API series - Pantheon: Building web experiences with APIs & Jamstack

This is a guest post for the Computer Weekly Developer Network API series written by Josh Koenig in his role as co-founder and chief strategy officer at Pantheon.

Pantheon is a WebOps platform for open-source Drupal and WordPress websites.

It is an app-specific PaaS provider, sold on a monthly subscription basis,

Koenig writes as follows…

The Jamstack is made up of JavaScript, APIs and Markup.

It is a modern approach to building beautiful and blazingly fast websites. With Jamstack, the user experience portion is built and deployed separately from an underlying back-end Content Management System (CMS), be that as a dynamic front-end application or as a ‘static’ set of assets generated by a build process.

It’s all connected using APIs.

The back end makes them available over HTTPS and the JavaScript application hits them to pull in the content. Early in the emergence of Jamstack there was a heavy emphasis on static sites, where a build process would make a ton of API calls to produce the end result, but more and more web use-cases require some amount of dynamism.

Splitting the web experience layer away from that back-end aims to make building sites easier, more flexible and more scalable over time. The aim is to build rich experiences that can rival a native desktop application, but deliver everything via the open web,

The Jamstack approach initially gained traction because of the elegance and simplicity of being able to say ‘content is an API’ rather than having to make edits to the pages involved. It made splitting tasks up easier too, so marketing staff can manage their content rather than relying on the web team to make those changes for them.

But as adoption has ramped up, this simplicity has also shown its limits.

Jamstack & APIs have to evolve

Delivering ambitious and interactive web experiences creates complexity.

Koenig: An API-driven approach to web development will be the future

For instance, developers need to manage the performance and availability of the APIs themselves, making sure that sites and services don’t completely break if the API is having issues. Alongside this, you may have multiple APIs as part of your stack, all returning data with different structures. Handling this data as it is needed becomes a more complex task over time, and this is a challenge to many front-end oriented teams.

As a result, many developers are looking to the frameworks and front-end platforms for help. Jamstack solutions providers are all moving into providing data brokerage or middleware layers to add consistency and dependability around how that data is handled.

Alongside looking at the front-end handling more data, developers also realise that they need to think about what’s on the other side of that API as well. In cases where developers started with statically generated sites from markdown, or even when their architecture leverages a headless content repository, they have discovered the lack of a good user experience for content editors to be a major pain point, often putting project success at risk.

In essence, making these decoupled tools easier to work with and easier to maintain is a priority. Developers need to concentrate on development, not systems architecture or API scalability. They certainly don’t want to be stuck managing content manually because the content editors themselves are not empowered.

Modern web development today involves connecting multiple disparate technologies across the front-end and back-end stacks and then getting them all to work together using APIs.

Doing this sustainably and at scale requires operational tooling to keep things all connected and orchestrated, and to deal with more complex needs over time.

And it’s happening.

This API-driven approach to web development will be the future for delivering digital experiences.


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