Federation is a popular topic of conversation these days, and for good reason. With the ever-growing amount of fragmentation in tooling, it offers a way to decouple data and systems, giving organizations more flexibility and agility.
Despite the promise of headless architecture, data, and systems easily become tightly coupled. Whether through custom middleware or frontend stitching, one system can have ripple effects on all others. This can make it difficult to manage and update content and causes technical debt. In the past, I called this the MACH Monolith.
A federated architecture, on the other hand, truly decouples data and systems. Federation is a technique of using autonomous systems to work with the data and logic they’re best suited for. What differentiates that from the MACH Monolith is how the data comes back together. Federation takes these autonomous services and crafts a unified, standardized, and powerful API for use in any application.
While there are many patterns for accomplishing federation, one architecture is Content Federation. Content federation is the process of bringing together content from multiple sources into a single, unified view that can be accessed both at the API layer, as well as at the editor level.
In a federated architecture, the content federation layer brings together content from the different systems. This layer acts as a single point of access for data, making it easy for users to get the content they need, regardless of where it is stored.
A few benefits of a federated architecture include:
- Increased flexibility and agility: Each system is responsible for its data and logic, which gives them more autonomy and flexibility. This makes it easier to manage and update systems and makes it easier to add new systems to the architecture.
- Improved security: A federated architecture can reduce the attack surface. When data and systems are tightly coupled, a vulnerability in one system can compromise other systems. A federated architecture reduces the risk of this happening by decoupling data and systems.
- Reduced complexity: A federated architecture can simplify how data is managed. In a traditional architecture, data is often stored in multiple systems, making it difficult to keep track of. A federated architecture brings together data from different systems into a single, unified view, which makes it easier to manage, inspect, and use data. The implementation layer has one standardized, unified way to ask for the content.
Overall, a federated architecture is a powerful way to decouple data and systems, giving organizations more flexibility, agility, and security.
#The importance of autonomy in a federated architecture
While most federation articles focus on the benefits of unification, system autonomy is really the key benefit. This autonomy means that systems can be developed and managed independently without worrying about the other systems in the architecture. This can be a major advantage, as it allows organizations to be more agile and responsive to change while still maintaining standards.
This enforced autonomy increases the reach of standardization. In an e-commerce application, product information — pricing, description, categorization — should be standardized wherever it’s used. Without Content Federation, the product data would be re-entered in the systems that don’t house it. When an editor of the blog goes to create a post about a product, they introduce the human potential for error. If they merely select a product from the e-commerce system, they can rely on the owners of that data to keep their data standardized.
When the standards for a particular piece of data changes, the data is changed in the home system, and each other system is ready to receive that change. No additional work necessary.
A federated architecture is a powerful way to decouple data and systems, giving organizations more flexibility, agility, and security. Federation brings autonomy to the data layer while also giving rise to a unification layer Content Federation brings a deeper sense of standardization through systemic change instead of human change. Without autonomy, we have complexity; without unification and standardization, we have glue code. We need both in the modern stack.
Developer Relations lead for Outreach and Awareness
Tim is Developer Relations Lead at Hygraph with a focus on developer relations, community building, and content creation. He’s active in the developer community through speaking engagements at conferences and creation of YouTube videos on modern technologies. Tim collaborates regularly with startups like Cloudinary, Supabase, Algolia, HeyGen, and NuxtJS, and is a member of the MACH Alliance Tech Council. It's all about quality, community, and development of great websites.