Jamstack Basics: What Is Jamstack, and Is It the Future of Web Development?

Jamstack is an architecture for building websites and applications using modern technologies like JavaScript, React, and Node. You'll learn the pros and cons of the Jamstack, and the components that make up a Jamstack website or application.

Jamstack is an architecture for building websites and applications using modern technologies like JavaScript, React, and Node.

It has been gaining in popularity in recent years due to its many benefits over traditional web development approaches.

In this article, we will compare Jamstack to traditional web development and explore the pros and cons of each approach. We will also take a look at the components that make up a Jamstack website or application.

What is Jamstack architecture?

Jamstack is a modern web development architecture that combines the best of static site generators, serverless functions, and headless content management systems.

designbetter.co, a Next.js site by InVision
designbetter.co, a Next.js site by InVision

It is a newer way of building websites and applications that has been gaining in popularity over the last few years due to its many benefits over traditional web development approaches.

The term "Jamstack" was first coined by Netlify CEO Matt Biilmann in 2015. Jamstack is a new way of building websites and applications that delivers better performance, higher security, lower costs, and greater scalability than traditional monolithic web applications.

JavaScript, APIs and Markup: Components of a Jamstack website

There are three main components of a Jamstack website or application:

JavaScript

Jamstack sites use the front-end and build tooling offered by modern JavaScript. That means using frameworks like React, Vue.js, Node.js and tools like Webpack.

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APIs

Jamstack applications rely on APIs to do their heavy lifting in place of a back-end. That means using headless content management systems, serverless functions, and third-party services.

Markup

Jamstack sites are built with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. They are then pre-rendered and served by a CDN rather than a traditional web server.

What sort of tools are used to build on the Jamstack?

A Jamstack website or application is built using:

  • Static site generators (SSGs) like Gatsby and Next.js. Static site generators are used to build the HTML pages of a Jamstack website.
  • Serverless functions. Serverless functions are used for backend tasks like processing payments or sending emails.
  • Headless content management systems (CMSs) like Contentful, Prismic, and Sanity.io. Headless CMSs are used to manage the content of a Jamstack website or application.

What's the difference compared to traditional architecture?

Jamstack is a modern web development architecture with many benefits over traditional approaches. It is suitable for a wide range of websites and applications.

While Jamstack is not yet suitable for all types of websites, it is likely that it will become more popular in the future as the ecosystem of tools and services grows.

The main difference between Jamstack and traditional web development is the way that the site is built.

bejamas.io, a Gatsby and Contentful site

Jamstack sites are built with a layered approach, which means that the critical components are served first, and then non-critical components are progressively loaded. In contrast, traditional web development follows a monolithic approach, where the entire site is built and deployed at once.

Cache invalidation is another major difference between Jamstack and traditional web development. Jamstack provides built-in cache invalidation, which means you don't have to worry about manually clearing the cache or cache busting.

Jamstack also uses a CDN to deliver assets to users, which can further improve performance and scalability.

What are the benefits of Jamstack architecture?

There are many benefits to using Jamstack over traditional web development approaches.

Jamstack is a great choice for websites and applications that need to be fast, secure, and scalable. It is also a good choice for developers who want a better developer experience.

Some of the main benefits include:

Pre-rendering content

A Jamstack site uses pre-rendering to generate static HTML files from your components.

Pre-rendering is the process of generating static HTML files from your components before they are made available to the user by the web server. This process makes your website or application faster and more scalable.

Traditional web development approaches typically rely on both server-side rendering and client-side rendering at the time of access. This can lead to slower website speed and poorer scalability.

Decoupling the front-end and back-end

Jamstack decouples the front-end and back-end of a website or application. The back-end is responsible for data storage and retrieval, while the front-end focuses on presenting that data to the user.

This means that your front-end can be built without any knowledge of the back-end, and vice versa. It allows for greater flexibility and modularity. For example, you could use a different back-end for each page of your website, or even use a different back-end for each user.

It also makes it easier to scale your website or application, as you can scale the front-end and back-end independently.

This separation of concerns makes development more efficient and scalable.

In traditional web development, the front-end and back-end are often tightly coupled. It can be difficult to make changes to the front-end without breaking the back-end, and vice versa.

Faster deployments

Jamstack sites are typically faster and easier to deploy than traditional web applications.

This is because Jamstack sites are pre-rendered and served by a CDN. This means that there is no need to provision or manage web servers.

In contrast, traditional web applications must be deployed to a web server, which can be more complex and time-consuming.

Lower costs

Jamstack sites are also generally cheaper to host than traditional web applications.

This is because Jamstack sites are pre-rendered and served by a CDN, which is cheaper than hosting a traditional web server.

In addition, Jamstack sites often use serverless functions, which are priced based on usage rather than uptime. This means that you only pay for the resources that your website or application uses, rather than paying for idle resources.

Greater scalability

Jamstack sites are also more scalable than traditional web applications.

This is because Jamstack sites are pre-rendered and served by a CDN. This means that they can handle large amounts of traffic without overloading the server.

In contrast, traditional web applications must be deployed to a web server, which can become overloaded with traffic. This can lead to slow load times and downtime.

Better performance

Jamstack sites are fast. They are pre-rendered, so the server only has to serve static HTML files. This makes them much faster than traditional dynamic websites that have to generate HTML on the server for each request.

In addition, Jamstack sites are served by a CDN, which means that they are close to the user and have low latency. This makes them even faster.

Improved security

A Jamstack site is more secure than traditional web applications. Since they are pre-rendered and served by a CDN, there is no server-side code to be hacked.

In contrast, traditional web applications are deployed to a web server, which can be hacked. This can lead to data leaks and other security breaches.

Better developer experience

Jamstack sites are easier to develop than traditional web applications.

This is because Jamstack sites are decoupled and use modern tools and technologies. This better developer experience overall makes development more efficient and enjoyable.

With Jamstack, developers can focus on their areas of expertise and work with well-defined interfaces. This results in faster development times and fewer errors.

Static-first

A static site generator is a common component in the Jamstack tech stack. Static site generators pre-render HTML files from your components and content. This makes your website or application much faster and more scalable.

Content delivery networks

A content delivery network (CDN) is a system of distributed servers that deliver content to users based on their location.

CDNs are often used to deliver static assets, such as images and JavaScript files. They can also be used to cache dynamic content, such as HTML files generated by a serverless function.

Jamstack websites and applications are often deployed to a CDN, which can further improve performance and scalability.

Cache invalidation

Jamstack provides built-in cache invalidation, which means you don’t have to worry about your site getting stale.

When content is updated, the CDN will automatically invalidate the cache and fetch the new content from the server. This ensures that your users always see the most up-to-date version of your site.

Cache invalidation is a major advantage of Jamstack over traditional web development, where developers have to manually clear the cache or use workarounds like cache busting.

Automated builds

Jamstack sites are built automatically, so you don’t have to worry about manually building your site.

This is a major advantage over traditional web development, where you have to manually build your site each time you make a change.

Automated builds mean that you can focus on developing your site, rather than worrying about the build process.

Atomic deploys and rollbacks

Jamstack makes it easy to do atomic deploys, which means you can deploy new features or fixes without taking your entire site down.

This is possible because Jamstack sites are decoupled and use a CDN. This means that you can deploy new code to the CDN without affecting the rest of your site.

In contrast, traditional web applications are deployed to a single server. This means that if there is an error in the deployment, the entire site will go down.

Jamstack also makes it easy to rollback deployments. If you deploy a new feature and it breaks your site, you can simply rollback the deployment.

Everything in version control

The Jamstack makes it easy to track changes to your website or application and roll back if necessary.

This is because everything in a Jamstack site is stored in version control, from the code to the content.

Progressively enhanced

Jamstack apps are progressively enhanced, which means they will work even if some of the components fail.

This is because Jamstack sites are built with a layered approach. The critical components are served first, and then non-critical components are progressively loaded.

This means that if a JavaScript file fails to load, the user will still be able to see the content of the page.

What are the disadvantages of Jamstack architecture?

There are some disadvantages to using Jamstack over traditional web development approaches.

Some of the main disadvantages include:

  • Limited to static sites: Jamstack is best suited for static sites and simple applications. If you need a more complex application, Jamstack may not be the right choice.
  • Requires learning new tools and technologies: If you want to use Jamstack, you will need to learn new tools and technologies. This can be a barrier to entry for some developers.
  • Not well suited for large sites: Jamstack is not well suited for large sites. If you have thousands of pages of content, Jamstack may not be the right choice.
  • Cost of maintenance: Jamstack websites and applications can be more expensive to maintain than traditional ones.
  • Reliability and flexibility: Jamstack websites and apps are less flexible than traditional dynamic sites and can be more difficult to debug.
  • Performance: Although performance is a primary benefit of Jamstack architecture, Jamstack sites can be slower than traditional ones if not configured properly. This is a bigger concern with tools like Gatsby that have traditionally leaned on client-side rendering.

Despite these disadvantages, the Jamstack is a powerful way to build fast, scalable websites and applications.

When should you use Jamstack?

Jamstack is a great choice for any site that is mostly static or doesn’t need complex server-side functionality.

If you need a simple website or application, Jamstack is a good choice. If you need a more complex dynamic site, Jamstack may not be the right choice.

Here are some examples of when Jamstack would be a good choice:

  • A blog
  • A portfolio
  • A company website
  • A static ecommerce site
  • A landing page
  • A marketing site
  • A documentation site
  • An application that doesn’t need complex server-side functionality

Jamstack is a great option for websites and applications that are not heavily reliant on dynamic content or user interaction. It is also a good choice for websites and applications that need to be highly scalable and reliable.

If you are looking for a fast, cost-effective way to build a modern and performant website or application, the Jamstack may be the right choice for you.

When not to use Jamstack

The Jamstack is not right for every situation. You should consider using traditional web development if any of the following are true:

  • Your site or application is heavily reliant on dynamic content or user interaction. If your site or application depends on user input (for example, a social network), static sites are not the right choice.
  • You need complex server-side functionality: If your site or application needs to do things like send emails, process payments, or store user data, Jamstack is not the right choice.
  • Your website or application needs to be updated in real-time (for example, a news site). In fast-moving environments, build times, build issues, and CDN cache regeneration can bottleneck your output or give your competitors an advantage.
  • Your site or application is very large (for example, a website with thousands of pages of content).
  • You need to support older browsers. In some cases, the Jamstack uses modern technologies that may not be supported by older browsers.

The Jamstack is a great choice for many websites and applications, but it’s not right for every situation. Consider your needs carefully before deciding to use the Jamstack.

Pre-rendering and client-side rendering

The Jamstack generally relies on pre-rendering to generate static HTML files that can be served quickly and easily. As the Jamstack ecosystem has progressed, frameworks have introduced support for client-side rendering techniques to improve flexibility.

Build time rendering is still a valid option, but it’s no longer the only game in town. And the rendering configurations your tooling supports can make or break your project.

Client-side rendering (CSR) is an emerging technique that can be used in conjunction with the Jamstack to provide a more dynamic experience. However, CSR can also introduce some challenges, such as increased build times and the need to carefully manage client-side state.

Jamstack Rendering: Pre-rendered & Client-side Modes
Make sure your Jamstack site is optimized for the best performance and user experience by understanding the differences between rendering techniques. Whether serving content from a CDN, loading content after a user interaction, or both, you will be able to select the best approach for your site.

Getting familiar with the rendering configurations provided by Jamstack build systems, and the implications of each, can save you from headaches later on. Choosing the wrong solution can mean days or weeks of wasted development effort when an alternative solution might have enabled your project out-of-the-box.

What are some of the best tools for Jamstack development?

If you’ve decided that the Jamstack is right for your project, you’ll need to choose the right tools. Here are some of the best tools for Jamstack development:

Deployment and hosting

Netlify homepage
Netlify

Netlify is a platform for deploying and managing static websites. It offers a free plan, and paid plans start at $15/month.

Vercel homepage
Vercel

Vercel is a platform for deploying and managing static websites.

What Is Vercel? The Complete Guide to Deploying Your App
Vercel is a cloud platform for static websites and dynamic applications. It offers reliable and global serverless deployments, with instant scale and performance.

It offers a free plan, and paid plans start at $12/month.

GitHub Pages homepage
GitHub Pages

GitHub Pages is a free service for hosting static websites on GitHub.

Static site generators

Gatsby.js

Gatsby is a static site generator that uses React and GraphQL.

Next.js

Next.js is a static site generator that uses React.

Hugo

Hugo is a fast and flexible static site generator written in Go.

Jekyll

Jekyll is a static site generator that is written in Ruby. It's very popular and is the static site generator used by GitHub Pages.

Content management systems (CMS)

Sanity.io CMS

Sanity is a headless CMS with a focus on flexibility.

Netlify CMS

Netlify CMS is a open source content management system for static websites.

Forestry CMS

Forestry is a CMS with a focus on ease of use.

DatoCMS

DatoCMS is a headless CMS with a focus on ease of use.

Contentful CMS

Contentful is a commercial headless CMS. Plans start at $49/month.

Prismic CMS

Prismic is a commercial headless CMS. Plans start at $25/month.

File hosting and media management

AWS S3 is a file hosting service from Amazon. It offers a free plan, and paid plans start at $0.023 per GB/month.

Cloud Object Storage – Amazon S3 – Amazon Web Services
Amazon S3 is cloud object storage with industry-leading scalability, data availability, security, and performance. S3 is ideal for data lakes, mobile applications, backup and restore, archival, IoT devices, ML, AI, and analytics.

Google Cloud Storage is a file hosting service from Google. It offers a free plan, and paid plans start at $0.026 per GB/month.

Cloud Storage | Google Cloud
Object storage for companies of all sizes. Secure, durable, and with low latency. Store any amount of data. Retrieve it as often as you’d like.

Cloudinary is a media management platform with a focus on image manipulation and delivery. Plans start at $79/month.

Image and Video Upload, Storage, Optimization and CDN
Streamline media management and improve user experience by automatically delivering images and videos, enhanced and optimized for every user.

Imgix is a platform with a focus on image manipulation and delivery. Plans start at $39/month.

imgix - The End-to-End Visual Media Solution
imgix transforms, optimizes, and intelligently caches your entire asset library for faster pages, higher engagement, and a simpler workflow.

If you do decide to use Jamstack, there are many great tools available to help you with development.

Jamstack Resources

If you’re looking for a comprehensive guide to the Jamstack, check out these resources:

  • The jamstack.org website. They have a great collection of resources, tutorials, and case studies.
  • jamstacktools.org - a directory of Jamstack tools and services.

Is it the future of web development?

Jamstack has gained popularity due to its many benefits, including increased performance, security, and scalability. Additionally, Jamstack applications are much easier to develop and deploy than traditional web applications.

The Jamstack architecture is not a new concept. In fact, it’s been around for years. However, recent advancements in tools and services have made it possible for developers to build Jamstack applications with ease.

There is still a lot of room for innovation. New tools and services regularly pop up that make Jamstack development easier.

Redwood.js

For example:

  • Netlify Forms allows you to easily add forms to your Jamstack site.
  • Redwood.js is a new framework that makes it easier to build Jamstack applications.
  • Headless Commerce providers like commercetools and Elastic Path are making it possible to add ecommerce functionality.

As the ecosystem continues to grow, we’ll likely see even more advancements in the world of Jamstack.

Many true believers say Jamstack is the future of web development. We think it's very good at what it does well, but that it introduces too many constraints and too much re-engineering overhead if what you really need is a dynamic, flexible, and powerful environment.

But we do think the Jamstack's popularity is a good indicator of the direction web development is moving in. The Jamstack emphasizes simplicity, performance, and scalability — all of which are important factors to consider when building modern web applications.

One thing is certain: the Jamstack is here to stay. Its popularity is growing, and as the tooling and ecosystem around the Jamstack matures, we can expect to see even more adoption in the years to come.

The Bottom Line

Jamstack is a modern web development architecture that has many benefits over traditional approaches. However, it is not right for every situation. You should weigh the pros and cons of Jamstack before deciding whether or not to use it for your next project.

What has your experience with the Jamstack been? Let us know in the comments below.