Web application deployment is the process of making a web application accessible to end users. It involves preparing and packaging an application for deployment, running tests to validate functionality and performance, optimizing databases and backup strategies, implementing robust security measures, and releasing the live version of the application to the production environment.
In this blog, you’ll find a detailed explanation of the web application deployment process, popular deployment methods, and best practices. From cloud hosting and database management systems to CI/CD pipelines and rollback strategies, you’ll learn about the web application deployment topics making waves in the IT industry. You’ll also gain insight into how a Web Application Deployment and Support (WADS) certificate or IT degree can enhance your résumé and expand your career opportunities.
Before a web application is released to end users, developers perform several tasks to facilitate a smooth deployment process. Code version control is the process of recording code changes and updates over time. Multiple individuals and teams work on the codebase simultaneously during pre-deployment, so it's important to have a version control system that tracks changes, prevents conflicts, and keeps everyone on the same page. This is a crucial aspect of the pre-deployment process.
Developers often use version control software such as Git to automate version control. Each developer can work on a line of development, referred to as a branch. Once developers have finished their bug fixes, updates, or changes, they merge the branches together. Developers use numerous branching and branch-merging strategies during pre-deployment preparation. The GitFlow model is a popular branching strategy involving separate development and release-preparation branches. GitFlow also contains a “hotfix” branch for emergency bug fixes. This model allows multiple individuals to collaborate during pre-deployment preparations and make changes without disrupting the main repository.
The environment is the infrastructure in which a web application exists. Each environment is optimized for specific tasks within the development and deployment processes.
- Development. The development environment is the framework developers use to write code and create the application. It contains development tools, version control systems, support software, and other programs needed to build and modify web applications.
- Staging. In the staging environment, quality assurance teams run performance tests, user acceptance tests, security tests, and other assessments to verify that the software functions as intended. The staging environment is typically a replica of the production environment.
- Production. The production environment is the live environment where end users can interact with the web application. Developers carefully monitor the production environment to ensure accessibility and functionality and check for any errors or security risks.
An essential component of environment setup is choosing where to host an application. When selecting a web hosting platform, developers consider the estimated user traffic, bandwidth needs, performance requirements, budgetary constraints, and security concerns.
On-premises hosting occurs when a web application is hosted on a physical server at the organization’s location. This option gives organizations complete control over the hosting infrastructure and is often used when security is a primary concern. Alternatively, cloud hosting outsources hosting responsibilities to a cloud service provider such as AWS or Azure. This option increases scalability and flexibility and is often more cost-effective than on-premises hosting.
Database management systems store and organize the data needed to run web applications. Efficient database management is foundational to successful web application deployment. During deployment, data is migrated or moved from one location to another. Data migration may involve transferring data from an on-premises server to a cloud storage system or from one database management system to another system. Data migration may also involve consolidating data from multiple databases into one database. Once data is migrated, developers run tests and spot checks to confirm that the data maintains its accuracy and is fully transferred to the new location.
Systematic backup and restore strategies preserve and protect the data contained in a database management system. Developers create data backups and store them in a secure location such as a dedicated data center, cloud-based service, or external hard drive. These backups allow developers to replace lost or corrupted data in the event of a security breach, hardware failure, system failure, or other problem resulting in data loss.
Building and Packaging
Once developers build the code, files, and assets needed to run the application, they use a compiler to translate the source code into a computer-readable language. During containerization, the code and files needed to run the application are consolidated into a single package called a “container.” Containerization technologies such as Docker, Linus, and Kubernetes allow developers to seamlessly deploy applications to various environments.
Continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) automates a sizable portion of the deployment process and allows for frequent updates and bug fixes. In today’s technology-driven world, organizations cannot afford to sacrifice application functionality or pause operations to implement code changes. A CI/CD pipeline allows developers to continually integrate new code, test the code for errors, and deliver code changes to the production environment without downtime.
Configuration Management and Dependency Management
Configuration management is the practice of collecting and controlling configuration settings and parameters during web application development and deployment. The development, testing, staging, and production environments each require different configurations. Environment variables are external settings outside of the application code that store configuration data. They allow developers to easily change configurations and adapt the application to different environments without changing the application code.
Dependency management is the practice of organizing and controlling the external libraries, deployment tools, plugins, and frameworks needed for application development and deployment. Package managers such as Yarn, Brew, and Node Package Manager (npm) automate dependency management.
Developers use several different strategies to transfer web applications to the live environment. Some of the most common deployment strategies include:
- Blue-green deployment. Blue-green deployment involves two identical environments: A staging, or " blue,” environment and a production, or " green,” environment. Developers conduct tests, quality assurance assessments, and updates in the blue environment. The green environment contains the live application users interact with. Developers can re-route user traffic to each environment as needed without downtime.
- Canary deployment. Canary deployment involves releasing the latest version of an application to a small portion of users or servers before releasing it to the entire userbase. This deployment strategy allows developers to test new features and updates with real users, gather feedback, identify errors, and improve the software as needed. Canary deployment is often less expensive than blue-green deployment because it doesn’t require two identical production environments.
- Rolling deployment. This deployment strategy involves releasing new versions of an application incrementally. Developers replace the old version of an application with the latest version piece by piece. While rolling deployment can be slower than other deployment strategies, this approach allows for easy rollbacks in case of problems during the software release.
Monitoring and Logging
Web application deployment is a cyclical process in which developers release an application, observe its performance, and roll out updates and bug fixes to continuously improve the application. Monitoring tools collect information about user traffic, UPU usage, error rates, and other crucial metrics. The information is visualized and summarized on a dashboard that lets developers check on the application’s performance in real time. Monitoring systems can be set up to send notifications to the development team if the system detects anomalous behavior.
Monitoring systems also record information in a log. Well-constructed logs include details about how, when, and why certain activities occurred during an application’s execution. They help developers troubleshoot errors, analyze trends, and maximize application performance.
Logs should be automated and regularly tested to ensure that the logging process accurately captures file operations, data changes, user interactions, errors and exceptions, performance metrics, and other essential information. The log aggregation process systematically collects, organizes, and stores event logs, system logs, change logs, threat logs, and other logs.
Scaling and Load Balancing
Developers always have the end users in mind when deploying a software application. Scaling and load balancing are crucial strategies for ensuring that applications can adapt to changing conditions such as traffic spikes.
Horizontal scaling involves distributing the workload across additional servers. This strategy allows more users to interact with the application without reducing the application’s performance. The load is balanced across multiple servers so that no single server is overwhelmed. Developers may also scale vertically by increasing the computational power of an individual server or machine.
As with many web application deployment tasks, developers often automate scaling and load balancing. Autoscaling systems monitor user traffic and application performance and then add or remove resources as needed to meet changing demands.
A developer’s job isn’t finished once an application is deployed to the production environment. Development and deployment teams frequently assess and modify the database structure after deployment. Database schema updates are carefully planned and executed to avoid downtime.
Performance optimization is an ongoing process in which the application is continually fine-tuned to enhance the user experience. Monitoring tools allow developers to assess the application’s performance in the live environment and detect issues in real time. Developers often rely on rollback strategies to address errors, performance issues, or inconsistencies. A rollback involves undoing problematic code changes and restoring an application to a previous version using the version control system.
Security is a paramount concern during software application development and deployment. Cyberattacks can target users’ passwords, social security numbers, banking information, health records, and other sensitive data. Unauthorized access can expose an organization’s financial records, trade secrets, and intellectual property. A single security incident has the potential to undermine months or years of hard work and irreparably damage a company’s reputation.
Developers specifically design applications to safeguard against security incidents. Many developers have embraced shift-left security, a strategy that integrates security optimization at the earliest stages of design and development. Development teams frequently conduct security audits to check for vulnerabilities and install security patches and updates to address any weaknesses. They install firewalls and implement strong authentication mechanisms to control traffic and block unauthorized access. Whenever developers implement a code change, they run security tests to immediately recognize and rectify security issues.
Web application deployment is a dynamic process that plays a pivotal role in today’s tech-driven world. It involves code preparation, packaging, testing, deployment, and continuous monitoring to ensure that web applications are secure and meet quality expectations. Efficient web application deployment is an essential part of delivering reliable, secure web applications to end users.
If you’re pursuing a career in web development, cloud computing, DevOps, or a related IT field, consider earning WGU’s Web Application Deployment and Support (WADS) certificate. This certificate program teaches you valuable, career-aligned skills in web application management, design concepts, software quality, cloud computing, open-source concepts, and more. You’ll earn two industry certifications: Linux Essentials and AWS Cloud, which can strengthen your résumé and expand your career prospects.
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