Tools for building web applications
I’ve been building web applications for a year or so now. In this article I plan to share a few tools I’ve found useful.
Have a solid asset pipeline
In development, assets should be served via something that compiles them on-the-fly. Compilation failures need to be really obvious. You should never have to worry about whether you’re looking at the latest version.
Being stuck on rails 2.3.x for the moment, I am using Barista (gem install barista). Note that this solution can often end up serving outdated files (in development; production has been rock solid)
The sprockets-based pipeline in Rails 3.1beta is a far superior solution if you have the option of running the latest version.
Frameworks can save you a lot of time
EDIT: The front-end landscape has moved a long way in 5 years. These tools were a good way to build things at the time. I use and recommend coffeescript, jQuery, underscore.js, backbone.js (edit: dead link) and haml.js.
For example (using all of them at once):
class BB.views.RichText extends Backbone.View template: JST['rich_text_editing'] initialize: (options) -> @model.bind "change", @render _.extend(BB.Wysiwyg) # Import rich text editing module render: => e = $(@el) e.html @template(this) e.data('view', this) this
I plan to write an entire post on how I approach testing this kind of app. For the moment let me say that having a solid test suite will save you a heap of time. I use jasmine.js for my suite, along with the matchers from the jQuery-jasmine plugin.
For example: describe “PhoneNumber”, -> beforeEach -> @phone = new BB.models.PhoneNumber
describe "isBlank", -> it "is true if text and number are blank", -> @phone.set(text: "", number: "") expect(@phone.isBlank()).toEqual true
Use JSON for transport
There are a few ways to get data from a server to a client:
It’s really convenient for the first week or three, but it gets very, very painful as complexity grows. Don’t do it.
You’ll have to write something to serialize/deserialize your data on the client, which is extra maintenance effort. Not bad otherwise.
Our apps used to do this - there was pages of dense parsing code.
This is really the best way to go - most of the strengths of XML without writing a line of code. The general pattern is:
updateContentFromUrl:(url) -> self = this @get(url, (parsedJsonForContent) -> model = new BB.models.Content(parsedJsonForContent) view = new BB.views.ContentView(model: model) self.element.find(".results").append view.render().el )