What Is the MEAN Stack?

Jeffrey Erickson | Content Strategist | May 22, 2024

All web applications are built using a combination of tools and technologies. These include the programming languages, frameworks, libraries, databases, servers, and software that developers employ to complete their project. Each technology handles a different function of the application and together form the “stack” of systems on which the app runs. A popular example of this is a JavaScript-focused collection of technologies called the MEAN stack.

What Is the MEAN Stack?

The MEAN stack is a combination of technologies that are commonly used together to build web applications. The term “MEAN” is an acronym derived from the four main open source components of the stack: MongoDB, Express, AngularJS, and Node.js. Each component plays a distinct role in building the application.

Elements of the MEAN stack are JavaScript-based, or, in the case of MongoDB, very proficient at integrating with JavaScript tools. That’s a departure from a well-trodden path of using one language for back-end, or server-side, functions and another language for front-end, or client-side features. The MEAN stack and its sibling, the MERN stack, use JavaScript to manage all major functions of an application, including databases, libraries, frameworks, and application servers. This particular collection of tools lets developers simplify the building and maintenance of web and mobile applications while still getting the stability and scalability needed for some of the most popular web applications.

MEAN Stack vs. MERN Stack

The MEAN stack is often compared with the MERN stack, another prominent collection of JavaScript-based technologies. The primary difference lies in the MEAN stack’s use of AngularJS instead of the MERN stack’s use of React for front-end rendering.

AngularJS’s virtual document object model (DOM) and component-based approach offer advantages in performance and code maintainability. That makes it the preferred choice of many developers, especially those working on enterprise apps. In contrast, React, which is used in the MERN stack, is a JavaScript library that creates user interface components for fast web application building and has been mostly used for smaller applications, although that’s changing. Developers at several high-traffic sites, such as Instagram and UberEats, use the MERN platform.

A rule of thumb is that the MEAN stack might be a better choice if application stability is your primary goal. Go with the MERN stack if app performance and easy updatability are your focus. A close look at your development team’s skill sets and the needs of your application users should help you determine if either of these JavaScript stacks is right for your project.

Key Takeaways

  • The MEAN stack is a JavaScript-based set of technologies for building web and mobile apps; it’s made up of MongoDB, Express, AngularJS, and Node.js.
  • The MEAN stack simplifies app development and maintenance by using a single language, JavaScript, for the front- and back-end workings of an application.
  • The MEAN stack has been used successfully to build everything from simple, static websites to complex, dynamic applications.

MEAN Stack Explained

The MEAN stack is a popular technology stack for web development. “MEAN” stands for MongoDB, Express, AngularJS, and Node.js. Together, these four components offer a full-stack solution for developing modern and efficient web applications. Developers choose the MEAN stack because it uses a single, widely known language—JavaScript—to develop the entire application. If you know JavaScript and how to work with a document database, you’ve got the back end and front end of your application covered.

Besides the combination of the MEAN components providing a comprehensive and efficient framework, the use of JavaScript for both client-side and server-side development means different coders can easily work on different parts of the application without worrying about compatibility.

How Does the MEAN Stack Work?

To create a workable web application, you need a database, an application server, a web interface, and a tool to orchestrate it all. In the MEAN stack, these functions are provided by four open source technologies: MongoDB, Express, AngularJS, and Node.js.

Each one plays a distinct role in building a web application.

Is the MEAN Stack a Full-Stack Solution?

The MEAN stack is a full-stack solution. That can be confusing because the primary programming language throughout the stack is JavaScript, which traditionally has been considered a front-end web display language. But with the growing popularity of Node.js, a JavaScript runtime environment, and MongoDB, a popular document database that integrates seamlessly with JavaScript environments, developers have been using the MEAN stack for full-stack development using JavaScript as the single primary language for both the server and client sides.

MEAN Stack Components

The combination of the four MEAN stack components provides a comprehensive and efficient framework for developing web applications because they use a single programming language—JavaScript—for both client-side and server-side development.

  • MongoDB is a document-oriented NoSQL database that stores data in JSON format, facilitating seamless integration with JavaScript. This flexibility makes it particularly suitable for applications that require frequent data updates or complex data structures. Occasionally, you’ll see MySQL used instead of MongoDB as the “M” in MEAN-based apps. MySQL is an open source database that organizes data in tables and relationships, making it easy to manage and find specific information. In certain situations, MySQL might be faster than MongoDB, especially for tasks that involve consistent transactions or reading a lot of data.
  • Express takes care of a website’s back-end functionality and structure. It’s a lightweight web framework for Node.js that simplifies the process of creating APIs. It offers a rich set of features, including routing, middleware, and error handling, allowing developers to build scalable and maintainable back-end applications.
  • AngularJS runs on the browser to present the application to users. More than that, though, it’s an application-design framework and development platform for building single-page apps. These are apps that load a single web page and then dynamically update the page with new information. Examples include web apps, such as email, maps, and social media feeds.
  • Node.js is a JavaScript runtime environment. It executes JavaScript code on the server side. This eliminates the need for separate front-end and back-end languages, simplifying the development process and fostering code consistency.

Benefits of the MEAN Stack

The MEAN stack lets developers use one very popular language, JavaScript, to build entire web applications. In the right hands, the MEAN stack can simplify the development and maintenance process, resulting in benefits including…

  • Ease of use. For a team familiar with JavaScript, the four technologies that make up the MEAN stack are commonsense choices. Each tool is relatively easy to learn, and they work well together. The MEAN stack has been around for years, and there are many learning resources to be found.
  • Scalability. The MEAN stack can be used to build applications that can handle a large amount of traffic.
  • Cost-effectiveness. The MEAN stack is open source and free, so it’s a cost-effective way to build web applications. There are no upfront license fees, and there are many free support resources in the open source community.
  • Versatility. The MEAN stack has been used to build simple, static websites as well as complex, dynamic applications.

Challenges of the MEAN Stack

Despite its popularity, the MEAN stack has drawbacks. These can include

  • A learning curve. Each technology in the stack takes time to get the hang of. A small team may not have experts in each of the four MEAN components, and it may be overkill for websites with simple functionality or static content.
  • Limited offline support. MongoDB and Express are both server-side technologies, which means they require a reliable internet connection to work. This can make the MEAN stack a poor choice for applications that need to be available offline.
  • Performance. This can be a problem with the MEAN stack; for example, MongoDB can be resource-intensive and Express can be slow to process requests.
  • Security vulnerabilities. Like all web application frameworks, data security is a concern with the MEAN stack. MongoDB has been known to have security vulnerabilities, and it’s important for teams to stay on top of available fixes.
  • Vendor confusion. MongoDB, Express, Angular, and Node.js are all open source technologies developed by different organizations. There’s no guarantee they will continue to be compatible with one another in the future.

How to Get Started with the MEAN Stack

To get started with MEAN stack development, you’ll need an understanding of JavaScript. Then follow these steps to prepare your environment and deploy in the cloud.

  1. Make sure Node.js and npm, a package manager for Node.js, are installed on your machine. Node.js is the JavaScript runtime environment that will let your app execute JavaScript code outside of a web browser.
  2. Next, install MongoDB. This will be your NoSQL database for storing and managing data in JSON document format. For building apps that use primarily structured data from business applications, you can use another popular open source “M” database, MySQL.
  3. You’ll want a code editor to help with syntax highlighting, code completion, and debugging capabilities. Popular options for this job include Visual Studio Code, Sublime Text, or Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI) Cloud Editor.
  4. With these tools in place, proceed to installing Angular CLI. Angular CLI is a command-line interface tool that lets developers build dynamic and interactive user interfaces.
  5. Install the Express application generator. This component will help you quickly architect applications by giving you preplanned structures for building web applications using Node.js and Express.
  6. If you choose to deploy your application on a public cloud platform, find one that aligns with your requirements and preferences. This could be Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, OCI, or a smaller provider. The hyperscale providers offer a diverse array of services and features. You’ll need to create an account, set up virtual machines or containers, and configure network and security settings.

MEAN Stack Use Cases

The MEAN stack has been popular with developers for more than a decade. One key component, AngularJS, originally was envisioned as a way to build dynamically updatable, single-page web applications. That means the MEAN stack excels at building sites that aggregate and update content, such as sites for news, maps, web-based email, and ecommerce. It has proven itself stable enough to be used for large-scale banking and retail applications—indeed, PayPal and eBay both report using MEAN stack development in their web applications. Heavyweights such as Netflix and LinkedIn also say they build web apps using the MEAN stack.

The MEAN stack particularly excels in several use cases. They include

  • Single-page applications (SPAs) that require real-time data updates and dynamic content
  • Social networking platforms, content management systems, and collaboration tools, as the stack allows for seamless integration of various features and functionalities
  • Ecommerce platforms, which can take advantage of the stack’s efficient handling of large data sets and ability to scale the application as the business grows

Why Choose the MEAN Stack?

Developers choose the MEAN stack because it’s adept at managing web and mobile application projects. It streamlines app development using a single language, JavaScript, across the entire application. For example, Node.js and AngularJS use JSON files as their data exchange format. This is the same format that MongoDB was built to store and manage. So the data transfer process across the MEAN stack system is easy and uninterrupted. And because it’s composed of a collection of open source technologies, there is no upfront cost for licensing. The popularity of the MEAN stack means developers can find resources to supplement and enhance their skills.

Choosing the Right Stack in 2024

When choosing a stack in 2024, you’ll want to consider its scalability, performance, security, cost, availability of talent, and the priorities of your target consumers. If your development team is experienced at full-stack development in a high-stakes enterprise environment, the MEAN stack can be a solid choice for 2024.

It might be challenging to move away from Java, C++, or other established back-end languages, but large sites such as Instagram and UberEats and Walmart.com’s mobile app have shown that this simple, yet versatile JavaScript-based platform can do the job.

It’s also open source and thus cost-effective, and its popularity means you should be able to hire developers who can step in and contribute.

Get Started with Oracle Database for Developers

Developers can use Oracle Database in MEAN stack development. In fact, Oracle Database 23c comes with MongoDB APIs that make it a seamless replacement, and a free trial for 23c is available.

Another alternative to the MEAN stack is using JavaScript APIs built using Node.js or Express as the back-end platform and supporting AngularJS or Flutter as the front end to build both web and mobile applications. These APIs work with Oracle Database 19c and 23c using an Oracle Database adapter for Parse Platform. The Parse platform is integrated in Oracle Backend for Spring Boot and Microservices, so you can use a Kubernetes-based back-end platform to run both Spring Boot microservices and JavaScript full-stack applications, bringing DevOps and DataOps together.

For more than a decade, teams that need to build dynamic web applications and websites with open source technologies—and a single, popular programming language—have chosen the MEAN stack. The JavaScript-based stack of MongoDB, Express, AngularJS, and Node.js has proven to be a fast and simple way to quickly produce a dynamic web application while also achieving the consistency and scalability to accommodate a large user base. For these reasons, look for MEAN stack development to remain popular over the decade to come.

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MEAN Stack FAQs

What does MEAN stand for?

MEAN is an acronym for four open source technologies that commonly combine as a technology stack for building web applications. They are MongoDB, Express, AngularJS, and Node.js.

What is MEAN technology?

“MEAN” doesn’t describe a single technology. It’s an acronym for a collection of open source technologies— MongoDB, Express, AngularJS, and Node.js—that together let developers use a single, popular programming language, JavaScript, to build web applications.

Is MEAN outdated?

Developers have been building and deploying web apps on the MEAN stack for over a decade. In that time, other JavaScript development stacks, such as the MERN stack, have gained popularity. That said, the MEAN stack is made up of open source tools that are constantly evolving and finding new converts. MEAN stack development promises to be around for a long time.

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