Why you should monitor your apps and why your customers will thank you for it

So, you are done building your app and deployed it to production, but you have no idea if people are actually using it or how are they interacting with it. What features do most people use? What are, if any, the chokepoints in your app? Is your app even up right now? You just checked, didn’t you? What about in 3hrs when you are at dinner? Luckily your app can answer these things for you with the proper tools.

For starters, why SHOULD you monitor your app? Well, one simple reason: Users aren’t patient. If you have a really slow app or it just isn’t working then people will leave. Users who leave are users who aren’t paying. You are literally losing revenue by not monitoring and seeing that your app is in top condition: Users will stay in your app if they don’t have to pull their hair out to use it.

Performance

Monitoring an app involves knowing how well it is performing. There are various metrics that can be used to judge the overall performance of your Backend such as throughput of endpoints (how many requests to that endpoint come through a period of time), time consumption of each request and DB usage.

By rule of thumb, it is easier to order your endpoints by highest throughput and work your way down seeing how well they behave and watch out if there is anything you can optimize. If you target the most used endpoints first you will be having a higher impact on your user base and any subsequent improvement will have a higher repercussion. Once you start associating the highest throughput endpoints to features, you can have a very good picture of what the average user is interacting with inside your app.

After you’ve gone through the most used endpoints, it’s time to tackle the slowest overall. Even though these MIGHT not be used that much, on average they are very slow so any request will be on the slow side of your site and frustrate any user who is unfortunate enough to have to use it. It’s very likely that the slowest ones might also have the highest DB usage so try and check them out for the usual suspects of n+1 queries or missing indexes.

It’s important after you have optimized your backends endpoints as much as you can to continue monitoring them monthly seeing how they behave. Correlate how much your user base growth is affecting the overall performance on each one of your endpoints. Everything might work fine and dandy with ten users but at a hundred, thousand, ten thousand users its likely to start seeing some degradations in performance. This will give you a better heads up if in the long run it would be better to adapt your current solution to something else.

Error Tracking

You finally have your super speedy app and everything is done at the speed of light, but it would suck if most of that are just errors and buggy interactions. Most users won’t report errors but rather just close the tab and move on to find something else. That’s why it’s also important to have an error tracking tool, something that alerts you to errors your app is having in production. Fortunately, many tools exist such as Sentry or Rollbar which track errors across your applications stack.

It’s important to address errors as quickly as possible to avoid further complications on your users. Most of the tools used for error tracking provide extra context and information so it’s easier to reproduce the error in your local environment and debug it.

Availability

The other side of monitoring involves knowing if your application is up and running smoothly. Since most applications use a variety of services to function its ideal to have multiple alarms checking various metrics to correctly determine if something is down or not running as expected, some examples are:

  • A periodic simple ping to your Backend/Frontend service might also be a very useful method of determining if your application is available.
  • If you have a stable throughput of requests, a significantly lower number can be a clear warning sign that something is wrong and some actions need to be taken.
  • Establishing a borderline Database CPU usage, in case the issue at hand might belong to the Database.

These are just a few guidelines that can be used to make sure your web app is in top condition and running smoothly. It’ll save you lots of headaches to know how well it’s performing so you can act quickly and decisively when making architecture/software scaling decisions. Establishing certain metrics to act as alarms when something is amiss is also crucial for maintaining a high availability.

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