Wednesday 29 June 2016

ReactJS - Early Thoughts

It is very-much a recruiter's term but I, like many who started out with "back-end" skills, am endeavouring to be a proper Full Stack Developer.

I have always been comfortable with HTML, and first applied a CSS rule (inline) waaay back in the Netscape 3.0 days:
  <a href="..." style="text-decoration: none;">Link</a>
I'm pretty sure there were HTML frames involved there too. Good times. Anyway, the Javascript world had always been a little too wild-and-crazy for me to get deeply into; browser support sucked, the "standard library" kinda sucked, and people had holy wars about how to structure even the simplest code.

Up to about 2015, I'd been happy enough with the basic tools - JQuery for DOM-smashing and AJAX, Underscore/Lodash for collection-manipulation, and bringing in Bootstrap's JS library for a little extra polish. The whole thing based on full HTML being rendered from a traditional multi-tiered server, ideally written in Scala. I got a lot done this way.

I had a couple of brushes with Angular (1.x) along the way and didn't really see the point; the Angular code was always still layered on top of "perfectly-good" HTML from the server. It was certainly better-structured than the usual JQuery mess but the hundreds of extra kilobytes to be downloaded just didn't seem to justify themselves.

Now this year, I've been working with a Real™ Front End project - that is, one that stands alone and consumes JSON from a back-end. This is using Webpack, Babel, ES6, ReactJS and Redux as its principal technologies. After 6 weeks of working on this, here are some of my first thoughts:
  • Good  ES6 goes a long way to making Javascript feel grown-up
  • Bad The whole Webpack-Babel-bundling thing feels really rough - so much configuration, so hard to follow
  • Good React-Hot-Reloading is super, super-nice. Automatic browser reloads that keep state are truly magic
  • Bad You can still completely, silently toast a React app with a misplaced comma ...
  • Good  ... but ESLint will probably tell you where you messed up
  • Bad It's still Javascript, I miss strong typing ...
  • Good  ... but React PropTypes can partly help to ensure arguments are there and (roughly) the right type
  • Good  Redux is a really neat way of compartmentalising state and state transitions - super-important in front-ends
  • Good  The React Way of flowing props down through components really helps with code structure

So yep, there were more Goods than Bads - I'm liking React, and I'm finally feeling like large apps can be built with JavaScript, get that complete separation between back- and front-ends, and be maintainable and practical for multiple people to work on concurrently. Stay tuned for more!