Explaining MACH, Headless, Jamstack, and Composable architecture

What are even the differences?

By Markus Backman

March 12th, 2024

MACH, Headless, Jamstack, and Composable architecture are all wonderful architectural approaches to building modern websites, web applications, and services. Even though all concepts do share many of the same principles together, they are all independent architectural approaches with their own characteristics. In this article, we'll take a look at each concept and explain their differences.

As the world of the web moves forward and becomes more advanced, it means that old, monolithic, all-in-one web architecture is falling behind for being outdated, including potential going to waste.

    Table of contents

    In this post:

What is MACH?

You may have heard of MACH architecture, as it is a trending web architecture that enables a truly modern approach to operating your web services and systems.

The MACH abbreviation stands for Microservices, API-first, Cloud-native, and Headless.

  • Microservices: Microservices are one of the cornerstones of MACH architecture; They refer to discrete components of business functionality developed, deployed, and managed independently.

  • API-first: As it is promoting an API-first approach, all features are accessible through an API, facilitating easy integration between multiple applications or services.

  • Cloud-Native: Entails Software-as-a-Service that fully utilizes cloud capabilities, including scaling and automatic updates. It eliminates the need for manual upgrade management.

  • Headless: In a headless architecture, the front-end user experience is separated from the back-end, providing flexibility in designing the user interface. It truly enables more efficient and easier front-end management for anyone involved. We'll talk more about this shortly.

Together, these four elements create a tech stack that is incredibly resilient, modular, and scalable to work with.

Businesses and organizations are migrating to MACH to enjoy a future-ready, progressive web architecture that gives them a competitive advantage in the market. It enables the creation of dynamic, omnichannel experiences that can adapt to evolving business needs and technological advancements.

What is Headless?

Headless... that sounds strange, right. When talking about headless applications , the term "headless" refers simply to that the frontend is decoupled from the backend, which makes both layers operate independently.

Traditional applications are monolithic, meaning that both the frontend and backend are tightly coupled. That can cause a lot of pain to developers and editors working with such technology.

  • Easy to manage: Going headless in your architecture allows for considerably easier content management for everyone. Content is also delivered in an omnichannel way, meaning that it can be delivered to platforms such as websites, and mobile apps, all from a single source.

  • Freedom: When going headless, tinkering around with things for risk everything going downhill is reduced almost to zero (if you still know what you are doing)

  • Performance: This factor is affected in almost every way possible. You'll have scalable, flexible, secure site, that reaches more customers.

  • API-based: The headless approach uses API for communication and exchanging data. These are easy to work with and swap around.

What is Jamstack?

Jamstack is a web development ecosystem where you can choose what tech and frameworks to include in your stack. Unlike websites and web apps built on a monolithic architecture, no single monolithic CMS is tied to a backend or database –you can choose your preferred frontend framework or Jamstack CMS.

It has gained a lot of popularity in the last five years or so and continues to be a strong candidate as a great tech stack.

The "JAM" in Jamstack is an abbreviation of Javascript, API, and Markup. Together, these constitute the concept.

  • Javascript: JavaScript is crucial in Jamstack architecture as it handles dynamic content, enables interactive user experiences, interacts with APIs, and allows for client-side rendering. It also gives developers the freedom to choose their preferred front-end frameworks.

  • API: APIs connect website components, enabling front-end and back-end communication without a traditional server. This separation allows the front-end to handle presentation and user interaction while the back-end deals with data and business logic.

  • Markup: "In Jamstack architecture, a headless CMS is used for creating and managing content separately from presentation, with content stored in structured formats like JSON or Markdown. This content is then passed through a static site generator (SSG) like Gatsby or Next.js, and pre-rendered into final HTML files that are served to users via a CDN."

More and more businesses and organizations choose to migrate to Jamstack, as it is a modern and trendy tech stack for building flexible, rapid, secure, and scalable websites that are truly competitive compared to traditional websites.

What is composable architecture?

Composable web architecture is another modern approach to organizing web systems. It simplifies web development by dividing complex systems into smaller, reusable components.

To put it simply, every component is a building block that can be easily manipulated. Whether it is a user interface element, a business logic module, or a data service, you can combine and customize them to suit any business's unique needs.

This enables businesses to make extensive modifications and optimizations to their websites and services, providing a significant competitive advantage. When you can optimize things the way you want, without restrictions, you'll have a significant edge.

Unlike MACH and Jamstack, composable architecture doesn't include a strict formula that constitutes the concept. It's rather a broader concept that emphasizes applications using reusable, composable components or services, which can include microservices and API-first approaches but extends beyond them to encompass modular, reusable elements.

  • Composable architecture is like an ecosystem where you have the freedom to choose "best-of-breed" technology in your tech stack.

  • When you have the best technology to include in your stack, you have the freedom to build applications by piecing together smaller, reusable components or services.

  • You'll have a modular approach to application development, where components are loosely coupled and can be easily combined and reconfigured to create new functionalities.

  • Building applications using composable services or APIs is highly encouraged in composable architecture. It enables flexibility, scalability, and rapid development of applications.

  • It shares much of the principles of microservices and API-first architectures but extends beyond them to include any reusable components, not just microservices.

  • The ultimate focus is on creating a flexible, adaptable architecture that can confidently evolve with changing business requirements and technological advancements.

Businesses love going composable for the agility and easier management involved of websites and web systems, which in turn lead to their competitive advantage.

The differences between the four

This may be the answer you have been waiting for. Let's take a look at how these concepts differ from each other, really.

  • MACH architecture is essentially about the complete solution's architecture. This solution should be made up of composable Cloud-native, API-first MicroServices. While MACH architecture emphasizes the need for a decoupled frontend, it does not specify anything about the implementation of the frontend itself. For instance, a traditional Server Side Rendered (SSR) frontend may be used as long as it is decoupled from the services.

  • Headless is more of a function, rather than a whole architecture. The main point is that a headless application, such as a CMS, decouples the frontend and backend. The headless approach is not dependent on MACH, Jamstack, or composable, but more of a function or approach in your web architecture.

  • Jamstack puts more emphasis on delivering a flawless customer experience with its front-end capabilities. The frontend also has to be decoupled, and therefore, APIs are required. Jamstack does not require the use of MicroServices or cloud-native architecture for that matter. As long as there is an API that enables the frontend to be decoupled, Jamstack can even be used with an existing monolith that is run on-premise. This approach is an excellent way to gradually transition from a Monolith to a MACH architecture, rather than going through an expensive big bang re-platforming.

  • Composable architecture on the other hand, is not directly to be compared to the logic of MACH and Jamstack, as stated earlier. Composable architecture is not defined by a specific set of technology, rules, or guidelines. Instead, it is a more general concept that focuses on building applications using reusable and composable components or services. This can include approaches such as microservices and API-first design, but it also extends beyond these to include modular, reusable elements.

Which one is right for you?

As all these concepts act as superior web architecture, you may be wondering which of the following may suit your own needs the best.

Consider MACH when:

  • You are an enterprise-level business

  • You have a content-heavy website

  • You operate a busy and complex eCommerce business

Consider Headless when:

  • You want to pain free content management, ensuring a smooth interaction between everybody running your business, such as editors, designers and developers

  • You produce, edit and deliver lots of content

  • You want to stay ahead of competitors, ensuring a better digital experience

Consider Jamstack when:

  • You deliver, edit, and produce lots of content

  • You want eliminate your developers being frustrated and having headaches

  • You are running a complex eCommerce store

Consider Composable architecture when:

  • You're a large enterprise with complex systems

  • You're a SaaS provider or platform builder

  • You're embracing digital transformation

Final thoughts

After all, all approaches eventually overlap each in many ways. They're all great architectures to consider, especially if you are currently running a traditional, monolithic website. Whether you choose going with MACH, Headless (although it's not precisely and architecture) Jamstack, or Composable architecture, you'll be enjoying a modern website, application or service that is highly flexible, scalable and competitive on the market.

Contact us

Get in touch and let's discuss your business case

Email to sales@ikius.com or send us a message here.

Submitting this form will not sign you up for any marketing lists. Your information is strictly used and stored for contacting you. Privacy Policy