Posts categorized “Giraffe.Htmx”


December 7, 2021
  A Tour of myPrayerJournal v3: Conclusion

NOTE: This is the final post in a series; see the introduction for information on requirements and links to other posts in the series.

We’ve gone in depth on several different aspects of this application and the technologies it uses. Now, let’s zoom out and look at some big-picture lessons learned.

What I Liked

Generally speaking, I liked everything. That does not make for a very informative post, though, so here are a few things that worked really well.

Simplification Via htmx

One of the key concepts in a Representational State Transfer (REST) API is that of Hypermedia as the Engine of Application State (HATEOAS). In short, this means that the state of an application is held within the hypermedia that is exchanged between client and server; and, in practice, the server is responsible for altering that state. This is completely different from the JSON API / JavaScript framework model, even if they use GET, POST, PUT, and PATCH properly.

(This is a near over-simplification; the paper that initially proposed these concepts – in much, much more detail – earned its author a doctoral degree.)

The simplicity of this model is great; and, when I say “simplicity,” I am speaking of a lack of complexity, not a naïveté of approach. I was able to remove a large amount of complexity and synchronization from the client/server interactions between myPrayerJournal v2 and v3. State management used to be the most complex part of the application. Now, the most complex part is the HTML rendering; since that is what controls the state, though, this makes sense. I have 25 years of experience writing HTML, and even at its most complex, it simply is not.

LiteDB

This was a very simple application - and, despite its being open for any user with a Google or Microsoft account, I have been the only regular user of the application. LiteDB’s setup was easy, implementation was easy, and it performs really well. I suspect this would be the case with many concurrent users. If the application were to grow, and I find that my suspicion was not borne out by reality, I could create a database file per user, and back up the data directory instead of a specific file. As with htmx, the lack of complexity makes the application easily maintainable.

What I Learned

Throughout this entire series of posts, most of the content would fall under this heading. There are a few things that did not fit into those posts, though.

htmx Support in .NET

I developed Giraffe.Htmx as a part of this effort, and mentioned that I became aware of htmx on an episode of .NET Rocks!. The project I developed is very F#-centric, and uses features of the language that are not exposed in C# or VB.NET. However, there are two packages that work with the standard ASP.NET Core paradigm. Htmx provides server-side support for the htmx request and response headers, similar to Giraffe.Htmx, and Htmx.TagHelpers contains tag helpers for use in Razor, similar to what Giraffe.ViewEngine.Htmx does for Giraffe View Engine. Both are written by Khalid Abuhakmeh, a developer advocate at JetBrains (which generously licensed their tools to this project, and produces the best developer font ever).

While I did not use these projects, I did look at the source, and they look good. Open source libraries go from good to great by people using them, then providing constructive feedback (and pull requests, if you are able).

Write about Your Code

Yes, I’m cheating a bit with this one, as it was one of the takeaways from the v1 tour, but it’s still true. Writing about your code has several benefits:

  • You understand your code more fully.
  • Others can see not just the code you wrote, but understand the thought process behind it.
  • Readers can provide you feedback. (This may not always seem helpful; regardless of its tone, though, thinking through whether the point of their critique is justified can help you learn.)

And, really, knowledge sharing is what makes the open-source ecosystem work. Closed / proprietary projects have their place, but if you do something interesting, write about it!

What Could Be Better

Dove-tailing from the previous section, writing can also help you think through your code; if you try to explain it, and and have trouble, that should serve as a warning that there are improvements to be had. These are the areas where this project has room to get better.

Deferred Features

There were 2 changes I had originally planned for myPrayerJournal v3 that did not get accomplished. One is a new “pray through the requests” view, with a distraction-free next-card-up presentation. The other is that updating requests sends them to the bottom of the list, even if they have not been marked as prayed; this will require calculating a separate “last prayed” date instead of using the “as of” date from the latest history entry.

The migration introduced a third deferred change. When v1/v2 ran in the browser, the dates and times were displayed in the user’s local timezone. With the HTML being generated on the server, though, dates and times are now displayed in UTC. The purpose of the application is to focus the user’s attention on their prayer requests, not to make them have to do timezone math in their head! htmx has an hx-headers attribute that specifies headers to pass along with the request; I plan to use a JavaScript call to set a header on the body tag when a full page loads (hx-headers is inherited), then use that timezone to adjust it back to the user’s current timezone.

That LiteDB Mapping

I did a good bit of tap-dancing in the LiteDB data model and mapping descriptions, mildly defending the design decisions I had made there. The recurrence should be designed differently, and there should be individual type mappings rather than mapping the entire document. Yes, it worked for my purpose, and this project was more about Vue to htmx than ensuring a complete F#-to-LiteDB mapping of domain types. As I implement the features above, though, I believe I will end up fixing those issues as well.


Thank you for joining me on this tour; I hope it has been enjoyable, and maybe even educational.

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November 28, 2021
  A Tour of myPrayerJournal v3: The User Interface

NOTE: This is the second post in a series; see the introduction for information on requirements and links to other posts in the series.

If you are a seasoned Single Page Application (SPA) framework developer, you likely think about interactivity in a particular way. Initially, I focused on replacing each interactive piece in isolation. In the end, though, requests for “pages” returned almost everything but the HTML head info and the displayed footer - and I was happy about it. Keep that in mind as I walk you down the path I have already traveled; keep an open mind, and read to the end before forming strong opinions either way.

The $.05 Tour of Pug and Giraffe View Engine

Understanding the syntax of both Pug and Giraffe View Engine will help you if you click any of the source code example links. While a complete explanation of these two templating languages would make this long post much longer than it already is, here are some short examples of their syntax. Using a string variable who with the contents “World”, we will show both languages rendering:

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<p id="example" class="greeting">Hello <strong>World</strong></p>

myPrayerJournal v2 used Pug templates in Vue to render the user interface. Pug uses indentation-sensitive tag/content pairs (or blocks), with JavaScript syntax for attributes, to generate HTML. To generate the example paragraph, the shortest template would look like:

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p.greeting(id="example") Hello #[strong= who]

myPrayerJournal v3 uses Giraffe View Engine, which uses F# lists to generate HTML from a very HTML-looking domain-specific language (DSL). The example paragraph would be generated with:

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p [ _id "example"; _class "greeting" ] [ str "Hello "; strong [] [ who ] ]

Given those examples, let’s dig into the conversion.

The Menu

The menu across the top of the application was one of the first items I needed to convert. The menu needs to be different, depending on whether there is a user logged on or not. Also, if a user is logged on, the menu can still be different; the “Snoozed” menu item only appears if the user has any snoozed requests. The application uses Auth0 to manage users (which is how it is open to Microsoft and Google accounts), and I wanted to preserve this; my requests are tied to the ID provided by Auth0, so that did not need to change.

In the Vue version, the system used Auth0’s SPA library that exposed whether there was a user logged on or not. Also, once a user was logged on, the API sent all the user’s active requests, which included snoozed requests; once this API call returned, the application can turn on the “Snoozed” menu item. In the htmx version, though, this information is all generated on the server. My initial process was to use an hx-get to get the menu HTML snippet, using an hx-trigger of load to fill in this spot of the page when the page was loaded. I also (initially) implemented a custom HTML header to include in responses, and if that header was found, I would trigger a refresh on the menu; the eventual solution included the navbar in “page” refreshes.

(See the Vue “Navigation” component that became the Giraffe View Engine “navbar” function)

“New Page” in htmx

This leads directly into a discussion of how myPrayerJournal is still considered a SPA. In the Vue version, “pages” were Vue Single-File Components (SFCs) under the /components directory. (In the years since myPrayerJournal v1, the default Vue template has changed to place these SFCs under /views, while /components is reserved for shared components.) These view components rendered into a custom component within the main tag (using Vue router’s router-view tag), while the nav component was reactive, based on the user logging on/off and snoozing requests.

In myPrayerJournal v3, “page” views target the #top section element. If the request is for a full page load, the HTML head content is rendered, as is the body‘s footer content; none of these change until a new version of the application is released. If the request is an htmx request, though, the only thing rendered is a new #top section, which includes the navigation bar and the page content. While this does approach a full “page load”, there are some key differences:

  • The page contents are refreshed based on one HTTP request (no extra request or processing required for the navbar);
  • The HTML head content is responsible for most of the large HTTP requests, such as those for JavaScript libraries (and is excluded from non-full-page views);
  • The page footer is not included.

Note the difference between the full view layout and the partial layout. Also, within the application’s request handlers, there is a partial return function that determines whether this is an htmx-initiated page view request (in which case a partial view is returned) or a full page request (which returns the entire template).

Updating the Page Title

One of the most unexpectedly-vexing parts of a SPA is determining how the browser’s title bar will be updated when navigation occurs. (I understand why it’s challenging; what I do not understand is why it took major frameworks so long to devise a built-in way of handling this.) Coming from that world, I had originally implemented yet another custom header, pushing the title from the server, and used a request listener to update the title if the header was present. As I dug in further, though, I learned that htmx will update the document title any time a request payload has an HTML title element in its head. If you look at both layouts in the preceding paragraph, you’ll notice that they include a head element with a title tag. This is how easy it should be, and with htmx, this is how easy it is.

At this point, there is a pattern emerging. The thought process behind an htmx-powered website is much different than a JavaScript-based SPA framework; and, in the majority of cases, it has been less complex. Now, let me contradict what I just said.

POST-Redirect-GET

In myPrayerJournal v2, updating a prayer request followed this flow:

  • Display the edit page, with the request details filled in
  • When the user saved the request, return an empty 200 OK response
  • Using Vue, display a notification, refresh the journal, then re-render the page where the user had been when they clicked “Edit” (there are multiple places from which requests can be edited)

While there are no redirects here, this is the classic traditional-web-application scenario where the “POST-Redirect-GET” (P-R-G) pattern is used. By using this pattern, the “Back” button on the browser still works. If you try to go back to the result of a POST request, the browser will warn you that your action will result in the data being resubmitted (not usually what you want to do). By redirecting, though, the result of a POST becomes a GET, which does not change any data. For traditional web applications, this is the user-friendliest way to handle updates.

In the htmx examples, they show an example of inline editing. This led to my first plan - change the request edit “page” to be a component, where the HTML for the displayed list was replaced by the form, and then the “Save” action returns the new HTML. This requires no P-R-G, as these actions have no effect on the “Back” button. It worked fine, but there were some things that weren’t quite right:

  • New requests needed their own page; I was going to have to duplicate the edit form for the “new” page, and introduce some complexity in determining how to render the results.
  • Some updates required refreshing the list of requests, not just replacing the text and action buttons.

At this point, I was also starting to realize “if you think something is hard to do in htmx, you probably aren’t trying to do it correctly.” So, I decided to try to replicate the “edit page” flow of v2 in v3. Creating the page was easy enough, and I was able to use the returnTo parameter in the function to both provide a “Cancel” button and redirect the user to the right place after saving. Easy, right? Well… Not quite.

htmx uses XMLHttpRequest (XHR) to send its requests, which has some interesting behavior; it follows redirects! When I submitted my form, it received the request (with htmx’s HX-Request header set), and the server returned the redirect. XHR saw this, and followed it; however, it used the same method. (It was POSTing to the new URL.) The fix for this, though, was not easy to find, but easy to implement; use HTTP response code 303 (see other) instead of 307 (moved temporarily). Using this, combined with using hx-target="#top" on the form, allowed the P-R-G pattern to work successfully without double-POSTing and without a full-page refresh.

htmx Support in Giraffe and Giraffe View Engine

As I developed this, I was also building up extensions for Giraffe to handle the htmx request and response headers, as well as the attributes needed to generate htmx-aware markup from Giraffe View Engine. This project, called Giraffe.Htmx, is now published on NuGet. There are two packages; Giraffe.Htmx provides server-side support for the request and response headers, and Giraffe.ViewEngine.Htmx provides support for generating htmx attributes. I wrote about it when it was released, so I won’t rehash the entire thing here.

Final UI Thoughts

htmx is much less complex than any other front-end JavaScript SPA framework I have ever used - which, for context, includes Angular, Vue, React, Ember, Aurelia, and Elm. Both in development and in production use, I cannot tell that the payloads are slightly larger; navigation is fast and smooth. Though I have yet to change anything since going live with myPrayerJournal v3, I know that maintenance will be quite straightforward (to be further explored in the conclusion post).

The UI for myPrayerJournal uses Bootstrap, a UI framework which has its own script, and htmx plays quite nicely with it. The next post in this series will describe how I interact with both Bootstrap and htmx, using modals and toasts on this “traditional” web application.

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November 9, 2021
  Introducing Giraffe.Htmx

Giraffe is a library that sits atop ASP.NET Core and allows developers to build web applications in a functional style; dotnet new giraffe is literally my starting point when I begin a new web application project. (Rather than write three more sentences filled with effusive praise, I’ll just leave it at that; it’s great.) It also provides a view engine (that builds upon Suave‘s “experimental” view engine) which uses an F# DSL to define HTML in a strongly-typed way. It has been incredibly efficient for a while, but with .NET’s work over the past two releases at improving performance, and Giraffe’s adoption of those techniques, it is lightning fast.

htmx is a library that brings interactivity to HTML through the use of attributes and HTTP headers. Whereas projects like Vue, Angular, and React prescribe completely different programming paradigms than traditional web development, htmx provides partial-page-swapping and progressive enhancement within straight HTML. This brings a lot of the benefits of the SPA architecture to vanilla HTML, without requiring a completely different paradigm than the one we have used on the web for 30 years. In practice, this greatly reduces the complexity required to produce an interactive web application.

The Giraffe.Htmx project provides a bridge between these two libraries. The project consists of two different NuGut packages.

  • Giraffe.Htmx provides extensions to Giraffe (and its exposure of ASP.NET Core’s HttpContext) that expose the request headers which htmx uses, and provides Giraffe-style HttpHandlers to set htmx’s recognized response headers. The request headers are exposed as Options, and if present, are converted to the expected type. Response headers can be set in a similar way (i.e., passing true instead of "true" for a boolean header).
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let myHandler : HttpHander =
fun next ctx ->
match ctx.Request.HxPrompt with
| Some prompt -> ... // do something with the text the user provided
| None -> ... // the user provided no text (likely was not even prompted)
...
  • Giraffe.ViewEngine.Htmx extends Giraffe’s view engine with attribute functions (ex. _hxBoost equates to hx-boost="true") to generate HTML with htmx attributes. As with the headers, the values for each attribute are expected in their strongly-typed form, and the library handles the necessary string conversion. For attributes that have a defined set of values, there are also modules that provide those values; the example below demonstrates both the attributes and the HxTrigger module.
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let autoLoad =
div [ _hxGet "/this/endpoint"; _hxTrigger HxTrigger.Load ] [ str "Loading..." ]

Head over to the project site for NuGet links and more examples!

p.s. As of this writing, the current (and only) version of this library is at v0.9.1. Both libraries should be ready for development use. For Giraffe.ViewEngine.Htmx, I intend to write helpers for hx-headers and hx-vals that will allow a list of string * string tuples to be passed. I also need to write READMEs for both NuGet packages. Once those are done, this will be v1-ready.

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