Any time I see the latest “I Hate AngularJS and So Should You” article I always skip straight to the end because that’s the very best part of all of them. It’s the fun part where we get to hear what the author of this particular piece is going to advocate you use instead. Here are the usual suspects and my highly uncharitable response to each one:
I’m writing my own framework now
Bonus points for this one if it’s accompanied by a link to their new half formed idea on Github. It should continue getting commits for at least a couple of months.
There are literally dozens of front-end frameworks at this point, but theirs is going to be way better than any of them. Look, there’s really only one or two guys who will work on it, but they are stellar programmers. God knows they are going to do a much better job than programmers at Google, Facebook, or the likes of Yehuda Katz and Tom Dale.
TodoMVC is beginning to look like one of those four page resumes you get these days with all of the “frameworks” that they have examples for. If you don’t believe me, be sure to look at their “Labs” tab. Yes, they have so many they had to put in tabs.
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha hahahaha haha ha ha ha ha. Oh god. I may have hurt myself. This person is so upset about how “heavy weight” AngularJS is and “complex”. Look for lots of mentions of how things should be “minimal” and “simple” and at least one mention of how many lines of code Backbone.js is vs. the object of their derision. I figure their house looks like this:
I did Backbone.js for two years, that’s why when I went somewhere new I put them on AngularJS instead. I really hope the people who advocate going back to Backbone.js have to work on a large team of mixed skill level developers. The unskilled ones will make a hash of any framework but what they can do with Backbone.js is just amazing.
That New Framework That You Just Heard About on Hacker News Two Weeks Ago
This is the framework from author #1 above. It’s going to solve all the ridiculous mistakes that AngularJS made and probably all of those from the other major frameworks as well at the same time. Ultimately it won’t get anymore updates, but that’s OK because it only got used on one project before our author realized it not only had as many problems as the major frameworks but many many more. Plus it gives him/her an opportunity to tweet about the abandonment of this framework and the excitement for the next new one.
The Chinese Menu Framework
This is the idea that sticking together a bunch of different best-of-breed pieces to make your own framework is perfectly viable. Just pick something from columns A/B/C/D and start using it. You’ll find lots of people who can answer your questions, there are many books and videos for that particular combo of tech, and there are developers out there by the hundreds you can hire who will have no problem diving right into your projects.
Ha ha. I’m kidding. It doesn’t really work that way. Pick an arbitrary grab bag of stuff and maybe you’ll make some excellent choices. But you’ll have to live with that decision for quite a while. Even a less popular stack like Ember.js is going to get more third party support than whatever you decide upon for yourself.
Again, I council rationality
Above all, please do a quick experiment for me. The next time somebody tells you that AngularJS is a dead end and you can’t rely on it for years to come, ask them what they would have recommended back in 2013? Just two years ago. What set of stuff would they have advocated then that would be doing so well today and have this long lived future into 2017+ that wasn’t AngularJS? Backbone.js? I don’t know of anything.
AngularJS is not perfect. I’m not about to say that it is. It has problems, over time they’ve been worked on and reduced. I’m sure if I went and picked up React/Flux/Relay/whatever (come on Facebook, give a name to your stack!) or Ember.js I’d see much the same things. Lots of great people are working on them and they have thousands of adopters. Most of the time for most projects it works pretty well.
If you’re having problems with AngularJS it may be that you need to learn more, look at some open source, maybe even pull in a mentor with more experience. Alternatively, if you’re struggling and you think you’ve put in more than enough effort, look at one of the major alternatives and see if it works better for you. I haven’t put in as much time on Ember.js but I’ve looked at Facebook’s offering and it is very different than what Google put together.
By far, the most successful open source thing I’ve done in years is the project I called airquotes. It was my first project built using AngularJS and I published it early on to give others a chance to see something finished which had been built using it other than a to-do list.
Since then I’ve built some other projects outside of my day job using AngularJS and though not particularly profitable they are diverse (to say the least) and I’ve decided I’d like to open source them as well to see if they can help people.
The first up is PaperQuik (PaperQuik.com). It’s an app which asks a few simple questions and then generates a printable sheet of paper (lined, dot paper, graph paper, etc.) in the browser. Unlike most sites like this, it doesn’t just have a canned set of PDF files it dispenses, nor does it have a server process building them. Instead it uses the HTML5 canvas to draw an image of the paper and then helps you print that image.
The second project is ClearAndDraw (ClearAndDraw.com). It’s a simple webapp that I threw together in just a few evenings because I wanted to keep track of my cards and dice for the game Marvel Dicemasters: Avengers vs. X-Men. It’s not nearly as complicated as the paper generation in PaperQuik, but it does show real time filtering using AngularJS and it stores all of the information you give it in localStorage of the user’s browser so it doesn’t forget anything they enter.
I also took an evening and updated airquotes to the current version of AngularJS (1.2.25) and deployed it to a GitHub page so people can play with it without having to deploy it locally (like PaperQuik and ClearAndDraw).
1. You’re constantly transporting state back and forth between client and server (and often neglecting to do so).
The next time you’re in GMail, notice something interesting about selecting emails. If you check several emails for a mass operation and then realize you’re not altogether sure about one email, so you click to read it, then you come back out to the list, the same emails are still checked. Now do the same test in an app written in any of the classic Java, PHP, Python, etc. frameworks. In those, when the user clicks on the email to view it:
- In all likelihood it was just a link so all of the client-side state (the checked and unchecked checkboxes) is immediately discarded by the browser.
2. It’s slow, slow, and did I mention slow?
- The development cycle itself is slower. I can throw up a temporary API using a variety of tools (or mock it client side using something like $httpBackend) and start work on the UI immediately. As I make each change I just have to refresh the browser to see my change in place. In fact, if I use tools like the Grunt server the browser refresh is automatically triggered when I save a changed file so I can just glance over at it and evaluate the results without leaving my code.
Most server side frameworks involve a compilation step of some type (for example, Java’s JSPs are translated to servlets and then those are compiled to a byte code for the VM). Thus I have a longer wait to view each change I make.
- Users get tired of every thing they click upon meaning another trip to the server. If they just looked at that data a minute ago, it may well be in memory locally so showing it again is free. But if I have to go to the server again to get it re-rendered for re-display, I can get really old fast. I think we can all point to a site where we are frequently frustrated by the slow performance.
- And why is it slow? Well, because it’s not just persisting data and performing queries on it, it’s also combining that data with HTML templates of some flavor to generate full pages and doing so over and over and over again. More work for the server means more servers needed, more time spent on performance tuning, etc.
3. It’s a more complicated programming model.
- For many frameworks, lots of middle tier complexity can leak into the pages, making them way more complicated than HTML and thus much harder for designers (and programmers) to work on. I’ve seen this most often in frameworks where designers are expected not to use standard HTML. Instead they’re supposed to use perfect XML where every tag perfectly matches a closing tag and not a bracket is out of place, or they can’t use the <a>, <form>, <input>, etc. tags, instead each has some replacement which is supposed to be used which typically functions about 70% or so the same as the regular tag.
- I loved this recent quote about JSF, a technology that I rejected at a previous employer because it was very clear that it was designed by committee and not extracted from real projects (like say Ruby on Rails):
4. Debugging is much more complicated.
Something as simple as how some HTML is rendering may require me to setup a debugger on a server on a remote machine because it is being generated from an intermediate file and data on the server.
Mine is not a real software rant, I wrote it tongue-in-cheek after reading one just this week which spun up a bunch of people. Like most of the others, I skipped gracefully past some problems:
- I also skipped over the fact that there are browsers like older versions of IE where the debuggers are very poor and debugging can be just as painful client-side as it is for server-side.
Every framework that has achieved some level of popularity or notoriety has had its share of famous rants (Rails is a Ghetto, Node.js is stupid, and if you use it, so are you!, Why we left AngularJS which has since been renamed to 5 surprisingly painful things about client-side JS). Somebody doesn’t like the language, the framework, the community which goes with it and in frustration they vent. Sometimes they’re right about their complaints and sometimes they’re wrong, often it’s somewhere in between. Just relax and try to read it with an eye to whether the points being made are good ones and ignore the vitriol.
Recently I had to do an interface at work where there were a list of items, each with a separate checkbox, and a separate “all” checkbox which would check or uncheck all of them. At first that doesn’t seem very complicated but it’s an easy interface to mess up because you want the “all” to become checked if the user manually selects every child checkbox. Or conversely, if “all” is checked then you want it to automatically uncheck if even one child is unchecked.
My page had three separate sections with different lists and an all checkbox for each one. I had done my original design with an extra $scope variable representing the “all” checkbox and used a watch, but it still managed to mess up in certain circumstances. It was overly complicated and didn’t work 100% of the time. So my colleague challenged me to build it without the extra $scope variable because he was certain that was the key to getting a flawless solution. Now that I’ve done it, I agree completely.
Here’s a Plnkr with a running copy of the code so you can play with it: http://plnkr.co/IQA9kq
But I just wanted to point out that what makes this work is really this line here. Instead of having the “all” checkbox reflect some variable via ng-model binding, I’ve just hooked it to two functions which handle the action it should perform (no more watch) and another which governs when it does and doesn’t appear checked.
<input type="checkbox" ng-click="allNeedsClicked()" ng-checked="allNeedsMet()" />All needs
In the next day or two I’m going to add this one to my AngularJS example page but I figured if I wrote about it now I would be more likely to get it done.
- Don’t try to sequence operations from the front-end. I once answered a question on Stack Overflow where the asker wanted to know about how to sequence a seven step process for paying for something. I answered it once telling how to do it and then again to say never to do that. You should not have your front-end be the conductor and the back-end be the orchestra. If you do, you will be sorry because eventually someone will lose their web connection, close their laptop, or just shut down their browser in the middle of your carefully choreographed sequence. Instead, always try to make API calls from front to back that provide complete units of work, complete transactions with all the information needed for multi-step operations so you won’t end up with only part of an operation completing.
- Please, don’t be afraid to reject some ancient browsers. There’s good code out there to help you do it and make it look nice, but ultimately you’re doing yourself, your users, and everybody else a service if you refuse service for IE 6/7/8 and maybe more than that depending upon your needs.