In the context of software architecture, monolithic refers to an approach where an application is built as a single, unified unit rather than being divided into smaller, independent services. It describes a system design where all components and functionalities are tightly coupled and interdependent within a single codebase. Monolithic systems are traditionally characterized by having a single large executable or deployment artifact.

The term "monolithic" gained prominence when contrasting it with modular and microservices architectures. While monolithic architectures have been widely used in the past, they can become complex to maintain as the size of the application grows or when multiple teams work on different parts of the system simultaneously.

In a monolithic architecture, any changes or updates to one component often require rebuilding and redeploying the entire application. This can result in longer development cycles, increased risk, and difficulties in scaling and isolating individual functionalities. Additionally, since the components are tightly coupled, it can be challenging to adopt new technologies or make changes without affecting other parts of the system.

Despite their drawbacks, monolithic architectures can be simpler to develop and initially deploy compared to more distributed architectures like microservices. They are also suitable for smaller applications with limited scalability requirements or situations where the overhead of managing distributed systems outweighs the benefits. However, modern software development practices often favor more modular and loosely coupled architectures, such as microservices or serverless, to enable agility, scalability, and independent development and deployment of different components.

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