Back to basics

It seems that every time I get in a conversation with snugug he tells me to avoid leveraging frameworks Now I still stand by my belief that frameworks are inevitable however I thought I would give it a try with a small proof of concept. In fact I would try to use as few libraries as possible and try to  just use vanilla javascript.

Library freedom and curse

Normally I just use whatever libraries for development that the large framework suggest. So I use intern.io for testing Dojo, protractor for testing AngularJs, etc… On one hand this provides a immense amount of freedom and on the other hand adds significant overhead. Selecting a library is like selecting a restaurant for lunch next year from today’s yelp reviews. A thorough evaluation of the library capabilities, it’s community, and expected enhancements needs to be performed and alternatives considered. I can’t tell you how much time I lost comparing mocha to jasmine.

Even if you don’t leverage any libraries in your application and stick to standards you are faced with the very ugly truth. Not every browser implements standards the same way. Making up for this gap requires polyfills which results in the same overhead mentioned for selecting libraries.

Of course you could roll your own but frankly something as simple as XMLHttpRequest can be a nightmare. My favorite was finding out that in IE 9 the console object is undefined unless the developer tools are open. Don’t get me started about the hoops you need to jump though to get the PhantomJS Browser working.

Nothing more than NPM

Builds starts off simple and quickly gets very complicated. Gulp works especially well for complicated builds but it just ends up being more code to manage. The alternative is to just use NPM as a build tool. It works surprisingly well but I’m guessing there is an upper limit to how complicated your build can be since pre and post hooks can only get you so far. That being said I would suggest leveraging just NPM for build management until you actually need those additional capabilities. I should mention that I found it slower and sometimes wished I had used broccoli.

 Conclusion

Many years ago I was brought in to address a project that was drowning in technical debt. It was 60,000 lines of Perl code. The head developer at the time didn’t trust modules or 3rd party libraries. He wrote everything himself so he could optimize it. The result was 6 weeks to resolve a defect and the time to bring on new developers was 4 months.

My first order of business was to draw boxes around code, look for duplication with modules on CPAN, and replace them. The result was a more manageable 5,000 lines of code.  The interesting thing was performance got better. Mainly because even though the libraries were bigger they used new faster features of the language. The lesson I learned from that experience is you need to size your code for the resources maintaining it.

There is cost associated with using a framework, library, or micro-library. However there is also a cost with not using them. Shared code is always bloated but it gets updated more often with defect fixes and possibly faster techniques. I am not saying you should or should not use frameworks like Angular, React, Ember, etc… However you should understand your capabilities as a team and balance that against the end user experience.

This was a great experiment and as result I will only bring in frameworks as needed moving forward.

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