How do Internal Developer Platforms (IDPs) relate to other concepts?

How do Internal Developer Platforms (IDPs) relate to other concepts? #

There are tons of different concepts flying around in our industry. Let’s clarify what an Internal Developer Platform (IDP) is and how it relates to other concepts.

What is an Internal Developer Platform? #

“An Internal Developer Platform (IDP) is built by a platform team to build golden paths and enable developer self-service. An IDP consists of many different techs and tools, glued together in a way that lowers cognitive load on developers without abstracting away context and underlying technologies. Following best practices, platform teams treat their platform as a product and build it based on user research, maintain and continuously improve it.”

According to this definition, all tools and technologies involved in the application delivery process from code to production are part of the IDP. This can be open-source or proprietary software, as well as self-developed tooling:

  • Integrated Development Environment (IDE) tools (Visual Studio Code, Eclipse, Xcode, etc.)
  • Version Control Systems (VCS) (GitHub, GitLab, etc.)
  • CI tools (Circle CI, GitHub Actions, Bitbucket)
  • Container registries (Docker, Harbor, etc.)
  • Platform orchestrators (Humanitec)
  • Developer portals and service catalogs
  • Kubernetes control planes
  • GitOps tools / CD controllers (ArgoCD)
  • IaC (Terraform, Pulumi, etc.)
  • Databases/storage
  • DNS
  • Managed or self-hosted Kubernetes
  • Cloud providers

… and many other tool categories e.g. monitoring, security or logging. Let’s zoom in on a few that are mostly misunderstood in their overlap with IDPs.

Developer portals/service catalogs #

While developer portals and service catalogs (Backstage, LeanIX, etc.) can function as access points to the IDP and provide a user interface for developers to discover the platform’s capabilities, there are more categories that are not Internal Developer Platforms.

End-to-end DevOps platforms and PaaS solutions #

End-to-end DevOps platforms or Heroku-like PaaS solutions can’t be handled as a product by a platform team. The underlying technologies of such solutions can’t be modified to a depth an enterprise setup requires.

Environment as a Service #

Environment as a Service offers aim to provide self-service. They can be run isolated for certain purposes (e.g. automated testing) and make sense for certain industries, but are almost impossible to integrate into IDP setups.