Usability - Productivity - Business - The web - Singapore & Twins

Designing a Web Frontend Development Workflow

In the the web 'you can do anything' extends to how you develop too. With every possible path open, most developers, me included, lack direction - at least initially. To bring order to the mess I will document considerations and approaches to design a development workflow that makes sense. It will be opinionated, with probably changing opinions along the way.
Firstly I will outline design goals, then tools at hand to finally propose a solution approach.

Design Goals

With the outcome in mind it becomes easier to discover the steps. The design golas don't have equal weight and depending on your preferences you might add or remove some of them
  1. Designed for the professional
    The flow needs to make life easier when you know what you are doing. It doesn't need to try to hide any complexity away. It shall take the dull parts away from the developer, so (s)he can focus on functionality and code
  2. Easy to get started
    Some scaffolding shall allow the developer to have an instant framework in place that can be modified, adjusted and extended. That might be a scaffolding tool, a clonable project or a zip file
  3. Convention over configuration
    A team member or a new maintainer needs to be able to switch between different projects and 'feel at home' in all of them. This requires (directory) structures, procedural steps and conventions to be universal. A simple example: how do you start your application locally? Will it be npm start or gulp serve or grunt serve or nodemon or ?
  4. Suitable for team development
    Both the product code and the build script need to be modular. When one developer is adding a route and the needed functionality for module A, it must not conflict with code another developer writes for module B. This rules out central routing files, manual addition of css and js files
  5. Structured by function, not code type
    A lot of the example out there put templates in on directory, controllers in another and directives yet into another. A better way is to group them by module, so files live together in a single location (Strongly influenced by a style guide)
  6. Suitable for build automation
    Strongly influenced by Bluemix Build & Deploy I grew fond of: check in code into the respective branch (using git-flow) and magically the running version appears on the dev, uat or production site. When using a Jenkins based approach that means that the build script needs to be self contained (short of having to install node/npm) and can't rely on tools in the global path
  7. React to changes
    A no-brainer: when editing a file, be it in an editor or an ide, the browser needs to reload the UI. Depending on the file (e.g. less or typescript) a compile step needs to happen. Bonus track: newly appearing files are handled too
  8. One touch extensibility
    When creating a new module or adding a new dependency there must not be a need of a "secondary" action like adding the JS or CSS definition to the index.html or manually adding a central route file to make that known
  9. Testable
    The build flow needs to have provisions to run unit tests, integration tests, code coverage reports, cshint, jslint, trace-analysis etc. Code that "oh it does work" isn't enough. Code needs to pass tests and style conventions. The tests need to be able to run in the build automation too
  10. Extensible and maintainable
    Basing a workflow on a looooong build script turns easily into a maintenance task from hell. A collection of chainable tasks/modules/files can keep that in check
  11. Minimalistic (on the output)
    Keep the network out of the user experience. A good workflow minimizes both the number of calls as well as the size of http transmission. While in development all modules need to be nicely separated, in production I want as little as possible css, html and js files. So once the UI is loaded any calls on the network are limited to application data and not application logic or layout
A very good starting point is John Papa's Yeoman generator HotTowel. It's not perfect: the layout overwrites the index.html on each new dependency/module violating goal #4 and it depends on outdated gulp modules - goal #10 (I had some fun when I tried to swap gulp-minify-css, as recommended, for gulp-cssnano and thereafter font-awesome wouldn't load since the minified css had a line comment in front of the font definition). I also don't specifically like/care (for my use case) to have the server component in the project. I usually keep them separate and just proxy my preview to my server project.

Tools at hand

There are quite some candidates: gulp, grunt, bower, bigrig, postman, yeoman, browserify, Webpack, Testling and many others. Some advocate npm scripts to be sufficient.
In a nutshell: there are plenty of options.
One interesting finding: Sam Saccone did research what overhead es6 a.k.a es2015 has over current es5. TypeScript (using browserify) performed quite well. This makes it a clear candidate, especially when looking at AngularJS 2
Next up: Baby steps

Posted by on 19 February 2016 | Comments (0) | categories: JavaScript Software WebDevelopment


  1. No comments yet, be the first to comment