what are add ons
Laura-ann Burgess

Laura-ann Burgess

Contributing Technology Writer

This article is meant for app devs, addon devs, startup owners, and digital enthusiasts who’re looking to demystify the term "add-ons".

For us, addons aren't feature extensions for WordPress, or plugins for web browsers like Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox. Rather, they're critical, hosted services that augment and expand your stack, extending the functionality of applications so you can build them faster, bigger, and better.

Addons are much more than just extra features; they're integral components that boost the capabilities of your web applications and, oftentimes, they're critical to the smooth functioning of your end product. 

In this guide, we’ll deconstruct the term "addon", replacing nebulous definitions with a clear and concise understanding of these tools as hosted critical services that can be implemented during and post-build, as well as during scaling and enhancement.

Let's embark on this enlightening journey to unravel the power of add-ons!

What are add-ons?

Just forget about internet browser and game plugins, ad blockers, address bar extensions, and all that jazz. That's not what we mean by add-ons! At Addons.io, we have a very specific "add-on" definition.

It's based on the original definition of add-ons coined by Heroku, who hosted (and still host) the original addon marketplace, Heroku Elements, within their PaaS. It's also represents the type addons we list on the Addons.io marketplace which, unlike Elements, is about addons—and only addons.

In the world of app development, addons serve as modular, packaged services that developers can integrate into their application stacks. These components play a pivotal role in enhancing, augmenting, broadening, and deepening an app's functionality before it goes to market, and during scaling or updates.

It's important to understand that they aren't nice-to-have extras or in any way akin to the plugins or extensions found in web browsers and RPGs. Instead, they're vital, externally-hosted services that provide advanced capabilities ranging from database systems and machine learning platforms to communication APIs and content delivery networks.

This broad range offers you the flexibility to enhance your app’s features without reworking your entire codebase.

Are you an add-on dev who wants more?👨‍💻💰
Look no further: Addons.io is the only addons marketplace that’s only about add-ons!!

What is the role of addons in application development?

Convention over config: the modular freedom of addons

Ready-to-go, hosted critical services (addons) embody the principle of convention over config, empowering devs with modular freedom.

One primary benefit of using addons is the sense of creative freedom they provide. Add-ons are pre-packaged solutions that adhere to best practices, allowing developers to plug and play them as per the evolving requirements of their applications, without pain.

They alleviate the need for custom configurations, enabling greater adaptability and flexibility. By saving devs from the grind of reinventing the wheel and the drain of hosting their own critical services, addons save devs from the sh!# part of building apps.

They're also elegant solutions in their own right, curated and approved for sale on marketplaces like Addons.io by virtue of their adherence to cutting-edge security principles, technologies, and best practices.

Long story short, the "convention over config" motto of ready-to-go hosted services frees devs so they can innovate and do stuff that’s fun.

How addons save you from building everything from scratch

Building from scratch is time-consuming and ridiculous, especially when state-of-the-art, fits-all solutions can be seamlessly incorporated.

By integrating a suitable addon, you can efficiently introduce new functionality, capability, and capacity to your app, without the time and effort that would have been spent building the same feature from scratch. You can keep up with your competition.

The time saved can then be better utilized for focusing on the application's core value propositions.

So, addons obviate the need for developers to create these services from the ground up. For example, rather than constructing a proprietary payment gateway, a developer can simply integrate a payment add-on into the app. This means devs can focus more on creating unique application features that deliver real business value.

What's more, as a result of the way addons free devs to innovate fresh functions and features, they play a critical role in the evolution and advancement of application tech as a whole. Why do you think we have so many formidable innovators and startups around?

Well, it has a lot to do with the fact that they can bolt on 5, 10, or more hosted-addons instead of reinventing the wheel 5, 10, or 20 times!

Can you integrate addons with existing applications?

Absolutely. Existing applications can be easily augmented with add-on services. They offer an agile method to enhance an application's functionality without requiring a complete rewrite of the codebase.

If you're seeking to bolster data analytics capabilities, enhance security measures, or expand communication services, there is an add on (or numerous addons) readily available to cater to your need.

The modular nature of add-ons means they can be plugged into your existing architecture without causing disruption.

So addons are not just strategic components for app development but for scaling and upgrades too.

What are common platforms and frameworks supporting addons?

There are several platforms and frameworks that support addons and even add on marketplaces, including Heroku, Digital Ocean, and Render.

These Platform as a Service (PaaS) providers offer extensive ecosystems for add-ons, providing developers with an array of add on categories to pick and choose the additional features that best suit their app's requirements, fostering a versatile developer environment in the process.

However, for a more affordable addon marketplace without the small print, compatibility issues, and vendor lock-in that tend to plague other PaaS, we suggest you visit Addons.io's listings. 

Simply click add ons listings to read detailed documentation, explore packages, and provision your addon in a matter of seconds—no need for a heavy install or complicated config session and no matter which PaaS hosts your app.

Exploring types of addons

Now that we've clarified meanings and scoured related terms, let's dive into the main program of the day. Namely, the various types of addons that devs like you can leverage to bulk out and bolster their apps.

It's important to note, however, that many of the examples listed here are available as managed services via a range of different providers. Like Redis, which is available as a managed/hosted service from Redis itself, as well as from a long list of 3rd party providers—because it's open-source.

1. Data storage and database utility addons

These addons offer robust solutions for data storage and management, catering to varying demands of scalability and complexity.

Popular examples include PostgreSQL for relational data, MongoDB for document-oriented data, Redis for in-memory data storage and caching, SFTP To Go, for managed cloud storage as a service, and Integrate.io as a unified-stack utility.

SFTP To Go screenshot integrate.io screenshot

2. Security and authentication addons

Security is paramount in any application, and security addons provide robust features to safeguard your application. They manage user authentication and ensure data integrity.

Notable examples are Auth0, providing a universal identity platform, and Okta, offering identity and access management.

3. Communication and notification addons

Keeping users informed and facilitating in-app communication is a must in today's interconnected world.

Addons such as Twilio, for communication APIs, IronMQ, for message queue as a service, and Mailer To Go, for cloud-based email services, allow developers to incorporate these features easily.

IronQ screenshot mailer to go screenshot

4. Analytics and reporting addons

Analytics and reporting addons provide crucial insights into application usage, helping you to understand user behavior and improve the app's features and performance over time.

Duperset Analytics and Mixpanel are two commonly used solutions in this area.

5. Performance and caching addons

To ensure high-speed data access and optimum app performance, performance and caching addons can be a lifesaver.

Memcached and Varnish are popular choices for their efficient caching capabilities, as is IronCache, for cloud-based key/value store as a service.

IronCache screenshot

6. Logging and monitoring addons

Tracking your application's activity and performance is crucial for efficient troubleshooting and optimization.

Logging and monitoring addons, such as Logentries and New Relic, and application, system, and infrastructure metrics solutions, such as Hosted Graphite, offer real-time tracking and alerting capabilities.

hosted graphite screenshot

7. Integration and API addons

Integration and API addons allow your application to communicate with external services.

Zapier and MuleSoft, for instance, provide powerful platforms for automating workflows and integrating APIs, while options like Ziggeo, Neutrino Audiomatic, File Turn, and Algolia provide specialized API for everything from web audio to search.

Tired of making dough for Heroku?💸🤔
Addons.io lets you market your addon without the unfair revenue share!!

8. Image and media processing addons

For applications dealing with rich media, image, and media processing add-ons offer services like on-the-fly image resizing, video transcoding, and more.

Blitline, Cloudinary, and Imgix are top players in this space.

9. Machine learning and AI addons

Machine learning and AI addons bring the power of advanced analytics and intelligent decision-making to your app.

A wide range of addons in other categories like image processing, compute, and analytics incorporate VL, NLP, ML, and other AI features to fulfill their tasks. Some fine examples include Einstein Vision and Language, and Rollbar, which offers real-time troubleshooting and error response solutions.

10. CMS addons

CMS addons provide ready-made solutions for managing content in your application.

ButterCMS, and Elegant CMS are popular solutions, both known for their extensive features and ease of use.

11. CDN addons

CDN addons ensure fast delivery of content to users spread across various geographical locations.

Cloudflare and Fastly are renowned for their global CDN services.

12. Payment and billing addons

For e-commerce or any app dealing with financial transactions, payment, and billing addons are crucial.

Moesif, Stripe, and PayPal are industry leaders in this space.

13. Networking addons

Networking add-ons streamline the complex aspects of network management for your application, enabling efficient communication between various services and components. They aid in optimizing performance, enhancing security, and improving scalability.

QuotaGuard offers a Dynamic Heroku IP Proxy to help manage IP quota limitations, and Shield Static IP SSL/ACM for PCI/HIPAA or with HA+LB for Inbound/Outbound (HTTP/SOCKS5) Encrypted Connections.

quotaguard screenshot

14. Compute addons

Compute add-ons enhance the computational capabilities of your application, allowing it to handle complex calculations or process large volumes of data more efficiently. These add-ons can be particularly beneficial for applications involved in scientific computing, data analysis, or machine learning.

As an example, you can run scheduled tasks on your cloud applications with Cron To Go, or process background jobs using Docker containers with IronWorker.

cron to go screenshot Ironworker screenshot

This certainly isn't a comprehensive list of all the add ons, or even all the addon categories on the market, but it's a good overview of most add ons and critical services that you'll find independently or on common addon marketplaces.

Choosing and provisioning addons

Selecting and integrating the right addons into your application is a strategic decision that will significantly impact the functionality, performance, and scalability of your app. This process can be broken down into two key steps: 

1. Choosing the right add-on

The process of choosing addons should be guided by a thorough analysis of your app's requirements, your existing tech stack, and your future scaling plans. Here are some key factors to consider:

  • Compatibility: Ensure that the add-on is compatible with your existing tech stack. It should be able to seamlessly interact with other components of your app.

  • Scalability: As your user base grows, your app should be able to handle the increased load. Choose add-ons that provide flexible scaling options to accommodate this growth.

  • Performance impact: An ideal add-on should enhance your app's performance, not hinder it. Analyze the potential performance impact of an add-on before integrating it.

Luckily for you, Addons.io marketplace categorizes addons by function, making it easier for devs to find the specific type of addon they need. Moreover, we provide detailed descriptions and reviews to help you make an informed choice.

2. Seamless integration of addons

The effective integration of addons into your app should be a systematic process comprising careful planning, precise execution, and rigorous testing.

  • Planning: Before you start integration, create a detailed plan. Understand the functionalities of the add-on and how it interacts with your application.

  • Execution: Follow best practices and guidelines provided by the add-on provider during the integration process. 

  • Testing: Once the add-on is integrated, conduct thorough testing to ensure that it functions as expected and enhances your app as intended.

By systematically selecting and integrating add-ons, you can augment your app's capabilities, improve its performance, and set the stage for scalable growth. Indeed, by provisioning your addons via the secure, curated marketplace at Addons.io, you can ensure that your addon is structured under industry and security best practices, serving as a valued feature component.

When you provision an addon from Addons.io marketplace, it's automatically attached to your application and configured with environment variables, saving you the hassle of manual setup. We also provide a unified dashboard where devs can easily manage their addons.

However, it's still crucial to evaluate the compatibility, scalability, and potential performance impact of all addons. Moreover, after integrating an addon from our marketplace, it's advisable to thoroughly test it in the context of your application to ensure everything works as expected.

Best practices for managing addons

Managing addons goes beyond the initial selection and integration; it's about embracing strategies for smooth operation, optimal performance, and seamless user experience.

The majority of addons are hosted and managed by the addon provider, easing much of the management overhead. Nevertheless, some practices can help you get the most out of your addons and maximize their value:

  • Maintain documentation: Keep a comprehensive and updated document of all the addons in your app. This document should include the purpose of each addon, its configuration details, and its impact on your application. It's the map that guides you and your team through your application's extended functionality.

  • Understand your addons: Spend time grasping the functionalities and quirks of each addon. This will enable you to use them more effectively and troubleshoot issues faster when they arise. Most addon providers offer comprehensive documentation and support that can prove a treasure trove of information.

  • Stay updated: Regularly review updates released by the addon providers. These updates often contain important feature enhancements, security patches, and bug fixes. Updating your addons ensures you're benefiting from the latest improvements and staying secure.

  • Monitor performance: Despite the fact that most addons are efficiently managed by the providers, you still need to monitor their performance. Use tools to track how your addons are affecting your application's load time, memory usage, and overall performance. This proactive monitoring can help identify and resolve issues before they impact the user experience.

With these practices in place, you can harness the full power of the add-on while minimizing potential disruptions to your app and user base. Remember the mangos? The primary purpose of addons is to make your life easier as a dev, freeing you to focus on what you do best—creating outstanding apps and, generally, doing stuff that's fun.

In conclusion

In the ever-evolving app space, addons, add ins, add-ons, or whatever you want to call them, hold immense significance for devs and business owners. That's why we've chosen to raise them to hero status on Addons.io—because that's really what they are.

They're a THING, they deserve to be properly defined, and the bright minds who build them deserve to get kudos for their hard work.

Addons offer ready-to-go, hosted services that augment an app's features and add in processing power without devs having to overextend their resources or build everything from scratch They're the extra gears that ramp up application performance and scalability.

Addons.io is the only addons-only marketplace around, and we're calling both addon devs and app devs to make the most of this brave new platform. So, whether you've developed an addon and want to list it, or need ready-made features for your app, Addons.io has you covered.

As we look to the future, it's clear that addons will continue shaping the tech landscape, offering more advanced and varied capabilities for higher-potential app craft.

About Addons.io!🏆
Addons.io is the only addons-only marketplace for devs, by devs!!

Frequently asked questions

How do add-ons differ from plugins or extensions?

Unlike plugins or extensions, add-ons refer to hosted services that can be integrated into applications to provide additional functionalities. They are not confined to browsers or games but extend to all applications across various platforms. 

Are add-ons compatible across different platforms and frameworks?

While many add-ons are designed to be platform-agnostic, it's crucial to verify their compatibility with your existing tech stack before integration.

What are the pricing models for add-ons?

Add on pricing models vary, but many follow a subscription-based model where you pay a regular fee for the service. Some offer free tiers with limited functionalities and premium tiers for more advanced or enterprise-level features.

Stay connected

Subscribe to receive new blog posts from Addons.io in your RSS reader.

Subscribe to RSS →

Ready to join software solution sellers and buyers already on Addons.io?

Join now →