What does “micro” in the microservices mean?
How do you define what a microservice is? How do you define the boundaries?
This is not an exact science. However, when you get close to the boundaries of violating what the word “micro” means, you will know, and you will feel bothered making changes in that service because it will not feel right. It is still good to have some guidelines on defining the boundaries of your microservice. Here is the approach that I like to use.
Force yourself to write down on paper what your service does. Write it in first person to give it a little more emphasis.
I am the microservice A and I exist so that I can perform X.
This should be the first description in your API documentation so it is clear for your clients and it is also a good reminder for your team.
Let’s see an example. Let’s say you want to develop a “Subscription” microservice, and after some initial discussions you write the definition for that service:
“I am the Subscription microservice and I exist so that I can create, read, update, delete subscriptions and I also exist so that I can activate, deactivate benefits and terms for the subscription. I also exist so that I can correct the failed subscriptions into a good state.”
This definition is overwhelming. If the Subscription service ends up doing all of that work, then it is really not a micro-service. It is a macro-service. If the definition of your service has a lot of “ands” and “ifs” in the sentence(s), then you should worry about the size of this service.
Here is how this Subscription service could be turned into a micro-service.
“I am the Subscription microservice and I exist so that I can perform the CRUD operations on subscriptions.”
Now that your Subscription service is a micro-service, you need to introduce other services that will perform the remaining actions. For example, you can add the following services to perform the remaining actions:
“I am the Fulfillment microservice and I exist so that I can orchestrate the creation of a subscription and the fulfillment of that subscription which is really the activation and deactivation of benefits with a given subscription.”
“I am the Fulfillment-Recovery microservice and I exist so that I can recover the failed subscription into a good state.”
This is just one example of how you can define the boundaries for the “micro” in the microservices. One may argue that you can break the above services into smaller services, and in my opinion that’s where you are on the other spectrum where your microservices would be turning into nano-services. That is ok as long as you don’t get over-excited and negatively impact performance. If you go in this direction too much, that’s where you are starting to feel the overhead of too many RESTful calls chained together and each http call over the wire adds up. That’s where you need to be very realistic and decide how much you are gaining by doing this given your use cases.
Another way to more closely define the “micro” in your microservice is to define the API routes for all the actions that you mentioned in the definition of your microservice. If you go through this exercise, you quickly discover that the API routes for the original long definition of the Subscription microservice are not going to stay RESTful. That is your signal to start breaking up that service into smaller services.
In conclusion, introduce some guidelines within your company on how to define what a microservice is and keep each other in check when adding new services and when adding functionality to you existing microservices.
Thank you for reading.