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API Management / Cloud Services / Frontend Development

Is Jamstack Toast? Some Developers Say Yes, Netlify Says No

Netlify seems to have abandoned the term it coined, "Jamstack". Its CEO says Jamstack is alive and kicking, but some developers beg to differ.
Aug 9th, 2023 8:49am by
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When Netlify acquired one of its former competitors, Gatsby, in February, I noted that its use of the term “Jamstack” (which it coined in 2016) wasn’t so prominent in its marketing anymore. “Composable architectures” appeared to be the new catchphrase. Fast-forward six more months, and Netlify has just closed The Jamstack Community Discord, according to Jamstack aficionado Brian Rinaldi (who runs an email newsletter called — for now — JAMstacked).

Rinaldi added that Netlify has “largely abandoned” the term, “in favor of a “composable web” term that better aligns with their ambitions around becoming a broader enterprise platform including content (with tools like Netlify Connect).” Another developer who has heavily used Jamstack over the past 7-8 years, Jared White, considers the name “all but dead” now.

So is Jamstack dead or not? To find out from the horse’s mouth, I messaged Netlify CEO Matt Biilmann.

“Very much not dropping the term or declaring the architecture gone!” he wrote back, adding that “the Jamstack architecture has won out to a degree where there’s little distinguishing ‘Modern Web Architecture’ from Jamstack architecture.”

In a tweet, he clarified that “basically all modern web frameworks ended up being built around self standing front-ends talking to API’s and services.”

Paul Scanlon, a developer who works for CockroachDB (and is also a tutorial writer for The New Stack) agrees with Biilmann.

“Jamstack, in terms of the word or definition, might be “dead”, but the principle lives on,” he told me. “Web development prior to Jamstack very much existed with front end and backend being separate things, with developers working on either side of the stack. Jamstack not only merged the technologies to form a collapsed stack, but it meant developers naturally became full stack.”

Whether or not the term “Jamstack” is still relevant, Biilmann admits that the company is re-focusing its marketing efforts.

“So the architecture is more alive than ever and has won out to the degree that for us as a company, we are now more focused on marketing around how to help large enterprises at scale modernizing their web infrastructure, rather than convincing individual web teams to adopt a Jamstack approach,” he said.

The Rise and Plateau of Jamstack

Regardless of whether Jamstack “won,” it’s clear its popularity has plateaued. But why? To answer that, we first have to go back a few years.

I first wrote about Jamstack in July 2020, soon after I joined The New Stack. I interviewed Biilmann about a trend that was at the time styled “JAMstack” — the “JAM” referred to JavaScript, APIs and Markup; the “stack” part referred to cloud computing technologies.

I quickly learned that the acronym itself wasn’t particularly meaningful. It’s not so much the components of JAMstack that make it interesting, I wrote in 2020, “It’s that the approach decouples the frontend of web development from its backend.”

The early promise of JAMstack for developers was that it would make their lives easier, by allowing them to create simple HTML files using a “static-site generator” (like Gatsby or Hugo), call APIs using client-side JavaScript, and deploy using git (typically to CDNs — content delivery networks).

Netlify didn’t do all of this itself (especially the static file part), which is why it wanted to create an ecosystem called JAMstack. But it had a significant footprint in that ecosystem, by enabling developers to access APIs and deploy those static files. As Biilmann himself told me in 2020, “We [Netlify] take all of the complexity of building the deployment pipelines, of running the infrastructure, of managing serverless functions, of all of that, [and] we simply abstract that away from you.”

However, as the years rolled by, the Jamstack ecosystem seemed to increase in complexity — largely due to the ever-increasing popularity of React and its attendant frameworks. As Jared White explained in his post, “JAMstack eventually gave rise to a rebranded “Jamstack” with the major value prop being something rather entirely different: you could now build entire websites out of JavaScript libraries (aka React, or maybe Vue or Angular or Svelte) and JavaScript frameworks (aka Next.js, Gatsby, Nuxt, SvelteKit, etc.).”

So Is Jamstack Dead or Alive?

It’s fair to say that the term “Jamstack” (as it’s now styled) has become rather muddled. As Brian Rinaldi pointed out in his post, “the definition has continued to shift to accommodate new tools, new services and new platform features.” At the beginning of this year, Rinaldi wrote that “Jamstack has become more of a “community” than a set of architectural rules.”

Certainly, Netlify itself isn’t pushing the term as much as it used to. Jamstack now only barely features on Netlify’s homepage, way down the bottom in the form of two legacy menu items (“Jamstack Book” and “Jamstack Fund”). The word “composable,” by contrast, features twice at the very top of the page — including in its new catchphrase, “The future is composable.”

“Composable is a broader term that becomes more relevant when we’re talking to architects at large companies that are not just thinking about the web layer, but how to organize the underlying architecture as well,” Biilmann said when I asked him about the new term.

That’s fair enough, but what do practicing web developers think of Jamstack now? Jared White, for one, is ready to move on. “What Netlify gave us originally was a vision of how to deploy HTML-first websites easily via git commits and pushes, just like Heroku had done for dynamic applications,” he concluded. “All we need now is a modern Netlify/Heroku mashup that’s cheap, stable, and doesn’t need to reinvent the damn wheel every year.”

Paul Scanlon thinks the guiding principles of Jamstack are still relevant, although he sees little use for the term itself. “Does it even matter? I’m a Flash Developer, Flash died a long, long time ago and I’m still here. The guiding principles behind anything that move us forward will always remain. The buzzwords likely won’t.”

For his part, Rinaldi says that “the term seems to be dead but the tools and technologies it encompassed are still very much alive.” He plans to re-brand his JAMstacked newsletter but hasn’t yet decided on a replacement name.

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