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October 5, 2023

Java Basics: Monolithic Applications Vs. Microservices

Java Application Development

Microservices have many advantages, but they are not the end-all-be-all for every development environment. Many legacy apps have been periodically updated for years (or even decades) and can’t be shifted to a microservices model overnight. This is increasingly true for Java basedapplicationsas Java has continued to be the go-to option for enterprise application development. For those reasons, we examine the differences between monolithic applications and microservices, and the variations that exist between those opposite ends of the spectrum. In this blog, we’ll cover: 

Most simply, monolithic applications are built as a single unit. The entire application is included within a singular package. They are typically run with a number of different run options depending on customer’s use case.  

The tightly coupled code base offers everything you need to get an application up and running quickly. Moreover, many legacy enterprise applications are built using a monolithic application structure.  

There’s a reason that practically no new applications are being built with a monolithic application structure. The downside of this ability to get up and running quickly is that monolithic applications can be more rigid than other types of applications. There is also decreased observability of those kinds of applications.  

One major drawback to monolithic applications is that they are difficult for new developers to work with. Originally, this was acceptable due to the fact that developers were not moving companies as often. Nowadays, developers are much more willing to move from one company to another, and that movement makes monolithic applications increasingly difficult to maintain.That said, monolithic development methods are still relevant today because they’re core to maintaining legacy applications. Transitioning an application’s architecture is very expensive and requires a lot of resources to make happen—especially when done on top of maintaining an existing application.  

Microservices are comprised of small, independent services that communicate with one another through APIs. A microservices architecture is dependent on container orchestration tools, which are largely open source.  

Pros and Cons of Microservices 

While there are many advantages of microservices, there are some downsides. In fact, according to the 2023 Java Developer Productivity Report, nearly 10% or Java shops that had transitioned to a microservice architecture were either in the process of or had already reverted to a traditional application.  

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Organizations that have struggled with adopting Agile development methods or DevOps may find that the barriers to incorporating microservices are too high to overcome. In these cases, Java development shops may find that anintermediary approach is less disruptive to their day-to-day operations.  

Microservices offer a number of advantages, but they’re difficult to build out and maintain. Untangling decades of monolithic application architecture can take time and developer bandwidth that many Java development shops simply cannot afford.  

Modular Monolithic Applications 

That gray area is where modular monolithic application architecture comes in. Like microservices, modular monolithic architecture isolates systems into loosely coupled modules, each with well-defined boundaries and explicit dependencies on other modules. Each module should have its own business logic, and in some cases its own database or schema, too.  

What separates modular monolithic applications from microservices is that modules are vertical slices of an application, whereas microservices are siloed pieces of an application.  

Final Thoughts  

While microservices have a number or advantages—and are the hands-down choice for new applications—they don’t make sense for every application, every organization, or in every situation. In cases where organizations have been updating monolithic applications for decades, converting to microservices cannot happen overnight and could be disruptive to business operations. In these situations, options like modular monolithic application architecture make sense.  

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