Jamstack

8 min read

What is the Jamstack?

Written by

Tasmin Lofthouse - Content & Marketing

Tasmin Lofthouse

Published on

8 April, 2022

Updated on

12 September, 2022

When faced with the word “Jamstack”, chances are you immediately think of one of two things.

My mind jumps to a huge tower of strawberry jam. Yum! But you might also be thinking about how your website is built and how lots of different services connect to it.

Whatever your current level of understanding about Jamstack may be, we’re here to take it up a notch by helping you really get to grips with the question: what is Jamstack?

By the end of this article, you should have a good understanding of what the Jamstack is, why it’s important when building a modern website, and how it can help your business.

So, what is Jamstack?

The online space is constantly evolving — Web 3.0, anyone?

Because of this constant evolution, the way websites are built has also changed. Before we look to the future of Jamstack, join me in first looking at the old way of building websites.

The old way of building websites

Back in the early days of the internet, websites were typically built on top of a CMS (Content Management System) with everything being stored in a single place.

In the early 1990s, this meant websites could easily be changed and pages only loaded when needed. It was like they had found the secret recipe for building websites!

But not for long.

As our reliance on and use of the internet grew, cracks started to form in the way websites were built.

The internet was much larger now and websites had the potential to reach a lot more people.

The complexity of websites also increased. Businesses tapped into the commercial benefit of having a website and wanted to share more than just one or two simple pages of information on their site.

As such, the old way of designing websites struggled to keep up with the increasingly dynamic and complex needs of modern websites. Storing lots of information in one place made it difficult to make changes and increased the risk of failure if just one thing on the site went wrong.

This is where Jamstack comes into play.

Introducing the Jamstack way of building websites

Coined by the CEO of Netlify, Mathias Biilmann, in 2015, Jamstack built the future of the web by looking at the past.

Static websites were no longer seen as a bad thing. The Jamstack allows us to redefine the way websites were built by bringing back the high performance capabilities of static sites while allowing for the customizability of a CMS.

Jamstack gives us the freedom to build websites in the way we need them to work.

With Jamstack, you can separate the backend data from the frontend designs in a way that makes everything easier to work with. This allows websites to focus on their individual goals, rather than getting caught up in the frustration of technical issues.

Putting the JAM in Jamstack

Have you ever wondered where the “JAM” in Jamstack comes from?

If you’re familiar with Jamstack and headless architecture, you’ll know that the “JAM” in Jamstack stands for:

  • JavaScript
  • API
  • Markup

Jamstack architecture is built on the idea that “static” websites can be powerful. These three tools – JavaScript, APIs and Markup – work together to display dynamic content and create an interactive experience while serving HTML from static hosting.

Meaning of the JAM acronym - Javascript, APIs, Markup

JavaScript

JavaScript, at a top-level, is a programming language that lets you implement complex elements and features on a web page.

You can achieve a lot with a few lines of JavaScript code – helping transform even the most basic of websites into something far more complex and dynamic.

Flexibility and scalability are core components of any Jamstack website. JavaScript occurs in the browser. You can use React, Vue, Svelte, or even your own vanilla JavaScript!

By rendering content ahead of time and doing as little work as possible on the user’s end, utilizing the Jamstack significantly improves the overall performance of the site.

API

While JavaScript manages content on the client-side, APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) manage processes and database actions on the server-side.

In simple terms, APIs allow your frontend content to talk to your backend processes.

APIs can be custom-built or you can choose to deploy third-party APIs. These APIs allow you to scale your site plugging in different tools and features for all of the actions and behaviours that you want to perform on your site.

It really is a matter of plug-and-play by setting up APIs for the actions you want your site to perform. You can then switch this out and add new APIs, as and when needed, to build a powerful tech stack that always serves the main goal of your website.

Markup

Finally, completing the JAM in Jamstack, we have Markup.

In the Jamstack model, Markup refers to the pre-rendered content served as HTML.

The way this content is delivered is what sets Jamstack sites apart from traditional websites. Traditional “coupled” sites deliver the content dynamically by using a web server to build page elements at runtime. This can lead to slow loading times and a poor user experience.

In Jamstack architecture, however, this markup is prebuilt and served statically via the CDN.  To make this easier, you can even use tools like Gatsby to pull in data from your APIs at build time and render these pages as HTML files. This allows you to serve a pre-rendered version of the page rather than waiting for it to render during runtime. The result? A faster loading website and improved user experience!

The principles of Jamstack

To gain a better understanding of how Jamstack works, let’s take a look at the three main principles that make up the Jamstack framework.

These are:

  • Headless
  • Static Site Generation
  • Progressively enhanced

These three principles work together to create a user-friendly experience for web developers, users and visitors.

Headless

In Jamstack, you’ll often hear people talking about “headless” architecture.

In a traditional CMS, everything is served by one system. This is known as a “coupled” CMS. Your typical Wordpress website tends to work this way.

On the flipside, Jamstack sites decouple the presentation and data layers of your website, and then connect them only when necessary. This method of decoupling is known as “headless” architecture. This reduces disruption across your site when updates happen, while also allowing easy connections with multiple applications.

Static Site Generation

When it comes to building Jamstack websites, the frontend presentation is pre-built into a series of highly optimised static pages and assets.

This static-first method of pre-rendering the website frontend elements adds huge benefits to the website.

Along with being able to add dynamic content to the website after it has loaded, they can also move some of these workloads from the server (the backend) to the browser (frontend). This created a greater user experience by ensuring fast delivery and increased customisation

Progressively enhanced and personalised

Building with Jamstack means you can use the power of progressive enhancement to personalise the website experience for different users.

Progressive enhancement is a web design strategy that prioritises web content above all else.

Essentially, your website will have a baseline of essential content and functionality that is delivered to all users. This is your website content in its most basic form.

From here, your site can then deliver enhanced content and functionality for visitors using modern web browsers, personalising the experience to each and every user.

This makes it easier to scale site performance and capabilities by introducing JavaScript as and when required to create an optimised user experience without having to start from scratch or duplicate the build process.

For the rest of the time, the pre-rendered content will be served, offering a fast and secure web experience for all visitors.

How does Jamstack work?

Jamstack is a type of headless website architecture that splits the frontend presentation of your website from the backend functionality. This is done to enable faster performance, increased security and improved user experience.

If the thought of decoupling the backend and frontend of your website is sending your brain into overdrive, don’t worry.

The process is relatively widespread these days and, thankfully, can be simple to implement. Building Jamstack websites might be a specialist skill but it certainly isn’t a dark art.

To put it simply, the way Jamstack websites work can be broken down into a five-step process:

  1. Map out your website blueprint
  2. Use a static site generator to create a static site (e.g. Gatsby or Next.js)
  3. Add a headless CMS
  4. Customise the site with content, personalised elements and your chosen APIs
  5. Deploy the site content to a CDN (Content Delivery Network)

Of course, the actual process is slightly more complex than just ticking off five tasks off your to-do list. But, I won’t get into the technicalities of navigating Git, writing code, using APIs to change context, and all that jazz just now — we’ll save that conversation for another day.

If you are interested in how Jamstack works and whether Jamstack is the right route for your business, get in touch with our team for a friendly, honest chat.

What are the benefits of Jamstack?

Jamstack is about more than just simplifying your website and shining a spotlight on static sites. It’s about delivering high power benefits to your business and overcoming the frustrations and challenges of traditional websites.

In short, Jamstack websites offer:

  • Increased user engagement
  • Faster site speeds
  • Improved stability and security
  • Cheaper running costs
  • Easier maintenance
  • Increased scalability

Time and time again, we speak to clients who are stressed about slow website speeds or worried that their content-heavy website is turning into a money-pit. Their website architecture is clunky and their CMS is riddled with security vulnerabilities. And everyone across the board from IT to marketing and sales are frustrated with usability of the site.

In almost every scenario like the ones listed above, Jamstack can help make those challenges a thing of the past.

Better performance and faster site speeds

The Jamstack architecture creates websites that boast increased user engagement and faster site-speeds. Better performance improves a lot of things; more users can find and load your site (especially from other countries), they stick around longer, and usually end up converting better too — and that sounds like a winning recipe, if you ask me!

Google also loves fast sites, especially fast sites on mobile which means you’ll naturally get better rankings for your SEO (Search Engine Optimisation).

Improved stability and security

Jamstack can increase both the stability and the security of your website.

In a digital world plagued with cyber fraud, security has never been more important. The headless style of Jamstack removes the risks of complex server applications and databases, as they no longer need to be live for our site to function.

The decoupling of your website presentation and functionality can also help ward off those pesky hackers trying to break into your site, as there’s no longer a direct link to your data store from your frontend!

Cheaper running costs

When it comes to business, your bottom-line is almost always your number one priority.

So, you’ll be pleased to know that Jamstack websites can be much cheaper to run than other web development options. Minimal site architecture and efficient code created statically means that you need far fewer resources. Plus, you can run your Jamstack site on a static hosting platform of your choice (which usually start for free).

Easier to maintain and scale

Finally, Jamstack websites are easy to maintain and scale.

Plugin updates and security patches are a thing of the past when you switch to Jamstack. You no longer need to tediously monitor your site, check for updates or block out time in your day for ongoing maintenance. Overall, your maintenance effort is significantly reduced!

Time that would have been spent maintaining your website can be spent on other areas of your business!

So, whether you’re looking for a site that doesn’t require constant monitoring and is easy to keep updated, Jamstack might be the best choice for you.

Similarly, if your brand needs a website that can evolve as it grows, Jamstack is ready to scale alongside your brand.

So, what is the Jamstack and do you need it?

Jamstack is an incredible, future-ready approach to building websites.

Once set up, your Jamstack site will:

  • perform better;
  • be easier to maintain;
  • be more secure and;
  • be cheaper to run.

But it does require more upfront development effort and a team who know how to get the most out of it.

If you are looking to build a website that is scalable, flexible and easy to manage, then Jamstack might be just what you need. Using Jamstack can also increase your site speed, leading to lightning-fast page load times and happy website visitors — which is a win-win, if you ask me.

If that’s not enough, Jamstack is a powerful solution for businesses in need of a flexible solution that can adapt with evolving technologies.

At Skyward, Jamstack is our jam.

So if you’re looking to partner with our team of specialists that put user experience and performance at the heart of your website, get in touch to see how we can support you.

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