Real User Monitoring vs. APM: What's the difference?

| 6 min. (1185 words)

If you work in the world of software development, you may have stumbled across the two acronyms RUM and APM at one point or another.

But do you know what they mean? Do you know how they’re different?

And most importantly, do you know how they can work together to deliver the results you have in mind?

First, some definitions:

Real User Monitoring (RUM)

Real User Monitoring enables developers to automatically notice front-end performance issues that slow load times down. These tools allow devs to mimic the user experience and understand how quickly web pages or applications are loading by passively tracking every user session and capturing all that data.

RUM can also be used to determine what happened in the moments leading up to a crash. With that data on hand, software teams can take proactive steps to fix any errors or bugs that might exist. RUM can help developers understand the user experience depending on the browser, operating system, and geography a user is accessing content from, among other things.

Application Performance Monitoring (APM)

APM tools are designed to increase app availability and minimize downtime while optimizing performance and reducing latency. APM solutions help software development teams identify bottlenecks that slow down performance. Once they’ve identified bottlenecks, the team can fix them. This ensures your applications can seamlessly scale without hurting the user experience. In addition to improving the user experience, you can use APM to maximize the efficiency of your app. Depending on the scale of your operations, it can also reduce hosting costs.

Now that we’ve defined our key terms, let’s explore RUM vs. APM to see how they differ and learn how you can use them together to build better apps that deliver exemplary user experiences every time.

RUM is a subset of APM

RUM, on its own, won’t give you enough data to truly optimize your application. It can definitely help you identify the root causes of performance issues and a lack of availability. But it won’t let you know if there’s an error in a certain line of code that’s causing a specific problem, for example.

APM, on the other hand, is a comprehensive tool (or strategy, really) that measures all components of your application to ensure a seamless experience. APM tools automatically notify you of any performance issues that exist in your app or on your website. If there’s something wrong in your database or API that’s slowing your application down, leading APM tools will immediately alert you to precisely what that is. You don’t have to spend countless hours trying to figure it out.

APM can help with scalability; RUM cannot

If your software development team is trying to build an application that scales to accommodate an increasing amount of users, RUM tools by themselves won’t do the trick. This makes sense. Being able to measure how one individual user is experiencing your application doesn’t really give you much of an idea of how that application will perform when 100 times as many users are on it. On the other hand, if scalability is a top priority, you need an APM solution. There’s no other way around it.

Today’s strongest APM solutions provide end-to-end monitoring capabilities across your entire tech stack. The best tools are container-friendly and microservices-friendly, too. So no matter what your architecture looks like, you’ll be able to measure performance.

And there aren’t any guessing games to play, either. Tools like Raygun automatically identify the most pressing issues affecting your application. They can be prioritized, assigned, and discussed as a team. Raygun also integrates with the existing tools you use to ship software. So you don’t even have to adopt new workflows to build the best apps your team can.

RUM gives you a better idea of what the user experience is really like

RUM can help development teams continuously improve the user experience because it measures what individual users are doing and captures “who” data. Since RUM tools track individual users and not overall performance as a whole, software teams can essentially put themselves in their users’ shoes. It helps them thoroughly understand what their experience is like. This enables you to retrace an individual user’s path. You can see what led them to specific areas on your app or website and where they went next.

You might, for example, notice that your application is loading slowly for all of your users in Australia. Or that everyone who’s using Safari to access your website is having the same problem. With that data on hand, you can take immediate action to resolve any issues that exist to prevent additional users from having the same negative experiences.

Screenshot showing the RUM global dashboard

Keep in mind that, since RUM tools gather data on individual users, you need to look for solutions that offer strong privacy protections to ensure compliance with regulations like HIPAA and the GDPR. Otherwise, you could be on the hook for fines, sanctions, and lawsuits.

RUM extends beyond APM capabilities

While RUM is a subset of APM, it also has several features that fall outside of the umbrella of application performance monitoring.

As mentioned above, because RUM tools enable you to track the way individual users interact with your applications and websites, they can also help you figure out why your apps are crashing and where those obstacles are occurring.

This functionality isn’t really available in most APM solutions because they only provide insight into the back-end of the application, not the front-end.

What’s more, RUM tools can also help you map out the user journey. You can find out where people go when they open your app, which features they spend the most time with, and where they finally end up before they end their sessions and leave. With that data on hand, you can figure out how to optimize their experiences and keep them engaged for longer periods of time.

It’s not RUM vs APM. It’s RUM + APM.

The title of this article is a bit misleading.

You shouldn’t think about Real User Monitoring and application performance monitoring as two technologies that are competing against one another. It’s like wondering which is more important to the average developer: a laptop or a mobile device. You kind of need both of them to do your best work.

Simply put, RUM and APM are better together.

Any serious software development company needs to make APM a top priority. Otherwise, it’s hard to expect to build applications that truly add value for your users. As you continue refining your app and expanding your digital toolset, you should try to add RUM tools into the mix. That’s the ticket to consistently improving the user experience—which translates into more users, stronger experiences, and a healthier bottom line.

Learn more about how RUM and APM tools can help organizations like yours consistently deliver transformative experiences to your users by reading this case study.

Already convinced of the power of APM and RUM? Sign up for a free trial of Raygun today and see how your DevOps team can put APM and RUM tools to work to build even stronger apps.