By Max I.

What is Jamstack?

Jamstack is a modern tech stack for building resilient, lightning-fast, secure, and scalable websites.

Back in the early days of the web, everything was static. To create a website, you had to write HTML files and put that on a server somewhere - simple as that. In the 90s, as websites became more complex and server rendered, HTML became the norm.

This was a huge deal back then, enabling non-technical people to edit any website content instantly. A drawback of this approach, however, was that server side rendering was and is slow. In addition, as the web became increasingly complex over the decades, server-side rendering was just not cutting it anymore.

In 2016, Matt Biilmann (co-founder of Netlify)  and Chris Bach introduced the concept of Jamstack. The Jamstack architecture brought back the early days of the static web —albeit enhanced with Javascript, reusable APIs, and the cloud.

But over the past seven years, Jamstack has become more than just another way of making websites. This article explores what Jamstack is and shows why Jamstack is better than WordPress.

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      What is Jamstack?

      Jamstack is a web development ecosystem where you can choose what tech and frameworks to use. 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.

      Did you know: the abbreviation "Jamstack" comes from Javascript, APIs, and Markup (the JAM in JAMstack).

      JavaScript

      In a Jamstack architecture, JavaScript is key in handling the dynamic content and functionalities of the website or web application. JavaScript is used on the frontend side to create interactive and dynamic user experiences and interact with APIs on the backend side.

      It allows developers to use their preferred front-end frameworks, React, Next, or Gatsby, to build the dynamic layer of the website. This enables developers to create rich and engaging user interfaces, handle user interactions and state management, and access backend services using APIs.

      JavaScript also enables client-side rendering, which allows the website or web application to be rendered on the user's browser rather than on the server. This improves the performance and the overall user experience, as the website or web application can be rendered quickly and efficiently, reducing the load on the server.

      APIs

      In a Jamstack architecture, APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) play a crucial role in connecting the different components of the website or web application.

      APIs enable the front-end of the website (usually built with JavaScript) to communicate with the backend services and third-party services without the need for a traditional monolithic server-side architecture. This allows for a separation of concerns, where the front-end handles the presentation and user interaction, and the back-end handles the data and business logic.

      Markup

      In Jamstack architecture, the content is usually created and managed using a headless CMS, allowing the separation of the content from the presentation. Plus, a headless CMS typically stores the content in a structured format, such as JSON, XML, or Markdown.

      Once the content is ready, it is then passed through a static site generator (SSG) such as Gatsby or Next.js to generate the final HTML files, which are then served to the users via a CDN. This process is called pre-rendering, which is a key feature of Jamstack.

      The anatomy of a Jamstack app

      Have you ever wondered what goes into building a Jamstack app? Let’s discuss the different components that make up a Jamstack app and how they work together to create digital experiences and storefronts. 

      Headless content management system

      Traditional CMSs like WordPress are based on themes that don’t support omnichannel content delivery and lack content reusability. In a Jamstack app, a developer can use a headless CMS to create content that lives in a markup format and can be delivered to multiple frontends or devices. Plus, a headless CMS serves as the neural center that connects the other pieces that power Jamstack-based digital experiences.

      Static site generators

      Static site generators (SSG), such as Gatsby, Next.js, Nuxt, and Hugo build static websites based on HTML files that are created at build time and served from a CDN. SSGs allow developers to serve websites that look and feel like a dynamic website, keeping your digital experiences blazing fast. 

      Third-party APIs

      Another cool thing about the Jamstack architecture is that you can augment your websites and Jamstack apps with API-driven services. Rather than baking features in, Jamstack-ready CMSs allow you to integrate third-party software using APIs. For example, add Shopify for eCommerce, Auth0 for authentication, and AWS as your content delivery network.

      Deployment services

      Once you’ve chosen each tool of your web app’s tech stack, you can use a Jamstack-ready deployment platform like Netlify, Vercel, and Github to deploy your website in minutes, effectively saying goodbye to the old, cumbersome FTP servers. 

      Content delivery network (CDN)

      In Jamstack architecture, a Content Delivery Network (CDN) is used to distribute the static HTML files of the website to different locations worldwide. The CDN uses a network of servers located in multiple geographic locations to cache and serve the static files to users based on their location, reducing the load on the origin server and improving the website's performance. In practice, this means you can build serverless websites kinda as you did in the early days of the web. Just simple, static files and HTML.

      Frontend frameworks 

      These are libraries or frameworks that provide the structure and functionality for the front-end of a website or web application. Examples of popular front-end frameworks include React, Angular, and Vue.js.

      For instance, an example Jamstack app could look like this: 

      • Headless CMS: Hygraph

      • JavaScript framework: React

      • Authentication: Auth0

      • eCommerce engine: Commerce.js

      • Serverless functions: AWS Lambda

      • Database: FaunaDB

      • Deployment: Vercel

      Why are market leaders migrating to Jamstack?

      The reason is simple: building a Jamstack site has become easier and more cost-effective than ever, and market leaders have noticed the changing trend.

      According to data from the 2022 Jamstack Community Survey 32% of the surveyed developers are working for multimillion-dollar companies in the advertising, marketing, education, finance, and healthcare sectors. Most Jamstack sites were either portfolio sites or small eCommerce stores a few years back.

      Nowadays, Jamstack is reaching maturity, with companies like Nike building sites powered by Jamstack.

      In fact, the 2022 Web Almanac revealed that 2.7% of all sites on the internet are built as Jamstack sites, growing from 0.38% in 2019 and 0.69% in 2020, and 1.1% in 2021. 

      Unlike traditional, monolithic solutions like WordPress and Drupal, which can only scale as much as their servers, hosting, and CMS allow them, Jamstack sites are almost infinitely scalable.

      You can build a Jamstack project and go from zero to hero without fear that your website will be obsolete and bloated in five years. Instead, you can grow your digital presence at the same rate as your company, enabling businesses of all shapes and sizes to build fast, competitive digital experiences.

      Jamstack vs. WordPress

      Jamstack and WordPress are fundamentally different. WordPress is built on the LAMP stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP), while Jamstack is built on the JAM stack (Javascript, APIs, and Markup). WordPress is a website platform, and Jamstack is a framework that combines microservice APIs, JavaScript frameworks, and static site generators to build websites and web applications.

      Since WordPress is a monolithic system, it's impossible to just replace the frontend framework or your CMS as they are part of the same system and can't be swapped. However, in a Jamstack website, you could replace that part of your stack without affecting your entire website.

      Jamstack websites allow developers to create customized websites not constrained by themes like WordPress. Most headless CMSs in the market enable developers and non-technical users to build static sites fast using pre-built website starters, allowing companies to build proofs-of-concept, progressive web applications, and eCommerce stores.

      Finally, in a Jamstack static website, every single file, static asset, and resource is pre-built and stored on a global CDN as JSON or XML.

      By serving a static file cached on a CDN, you not only achieve faster loading speeds but can also deliver content to other channels like smartwatches, IoT devices, and digital signage. You no longer need monolithic and heavy back-end frameworks like WordPress, Drupal, or Joomla to build a website or a web application.

      We wrote an article that hones in on the debate of Jamstack vs. WordPress. Take a look if you want to find out what makes Jamstack a better option for building websites.

      Benefits of Jamstack

      Jamstack sites are fast and incredibly customizable, but that’s not all the benefits. Jamstack sites can be performant, secure, and scalable when built using best practices and the right tools.

      So, let's go deeper into the benefits of the Jamstack framework to understand what makes it a solid architectural choice.

      Business benefits of Jamstack

      • Blazing fast: According to CSS-Tricks, 50% of the sites built on Jamstack give visitors a First Contentful Paint (when the browser renders the first bit of content) in less than a second, making it easier to pass Google's Core Web Vitals. Since almost all of the content in a Jamstack website or application is made of markup files that are served from a CDN, Jamstack digital experiences are faster than traditional websites.

      • Compliant: Netlify, the creator of Jamstack, and all the major headless CMS in the market comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). As a result, you can be confident that every time you build a Jamstack website, you're protected against compliance issues.

      • Accessible: Your web apps and digital experiences must be accessible to those with disabilities. Building an accessible website can help you with SEO and reduce the chances of being sued or penalized. Jamstack websites are accessible out-of-the-box and can be easily optimized to comply with the WCAG and ADA guidelines.

      • Secure: Jamstack websites and apps are inherently safer than traditional sites. CDNs reduce security risks and downtime because if a malicious actor tries to attack you with a DDoS, your CDN can balance the load and keep your site up and working. Similarly, the Jamstack architecture reduces the attack vectors by eliminating the WordPress plugin system.

      • Cost-effective: Jamstack sites are cheaper to host compared to traditional sites. You can host your website on Netlify or Vercel for free and scale your commitment as your website grows. With a Jamstack website, you don't need a web farm of dedicated servers or expensive, on-premise hosting.

      • Static files are faster to load: By pre-rendering the website or web application as static HTML files, the load on the server is reduced, and the content can be cached and served quickly by a CDN. This improves the overall performance and reduces the time to first byte (TTFB) for the users.

      • Client-side rendering improves user experience: By rendering the website or web application on the user's browser, the load on the server is further reduced, and the user experience is improved as the website or web application can be rendered quickly and efficiently.

      Technical benefits of Jamstack

      • Build it the way you want it: To build a Jamstack site, you select the best modern software products for your company and integrate them with your headless CMS Modern. A Jamstack developer can work with a modern static site generator, leverage JavaScript frameworks such as Next.js or Gatsby, and build better digital experiences.

      • Simplified CI/CD: Using Netlify or Vercel for CI/CD, you can set up a development environment in half an hour, connect a repository, and point the domain to the web application to enable one-click deployment.

      • Allow for third-party integrations: APIs simplify developers' work and allow you to connect different third-party plugins to add complex functionalities to your headless CMS, resulting in faster performance when compared to WordPress plugins.

      • Truly cross-functional work: Jamstack tooling exposes marketers and non-technical users to the website development process, leading to better understanding and communication between developers, designers, and marketers.

      • Serverless architecture: By using serverless functions or microservices to handle specific functionality, the backend can be scaled independently of the front-end, providing cost-efficient and scalable solutions.

      • Decoupling: By decoupling the content from the presentation, the front-end and back-end can be developed and deployed independently, providing more flexibility and scalability.

      Limitations of Jamstack

      Like with everything, the Jamstack ecosystem is not completely perfect. There are a few drawbacks that are worth mentioning. This includes:

      • Unfriendly for beginners: Jamstack isn't very friendly for beginners, and you need to know more than the basics of web development to make the most of it. But you can always circumvent this issue by hiring a Jamstack development agency.

      • Long build times: One of the drawbacks of Jamstack sites is that when you change a page, you need to rebuild the whole site. As you can imagine, this can be slow for sites with thousands of pages. It is possible to alleviate this issue using incremental builds or by building the website using Gatsby or Next.js, but, once again, this requires development experience.

      Migrating from WordPress to Jamstack

      If you decide to migrate, don't be afraid. While migration sounds like a long, tedious process, migration doesn't have to be hard. In fact, a Jamstack agency can help you find a migration path that suits you, be it a piecemeal migration or a complete one. Your path will depend on factors like the number of plugins and shortcodes you're using and the size and amount of content of your site.

      However, you can migrate to Jamstack gradually by building a Jamstack layer in front of the site and migrating requests slowly until the whole site has been transferred to a Jamstack CMS. The Jamstack approach minimizes downtime and reduces negative impacts on the user experience.

      Choosing a headless CMS for Jamstack

      Development with legacy solutions such as WordPress is slow and frustrating for developers. WordPress gets bloated quickly, and after a while, it becomes unwieldy. A Jamstack CMS unlocks your developers' true potential and allows them to build digital experiences using modern technology stacks.

      Jamstack CMSs come ready for the future. By combining the JAM of the Jamstack with version-control tools like GitHub, the right headless CMS can build and serve content fast, allowing snappy performance.

      The problem is that not all CMSs are created equal and that it all depends on what you want to do with them. We've tested most of the headless platforms in the market and can recommend five of them: Agility CMS, Dato, Sanity, Hygraph, and Prismic.

      We wrote a deep article about why we think they are the top headless CMS for Jamstack. Feel free to check it out if you want to know more.

      Closing thoughts: Jamstack is a must-have architecture for any modern web project

      Jamstack is becoming the de-facto tech architecture for forward-thinking companies. Enterprise companies are migrating to Jamstack daily because it grants them the speed and flexibility that monolithic solutions like WordPress wouldn't afford them.

      When compared to WordPress, Jamstack sites are nimbler and much more modular. They also allow using best-of-breed tools to create custom websites and digital experiences.

      When coupled with the right headless CMS, Jamstack websites will give a competitive advantage that you'll never want to look back to something like WordPress again after you've tried them.

      If you need help navigating the Jamstack ecosystem, let's talk. We can answer all questions you have about Jamstack development.

      Do you need Jamstack development services?

      Ikius can help you implement and manage your Jamstack project or application. We can build something from scratch or work with your devs to lend them an extra hand during implementation.

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