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Posted on December 1st, 2020 in Coding, Resources, Software Development

In the coding world, there are a number of terms and phrases that are used constantly. Understanding the ins and outs of all these technology terms can be confusing for those without the right experience, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid learning how to code. Instead, see it as an opportunity to improve skills, increase your knowledge, and gain a better understanding of what coders do.

At Eleven Fifty Academy, one of the terms that often trip up new coders is “Application Stack.” If you do a little bit of digging online without knowing what you’re looking for, you’ll run into even more terms like Full Stack, Full Stack Development, Software Stack, and Solution Stack. Let’s take a look at stack technologies like these and find out how an application stack relates to other tech stack operations.

What is a Stack in Programming?

When programmers are creating applications and software, they often draw upon a large amount of data in order to get things running. This could be any number of related files, from simple visual objects in a game to dense collections of financial records for a banking app. Stacking is a clever way of managing and storing this data amount in a fashion that is both more efficient for computing power and more secure for clients. 

If you imagine data stacks as decks of cards, you’ll notice that cards can be added to the top or bottom. Once the card is removed, the stack stays in secure storage, as the other cards simply overtake the missing one’s place. Just like it was removed, the card can be placed at the top or bottom of the same deck with no change in structure. Developers use this very same analogy as way of naming different functions of this technology. 

Stack technology manages data through a few specific tasks that help to ensure any part leaving the stack always returns without causing any disruptions in access or storage. These tasks are called:

  • Push, which is used to add an item back into an existing stack
  • Pop, which removes the card from the stack, causing the stack to condense, creating room for the item to return.
  • PeekorTop only pulls from the top of the stack
  • isEmpty lets the operator know if the stack is currently empty

How Does Stack Help Programming?

Because there are different methods to retrieve data from a stack, programmers stuck with the image of a card deck to deftly name two well-known systems. For software that requires use of the same objects or images numerous times, like a web browser, a Last in First Out (LIFO) approach can be used to add a caching system. For software clients with customer applications like a bank or real estate company, a First in First Out (FIFO) data system can be used to keep order in the queue of user submitted forms. 

There are many other ways that data stacking used in software takes shape. These could include programming-level work, such as balancing symbols or perfecting data algorithms. They also can be used for more user-interface related objects, such as the undo and redo functions on a word processor or photo editor. 

These tasks are performed by engineers manually when performing testing or still working on engineering their code. However, once they’re deployed into a technology stack the software often uses automation to ensure it’s always grabbing the needed task and replacing it after it runs its function.  In general, users won’t notice when or where a pop or pull occurs. However, these functions do take some time to process, and if a program is being overworked with many items being pulled at once, automation might attempt to pull from an empty deck. In this case, the software will send a “StackOverflow” report (for anyone out there who always wondered “What is the StackOverflow name from?”)

What is an Application Stack?

So, back to our original question. As you may have guessed from its name, application stacks are a critical component of any program or piece of software. These stacks are the collections of all the code necessary to run and operate an application correctly. They are also relative to the organization or company that uses the application. For example, an enterprise level application stack would include features like email, instant messaging, word processing, spreadsheets, and database access. 

These are more business-oriented than terms like software stack, which could refer to the background processes needed to design a single piece of software. So, when you’re thinking about what application stacks are, remember to keep in mind not only that deck of cards the system is pulling from, but what game the cards are being used to play. As with all tech, context is everything.

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