What is Mach Architecture?

Though a relatively new term, MACH architecture has been quickly growing in popularity. MACH supports a highly composable environment that suits the needs of any dynamic platform, especially that of e-commerce. 

MACH serves as the acronym for

  • Microservices
  • API-first
  • Cloud-native
  • Headless

 

MACH architecture allows e-commerce developers to make rapid and frequent changes to their platforms by making components of their digital solutions scalable, pluggable, and replaceable as per the business’ requirements.

This framework allows business users to develop and create content pages, update product information and other static and dynamic content without needing to rely on developers, freeing up developers to focus on features and functionality.

What with logistics and bottom lines, heading an online store or service is a tough job. Add to that the fluctuations in customer demand and purchase behaviors, and you have your task cut out. Availability of a product is not the sole factor for a customer to make a purchase anymore. They are on the lookout for newer and innovative experiences, too.

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has radically changed customer purchase behavior by adding another dimension to it: a personalized buying experience. Already reeling under the pressure of fierce competition in the e-commerce industry, businesses now are seeking to adopt innovative technological approaches to satisfy the ever-increasing consumer demands, while generating revenue.

One of the innovative technological approaches to have emerged in times of such rapid changes is MACH. Touted as a superior alternative to the traditional monolithic architecture, MACH improves upon the much-popular headless commerce approach.

History of e-Commerce Architecture

Initially, product sellers overly depended on e-commerce marketplace giants like Amazon and eBay. Though these giants helped them dip their toes in the water, businesses — especially those with enough brand recognition — wanted to cut out the middleman for maximum ROI.

Building, managing, and updating e-commerce applications on their own proved to be highly expensive and time-consuming. This was primarily because e-commerce platforms followed a monolithic architecture, where the front-end (the interface part) and the back-end (the logic part) meshed together. Even subtle changes to the front-end used to cost significant development hours.

All that changed with the introduction of turnkey Headless Commerce platforms like BigCommerce and Shopify. They followed an architecture where the front-end was completely decoupled from the back-end, allowing designers to make significant changes to the UI without having to meddle with the coding part.

Headless Commerce platforms helped businesses that did not have a team of expert developers to set up their online stores and run them successfully.

MACH was first conceptualized in 2018 by the commercetools,  which developed its Cloud-based platform using MACH. In 2020, it founded a non-profit organization called the MACH Alliance, aiming to help other firms implement this architecture.

Working on the motto “Future proof enterprise technology and propel current and future digital experiences”, MACH is a fast-growing organization with over 40 certified members, including AWS and BigCommerce, that actively support and promote MACH principles.

What is MACH Architecture?

The MACH architecture is a combination of four innovative architectural approaches that have their own characteristics. You may have heard of each of these development concepts in isolation or combined in a lot of use cases. An architecture becomes MACH only when all of the four are combined.

Let’s review each of the four components of MACH Architecture.

Microservices

Microservices, as the name suggests, are architectural approaches in which software is developed and implemented as small independent services.

The same company might not manage these services and they communicate with each other through well-defined APIs. An application following the microservices architecture is built as independent components that perform specific functions but pull off multiple functions when run together.

As an analogy to your home theatre system, your TV, cable receiver, and amplifier are all interconnected – each piece provides one service:

    • Data Visualization – Your TV
    • Data Processing – Your Cable Receiver
    • Audio Output – Your Amplifier

Each of these services talk to each other using defined protocols to deliver individual components of the big picture, such as watching the big game.

All services are loosely coupled and any of these services can be deployed, operated, altered, and scaled independently without the need to make changes in others.

Since they do not share a single code base, services do not need to share their codes. If any service becomes too large and complex over time, it can be broken down into smaller services, too.

API-First

Application Programming Interface (API) is a software intermediary that acts as a communication channel between multiple applications. Just like a waiter who communicates your order to the kitchen and carries your dish back to you, an API handles requests from one application to another.

The API layer in the MACH architecture allows microservices to communicate with each other without exposing one’s data to another by sharing only what is necessary for a particular set of communication.

In the case of an online store, there are multiple APIs at play, but the most evident ones are the login API and payment APIs.

Most online stores allow customers to log in using other services like Google, Twitter, or Facebook accounts. The login API connects the online store with the third-party account and uses the credentials to log into the store.

The customers also have the choice to make payment via credit or debit card, and digital services like PayPal. Here, the payment API connects with other payment services, which are essentially individual microservices to fetch the needed payment.

Another example is a travel booking aggregator like Kayak, which uses APIs to connect with the databases of various airlines and displays every flight information on a single page.

Unlike the code-first approach, where the developers first develop the core services and the APIs later facilitate the communication, an API-first approach involves the development of APIs as the primary step. These APIs can serve all applications; applications can be developed and managed for all OS, devices, and platforms.

Simply put, APIs are developed separately first and then integrated into an application to connect several microservices to make a wholesome whole. This allows multiple developers to work together on a larger project without stepping on each other’s toes or causing conflicts in code commits.

Cloud-Native SaaS

There are SaaS vendors who host the entire application on a single server. This Cloud-hosted approach is fundamentally very different from the Cloud-Native approach predominant in the MACH architecture.

Here, the microservices, which are essentially SaaS services, are hosted on different servers located possibly in different locations. The developers create a network between these services using software-based architectures for easier communication between them.

The biggest takeaway of this approach is that it enables horizontal scaling of microservices since the storage requirements of one do not affect the other. 

Headless

The Headless approach decouples the frontend from the backend while they are connected only through APIs.

This approach suits applications because they require multiple front-ends (interfaces) that adjust to multiple devices through which they are being accessed.

The backend or the logical part, irrespective of the touchpoint, usually remains the same and need not be worked on every time you want to build a new interface.

The Headless approach allows you to communicate with your customers through any device, as it caters to appropriate front-ends where you get complete design freedom in that you can create front-ends for each device while keeping the backend the same for all.  

For example, let’s say you have a brick-and-mortar clothing store as well as an online store. You also have your products listed on online marketplaces like Amazon.

Due to COVID protocols, you cannot allow customers to try on clothes in stores; so, you have an AR device that allows virtual try-on.

Users access the online store through desktop computers, mobile phones, and tablets of different screen sizes. Within those devices, the user may access the store through a native app, a website, or through integration with other platforms.

All these touchpoints need front-ends of their own tailored to meet the need of the user’s experience.

The rest of the backend processes like inventory, product pricing, images, 3D models, and database management are nearly the same across all devices. Designing separate applications that have their own back-ends for each of these devices is excruciating, costly, and time-consuming. That’s where headless commerce comes to the aid.

By separating the frontend development from the entire process, it allows you to optimize or innovate on the customer experience you wish to deliver.

The headless approach helps businesses to deploy multiple frontend experiences across a variety of devices, allowing them to connect with their customers at any touchpoint. This does not mean only those devices through which a browser is accessed, but also external devices like vending machines, IoT, AR/VR devices, and more.

Changes to the interface can be made in the nick of time, if any immediate alteration is needed, without interfering with the backend. This gives greater flexibility to the application.

Overall, MACH architecture is a functional mix of all the four above approaches to make any application highly scalable, easy to develop and build, flexible, and modular. New features can be deployed faster than ever without having to expand the code-base or interrupting the existing features.

It becomes easier for you to connect with your customers across multiple channels without having to build different applications for each.

Final Thoughts

MACH is one of those innovative approaches that take your business to new technological heights while allowing you to provide your customers with an improved experience. MACH merges four architectural approaches, in which the application is built by connecting Cloud-Native independent microservices through APIs. It also allows you to create multiple front-ends without having to alter the backend. There are many software vendors now who provide businesses with platforms that run on MACH architecture. Some future-oriented businesses have already begun shifting to this approach, and acting on their cue might prove beneficial to your business, too.

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