What Is a “Tech Stack” and Why You Should Have One 📚

  • Engineering, Dev & IT
Contra Tips
· 6 min read

Wondering what a tech stack means? We’ll explain the basics and what it can do for your business.

Popular websites and social media platforms don’t spring fully formed into existence; they’re founded on a complex system. When you’re using Facebook, you aren’t actually using one “Facebook program,” as the streamlined user interface may lead you to believe. You’re actually navigating a series of applications, languages, and coded instructions that make the site seem like a single seamless operation. 

These layers of information that lie beneath the surface of Internet browsing are called technology stacks, or tech stacks. Read on to understand a tech stack’s meaning, how to create one, and what a stack can do for your business.

What is a tech stack? 🧑‍💻

In short, a tech stack is a set of technologies working together to make web pages work. Coding and development apps used throughout the creation process are part of the tech stack. The stack includes programs used by front-end and back-end developers, user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) developers, graphic designers, and anyone else involved in website creation.

Essential elements of a tech stack 🧱

Not all tech stacks function equally in all situations. Figuring out the best tech stack for a business requires research (and perhaps a little help from an Independent).

Many tech stack diagrams include the following basic elements:

  • Programming languages. The language used in a tech stack depends on the kind of site or page. Some languages are designed for back-end technologies, such as databases or search queries, while others enhance user experience. Some popular languages include HyperText Markup Language (HTML), Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), and Java.
  • Servers. A server is a hardware or software component of the tech stack used for data retrieval and sharing, computations, and other “services” a site may require. Servers are based on a “request-response” model, returning information to answer queries sent out by a user.
  • Data storage. Databases make up a significant portion of a tech stack. This is where relevant data for end-user functionality or back-end development is stored and where it is retrieved from by server requests.
  • Front-end and back-end frameworks. A tech stack also includes applications that assist web designers and developers behind the scenes. Including these apps makes introducing new team members to the stack easier, so they can start manipulating it immediately.
  • Monitoring and performance tools. If you’ve ever clicked on a cookies pop-up, you’ve interacted with a particular part of a tech stack. These tools report back to a webmaster or coder and let them know how site features are performing and where attention is needed.

As noted above, no two stacks are equal — nor should they be. A business’s tech stack must provide for its precise needs, possibly requiring elements other than those we’ve discussed.

5 steps to create a tech stack 🪜

When a site or mobile application is created, it may serve the purpose of the freelancer or business it represents — but only for so long. Technology, especially information technology, advances in leaps and bounds, so it’s crucial to stay on top of the latest tools to make a site practical and entertaining.

When it comes time to update, a business may require a professional web developer. If a company can’t afford a full-time IT manager, it may hire an independent front-end, back-end, or graphic design developer.

Whether it’s the duty of the business owner or a freelancer, there are a few steps to creating a tech stack.

  1. Audit an existing stack for gaps. An audit of a current tech stack can be a large job, depending on the size of a company and its reliance on web-based business. Getting feedback from all a site’s users — from customers to employees to stakeholders — informs the additions a tech stack requires.
  2. Brainstorm valuable additions to the stack. Once a developer acquires feedback (or as they put together a new site from scratch), they’ll consider the various tools and languages available and how each might enhance the functionality and growth of the website.
  3. Budget. Programming tools aren’t all free. Open-source coding languages and apps are available, but the choice of tools grows exponentially if a business invests in its tech stack.
  4. Select the appropriate tools. Another area where it’s wise to hire an Independent with site-building experience. Someone with expertise in programming languages and tools will know what is appropriate for the site.
  5. Experiment. With enough time and inclination, a developer may try various approaches. They may revise the tech stack if the site isn’t working exactly how they’d like.

Inspiring examples of tech stacks 🏅

Now that we’ve established what a tech stack entails, let’s take a look at some examples to help illustrate the more complex aspects. We’ll provide tech stack examples that a business might use, plus specific stacks implemented by well-known companies.

These pre-constructed stacks are available to developers — a good place to begin compiling your own collection of tools:

  • LAMP. An acronym for Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP/Perl/Python, this type of stack includes an operating system, a server, a database management app, and a programming language. Performance trackers or other application programming interfaces (API) can be added to enhance website performance.
  • MEAN. This pre-made type of stack includes MongoDB (database), Express.js (server), Angularjs (query program), and Node.js (runtime environment). This open-source stack is based entirely on JavaScript, meaning it can be used for both the front-end tech stack and back-end development.

These are good general tech stacks to kickstart a company website, but they will inevitably require upgrading as your needs grow. All successful companies have a robust tech stack. Here are a few examples, including brief explanations of each component:

  • Airbnb includes Amazon CloudFront (query retrieval-response), Braintree (mobile and web payments), Twilio (online phone call software), and MixPanel (business analytics).
    • Because of the unique needs of this business, the tech stack includes apps specific to payment and bookings. But this is only the tip of the iceberg — Airbnb’s tech stack is quite complex.
  • Netflix implements Oracle (server, storage, network), Airship (mobile app management), Falcor user interface), and GitHub (internet hosting). 
    • Like Airbnb, this is a very basic look at the fundamentals that Netflix requires. Note how stacks are explicitly created for every aspect the service demands.
  • Facebook employs BitBar (site testing), Campaign Monitor (email and marketing), Confluence (wiki/database), Framer (design and prototyping), and Stetho (code debugger).
  • Spotify is powered by Amazon CloudFront (query retrieval-response), Google Analytics (site and ad tracker), Optimizely (website manager), Twilio SendGrid (transaction and marketing email), and Lookback (recording/transcription).

Explore opportunities and start your journey with Contra 🔭

Creating a tech stack is a challenging but vital project. Once a business has a stack, traffic flow and growth become more manageable. Business owners or entrepreneurs who aren’t so tech-savvy can find countless knowledgeable professionals on Contra’s Discover feed.

Contra’s commission-free platform also provides professional website-building tools for Independents with Portfolios, plus an enthusiastic and knowledgeable community ready to share information and inspiration with other developers. Clients aiming to entice Independents with unmissable opportunities will find numerous tools to attract the ideal freelancers.

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