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Microservices Demystified: From Basics to Best Practices

Microservices are flexible, independent, and fun to work with. But to fully take advantage of them, you need to know the basics, which we cover here.
Daniel Zacharias

Code Power Team

August 24, 2023
Microservices basic concepts and best practices

Did you hear about the developer who tried to explain microservices at a dinner party? 

They said: “Imagine if your meal was like a monolithic application. You’d have to eat everything at once — appetizer, main course, dessert, all in one mouthful bite. But with microservices, it’s like enjoying each dish separately, savoring the flavors individually. And if you don’t like the salad? No problem, it doesn’t affect the rest of your meal!”

But how are microservices constructed, paired, and incorporated into different architectural styles is the main course on a menu I want to try out!

Understanding microservices: A detailed breakdown

Think of building an application like constructing a city. A monolithic city would be one giant building housing everything — not very practical, right? If you need to add a cinema or fix a plumbing issue, the whole city gets disrupted.

Now, imagine a city with separate buildings for each purpose. That’s a microservices city. Need a cinema? Just add a new building. Plumbing issues? Only target the affected part of the city and leave the rest untouched.

In technical terms, a monolithic application is a single, unified system. It’s simple to develop, but hard to maintain and scale. Microservices, on the other hand, break an application into smaller, independent components. Each performs a specific function and is scaled or fixed independently.

Microservice architecture: Quick 101 lesson

To master microservices as a software developer, you need to grasp their architecture. 

Think of microservice architecture as your virtual Google Maps layout of the city, showing where each building is along with its purpose. Every map (microservice architecture) has 5 unique features that paint a broader picture of the application. They are UNIVERSAL across all the microservice spectrum.

They are:

  1. Highly maintainable and testable — Each microservice is updated and tested independently, reducing the risk of system-wide failures.
  2. Loosely coupled — Emphasis on the word “loosely”, as in “each service operates independently”. Changes to one service don’t require changes to others.
  3. Independently deployable — Updating a service without redeploying the entire application has never been easier, providing you a continuous delivery and deployment.
  4. Organized around business capabilities — Microservices are designed around business capabilities, not the other way around.
  5. Owned by a small team — Every service is owned by a small team. It allows faster development cycles, more focus, and less development burnout.

FYI: Did you know? The term “microservices” was coined at a software architects’ workshop in Venice in 2011. Much like Venice’s interconnected islands, microservices create small, independent services that work together!

Common microservice architecture types

Just as there are many ways to design a city, there are several patterns of microservice architecture. Each of them offers its own benefits and is suited to different applications. 

Microservice patterns I like to use in my development are:

  1. Aggregator Microservice Design Pattern — Think of it as a city guide that collects information from various places to provide a comprehensive overview. In tech terms, it’s a pattern that aggregates responses from several microservices to display to the user. It’s often used in e-commerce applications where information from various services needs to be combined.
  2. API Gateway Pattern — This is like the main entrance to a city, directing visitors to the right places. In an API Gateway pattern, there’s a single entry point for all clients. The gateway routes requests to the appropriate microservices and aggregates the responses.
  3. Chained or Chain of Responsibility Pattern — Imagine a production line in a factory, where each worker does a specific task and then passes the product along. Similarly, in this pattern, microservices are linked in a chain, each responsible for a specific operation.
  4. Saga Pattern — This pattern manages transactions that span multiple services, like coordinating a city-wide event. It uses a series of local transactions, each with a compensating transaction that can undo changes if necessary.

Of course, there are other microservice patterns like Event Sourcing Patterns, Database Per Microservice Patterns, and Asynchronous Messaging Patterns.

Microservices aren’t just another buzzword developers throw around. They’re a significant trend shaping backend development. 

They became the go-to solution to giant monolithic architecture scalability and flexibility problems. They brought an unprecedented level of modularity developers never saw before, allowing for:

But what has recently caught my attention about microservices is their effect on AI and NLP development. 

Microservices in AI development: A powerful alliance

Are microservices helping us unlock the potential of AI? It sure looks like we’re getting closer!

Imagine an AI application as a bustling factory and microservices as independent manufacturing departments. One microservice might be responsible for data preprocessing, cleaning, and organizing raw data into a usable format. Another microservice could handle the machine learning model, training it on the preprocessed data to make predictions or decisions. Yet another microservice might manage the output, analyzing and presenting the results user-friendly.

And most importantly of all — each microservice is developed, deployed, and scaled independently based on the AI application’s needs!

Microservices and NLP: Intersection of harmony  

It’s the same as a factory line: Each microservice in an NLP pipeline concentrates on its individual duty. For instance, sentiment analysis service takes a tokenized sentence and finds out if it has a positive or negative opinion. 

So if there is any advanced technique for sentiment analysis that comes up, you simply upgrade that particular service without affecting other services, such as tokenization or part-of-speech tagging. This makes it easier to integrate fresh technologies into existing pipelines.

That means there’s no disruption when introducing something different, leading to more efficient Natural Language Processing (NLP) output overall!

Microservices best practices: A guide for developers

Think of building your application like putting together Lego — at the start you’re bursting with ideas and excitement, but if you don’t have all the right pieces or know how to fit them together correctly, things quickly become frustrating!

To help make sure that your project is successful, here are my five practical tips for staying struggle-free when setting up your microservices:

  1. Start small — Don’t take on too much before you’ve got experience under your belt. Begin by decomposing just one or two services into microservices in order to get used to working this way first. Once those are running smoothly, move onto more complex applications.
  2. Define clear boundaries — Each service needs to have its own distinct purpose, otherwise development and maintenance efforts will suffer down the line. Ensure each component has clearly defined responsibilities from day one!
  3. Use the right tools — Docker containers provide unbeatable scalability and portability while Kubernetes allows us to manage our clusters of machines easily. Together these tools offer incredible power when managing large scale projects made up of multiple microservices.
  4. Plan for failure — Don’t be afraid of failure! Design your services to handle failures gracefully. Failures are inevitable, but with the right planning, they are managed effectively.
  5. Keep learning — Stay updated with the latest patterns, tools, and best practices in the microservices field. The world of microservices is constantly evolving, so continuous learning is key to your application’s success.

The microservices wrap-up: What we’ve learned

Remember, microservices are like Lego blocks of software development — flexible, independent, and fun to work with. 

They break down complex applications into manageable, independent services, like an enormous Death Star Lego set made up of tiny Lego pieces. One last thing I would like to say is that implementing microservices is a journey, not a destination!

It requires starting small, defining clear boundaries, using the right tools, planning for failure, and continuously keeping yourself sharp.

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