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October 07, 2013

Javascript and SPA's, as seen by a long-time Python developer

I love Python and have posted a number of Python tips on this blog. And I've been involved in the creation of sizable web sites using Django.

But I've come to feel that for many types of web sites, doing all the rendering on the server and shipping the rendered page to the browser is probably not be the best way to go. Certainly, I'm not the first to come to that conclusion. Google Docs is a phenomenal example of what can be done in a "single page app" (SPA) rendered in the browser. There are many others.

In the course of investigating the various technologies for creating SPA's, one thing I've come to appreciate about that strategy is that you may not need much of a server at all. If you use something like Firebase for your database, you may need nothing more than a means of serving static html and JavaScript files on your server. And then you can use a CDN like CloudFlare to keep you online even if that server is temporarily down. All these factors together can eliminate an enormous amount of overhead in server administration.

Eliminating such overhead seems like it could be very helpful for my goal of creating my next project entirely by myself.

Unfortunately, JavaScript is (IMO) not nearly as nice a language as Python. But if used according to certain patterns, such as described in the famous JavaScript: The Good Parts, a lot of its deficiencies are mitigated, and then it's really not so bad. And most modern JavaScript libraries use the language in that way, so the ecosystem as a whole supports you in that.

Javascript even has Python-like constructions such as list comprehensions. And there are other languages that compile to JavaScript and can be fairly easily integrated into JavaScript projects, such as CoffeeScript -- which itself is Python-like in a number of ways, including semantic indentation. 

You can put together tools such as Firebase, Knockout and KnockoutFire to cause changes in your database to automatically and near-instantaneously show up on-screen in your SPA with trivially little code through data-binding. Of course, there are ways of doing that with a framework like Django as well, but data-binding is integral to the way some SPA frameworks operate.

Lately I've been experimenting with Durandal as my SPA framework. It incorporates Knockout, and I'm using KnockoutFire to connect it to a Firebase database. Using a framework like Durandal provides organization for your code, and provides facilities like routing.

So far, I'm very impressed. The main drawback (other than already-noted inherent weaknesses in Javascript itself) is that the documentation and ecosystems of long-existing, high-profile projects like Django are much more evolved. But those things will get better in time, and I'm looking forward to continuing my explorations with Durandal and Firebase.

October 7, 2013 in Python | Permalink

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