Top Web Development Technologies: Choosing the Right Stack.

Alex Tarasenko
Alex Tarasenko

If you’re reading this, chances are that there isn’t a team of developers gathered around your new digital project yet, but you have to resolve a key technical issue already – to choose the right software stack for a product. 

In fact, many entrepreneurs find themselves struggling at this stage. 

Alike the foundation to a house, the choice of a tech stack majorly affects the potential and fate of software. If picked properly, it ensures a smooth development process, high product quality, and happy clients – as a result. Take the other scenario and you guarantee multiple technical inconsistencies, unnecessary budget spendings, and all sorts of production difficulties. Therefore, for startups especially, it is crucial to ensure everything is well thought out before the development process kicks off.

Sounds complicated? Don’t worry pal, we’ve got you covered on this one! But first, let’s go over the basics.   

Project type and technologies 

The process of IT product development is also known as the project lifecycle. In general, it consists of several key stages such as concept, design, implementation, testing & integration, and maintenance.

Here’s a visual diagram representing it:

project lifecycle diagram

Tech stack describes a number of core software technologies and program tools that are applied across that process.

Now, the first thing to do before picking technology is to determine the type of device your target audience is most likely to enjoy the product through.

Mobile development 

With mobile phones, your options narrow down to either of the two prevalent platforms – Android and iOS. You can also resort to multi-platform development to get both. In any case, it’ll require a separate mobile programming solution to be executed.

Android

For example, Android apps are traditionally powered by Java or Kotlin.  Java is a classic coding language. It was the official language of Android apps before Kotlin arrived. Now, Kotlin is the golden standard for building Android apps. A concise and streamlined version of Java, it is one of the most loved languages among devs in 2020. Big brands like Pinterest, Netflix, Uber, and Trello have adopted Kotlin technology. 

iOS

iOS development, on the other hand, runs on Swift and Objective-C. Objective-C is a general-purpose, object-oriented superset of the C programming language and the footing for Apple’s iOS and OS X. Swift is a very quick open-source language behind Hubspot, Lyft, Airbnb, LinkedIn, and Yahoo Weather iOS apps. 

Cross-platform

Now, if you want to have your cake and eat it too, sort of speaking, then React Native and Xamarin are at your service. 
React Native represents an entire platform enabling you to create native, cross-platform mobile apps in a single environment. It saves a lot of time and effort by eliminating the need for writing separate sets of code. Xamarin is a similar solution allowing you to share native interface code across multiple platforms including Android, iOS, and Windows.

Hybrid

One more approach to building multi-platform mobile apps is hybrid development. It builds upon the duet of HTML5/CSS and JavaScript, finished with auxiliary frameworks like Cordova, Sencha Touch 2, and Ionic. 

Mobile applications – check. 

Web development

Web software development is much different from that of mobile apps: 

There are usually two sets of a web tech stack: one on the client-side and one on the server-side. Getting back to the house metaphor – there’s the exterior with all of the eye-pleasing details and then there are the walls that hold everything up. Those are the frontend and backend, and together they make up a full stack.

Here’s a fairly accurate representation of the software’s frontend and backend sides, from a popular Showtime series:

Frontend basics

We won’t go deep into the anatomy of a web page interface as there isn’t much insight to share. Just for the record, however, here’s a quick overview of the three frontend building blocks, which operate pyramid-wise: 

  • The founding father of web architecture and e-mailing – HTML (stands for Hypertext Markup Language). It serves the input of core page content & characteristics, describing internet pages structure-wise. 
  • On top of HTML goes CSS – Cascading Style Sheets. As its very name suggests, CSS is responsible for the design of web pages. It creates a visually appealing picture by influencing how the HTML code will look on the user screen.
  • Finally, renowned JavaScript takes the browsing experience to a radically new level by enabling interactive interfaces and highly personalized web applications.

Once again, the frontend is a wrapper responsible for everything users see on their screens.

Top backend languages

Now, there’s much more to chew on when it comes to the server-side part of the software. This is where the “ground” work is done, executing the main system tasks often referred to as CRUD operations (which stands for Create, Read, Update, and Demand). 

While backend coding solutions are numerous and vary a lot, some of the most relevant of them in 2020 are:

JavaScript

A highly compatible coding language that has been at the top of the charts for quite a long time. Although traditionally landing in the front-end development toolkit, it has become popular for server-side operations as well, which makes it stand out in the crowd. Examples of its application you may have heard of include Yahoo, Amazon, and Wikipedia services.

Python

One of the most highly recognized backend tools for web services and apps in 2020. It offers an entire pool of benefits from intuitive syntax and great libraries, to impressive runtime and powerful frameworks. It is also the #1 choice for projects dealing with Big Data and Machine Learning. YouTube, Instagram, Dropbox, Reddit, and Spotify all use Python.

Ruby

Another admired scripting language with one of the warmest user communities in the set. It is the foundation for the favored Rails framework and is the perfect option for small-scale projects and quick MVPs. Ruby is associated with many tech startups as well as reputed industry names like Twitter, Airbnb, and Spotify. 

PHP

The most popular cross-platform scripting language utilized for dynamic websites and applications. Although considered simple and powerful, it has a poor reputation among devs. Not recommended for new projects due to the risk of a large code debt (the cost of unnecessary rework). All that said, PHP backs a lot of well-known services like WordPress and MailChimp.

GO

Less popular than its rivals yet still a great choice for building both large networks and microservices. Considered a low-level language, it provides wide capabilities (similar to the C family) along with high operational speed nevertheless. Built by Google, Go is one of its core technologies.

Here’s a quick summary covering the arrangement of the key dev technologies associated with each platform, for a clearer picture: 

technology choice outline

Backend classics

Other server-side coding languages worth a word include:

  • C – a true forefather of coding who at 48 years old remains among the most prevalent programming languages. C powers a lion’s share of modern OS’s like Windows, Linux, Mac, Android, and iOS.
  • Java – a common choice of developers for a long time now. It is the classic solution for both Android and web apps and is the technical backbone for web giants like Twitter, LinkedIn, and eBay. 
  • C++ – similar to C, it offers a smoother coding experience due to a combination of object-based programming and traditional syntax. C++ is behind Mozilla Firefox and a lot of Adobe and Microsoft software.
  • C# – a flexible and multi-purpose mixture of C and Java, it enables developing a wide range of digital products from games to complex server structures. A lot of Windows desktop apps are written in C#.

Are you still with us?

Great!

Now, let’s look closer at what makes up the fine finish of web development.

Frameworks & Node.js

Naturally, the tech world doesn’t stand still, showing a constant evolution of the development approaches. That’s where web frameworks originate. 

Frameworks add further capabilities to pre-existing functionalities of web software. They are like the utensils in your household that help you to fulfill particular tasks efficiently, improving everyday life. 

These tools are also divided into frontend and backend groups and depend on the coding language they add up to. It should be noted that while being quite versatile, most of the frameworks are pretty much equal functionality-wise.

As they say – to each his own, and every developer has his favorites when it comes to various software tools. However, here are some of the top choices in the community:

Frontend frameworks:

  • React.js – while technically a front-end library, many consider it a framework. It can be used for both server-side and client-side functionalities, providing massive development opportunities. 
     
  • Angular – a vibrant and capable framework perfect for creating rich single-page web apps. 
  • Vue.js – a rather new progressive framework that can be implemented within an already existing project without much integration pain.
  • Backbone – a very lightweight javascript library ideal for MVPs and small projects. 
  • Ember – was named #1 frontend framework back in 2015. It incorporates some of the best JS practices to maximize development productivity and has a huge user community.
  • jQuery – a lightweight JavaScript library used for event handling and CSS animation. It is a common choice for implementing cross-browser APs that are easy to maintain in the future. 

Backend frameworks:

  • Express – a powerful web framework that has gained a lot of attention thanks to Node.js. It packs all of the features one can wish for while being fast and flexible, although somewhat complex. Express is in the tech arsenal of such big companies like Uber and IBM.    
  • Django – based on the highly appraised Python, Django is a capable and sophisticated framework with some high-level security features onboard. A great choice for executing big, complex web projects. 
      
  • Laravel – somewhat less ambitious than the previous two, this PHP-based framework is still a powerful solution for small-scale projects. Considered heaven-sent by beginner developers, the only drawback to Laravel is that it doesn’t fit for mobile applications. 
  • Ruby on Rails – with over 800.000 websites (including Airbnb, GitHub, and Groupon) in the portfolio, RoR has an enormous user community. Great at handling complex algorithms, it enables a smooth and quick development process, although often troublesome at the deployment stage. It also allows you to build cloud-based apps. 
  • Spring – a well-liked framework for creating basic high-performing applications, simplifying a lot of the manual work. Powered by Java, it is often used by services processing large volumes of data, such as Wix and Ticketmaster. 
  • Flask – similar to Django, this Phyton-based framework is a great choice for building simple web applications with NoSQL databases. 

For the record, below is a visual chart representing the share of developers using particular frameworks, according to StackOverflow. Keep in mind that devs rarely stick with just one technology*.

technology usage chart

One of a kind

  • Node.js is off the lists since being neither a language nor a framework. It is a runtime environment utilizing a chrome V8 engine to execute the JS code server-side, which gives it super-framework capabilities. Still, it isn’t enough to be classified as an independent language since operating in the tracks of the JavaScript syntax. 

Frameworks – cleared.

Popular Web Tech Stacks

Now that we’ve covered individual technologies, let’s move on to the frequently used tech sets themselves. 

In addition to the aforementioned tools, indispensable components like servers, libraries, and platforms, all make up a tech stack. Now, there are many technology combos applied depending on the project type and goals, as well as the dev team’s skillsets.

Some of the most popular of them are MEAN, MERN, LAMP (and its derivatives), WINS, Ruby on Rails, and Serverless options.  

MEAN

MEAN stands for MongoDB, Express.js, Angular.js, and Node.js. It is a powerful and convenient full-stack software toolkit perfect for creating dynamic JavaScript-based pages and applications. With each of its elements running on one coding principle, it is a favorite among devs due to relevant simplicity and all-around consistency provided along with the opportunity to tweak it as wished. 

Internet heavyweights like YouTube, Tumblr, Flickr, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Netflix, etc. have MEAN stack in their development arsenal. 

MERN

MERN stack has gained a lot of attention recently. It is similar to MEAN, with the only difference in using React.js instead of Angular. 

MERN a highly popular choice for creating powerful and sophisticated web applications. It carries all of the benefits offered by MEAN plus the advantage of using React products. 

LAMP

LAMP is a classic full stack, traditionally consisting of Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP. Being fully open source, it allows cutting some of the production costs while providing development flexibility. LAMP remains the most widely applied tech-stack in the industry even though requiring higher grade expertise, as compared to MEAN. 

Frequent combinations of LAMP include: 
– LAMP & LAPP (with MongoDB and PostgreSQL instead of MySQL)
– XAMPP (with FTP Server and Perl or PHP)
– WAMP & MAMP (with Windows and Mac OS)

WINS

WINS stands for Windows Internet Naming Service. It is a reliable full-stack development solution relying on Microsoft technologies, such as Windows Server, IIS, .Net, and MS SQL. Although its legacy is well-spread on the internet, it is not the most popular choice among entrepreneurs since being quite pricy and inferior to js-based options integration-wise. 

Other than that, the WINS stack packs a lot of capabilities in the set. Especially so if you’re planning to work with MS products and have the extra buck to pay for it.

Ruby on Rails

Ruby on Rails is the already-mentioned pair of Ruby-based framework and the base language itself. This one is highly appraised among the developers of startups and MVPs. 

Serverless programming

This option enables developers to fulfill projects without the need to worry about hosting and all sorts of server-related issues. 

Popular services like AWS Lambda and Zeit’s NOW allow one to simply push the code written and enjoy it. They’ll take care of the infrastructure work so devs to focus on essential product details and features. It is quite forward-thinking.

So, these are the industry’s most popular tech stack choices.

Now, let’s move on to the final focus points up for consideration in this responsible endeavor.

Additional factors 

Indeed, there are lots of things to ask yourself before sticking with a particular technology set. Here’s a cheat sheet for you to check with whenever puzzled:

Project type

The size and complexity of a project affect the choice of a tech stack big time. The language that fits a simple website perfectly (Ruby on Rails, MEAN) may not fit an interactive web page or big data project (LAMP). 

Functionality, flexibility, and scalability

Thinking ahead has failed no one so far and is especially so in the fast-changing world of IT. Depending on the issues your product resolves, different tech combinations will work better or worse for meeting the users’ needs. 

That said, it’s better to avoid constraining yourself software-wise and leave the opportunity to scale up when the time comes.  

Performance & processing load

Similarly to the previous point, the speed and responsiveness of your service lie at the core of positive user experience. Therefore, factoring this one in when you look for the right tech stack is crucial.  

Another factor affecting the choice of a server-side solution is the amount of data your system has to handle without losing productivity. You don’t want your website to stall once you get too much going on, do you?  

Security 

Unsurprisingly, cyber-security is another key thing to consider before determining the right technology stack for your project. Although most modern software offers a decent level of data protection, some development tools (like Django) clearly stand out in the crowd. 

Talent Pool

If you already have a dev team then this will largely determine your technology stack options. However, outsourcing is always at your service if you need to extend the team expertise.

Budget

Highlighted in red in every business plan, budget is one more crucial factor to consider when choosing a project stack. A rule of thumb here is to go for the open-source options and avoid Microsoft products whenever possible. That is, of course, if saving a few extra bucks is among your concerns.

Well-known cases of application

Finally, it’s never a bad idea to go on the internet and research the products you personally like and favor. Or, check your potential competitors and see what type of technology has worked well for them. 

Final word

Finding the right technology stack for your project or startup is surely not the easiest task on the schedule. Nevertheless, it is 100% worth the time invested. A properly chosen tech set saves time and budget, takes a bag of pressure off the dev team’s shoulders, and leaves space for scaling and flexibility. 

Good news: all you have to do to strike gold in that is apply the insights from this article!