What is a software stack?
A software stack refers to the set of components that work together to support the execution of the application. Some software components power back-end processes, some are used to perform calculations and some are used to enable user interface. In any case, the components of a software stack work in tandem to efficiently deliver application services to the end-user.
- Some software components power back-end processes, some are used to perform calculations, and some are used in the presentation layer to enable user interface.
- Today, many developers depend on public cloud service providers to provide the cloud infrastructure needed to support their applications.
- It’s typical for different developers working on the same application to develop different portions of the software stack.
- A software stack that has become popular may take on an identity of its own, as a growing number of software companies adopt the same set of software components to deliver an application.
Software stack vs. technology stack - what's the difference?
When developers talk about the sets of tools that are used to support an application, several different terms may be used. The most common ones are software stack, technology stack, and solution stack. While these terms may seem interchangeable, differentiating between them can deepen your understanding of software stack components and the role they play in enabling applications of all kinds.
The terms technology stack and solutions stack are roughly equivalent. Both refer to the full set of technologies or solutions that are implemented to support application delivery. This includes software components as well as hardware components and physical IT infrastructure. A full technology stack includes networking, load balancers, storage, servers, virtual machines, operating systems, middleware, execution runtime, data and the application itself.
Today, many developers depend on public cloud service providers to provide the cloud infrastructure needed to support their applications. For example, a developer may use Amazon Web Services (AWS) to provide storage, servers and virtualization capabilities that support a particular application. When this is the case, the cloud service itself may be considered part of the software stack although its role in application delivery is to abstract hardware infrastructure.
Software stack development: front-end, back-end and full stack
The process of developing an application can be broadly divided into two components: front-end development and back-end development. Each of these represents a specialization for developers, although some full-stack developers are capable of doing both.
Back-end developers focus their efforts on the server side of the application, ensuring that the application is fast and responsive for users. They write the code that transmits information between back-end databases and the browser where it becomes accessible to clients. This requires knowledge of programming languages like Java, PHP, Ruby on Rails and Python.
It is typical for different developers working on the same application to develop different portions of the software stack.
Five software stack examples
A software stack that has proved itself useful or preferable for delivering a specific type of application may occasionally be adopted by other developers. A software stack that has become popular may take on an identity of its own as a growing number of software companies adopt the same set of software components to deliver an application.
Software companies may bundle specific components together and market them as a single software stack for a specific purpose. Below are five of the most popular software stacks that developers may use as an application platform:
LAMP - designed to support web services, the LAMP software stack is useful for building dynamic websites and cloud applications. The stack includes the Linux operating system, Apache web server, MySQL relational database management system and the PHP programming language.
MEAN - used for dynamic websites and web applications, which includes four free and open-source components: a database tool called MongoDB, the Express.js web application server framework, a front-end web framework called Angular.js, and the Node.js runtime environment.
WIMP - includes the Windows operating system, IIS web servers, MySQL or MS Access as a data management system and the PHP, Perl or Python programming languages.
NMP - a set of several software stacks that incorporate Nginx web servers, MySQL and the PHP programming language. This set of technologies works with all major operating systems and has been packaged separately with Linux, Windows, and macOS.
MAMP - can be used to develop websites that function on computers that use Windows or macOS. The software stack consists of either macOS or Windows operating system, Apache web server, MySQL for relational database management and PHP, Perl or Python for web development.
Each software stack provides a unique set of advantages and disadvantages for developers. It is up to application architects to understand and anticipate the specific needs of an application before choosing the best set of software solutions that support the delivery of application services to the end user.
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