are bogged down by “out-of-the-box” features that many sites don’t use, causing unnecessary bloat. Decoupled CMS structures allow your web development team to choose only what code they need and remove what they don’t. This leaner codebase can result in faster content delivery times and can allow the authoring site to load more quickly for your editors.

Made to order

Not only can decoupled architecture be faster, but it can allow for richer interactions. The front-end system can be focused on delivering a truly interactive experience in the form of in-browser applications, potentially delivering content without a visitor reloading the page.

The back-end becomes the system of record and “state machine”, but back-and-forth interaction will happen in the browser and in real-time.

Security Guard

Decoupling the back-end from the front-end is more secure. Since the front-end does not expose its connection to the authoring system, it makes the ecosystem less vulnerable to hackers. Further, depending on how the front-end communication is set up, if the back-end goes offline, it may not interrupt the front-end experience.

In it for the long haul

Decoupled architectures integrate easily with new technology and innovations and allow for flexibility with future technologies. More and more, this is the way that digital platform development is moving. Lean back-end only or “flat file” content management systems have entered the market — like Contentful and Cosmic — while server hosting companies are dealing with the needs of decoupled architecture as well.

The best of both worlds

Decoupled architecture allows the best decisions for two very different sets of users. Content editors and authors can continue to use some of the same CMSs they have been familiar with. These CMSs have great power and flexibility for content modelling and authoring workflows, and will continue to be useful and powerful tools. At the same time, front-end developers can get the power and flexibility they need from a completely different system. And your customers can get the amazing user experiences they have come to expect.

The New Age of Content Management Systems

Today’s modern CMS revolution is driving up demand for more flexible, scalable, customizable content management systems that deliver the experience businesses want and customers expect. Separating the front- and back-ends can enable organizations to quicken page load times, iterate new ideas and features faster, and deliver experiences that “wow” your audience.


  1. Great article on the distributed power of trains: Why is there an engine in the middle of that train?
  2. Non-monolithic CMSs have been hitting the market lately, and include products like Contentful, CosmicJS, and Prismic, among others.

Test Driven Development (TDD) facilitates clean and stable code. Drupal 8 has embraced this paradigm with a suite of testing tools that allow a developer to write unit tests, functional tests, and functional JavaScript tests for their custom code. Unfortunately, there is no JavaScript unit testing framework readily available in Drupal core, but don’t fret. This article will show you how to implement JavaScript unit testing.

Why unit test your JavaScript code?

Testing units of code is a great practice, and also guarantees that any future developer doesn’t commit a regression to your logic. Adding unit coverage for JavaScript code is helpful for testing specific logical blocks of code quickly and efficiently without the overhead both in development time and testing time of functional tests.

An example of JavaScript code that would benefit from unit testing would be an input field validator. For demonstration purposes, let’s say you have a field label that permits certain characters, but you want to let the user know immediately if they entered something incorrectly, maybe with a warning message.

Here’s a crude example of a validator that checks an input field for changes. If the user enters a value that is not permitted, they are met with an error alert.

(($, Drupal) => {
  Drupal.behaviors.labelValidator = {
    attach(context) {
      const fieldName = "form.form-class input[name=label]";
      const $field = $(fieldName);
      $field.on("change", () => {
        const currentValue = $field.val();
        if (currentValue.length > 0 && !/^[a-zA-Z0-9-]+$/.test(currentValue)) {
          alert("The value you entered is incorrect!");
        }
      });
    }
  };
})(jQuery, Drupal);

JavaScript

We only allow letters, numbers, and hyphens in this sample validator. We now have a good idea of test data we can create for our test.

Setting up JS Unit Testing

In the world of JavaScript unit testing, Jest has a well-defined feature set, a large community, and is the most popular choice among developers. To begin using Jest, add jest as a development dependency in your favorite manager. Then create a Jest config file, and add your directories for testing. I recommend enabling lcov ; a test coverage reporter that converts test results into local HTML pages.

Writing a Test

We want to test our Drupal behavior, but we need jQuery and the global Drupal object. Have no fear! We can mock all of this. For simplicity’s sake, we can mock both jQuery and Drupal to test the code we want. The point here is to collect the validation logic and run it on our test cases.

There are a couple of different techniques we can use to meet our requirements. You can create a test DOM using a library like JSDOM and require the jQuery library. This gives you the ability to simulate HTML and DOM events. This approach is fine, but our goal is to test our custom validation logic, not to test third-party libraries, or simulate the DOM. Similar to mocking classes and methods in PHPUnit, we can do the same with jest.

Our testing environment is Node, so we can leverage the global object to mock Drupal, jQuery, and even the alert function. Please see Node’s global variable documentation for more information on this object. We can do this in the setup logic of jest with beforeAll:

beforeAll(() => {
  global.alert = jest.fn();
  global.Drupal = {
    behaviors: {}
  };
  global.jQuery = jest.fn(selector => ({
    on(event, callback) {
      validator = callback;
    },
    val() {
      return fieldValue;
    }
  }));
  const behavior = require("label-validator.es6.js");
  Drupal.behaviors.labelValidator.attach();
});

JavaScript

This makes our behavior available to the global Drupal object. We also have mocked jQuery, so we can collect the callback on which we want to run the tests. We run the attach method on the behavior to collect the callback. You may have noticed that we never declared the validator or fieldValue variables; we do this at the top of our test so we have them available in our tests.

// The validation logic we collect from the `change` event.
let validator = () => "";

// The value of the input we set in our tests.
let fieldValue = "";

JavaScript

With the intention of cleanup, we want to unset all the global objects after we have run our tests. In our case, the globals we are mocking do not exist in Node, so it is safe to set them to null. In cases in which we are mocking defined values, we would want to save a backup of that global and then mock it. After we are done testing, we would set the backup back to its corresponding global. There are also many techniques related to mocking globals and even core Node libraries. For an example, check out the documentation on the jest website.

Here is our tear-down logic. We use the jest function afterAll to achieve this:

afterAll(() => {
  global.Drupal = null;
  global.jQuery = null;
  global.alert = null;
});

JavaScript

We need to create an array of values that we know should pass validation and fail validation. We will call them validLabels and invalidLabels, respectively:

/**
 * List of valid labels for the input.
 *
 * @type {string[]}
 */
const validLabels = [
  "123ABVf123",
  "123",
  "AB",
  "1",
  "",
  "abcdefghijklmnop12345678910",
  "ab-3-cd"
];

/**
 * List of invalid labels for the input.
 *
 * @type {string[]}
 */
const invalidLabels = [
  "!@#fff",
  "test test",
  "(123)",
  "ABCDEF123!",
  "^Y1",
  " ",
  "'12346'",
];

JavaScript

Finally, we are ready to start writing our tests. We can use jest’s provided test function, or we can use the “describe it” pattern. I prefer the “describe it” pattern because you can provide detailed information on what you are testing and keep it in the same test scope.

Firstly, we want to test our valid data, and we know that these values should never trigger an alert. We will call the validator on each test value and set the expectation that the alert function is never called. But before we write the test, we want to make sure to clear all our mocks between tests to prevent mock pollution. We can achieve this with beforeEach:

beforeEach(() => {
  jest.clearAllMocks();
});

JavaScript

After writing our valid data test, we will write our invalid data test. This test should expect an alert for each invalid value sent. Putting it all together we have:

describe("Tests label validation logic", () => {
  beforeEach(() => {
    jest.clearAllMocks();
  });
  it("valid label test", () => {
    validLabels.forEach(value => {
      fieldValue = value;
      validator();
    });
    expect(global.alert.mock.calls.length).toBe(0);
  });
  it("invalid label test", () => {
    invalidLabels.forEach(value => {
      fieldValue = value;
      validator();
    });
    expect(global.alert.mock.calls.length).toBe(invalidLabels.length);
  });
});

JavaScript

After writing our tests, we can check our coverage and see we have hit 100%!

Visual output of Jest using the lcov test reporter

Jest is extremely flexible and has a large ecosystem. There are many different ways we could have achieved the above results; hopefully this gives you some useful ideas on how to unit test your javascript code.


The entire sample Jest test:

/* global test expect beforeEach afterAll beforeAll describe jest it */
// The validation logic we collect from the `change` event.
let validator = () => "";
// The value of the input we set in our tests.
let fieldValue = "";
// the setup function where we set our globals.
beforeAll(() => {
  global.alert = jest.fn();
  global.Drupal = {
    behaviors: {}
  };
  global.jQuery = jest.fn(selector => ({
    on(event, callback) {
      validator = callback;
    },
    val() {
      return fieldValue;
    }
  }));
  const behavior = require("label-validator.es6.js");
  Drupal.behaviors.labelValidator.attach();
});
// Global tear down function we use to remove our mocks.
afterAll(() => {
  global.Drupal = null;
  global.jQuery = null;
  global.alert = null;
});
/**
 * List of valid labels for the input.
 *
 * @type {string[]}
 */
const validLabels = [
  "123ABVf123",
  "123",
  "AB",
  "1",
  "",
  "abcdefghijklmnop12345678910",
  "ab-3-cd"
];
/**
 * List of invalid labels for the input.
 *
 * @type {string[]}
 */
const invalidLabels = [
  "!@#fff",
  "test test",
  "(123)",
  "ABCDEF123!",
  "^Y1",
  " ",
  "'12346'",
];
// The tests.
describe("Tests label validation logic", () => {
  beforeEach(() => {
    jest.clearAllMocks();
  });
  it("valid label test", () => {
    validLabels.forEach(value => {
      fieldValue = value;
      validator();
    });
    expect(global.alert.mock.calls.length).toBe(0);
  });
  it("invalid label test", () => {
    invalidLabels.forEach(value => {
      fieldValue = value;
      validator();
    });
    expect(global.alert.mock.calls.length).toBe(invalidLabels.length);
  });
});

JavaScript

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