Our typical mobile app actually consists of three different pieces of software. Many times, the most visible portion of a mobile app project is the software you have running on your mobile device. However, that app is often just a piece of a larger ecosystem, which all must work together to provide the necessary functionality. Below we’ll discuss a typical architecture we would implement for a client’s mid-sized project.

Components

Backend

The backend system is the brains of the operation, and it usually lives on self-hosted servers or in the cloud. This is where most of the data the app uses is stored. The backend component itself is made up of multiple pieces such as a data storage system, the application code, or a job runner. In our standard system, the backend talks to the other components using an application programming interface (API).

Common Responsibilities

  • Storing data
  • Running background tasks
  • Sending Push Notifications

Common Technologies We Use

  • Firebase
  • AWS
  • Heroku
  • SQL
  • Python
  • Java

Admin Frontend

Users utilize the web application to manage data and perform administrative functions. Depending on the requirements and how the system will be used, this may sometimes also include all the functionality present in the mobile app. The web admin component interacts with the backend system through the API. In most cases, it never talks directly to the mobile app.

Common Responsibilities

  • Managing data
  • Administering user accounts and permissions
  • Viewing statistics and analytics

Common Technologies We Use

  • Angular
  • S3
  • Javascript/Typescript
  • HTML

Mobile App

Finally, we get to the mobile app. After all that work, the mobile app is typically seen as the main user interface in many of our mobile projects. Like the web admin, all communication is done through the backend API, but the app may connect to many other systems (e.g., Apple’s push notification servers, Google Maps, RSS feeds) to provide all the functions a user needs.

Common Responsibilities

  • End-user functionality

Common Technologies We Use

  • Swift
  • Kotlin
  • Objective-C
  • Java
  • React Native
  • Xamarin
  • Ionic
  • Cordova

General Principals We Consider

  • We often push as much functionality to the backend as possible. This allows a common platform between all other components (e.g., Android App, iOS App, CMS, etc)
  • We pick the best component for each requirement. In some cases, all the system functionality needs to be present through the mobile app, but in many cases, the administrative system work is better suited to a web admin. This allows administrative users to control the app more efficiently and take advantage of the additional screen space a desktop or laptop provides.

Wrapping It All Up

There are many ways to architect a mobile app, and most of the decisions made during that process depend on requirements and budget. The system presented above is a good start for many mobile apps, and it allows the system to grow and scale to meet future needs.