Ecommerce website architecture: Monoliths, MACH, What’s it all about?

Brutalism, Minimalism, Art Deco.. Have you ever wondered why the architecture that surrounds us is designed the way it is rather than another?

Architecture is perhaps the most – of all the arts – precise reflection of global social and economic changes. Also, the fastest to respond to economic crises.

When we apply this hypothesis to software architecture, in particular digital commerce, we arrive at the same conclusion: any architecture is born of needs, of goals, of particular social and economic context.

In this light, we might speculate on what impact the pandemic, war in Europe, energy crisis, recession might have on (software) architecture. Is it time for a somewhat software brutalism? What about the old-fashioned monoliths? Maybe architecture that is composable?

What to consider when designing the optimal architecture of an ecommerce site today? What is relevant to your needs and goals? Let’s break down some basics of ecommerce software architecture.

Link to content
Link to content

Software Architecture Styles

Failing to design concise architecture, software development teams often find themselves in what they call a big ball of mud (absence of robust structure in a software system). 

Big ball of mud is not the preserve of newbies exclusively – tech is changing so rapidly that any architecture, however well-thought-out it might be, may be covered with some layer of mud along the way.

As an architect, you should always be able to explain your choices, especially when it comes to picking a certain pattern. 

What are the most common software architecture styles?

Monolithic types of software architecture:

• Layered architecture 

• Pipeline architecture 

• Microkernel architecture 

Distributed types of software architecture:

• Service-based architecture 

• Event-driven architecture 

• Space-based architecture 

• Service-oriented architecture

• Actor-based (message-driven) architecture

• Microservices architecture

To choose the architecture pattern that fits your business needs and goals, you need to know what each one is, its benefits and drawbacks.

Architecture patterns define how an application works and what its main features are. How adaptable, how scalable? How easy is deployment and maintenance?

Types of Monolithic ecommerce architecture
Types of Monolithic architecture

Most common criteria how to evaluate the software architecture are:

  • Scalability
  • Deployability
  • Testability
  • Maintainability
  • Sustainability
  • Efficiency
  • Compatibility
  • Usability
  • Reliability
  • Security
  • Portability

These are the most important aspects to consider when evaluating the success of an architecture. 

There are a lot of media sources that compare and contrast different kinds of architectural styles, and some of them even have star ratings. 

Most common criteria how to evaluate the software architecture
Most common criteria how to evaluate the software architecture

These so-called "ratings of software architecture" sometimes are somewhat perplexing. If you are just concerned with the ratings, you may wind yourself selecting a trendy architectural design that has little to do with your unique requirements and objectives.

What makes a resilient software architecture

When it comes to the planning of architecture, should we base our decisions on any overarching principles? 

Let’s assume it is possible to construct a lovely house according to the plans that are available in the public domain; but what if these plans are in no way designed to accommodate the climate patterns that prevail where you live? And your home won't even make it through one cold season?

In spite of this, talking about software architecture, there are a number of guiding principles that, if adhered to, make it possible to construct a system that is exceptionally resilient in the face of any crisis. So, how to choose the best architecture for your store website?

First off, we’re talking about independence. Your architecture should not be overly dependent on particular components, such as a framework, an UI or a database. This is true regardless of any  component. Otherwise, you risk getting into the so-called lock-in.

According to Robert C. Martin, to design a what he calls clean architecture developers should consider the following:


Your architecture should not be dependent on the functionality offered by a certain framework and library (no matter how rich in features it is). Consider frameworks to be tools, rather than a set of coordinates that imposes its own set of guidelines on you, and use them accordingly.


You should organize your architecture in such a manner that it is possible to change the user interface without having to rewrite a significant amount of the back-end code. Also, any manipulations or modifications made to the user interface shouldn't result in the business logic being rewritten in any way.


Create an architecture that is independent of any one database service. Databases, whether Oracle or MongoDB, must be interchangeable with one another so that your company is not locked into utilizing one over the other.

Testable business logic

It is preferable to keep the business logic distinct from the other components of the system so that it may be tested independently of the other components.

What is ecommerce site architecture

So, we just went through the basics of software architecture. But does the software architecture for digital commerce vary, and what characteristics does it have?

Monolith vs Headless Commerce
Monolith vs Headless Commerce

In general, we can state that in digital commerce, it is common practice to divide design based on the following principles: monolith vs microservice, monolith vs headless, etc. To say the least, this is clearly an oversimplification. At the same time it allows us to get a certain idea.

The truth is that in the sense of architectural solutions, there are a lot of hybrid possibilities available between the extremes of this continuum. And behind many viral terminologies used now, such as headless, there is a long-standing developer's practice that has always been with us – we simply never referred to it by that name.

That being said, within the limits of the blog post, let’s have a look at the most popular styles of architectures used in digital commerce. With the obvious caveat of significant simplification.

Also, let’s not forget that ecommerce is much more than just an online shop; it's an ecosystem that incorporates a vast array of services. Read our blog post on integration for more information.

Layered (n-tier) architecture

Traditional Layered Architecture
Traditional Layered Architecture

Why use the the layered architecture

It is generally accepted that layered or n-tier architecture is the first thing that intuitively comes to mind for a novice digital commerce architect. A classic of the genre, so to speak.


This is the most traditional and widely used architecture. And the key word here is simplicity.


Everything that is straightforward is also inexpensive, commonly known as being "budget-friendly." Because it does not need a big number of highly skilled professionals, it also does not require a complicated type of assistance, and as a consequence, there are not significant expenditures connected with this.

‘NATURAL’ in terms of structure

The structure of the organization is often replicated in the software, which, in the majority of instances, likewise takes the form of a straightforward n-tier design.

How layered architecture works

How does this work? Layered style, which is also known as an n-tier architecture, generates implicit layers by partitioning the source code into separate modules that are then packaged. 

Because of this, it is very difficult to grasp how the architecture of an application works without first having a comprehensive knowledge of the functionality of the system's many components and modules.

In most cases, we are describing a two-tier (to put it simply, backend and frontend) or a three-tier architecture, which consists of a business logic layer, a presentation layer (also known as user interfaces), and a particular source of knowledge (databases).

  • Presentation Layer
  • Business Layer
  • Persistence Layer
  • Database Layer

Each layer of an architecture that is layered is accountable for its own distinct group of responsibilities.

The presentation layer, for instance, will be in charge of the user interface and the interaction logic between the browser and the application, whilst the business layer will be in charge of carrying out the business rules that are connected to the request.

Multiple layers of architecture give an abstraction of the underlying processes for each individual need of a company.

There is also the concept of layers of isolation within the layered architecture pattern. The ecommerce software architects use this to increase the resilience of the structure. This approach may serve as a bridge to more cutting-edge and in-demand styles of digital commerce architecture, which will be discussed below.

Who uses layered architecture 

Small web applications and websites with straightforward business logic are ideal candidates for layered architecture because of its ability to handle these challenges with ease. 

It should also be mentioned that this particular kind of architecture will be suitable for digital commerce novices. For instance, merchants that are just starting out on their road toward digital transformation and have very low resources as well as a very short amount of time for development.

In addition, this strategy has the potential to be useful in uncertain circumstances, such as when the demands of the company and the requirements of the product are not well defined. This may serve as a fast repair for architects and developers to ensure that there is at least some foundation.

  • SME (Small/Medium-sized Enterprises)
  • Small web application projects
  • Newly-converted to Digital Transformation 

MACH architecture

MACH - Microservices, API-first, Cloud-native, and Headless

N-tier architecture may seem rather rigid and dead-end, if not diluted with other patterns, and in situations of somewhat less primitive businesses will become a serious obstacle to development.

One of the most prevalent issues that ecommerce developers discuss is the difficulty of breaking out of the limits of monolithic systems. So-called lock-in situations can trigger significant changes in business processes up to replatforming.

Decoupling the frontend from the backend (one principle pillar of MACH architecture) is one way to enhance an ecommerce website capabilities. MACH ecommerce architecture might be helpful if you want to avoid becoming caught in the pitfalls of a certain platform or particular components.

MACH principles: considering the experiences of everyone involved

The MACH architecture approach allows for more adaptable work by splitting the backend (the admin panel) and frontend (the catalogs, carts, and checkout) so that each may be customized independently for merchants and shoppers respectively.

There is consensus that the consumer experience and the entrepreneur experience are distinct (in that they aim for different things), hence it stands to reason that they need separate settings.

Thus, the most recent trends in architecture, amongst other things, are attempting to improve the overall experience enjoyed by all parties engaged in the procedure. For the purpose of technically separating experiences, the MACH architecture is an excellent match.


Would it be practical if the same appliance could be used to dry hair, vacuum, and wash clothes? Very unlikely, but you never know. The principles of ecommerce website architecture behind microservices tell us unequivocally that for each task it is most efficient to use a special device.

Microservices ecommerce architecture
Microservices architecture


The application programming interface (API) plays a very significant part in the architecture; the more the API enables you to control, the more adaptable, responsive, and quick the system will be.

There are so-called commerce API layers that are among the advanced solutions available today. These are especially valued by large brands that require a large number of distinct dynamic storefronts because, for instance, they have many different clothing lines, many locations, and payment systems that are specific only to these locations, and so on.


The advent of cloud computing has almost completely transformed the way software architecture is designed. Since the invention of DevOps, the number of ways in which digital commerce ecosystems can be made more complex has multiplied by several orders of magnitude. It ultimately led to the departure from the conventional monolithic architecture.

Headless architecture

The idea of keeping storefronts and business logic in two different places is not exactly a novel one. Behind the humorous buzzword is an architectural style with the high-minded objective of providing more freedom to all of the participants of the process of development: the backend has its own game, and the frontend has its own game.

Why use MACH architecture

Flexibility and agility

The separation of the communication logic from the business logic that results from decoupling the event producer and consumer components is the reason why decoupling is beneficial to scalability. 

More adaptability, decoupledness, and scalability are found in systems designed in MACH architecture. Because of this, working with them is easier in terms of tweaks: they can be modified quickly and independently. They have a far higher failure tolerance and handle setbacks with elegance rather than devastation.

Business Complexity

Going headless and API-first is a bit overhyped today, though not every digital enterprise needs this. It's possible that this is too sophisticated for the majority of digital commerce; there's just too much to consider technically.

This is reflective of complicated global trade operations (as big brands would want a unique customized storefront for each collection, for each region (localization), and for various groups and types of customers). 

Digital Maturity

To implement MACH architecture, you'll need the help of top-notch developers, since it's a complicated technical procedure. Think of this as a big chunk of the overall cost and effort.

Before going MACH, it is important for your company to follow a defined digitalization route that will help you choose which digital commerce services are most suited to your needs. 

How MACH architecture works

1. Journey orchestration

A smooth purchasing experience is crucial for the success of an ecommerce enterprise.

MACH architecture allows consumers to have a seamless purchasing experience by easy tailoring the omnichannel infrastructure. 

2. Building Blocks / Modular Tech

Design an ecommerce ecosystem out of the finest microservices and components by putting them together like building blocks. Developers are free to use only the things that are practical for a particular business, only the things that you need (nothing extra). 

3. Scale Freely

MACH ecommerce architecture allows more ways to communicate, more places to do business, more ways to make payments, in short, more maneuver. 

Platforms & eCommerce Architecture

The digital commerce platforms are doing their best to keep up with new trends and keep up with the times, as well as to prevent their architectures from becoming so dated that it would cause a significant number of users to abandon them. Each platform is staying afloat in its unique fashion.

In this section, we would like to focus specifically on the Salesforce Commerce Cloud platform and the wide variety of forward-thinking solutions that it provides to software developers and architectural designers.

Salesforce Commerce Cloud architecture approaches
Salesforce Commerce Cloud architecture approaches

SFRA (Storefront Reference Architecture)

Within Commerce Cloud, there is Storefront Reference Architecture. The SFRA helps ecommerce professionals to lower the complexity of storefront dev.

SFRA offers software SFCC developers and commerce architects access to approximately two hundred and fifty pre-made best-of-breed wireframes. 

In this light, owners shouldn't worry that their online shops will seem just like the other tens of thousands on the web. Instead, SFCC developers can quickly and easily set up a unique and personalized online store with the help of out-of-the-box frameworks that include everything from shopping carts and checkouts to icons, bars, and buttons.

Salesforce Commerce API

The SFCC has a somewhat workaround for the "headless" trend in architecture for an ecommerce website.

This means that SFCC developers may choose the content management system (CMS) and frontend that works best for the project, while Salesforce Commerce Cloud handles the backend, functionality, data management, etc.

With this flexibility, businesses may provide a shopping experience tailored to each individual client by customizing the store's aesthetic to suit their goals and the interests of their target audience.

Headless deployments are possible with Commerce Cloud's rich set of APIs (SCAPI). So that developers are free to use their preferred "head" (development environment) with the SFCC backend. 

PWA Kit architecture

PWA Kit architecture is one step further from the SFRA + SCAPI approach in the development of headless architecture. 

Salesforce Commerce Cloud lets you easily switch to headless commerce and build a progressive online app that works like a native app on any device.

The headless technique lets you create customized user experiences like lookbooks without templated product catalogs. It allows SFCC merchandisers to mix shoppable products with fancy media material to enhance browsing.

Buyers may add items to their shopping cart “on-the-go” without leaving the website. Eliminating friction boosts sales. Any content-based page may seamlessly include shoppable products without seeming like ads. Ecommerce enterprises may generate revenue and convey the corporate story, strengthening customer loyalty.

Premade components and ecommerce procedures in the Progressive Web App Kit accelerate your start. It also gives developers pre-built APIs and best practices to accelerate commercial results.

Bottom line

As we can see from the example of SFCC, which being cloud-based, API-advanced, and optionally headless, many architectural solutions are some kind of hybrid between monolith and MACH styles.

The software architecture, as has been said on several occasions, is created with your business needs and goals in mind. And the degree to which you are able to recognize these requirements and objectives will determine how effectively your progeny of architectural thinking can resist adverse conditions and critical situations.