Micro-frontends: The path to a scalable future — part 2


So in Part 1 of this article, we’ve learned what micro-frontends are, what they are meant for, and what the main concepts associated with them are. In this part, we are going to dive deep into various micro-frontend architecture types. We will understand what characteristics they share and what they don’t. We’ll see how complex each architecture is to implement. Then through the documents-to-applications continuum concept, we will identify our application type and choose the proper micro-frontend architecture that meets our application’s needs at most.

Micro-frontend architecture characteristics

In order to define micro-frontend architecture types, let’s reiterate over two micro-frontend integration concepts that we learned in the first part: (Fig. 1 and 2).

  • routing/page transitions

For page transition, we’ve seen that there are server and client-side routings, which in another way are called hard and soft transitions. It’s “hard” because with server-side routing, each page transition leads to a full page reload, which means for a moment the user sees a blank page until the content starts to render and show up. And client-side routing is called soft because on page transition, only some part of the page content is being reloaded (usually header, footer, and some common content stays as it is) by JavaScript. So there is no blank page, and, also the new content is smaller so it arrives earlier than during the full page reload. Therefore, with soft transitions, we undoubtedly have a better user experience than with hard ones.

Figure 1. routing/page transition types

Currently, almost all modern web applications are Single Page Applications (SPAs). This is a type of application where all page transitions are soft and smooth. When speaking about micro-frontends, we can consider each micro-frontend as a separate SPA, so the page transitions within each of them can also be considered soft. From a micro-frontend architectural perspective, by saying page transitions, we meant the transitions from one micro frontend to another and not the local transitions within a micro frontend. Therefore this transition type is one of the key characteristics of a micro-frontend architecture type.

  • composition/rendering

For composition, we’ve spoken about the server and client-side renderings. In the 2000s, when JavaScript was very poor and limited, almost all websites were fully rendered on the server-side. With the evolution of web applications and JavaScript, client-side rendering became more and more popular. SPAs mentioned earlier also are applications with client-side rendering.

Figure 2. composition/rendering types

Currently, when saying server-side rendering or universal rendering, we don’t assume that the whole application is rendered on the server-side — it’s more like hybrid rendering where some content is rendered on the server-side and the other part on the client-side. In the first article about micro-frontends, we’ve spoken about the cases when universal rendering can be useful. So the rendering is the second characteristic of a micro-frontend architecture type.

Architecture types

Now that we have defined two characteristics of micro-frontend architecture, we can extract four types based on various combinations of those two.

Linked Applications

  • Hard transitions;
  • Client-side rendering;

This is the simplest case where the content rendering is being done on the client-side and where the transition between micro-frontends is hard. As an example, we can consider two SPAs that are hosted under the same domain (http://team.com). A simple Nginx proxy server serves the first micro-frontend on the path “/a” and the second micro-frontend on the path “/b.” Page transitions within each micro-frontend are smooth as we assumed they are SPAs.

The transition from one micro-frontend to another happens via links which in fact is a hard transition and leads to a full page reload (Fig. 3). This micro-frontend architecture has the simplest implementation complexity.

Figure 3. Linked application transition model

Linked Universal Applications

  • Hard transitions;
  • Universal rendering;

If we add universal rendering features to the previous case, we’ll get the Linked Universal Applications architecture type. This means that some content of either one or many micro frontends renders on the server-side. But still, the transition from one micro to another is done via links. This architecture type is more complex than the first one as we have to implement server-side rendering.

Unified Applications

  • Soft transitions;
  • Client-side rendering;

Here comes my favorite part. To have a soft transition between micro-frontends, there should be a shell-application that will act as an umbrella for all micro-frontend applications. It will only have a markup layout and, most importantly, a top-level client routing. So the transition from path “/a” to path “/b” will be handed over to the shell-application (Fig. 4). As it is a client-side routing and is the responsibility of JavaScript, it can be done softly, making a perfect user experience. Though this type of application is fully rendered on the client-side, there is no universal rendering of this architecture type.

Figure 4. Unified application with a shell application

Unified Universal Applications

  • Soft transitions;
  • Universal rendering;

And here we reach the most powerful and, at the same time, the most complex architecture type where we have both soft transitions between micro-frontends and universal rendering (Fig. 5).

Figure 5. Micro-frontend architecture types

A logical question can arise like, “oh, why don’t we pick the fourth and the best option?” Simply because these four architecture types have different levels of complexity, and the more complex our architecture is, the more we will pay for it for both implementation and maintenance (Fig. 6). So there is no absolute right or wrong architecture. We just have to find a way to understand how to choose the right architecture for our application, and we are going to do it in the next section.

Figure 6. Micro-frontend architecture types based on their implementation complexities.

Which architecture to choose?

There is an interesting concept called the documents-to-applications continuum (Fig. 7). It’s an axis with two ends where we have more content-centric websites, and on the other side, we have pure web applications that are behavior-centric.

  • Content-centric: the priority is given to the content. Think of some news or a blog website where users usually open an article. The content is what matters in such websites; the faster it loads, the more time the users save. There are not so many transitions in these websites, so they can easily be hard, and no one will care.
  • Behavior-centric: the priority is given to the user experience. These are pure applications like online code editors, and playgrounds, etc. In these applications, you are usually in a flow of multiple actions. Thus there are many route/state transitions and user interactions along with the flow. For such types of applications having soft transitions is key for good UX.
Figure 7. Correlation of the document-to-applications continuum and micro-frontend architecture types.

From Fig. 7, we can see that there is an overlap of content and behavior-centric triangles. This is the area where the progressive web applications lay. These are applications where both the content and the user experience are important. A good example is an e-commerce web application.

The faster the first page loads, the more pleasant it will be for the customers to stay on the website and shop.

The first example is that of a content-centric application, while the second one is behavior-centric.

Now let’s see where our architecture types lay in the document-to-applications continuum. Since we initially assumed that each micro-frontend is a SPA by itself, we can assume that all our architecture types lay in the behavior-centric spectrum. Note that this assumption of SPA’s is not a prerogative and is more of an opinionated approach. As both linked universal apps and universal unified apps have universal rendering features, they will lay in progressive web apps combined with both content and behavior-centric spectrums. Linked apps and unified apps are architecture types that are more suited to web applications where the best user experience has higher priority than the content load time.

First of all, we have to identify our application requirements and where it is positioned in the document-to-application continuum. Then it’s all about what complexity level of implementation we can afford.


This time, as we already learned the main concepts of micro-frontends, we dived deep into micro-frontend applications’ high-level architecture. We defined architecture characteristics and came up with four types. And at the end, we learned how and based on what to choose our architecture type. I’d like to mention that I’ve gained most of the knowledge on micro-frontends and especially the things I wrote about in this article from the book by Micheal Geers “ Micro frontends in Action,” which I recommend reading if you want to know much more about this topic.

What’s next?

For the next chapter, we will be going towards the third architecture — Unified apps, as this type of architecture, mostly fits the AI annotation platform. We will be learning how to build unified micro-frontends. So stay tuned for the last third part.