The SaaS development industry is rapidly growing, with businesses everywhere choosing these apps to power their operations. According to a recent Gartner forecast, the global cloud apps market will continue to grow in 2023. Speaking of SaaS solutions specifically, the sector will increase by 16.8%, and end-user spending is forecasted to reach over 195 billion dollars. Given this, it is evident that SaaS development has become an essential part of the software development industry. But, as the demand for SaaS solutions continues to rise, so does the need for more effective development methodologies.
The 12 factor app methodology is an excellent way to ensure that SaaS systems are built with scalability, portability, and robustness in mind. This app development approach entails a set of guidelines and principles that developers can use to guarantee that their apps are built with a focus on maintainability and repeatability. Also, it focuses on automating deployments and using the best practices. Today, we’ll consider the main features of the 12-factor app methodology to understand better how it helps to deliver a better product.
Twelve Factor App Methodology in a Nutshell
As the name suggests, the approach implies that the development team must consider 12 factors to reach their goals. Every company providing web development services wants its apps to be the best ones on the market, but the question is, what exactly do these 12 factors help to achieve?
Lack of updates over a long time or frequent tune-ups made improperly can lead to software rot, which may become costly. Apps may grow over time, and development teams must use effective methodologies to adopt the development process accordingly. SaaS app development requires the simultaneous work of many programmers, and it’s vital to control how changes to the single codebase are made. These and many other issues can be solved more efficiently with 12 factor app methodology.
Adopting this new technique may require some effort since there’s the need to reconsider the workflow. Luckily, it will be rewarded. For example, your SaaS apps will become more flexible. They’ll quickly scale up and down depending on the amount of incoming data. Also, the modular structure of such apps will help you to expand the number of services they provide access to with no hassle. Components built with flexible cloud deployment will help avoid dozens of unpredictable consequences.
People who use online services often share data they want to avoid falling into third parties. One of the features that 12 factor app methodology enables is storing sensitive data in the app’s environment instead of relying on repositories which helps to secure it. Now, as we mentioned the main benefits of applying a 12 factor app development methodology, let’s dive deeper into the specifics of this approach.
How 12 Factor App Methodology Covers Everything From Code Base to Administration Process
Companies that build SaaS apps must rely on a single code-source database and enhance its possibilities with a version-control system. Here, the database includes a set of related repositories that can generate multiple permanent versions. It’s essential to have a one-to-one connection between the app and the codebase. However, relationships between the codebase and deployments must have a one-to-many nature. The single codebase helps different development teams work together and ensures the use of the correct app version.
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External dependencies must be used to run most apps and make online services function properly. They have to be included in the development process since there is no assurance that the dependencies your system needs are already present in the system or runtime.
In cloud software, more is needed to assume the availability of system-wide components. This factor is related to the explicit declaration and isolation of dependencies. Such an approach provides uniformity between the development and production environments, simplifies the setup for inexperienced developers, and encourages portability across cloud platforms. The initial step to reaching this goal is to recognize, declare and separate the external dependencies within your app.
Here, we speak about anything that can differ between deployments, for example, a developer’s computer. According to the 12 factor app approach, the development team must keep configuration and credentials apart from the code. Credentials are very delicate data that should never be included in the application code because it can lead to the disclosure of support services, internal URLs, and resources used by the app.
Externalizing configuration is also essential, as it allows us to deploy the app in various environments. It implies that the application should not be aware of the environment it is running in, and developers should not have to alter the app to launch it in a different one. Keeping these configuration values as environment variables is suggested as the best way to externalize configuration.
4. Backing Services
When an application relies on an outside service to carry out its tasks (for instance, data stores or messaging systems), it is called a backing service. It is necessary to consider them as bound resources, which is just a way to connect the application to the backing service.
For example, a connection to a database may involve a username, password, and URL. Rather than explicitly connecting to these services, the cloud environment should be responsible for connecting the system to the backing services through external configuration. It makes it possible to attach and detach the services from the application without redeploying it. Moreover, the application should have no code that directly links it to a particular backing service.
5. Build, Release, and Run
Here, the build converts the app source code stored in a repository into a set of executable objects that build and fetch dependencies. The release combines the result of the previous operation with the deployment configuration. Finally, the run is where apps and services can be executed in the specific environment.
These three are vital parts of a SaaS app development life cycle. According to the 12 factor approach, it is essential to keep the build, release, and run stages of an app utterly distinct from each other to prevent the occurrence of any coding errors or other issues. Numerous advanced tools can be utilized to separate the build, release, and run stages of the application, making the overall management of the system as effortless as it can be.
Every app runs in a specific environment designed for a set of one or more processes. In the 12 factor app paradigm, these processes are independent, not retaining data, and don’t share data with each other. It means that any necessary data must be stored in a persistent database. Such apps are premised on the idea that any information stored in a cache is not needed for future requests to ensure the system’s scalability and stability without affecting the application.
7. Port Binding
By port-binding, in the 12 factor approach, we mean that the web server process is bound to a particular port on the machine and can only be reached by accessing the port. This way, the web server process can be isolated from the rest of the system, and the applications can be easily deployed and maintained. Additionally, port-binding enables system administrators to identify and manage web server processes on the machine quickly.
This factor implies that app development teams should build software and online services that are easy to scale horizontally and can handle multiple requests concurrently. It involves developing applications that use the same language across all services and being able to deploy them independently. It also requires that developers take into account the fact that in distributed systems, requests can arrive out of order, and it is essential to be able to handle them asynchronously. By adhering to these principles, developers can craft more resilient apps that can handle large volumes of traffic.
Disposability is one of the core development principles of described methodology. It refers to making apps easy to replace or shut down. It can be done by ensuring that applications are self-contained and do not rely on shared resources such as databases or files. By making them easy to replace, apps can quickly update to add new features or fix a bug. Disposability also makes it easier to scale the application by allowing it to be rapidly added or removed from a cluster without affecting the other apps.
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10. Dev/Prod Parity
Dev/Prod parity emphasizes that all environments, from development to production, should be as similar as the development features allow. This is achieved by having a single codebase, which is kept in version control and ensuring all environments in the development to production workflow are configured and managed in an automated, consistent manner. By maintaining parity between development and production environments, programmers can quickly and reliably deploy their applications into production and avoid potential issues caused by differences between the two environments.
Logging is an essential part of developing, monitoring, and troubleshooting apps. It enables access to info regarding the system, provides an audit trail, and gives insight into how applications behave. Logs also allow developers to debug their software and identify potential issues. In a 12 factor approach, the logging services must be treated specifically. Here, logs are considered event streams. Each of these streams must be connected to a specific service enabling further analysis and archiving.
12. Administrative Processes
One of the critical components of this methodology is the focus on administrative processes. It includes having a consistent and documented process for installing, configuring, and running the app and deploying and managing updates. Such tasks must be put inside microservices. Administrative processes should also be automated wherever possible to ensure that tasks are performed reliably and consistently. Such an approach helps to eliminate errors and maximize efficiency.
Building cutting-edge apps that run on the cloud and can effortlessly scale following the incoming traffic is not a trivial task. At first sight, applying 12 factor app methodology doesn’t make things more transparent or more straightforward. After all, it may take a lot of work to adopt three or five new groundbreaking rules of software development, let alone twelve. However, the apps built following these rules are easy to implement and maintain and quickly scalable, compensating for all possible inconveniences.
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