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MACH Architecture in Practice

Today’s businesses are constantly seeking ways to build technology stacks that are flexible, scalable, and future-proof. This is where MACH architecture comes in.

MACH stands for Microservices, API-first, Cloud-native, and Headless. It’s a set of principles that, when implemented together, enable companies to compose best-in-class solutions and adapt quickly to changing customer needs. MACH Alliance, which Cloudinary is a part of, is a nonprofit industry body dedicated to promoting MACH principles. Its members include software vendors, system integrators, and other technology providers who adhere to these principles.

Think of MACH architecture like a gourmet meal made of individual, high-quality ingredients sourced from specialized suppliers. Each ingredient (microservice) is carefully chosen for its unique flavor and can be combined to create different dishes. The chef (developer) uses recipes and techniques (APIs) to combine these ingredients. Rather than being limited to a fixed menu, the restaurant can easily adapt its offerings based on seasonal availability, customer preferences, and new culinary trends — just like how MACH architecture allows continuous flexibility.

In this blog post, we’ll explore MACH architecture in practice and how to build an e-commerce site using MACH principles.

Before diving into the practical application of MACH architecture, let’s briefly examine each of the four principles:

  • Microservices. Instead of building a monolithic application, the microservices approach involves breaking down the system into smaller, independently deployable components. This approach allows for greater scalability and the ability to update or replace individual components without affecting the entire platform. For example, one microservice might be a Node web service API that manages users, while another might be a Java web service that processes user orders.
  • API-first. An API-first approach prioritizes the development of well-defined APIs using common standards (such as REST or GraphQL) that enable communication between different services. This allows easy integration with various pluggable third-party solutions. By using common API standards, APIs are technology-agnostic. You can use any popular technology to access them — from Node.js, Python, and PHP to Java.
  • Cloud-native. Cloud-native applications are designed specifically for cloud computing and delivery through the cloud. By leveraging independent, cloud-native components, businesses can quickly access additional resources and infrastructure to adapt to changing demands. Imagine an e-commerce site during Black Friday, for example. With a cloud-native approach, the site can scale up to meet the demand of big shopping moments and scale down when there is less traffic. Standard cloud providers include AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud, and platforms such as Cloudinary, Contentful, and commercetools are built on top of such providers.
  • Headless. A headless architecture separates the frontend delivery (user experiences) from the backend technology. This approach enables the creation of multiple user interfaces and customer touchpoints while allowing for greater flexibility in the backend components. Typically, headless apps expose an API that any frontend, be it a web app or a mobile app, can utilize.

Now, let’s explore how MACH principles can be applied by building an e-commerce site. We’ll break down the process into several key components and discuss how each adheres to the MACH principles.

For the frontend of our e-commerce site, we can use Next.js, a popular React metaframework well-known for its server-side rendering (SSR) capabilities, which can drastically improve the performance of web applications. Next.js allows us to create a pure frontend project that communicates with other parts of the solution via standard APIs. Next.js also gives us the full freedom to design the frontend experience how we want. We can build it from scratch or utilize other frameworks and component libraries such as Shadcn to make it visually pleasing yet accessible and follow best practices.

To deploy our Next.js frontend, we can use Vercel, a cloud platform for static sites and serverless functions. Vercel is the maintainer of Next, and therefore is a first-class provider for deployment of Next.js applications in the cloud. However, Vercel is not the only option for deploying Next.js; other options exist too, such as Netlify and AWS Amplify.

For the core e-commerce functionality, we can leverage commercetools, a headless commerce platform that provides a set of APIs and tools for building custom e-commerce experiences. Commercetools advertises itself as “composable commerce,” where you can take plug-and-play components and integrate them into the rest of your solution. With commercetools, we can define our product catalog, product types, and other necessary configurations, all accessible through a comprehensive API.

Our Next.js frontend will communicate with the commercetools API to read products and manage carts, orders, and customer data. This separation of concerns between the frontend and backend aligns with the headless principle of MACH, allowing for greater flexibility and customization in both layers.

commercetools also follows a microservices architecture, with different services responsible for specific e-commerce functionalities. This enables us to scale and update individual components independently, adhering to the microservices principle of MACH.

We can integrate Cloudinary to handle product visuals and other media assets. Cloudinary’s powerful API for uploading, storing, and transforming media files makes it an ideal choice for our MACH-based e-commerce site.

Our Next.js frontend will use the Cloudinary API to fetch and display media assets like product images and videos. Cloudinary’s URL-based transformations allow us to optimize and manipulate images on the fly, ensuring fast load times and responsive design across devices.

By leveraging Cloudinary’s API and cloud-native infrastructure, we adhere to the API-first and cloud-native principles of MACH, enabling seamless integration and scalability for our media management needs.

To manage blog posts and other marketing content, we can use Contentful, a headless content management system (CMS). Contentful allows us to define a flexible content model, making it easy to structure and manage content.

Contentful has both a REST and a GraphQL API, and our Next.js frontend can integrate with the Contentful API to fetch and display content. This decoupled approach, where the frontend communicates with the CMS via API, aligns with the headless and API-first principles of MACH.

Using Contentful, we can enable content editors and marketers to manage and update content independently of the frontend development process. This separation of concerns enhances flexibility and allows for faster iteration and experimentation.

With all the components, our e-commerce site will be fully functional and adhere to the MACH principles. The frontend, built with Next.js and deployed on Vercel, will communicate with the commercetools API for e-commerce functionality, the Cloudinary API for media management, and the Contentful API for marketing content management.

Architecture Each component is independently scalable, replaceable, and can be continuously improved without affecting the others. This modular architecture allows for greater agility and faster deployment of new features and improvements. Imagine if you had to build this solution from scratch. The required effort would be orders of magnitude greater.

Building an e-commerce site using MACH principles demonstrates the power and flexibility of this architectural approach. Like using Lego bricks, we can hand-pick the best-in-class services for different parts of our product, making it modular, scalable, and highly customizable. In our case, we’ve shown an example of how we can use Next.js/Vercel, commercetools, Cloudinary, and Contentful to build a full-blown e-commerce solution that can compete with the best.

Whether you’re an enterprise building the next big thing, or even a smaller company or an individual, check out how MACH and Cloudinary can help you build a future-proof solution.

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