lördag 27 februari 2021

Interactive Web Development

The workflow for developing web apps has been very much the same for quite some time, even if the tools have evolved and the programming languages have changed.

Write some code, save the file, switch to the browser window, hit the refresh button and wait.

Sometimes there has even been a couple of extra steps in between: write, save, compile, restart, switch to the browser, refresh, wait and repeat. The problem with this is that - at least for me - the focus on the actual problem to solve is paused or even worse: lost.

"Write code,
Switch to the browser window,
Hit the refresh button,
Wait ...
Now, where was I?"

But there’s hope!

đŸ”„ Hot Reloading

With a modern development environment, you can use automation to get rid of some of the noice. Your code editor can probably be configured to detect when a file has changed and automatically save it.

With tools like Webpack for JavaScript and Shadow-cljs for ClojureScript, you can reload a running development web server - even replace code while the web server is running without loosing the current state. This is often called Hot Reloading and makes the development workflow a lot smoother than before. Very cool.

đŸ§± Building blocks

I really like the way React has solved problems with web development in general. React simplifies how you can separate features into components. At the same time, it promotes grouping relevant markup and code, by combining JavaScript & HTML into the JSX syntax. I think helps with keeping focus on the actual problem solving, with less navigating and flipping between files in the code editor. Good stuff.

♻️ The Virtual DOM

The Virtual DOM will give instant feedback when data has changed. The DOM is changed on the fly, without the need for page reloads or server side rendering. This is done by calculating the current state of the browser DOM and an in-memory copy of it. When there is a change in the copy, the relevant parts of the browser DOM will change. Really nice.

🩄 The Developer Superpower

Recently, I’ve learned about a really cool workflow called REPL Driven Development. I have used a REPL before, but have always thought of it as something that is used in a shell for some quick testing, not in the actual code editor. But with Clojure, this is the way we work. While you are in the editor, thinking, writing and looking at the code, you can evaluate it and get instant feedback. You can trigger events, browse state and even query the browser DOM! This is possible thanks to the Interactive REPL.

It’s almost like Magic. đŸ€©

I think this is unique to Clojure and ClojureScript. I’m not sure why this superpower doesn’t seem to exist elsewhere, but it probably has something to do with the structure of the language itself: code and data share structure and syntax.


✨This is Interactive Web Development

By combining hot reloading, building blocks & the virtual DOM with the Interactive REPL - we have something that I would like to call Interactive Web Development.

Arrange your code editor side-to-side with a browser window, to get instant feedback from both the user interface and the functionality when evaluating and experimenting with the code during development.


Photo at the top by Nong Vang on Unsplash

Have a look at my Func Prog Sweden second 2021 talk at YouTube that is covering this topic too. Direct link: ClojureScript: React with a Hiccup

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