Posts tagged “vue”


November 29, 2021
  A Tour of myPrayerJournal v3: Bootstrap Integration

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

Many modern Single Page Application (SPA) frameworks include (or have plugins for) CSS transitions and effects. Combined with the speed of not having to do a full refresh, this is one of their best features. One might not think that a framework like htmx, which simply swaps out sections of the page, would have this; but if one were to think that, one would be wrong. Sadly, though, I did not utilize those aspects of htmx while I was migrating myPrayerJournal from v2 to v3; however, I will highlight the htmx way to do this in last section of this post.

myPrayerJournal v2 used a Vue plugin that provided Bootstrap v4 support; myPrayerJournal v3 uses Bootstrap v5. The main motivation I had to remain with Bootstrap was that I liked the actual appearance, and I know how it works. The majority of my “learning” on this project dealt with htmx; I did not want to add a UI redesign to the mix. Before we jump into the implementation, let me briefly explain the framework.

About Bootstrap

Bootstrap was originally called Twitter Bootstrap; it was the CSS framework that Twitter developed in their early iterations. It was, by far, the most popular framework at the time, and it was innovative in its grid layout system. Long before there was browser support for the styles that make layouts much easier to develop, and more responsive to differing screen sizes, Bootstrap’s grid layout and size breakpoints made it easy to build a website that worked for desktop, tablet, or phone. Of course, there is a limit to what you can do with styling, so Bootstrap also has a JavaScript library that augments these styles, enabling the interactivity to which the modern web user is accustomed.

Version 5 of Bootstrap continues this tradition; however, it brings in even more utility classes, and supports Flex layouts as well. It is a mature library that continues to be maintained, and the project’s philosophy seems to be “just enough” - it’s not going to do everything for everyone, but in the majority of cases, it has exactly what the developer needs. It is not a bloated library that needs tree-shaking to avoid a ridiculous download size.

It is, by far, the largest payload in the initial page request:

  • Bootstrap - 48.6 kB (CSS is 24.8 kB; JavaScript is 23.8 kB, deferred until after render)
  • htmx - 11.8 kB
  • myPrayerJournal - 4.4 kB (CSS is 1.2 kB, JavaScript is 3.2 kB)

However, this gets the entire style and script, and allows us to use their layouts and interactive components. But, how do we get that interactivity from the server?

Hooking in to the htmx Request Pipeline

htmx provides several events to which an application can listen. In myPrayerJournal v3, I used htmx:afterOnLoad because I did not need the new content to be swapped in yet when the function fired. There are afterSwap and afterSettle events which will fire once those events have occurred, if you need to defer processing until those are complete.

There are two different Bootstrap script-driven components myPrayerJournal uses; let’s take a look at toasts.

A Toast to Via htmx

Toasts are pop-up notifications that appear on the screen, usually for a short time, then fade out. In some cases, particularly if the toast is alerting the user to an error, it will stay on the screen until the user dismisses it, usually by clicking an “x” in the upper right-hand corner (even if the developer used a Mac!). Bootstrap provides a host of options for their toast component; for our uses, though, we will:

  • Place toasts in the bottom right-hand corner;
  • Allow multiple toasts to be visible at once;
  • Auto-hide success toasts; require others to be dismissed manually.

There are several different aspects that make this work.

The Toaster

Just like IRL toast comes out of a toaster, our toasts need a place from which to emerge. In the prior post, I mentioned that the footer does not get reloaded when a “page” request is made. There is also an element above the footer that also remains across these requests - defined here as the “toaster” (my term, not Bootstrap’s).

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/// Element used to display toasts
let toaster =
div [ _ariaLive "polite"; _ariaAtomic "true"; _id "toastHost" ] [
div [ _class "toast-container position-absolute p-3 bottom-0 end-0"; _id "toasts" ] []
]

This renders two empty divs with the appropriate style attributes; toasts placed in the #toasts div will display as we want them to.

Showing the Toast

Bootstrap provides data- attributes that can make toasts appear; however, since we are creating these in script, we need to use their JavaScript functions. The message coming from the server has the format TYPE|||The message. Let’s look at the showToast function (the largest custom JavaScript function in the entire application):

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const mpj = {
// ...
showToast (message) {
const [level, msg] = message.split("|||")

let header
if (level !== "success") {
const heading = typ => `<span class="me-auto"><strong>${typ.toUpperCase()}</strong></span>`

header = document.createElement("div")
header.className = "toast-header"
header.innerHTML = heading(level === "warning" ? level : "error")

const close = document.createElement("button")
close.type = "button"
close.className = "btn-close"
close.setAttribute("data-bs-dismiss", "toast")
close.setAttribute("aria-label", "Close")
header.appendChild(close)
}

const body = document.createElement("div")
body.className = "toast-body"
body.innerText = msg

const toastEl = document.createElement("div")
toastEl.className = `toast bg-${level === "error" ? "danger" : level} text-white`
toastEl.setAttribute("role", "alert")
toastEl.setAttribute("aria-live", "assertlive")
toastEl.setAttribute("aria-atomic", "true")
toastEl.addEventListener("hidden.bs.toast", e => e.target.remove())
if (header) toastEl.appendChild(header)

toastEl.appendChild(body)
document.getElementById("toasts").appendChild(toastEl)
new bootstrap.Toast(toastEl, { autohide: level === "success" }).show()
},
// ...
}

Here’s what’s going on in the code above:

  • Line 4 splits the level from the message
  • Lines 6-20 (let header) create a header and close button if the message is not a success
  • Lines 22-24 (const body) create the body div with attributes Bootstrap’s styling expects
  • Lines 26-30 (const toastEl) create the div that will contain the toast
  • Line 31 adds an event handler to remove the element from the DOM once the toast is hidden
  • Lines 32 and 34 add the optional header and mandatory body to the toast div
  • Line 35 adds the toast to the page (within the toasts inner div defined above)
  • Line 36 initializes the Bootstrap JavaScript component, auto-hiding on success, and shows the toast

(If you’ve never used JavaScript to create elements that are added to an HTML document, this probably looks weird and verbose; if you have, you look at it and think “well, they’re not wrong…”)

So, we have our toaster, we know how to put bread notifications in it - but how do we get the notifications from the server?

Receiving the Toast

The code to handle this is part of the htmx:afterOnLoad handler:

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htmx.on("htmx:afterOnLoad", function (evt) {
const hdrs = evt.detail.xhr.getAllResponseHeaders()
// Show a message if there was one in the response
if (hdrs.indexOf("x-toast") >= 0) {
mpj.showToast(evt.detail.xhr.getResponseHeader("x-toast"))
}
// ...
})

This looks for a custom HTTP header of X-Toast (all headers are lowercase from that xhr call), and if it’s found, we pass the value of that header to the function above. This check occurs after every htmx network request, so there is nothing special to configure; “page” requests are not the only requests capable of returning a toast notification.

There is one more part; how does the toast get to the browser?

Sending the Toast

The last paragraph gave it away; we set a header on the response. This seems straightforward, and is in most cases; but once again, POST-Redirect-GET (P-R-G) complicates things. Here are the final two lines of the successful path of the request update handler:

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Messages.pushSuccess ctx "Prayer request updated successfully" nextUrl
return! seeOther nextUrl next ctx

If we set a message in the response header, then redirect (remember that XMLHttpRequest handles redirects silently), the header gets lost in the redirect. Here, Messages.pushSuccess places the success message (and return URL) in a dictionary, indexed by the user’s ID. Within the function that renders every result (partial, “page”-like, or full results), this dictionary is checked for a message and URL, and if one exists, it includes it. (If it is returned to the function below, it has already been removed from the dictionary.)

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/// Send a partial result if this is not a full page load (does not append no-cache headers)
let partialStatic (pageTitle : string) content : HttpHandler =
fun next ctx -> backgroundTask {
let isPartial = ctx.Request.IsHtmx && not ctx.Request.IsHtmxRefresh
let! pageCtx = pageContext ctx pageTitle content
let view = (match isPartial with true -> partial | false -> view) pageCtx
return!
(next, ctx)
||> match user ctx with
| Some u ->
match Messages.pop u with
| Some (msg, url) -> setHttpHeader "X-Toast" msg >=> withHxPush url >=> writeView view
| None -> writeView view
| None -> writeView view
}

A quick overview of this function:

  • Line 4 determines if this an htmx boosted request (a “page”-like requests)
  • Line 5 creates a rendering context for the page
  • Line 6 renders the view to a string, calling partial or view with the page rendering context
  • Lines 10-13 are only executed if a user is logged on, and line 12 is the one that appends a message and a new URL

A quick note about line 12: the >=> operator joins Giraffe HttpHandlers together. An HttpHandler takes an HttpContext and the next function to be executed, and returns a Task<HttpContext option> (an asynchronous call that may or may not return a context). If there is no context returned, the chain stops; the function can also return an altered context. It is good practice for an HttpHandler to make a single change to the context; this keeps them simple, and allows them to be plugged in however the developer desires. Thus, the setHttpHeader call adds the X-Toast header, the withHxPush call adds the HX-Push header, and the writeView call sets the response body to the rendered view.

The new URL part does not actually make the browser do anything; it simply pushes the given URL onto the browser’s history stack. Technically, the browser receives the content from the P-R-G as the response to its POST; as we’re replacing the current page, though, we need to make sure the URL stays in sync.

Of note is that not all toasts are this complex. For example, the “cancel snooze” handler return looks like this:

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return! (withSuccessMessage "Request unsnoozed" >=> Components.requestItem requestId) next ctx

…while the withSuccessMessage handler is:

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/// Add a success message header to the response
let withSuccessMessage : string -> HttpHandler =
sprintf "success|||%s" >> setHttpHeader "X-Toast"

No dictionary, no redirect, just a single response that will show a toast.

You made it - the toast section is toast! There is one more interesting interaction, though; that of the modal dialog.

Bootstrap’s implementation of modal dialogs also uses JavaScript; however, for the purposes of the modals used in myPrayerJournal v3, we can use the data- attributes to show them. Here is the view for a modal dialog that allows the user to snooze a request (hiding it from the active list until the specified date); this is rendered a single time on the journal view page:

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div [
_id "snoozeModal"
_class "modal fade"
_tabindex "-1"
_ariaLabelledBy "snoozeModalLabel"
_ariaHidden "true"
] [
div [ _class "modal-dialog modal-sm" ] [
div [ _class "modal-content" ] [
div [ _class "modal-header" ] [
h5 [ _class "modal-title"; _id "snoozeModalLabel" ] [ str "Snooze Prayer Request" ]
button [ _type "button"; _class "btn-close"; _data "bs-dismiss" "modal"; _ariaLabel "Close" ] []
]
div [ _class "modal-body"; _id "snoozeBody" ] [ ]
div [ _class "modal-footer" ] [
button [ _type "button"; _id "snoozeDismiss"; _class "btn btn-secondary"; _data "bs-dismiss" "modal" ] [
str "Close"
]
]
]
]
]

Notice that #snoozeBody is empty; we fill that when the user clicks the snooze icon:

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button [
_type "button"
_class "btn btn-secondary"
_title "Snooze Request"
_data "bs-toggle" "modal"
_data "bs-target" "#snoozeModal"
_hxGet $"/components/request/{reqId}/snooze"
_hxTarget "#snoozeBody"
_hxSwap HxSwap.InnerHtml
] [ icon "schedule" ]

This uses data-bs-toggle and data-bs-target, Bootstrap attributes, to show the modal. It also uses hx-get to load the snooze form for that particular request, with hx-target targeting the #snoozeBody div from the modal definition. Here is how that form is defined:

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/// The snooze edit form
let snooze requestId =
let today = System.DateTime.Today.ToString "yyyy-MM-dd"
form [
_hxPatch $"/request/{RequestId.toString requestId}/snooze"
_hxTarget "#journalItems"
_hxSwap HxSwap.OuterHtml
] [
div [ _class "form-floating pb-3" ] [
input [ _type "date"; _id "until"; _name "until"; _class "form-control"; _min today; _required ]
label [ _for "until" ] [ str "Until" ]
]
p [ _class "text-end mb-0" ] [ button [ _type "submit"; _class "btn btn-primary" ] [ str "Snooze" ] ]
]

Here, the form uses hx-patch to submit the data to the snooze endpoint. The target for the response, though, is #journalItems; this is the element that holds all of the prayer request cards. Snoozing a request will remove it from the active list, so the list needs to be refreshed; this will make that happen.

Look back at the modal definition; at the bottom, there is a “Close” button. We will use this to dismiss the modal once the update succeeds. In the Giraffe handler to snooze a request, here is its return statement:

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return!
(withSuccessMessage $"Request snoozed until {until.until}"
>=> hideModal "snooze"
>=> Components.journalItems) next ctx

Notice that hideModal handler?

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/// Hide a modal window when the response is sent
let hideModal (name : string) : HttpHandler =
setHttpHeader "X-Hide-Modal" name

Yes, it’s another HTTP header! One can certainly get carried away with custom HTTP headers, but their very existence is to communicate with the client (browser) outside of the visible content of the page. Here, we’re passing the name “snooze” to this header; in our htmx:afterOnLoad handler, we’ll consume this header:

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htmx.on("htmx:afterOnLoad", function (evt) {
const hdrs = evt.detail.xhr.getAllResponseHeaders()
// ...
// Hide a modal window if requested
if (hdrs.indexOf("x-hide-modal") >= 0) {
document.getElementById(evt.detail.xhr.getResponseHeader("x-hide-modal") + "Dismiss").click()
}
})

The “Close” button on our modal was given the id of snoozeDismiss; this mimics the user clicking the button, which Bootstrap’s data- attributes handle from there. Of all the design choices and implementations I did in this conversion, this part strikes me as the most “hack”y. However, I did try to hook into the Bootstrap modal itself, and hide it via script; however, it didn’t like initializing a modal a second time, and I could not get a reference to it from the htmx:afterOnLoad handler. Clicking the button works, though, even when it’s done from script.

CSS Transitions in htmx

This post has already gotten much longer than I had planned, but I wanted to make sure I covered this.

  • When htmx requests are in flight, the framework makes it easy to show indicators.
  • I mentioned swapping and settling when discussing the events htmx exposes. The way this is done, CSS transitions will render as expected. They have a host of examples to spark your imagination.

As I was keeping the UI the same, I did not end up using these options; however, their presence demonstrates that htmx is a true batteries-included SPA framework.


Up next, we’ll step away from the front end and dig into LiteDB.

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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 26, 2021
  A Tour of myPrayerJournal v3: Introduction

This is the first of 5 posts in this series.

Background

Around 3 years ago, I wrote an 8-part series called “A Tour of myPrayerJournal”, recounting the decisions and implementation of its initial release. Version 2 did not get its own tour, as it used a similar architecture. There were also some nagging library issues that were never resolved, leading to v2 being an overall unsatisfying step in the evolution of this application.

When Vue v3 was announced, this sounded like a great opportunity, with first-class TypeScript support and a new component syntax that promised better performance and a better developer experience. This past summer, I completed a project with the mature Vue v3 framework, and was generally pleased with the results. Just after I returned to my previously abandoned migration attempt on this project (with early Vue v3 support), I heard about htmx. With a few attributes, and a server that can handle a few HTTP headers, you can build an interactive site, with performance rivaling or exceeding that of the typical Single Page Application (SPA) - or, at this point, so they claimed.

I also picked up LiteDB on another project over the summer, and it worked well. I thought, why not give these technologies a try, and see if I would like the result?

(SPOILER ALERT: I did!)

The Requirements

Requirements for v3 were, for the most part, to update the application to Vue v3. Without rehashing the entire list (see the other intro post), the basic idea is that a prayer request is represented by a card, and this card keeps up with all changes made to it. Also, the system can present the cards that are active, arranged with the oldest action date first, and allow you to tick through the cards. (This is the flow to enable the user to “pray through their list.”)

The goal is to remain a minimalist program; the focus should be on prayer, not using a website. To that end, I had envisioned a “one-at-a-time” scenario that would clear out distractions and present the cards in the same order. I had also planned to separate the “last prayed” date from the “last activity” date; currently, updating the text of a request moves it to the bottom of the stack. However, both of these improvements were deferred to v3.1; v3 restores the (adequate) functionality of v1, while being much lighter-weight.

The Tech Stack

This stack did not go through nearly as many iterations as v1.

Giraffe is a library that enables F# developers to create ASP.NET Core endpoints in a functional style. It’s a mature library (v1 used Giraffe!), and continues to be improved. It also provides an optional “Giraffe View Engine,” which will get more attention in the user interface post; the views for v3 are produced via this view engine.

htmx is a JavaScript library that asks… well, several questions. Why should links and buttons be the only interactive elements? Why should you have to replace the whole page every time? What would HTML look like if it had been developed the way a typical programming language would be? It uses a small set of attributes to answer these questions differently, making interactive sites possible without writing any JavaScript. (The custom JavaScript file in v3 is 82 lines, including comments - and the majority of that is Bootstrap interaction.)

Since, in the htmx way, the web server returns rendered HTML, the requests can be a bit larger than the equivalent API calls that return JSON for a SPA framework to render. However, this is offset somewhat by the fact that the browser just has to swap that HTML fragment in; the processing is faster and much less complex.

What really swung me over the fence to giving it a shot, though, was a point Carson (the author of the library) made while talking with Carl and Richard on the .NET Rocks! podcast. Having a server render the HTML, and the browser merely displaying it, keeps your application logic on the server; the only JavaScript you need to write is what is required for the user interface. This eliminates a host of synchronization issues with SPAs and their associated APIs - duplicating shapes of data, ensuring calculations are in sync, etc. It also keeps your application logic from needing to be exposed to the public Internet; this doesn’t entirely prevent exploits, but the prospective hacker doesn’t start with a full copy of your code.

LiteDB could be described as SQLite for documents. Collections of Plain-Old CLR Objects (POCOs) can be stored, retrieved, searched, indexed, and deleted, all while running in the current process, and requiring no separate database server install. While it does not require any special configuration to do this, it does also provide the ability to transform these objects. This gives complete control as to how much or how little transformation you want to specify; and, as we’ll see in part 3, this came in handy for this application.

Where We Go from Here

In the next post, we’ll take a look at Giraffe, its View Engine, htmx, and how they all work together. The post after that will dive into the aforementioned 82 lines of JavaScript to see how we can control Bootstrap’s client/browser behavior from the server. After that, we’ll dig in on LiteDB, to include how we serialize some common F# constructs. Finally, we’ll wrap up the series with overarching lessons learned, and other thoughts which may not fit nicely into one of the other posts.

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September 2, 2018
  A Tour of myPrayerJournal: Conclusion

NOTE: This is the final post of an 8-post series; see the introduction for all of them, and the requirements for which this software was built.

Over the course of this tour, we’ve meandered through client side code, server side code, a database, and documentation. However, the experience of developing an application is more than just the sum of the assembled technologies and techniques. Let’s take a look at some of these “lessons learned” and opinions formed through this process. (This post will use the first-person singular pronouns “I” / “me” / “my” a lot more than the previous ones.)

Vue Is Awesome – But…

As I tried different SPA frameworks, they were interesting and fun, but a lot more work than I expected. Then, I came across Vue, and its paradigm and flow just clicked. Single file components are great; it was so nice to not have to go digging through a site-wide CSS file looking for styles that affected the elements in the component. I just had to scroll down! While I did put the common CSS in App.vue, the application’s top component, anything unique that component did was right there. There are also all kinds of Vue-aware packages that you can add and use, that add their own elements/components to the process; Element UI, Bootstrap Vue, and Vue-Awesome were three of the ones I used at different points in development. Since it’s a JavaScript framework, you can use vanilla JS packages as well; myPrayerJournal uses moment.js to display relative dates (“last activity 8 minutes ago”) and format dates for display.

Then… I ran the build process, and the bundles were huge – as in, multiple megabytes huge! We changed our implementation of Vue-Awesome to only import the icons we used in the application (to be fair to them, that is the project’s recommendation). Element also seemed to be rather heavy. One of the last issues I worked before final release was removing Bootstrap Vue and just using straight HTML/CSS for layout and flow (which is another lesson we’ll explore below). There are guides on configuring Webpack to help make moment’s bundle smaller (and that project has an open issue to refactor so that it’s more friendly to a “just import the part you need” paradigm).

None of this is meant as a knock of any of the fine projects I’ve named up to this point. It was also near the end of the project when I converted to the Vue CLI v3 template, which uses a version of Webpack that has a much better “tree-shaking” algorithm. (This means that, if it can establish that code is never executed, it excludes it from the bundle.) myPrayerJournal v1.0’s modern “vendor” bundle (the one with the libraries) is 283K, while the legacy bundle is 307K; while that’s not lightning fast on mobile, it’s also comparable to a lot of other sites, and since page updates happen through the API, it is fast once it’s loaded.1

Lesson: Be smart about what you import.

Lesson: The JavaScript ecosystem evolves quickly. This was published September 2nd, 2018, describing development that occurred September 2016 through August 2018; a good bit of this is likely already obsolete. :)

You Might Not Need…

We mentioned above that the site eventually was written with simple HTML and CSS. Many of the more popular packages and utilities were created to make up for deficiencies, either in the browser ecosystem or among the differing browser vendors. With the recent efforts by browser vendors to support published standards, though, many of these packages are used for reasons that distill to comfort and inertia. As before, this is not a knock on these projects; they filled a definite need, and continue to work as the basis for a lot of deployed, executing code.

For new development, though, existing standards – and their support – may be sufficient. There are some great sites that detail how certain things can be done using plain JavaScript or CSS.

I used the last one quite a bit. I also extensively referred to CSS Tricks’ “A Complete Guide to Flexbox” post. When I decided to rework the layout without Bootstrap, I thought the replacement would be CSS Grid; however, Flexbox was more than enough.

Lesson: Use a framework if you want, but don’t assume it’s the only way to do things.

Lesson: If you want to shrink your bundle size, 20-30 lines of your own code can sometimes save you 20-30K (or more).

Learn Go

Ladies and gentlemen of the Internet class of 2018 -
  Learn Go.
If I could offer you only one tip for the future,
  Go would be it.
with apologies to Baz Luhrmann

Go is a systems programming language. It was developed at Google, to help them better utilize their hardware. It natively supports concurrent processing (which can be done in parallel, but is distinct from “parallel programming”); has an opinionated code formatter; forces you to address calls that may error; and is terribly efficient. When myPrayerJournal was running with the Go backend, the working size in RAM was around 10MB. Let me say that again, this time with feeling - the working size for a database-accessing, HTTP-listening, dynamic web service was 10MB of RAM! If you have ever profiled a web server process, you know that it’s nearly ludicrous how small this is. For comparison, the process working set for the F#/Giraffe/EF Core version of the backend runs between 60-80MB, and includes another ~256MB of shared working set memory.2 (An Apache2 process running PHP can run in the 256MB range as well.)

Why am I recommending a technology that I ultimately moved away from before the v1.0 release? Well, other than “did you read the last paragraph?!?!”, the short answer is “it’s the future, and will change how you code in every other language.” The fact that it forces you to deal with every single thing that may error makes it robust; but, if you learn to develop with it, you will find yourself thinking about error handling more fully than you did before – and I say this as a person who already coded error handlers as I coded the happy path.

Why did I move away from a technology on which I’m so bullish? Well, for starters, F# is the language that “clicks” for me in the same way that Vue did as a client-side framework; its development paradigm just makes sense with the way I think about structuring code. I completed a project that used F# and Giraffe (which I hope to take open-source soon), and that gave me the confidence to move forward with a third attempt at an F# API. (Third time’s the charm, right?) Also, while Entity Framework generated some pretty verbose SQL statements, EF Core more or less generates what I would have written anyway, plus it takes care of populating the objects it returns from the database.

I also found the development process awkward, though not unwieldy. (They’re probably not going to adopt that as their slogan…) Much has been written about the GOPATH environment variable, but once you get into it, it starts to make sense. go get is great at pulling down your dependencies, and the way it does it, you can peruse the source code to see exactly what they are doing. Also, it was not too difficult to develop on Windows, but build executables for Linux – which, in the “systems” programming work, is a really cool feature.

Lesson: Learn Go.

Write about Your Code

This wasn’t a lesson I learned on this project; this was one I’d known for a while. There are (at least) two distinct benefits to writing about your code:

  • It can help you learn even more than you may have learned when you were writing the code itself. As developers, we sometimes forget to step back and look at the body of work we’ve created. If you write about it, you have to form a coherent view about it so you can explain it to others; this helps you long-term. Also, people who know more about the environment can chime in on what you’ve written, which also not only helps you learn, …
  • It helps build community. If you hit a snag, and someone in the community around that technology helps you get past it, writing about your experience means that the next person to encounter that issue may not have to ask; if their searching leads them to your post, they can fix it and move on. This applies doubly if you could not get help from the community; you might be the one who surfaces this issue/technique, and moves the entire community forward.

Lesson: Write about your code; participate in the community around your technology to whatever extent you are able.

 

If you’ve been with us for this entire tour – thank you. I hope you’ve learned something; I know I have, not just through the development of myPrayerJournal, but through the course of writing about it. And, certainly, if you feel that this application could help you in any way, help yourself. It is and will always be free, and Bit Badger Solutions (and DJS Consulting before it) has, as of this writing, a 14-year streak of no known data breaches; your prayer requests are safe with us.


1 There are chunk-splitting techniques that can be used to make the initial download smaller, and load other portions on-demand. Moment.js, for example, isn’t needed for the default “Welcome to myPrayerJournal” page. We could defer loading that until the user has logged in, as the journal page definitely needs it; we’d still have to download the same amount, but it would be spread out across 2 requests. Opportunities to save some size in the initial download are still out there, but 283K is just above the 244K suggested bundle size, so we went forward with it.

2 The server on which I host myPrayerJournal already has other .NET Core processes running on it, so the shared memory size has already been allocated.

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August 26, 2018
  A Tour of myPrayerJournal: State in the Browser

NOTES:

  • This is post 3 in a series; see the introduction for all of them, and the requirements for which this software was built.
  • Links that start with the text “mpj:” are links to the 1.0.0 tag (1.0 release) of myPrayerJournal, unless otherwise noted.

Flux (a pattern that originated at Facebook) defines state, as well as actions that can mutate that state. Redux is the most popular implementation of that pattern, and naturally works very well with React. However, other JavaScript framewoks use this pattern, as it ensures that state is managed sanely. (Well, the state is sane, but so is the developer!)

As part of Vue, the Vuex component is a flux implementation for Vue that provides a standard way of managing state. They explain it in much more detail, so if the concept is a new one, you may want to read their “What is Vuex?” page before you continue. Once you are ready, let’s continue and take a look at how it’s used in myPrayerJournal.

Defining the State

The store (mpj:store/index.js) exports a single new Vuex.Store instance, with its state property defining the items it will track, along with initial values for those items. This represents the initial state of the app, and is run whenever the browser is refreshed.

In looking at our store, there are 4 items that are tracked; two items are related to authentication, and two are related to the journal. As part of authentication (which will get a further exploration in its own post), we store the user’s profile and identity token in local storage; the initial values for those items attempt to access those values. The two journal related items are simply initialized to an empty state.

Mutating the State

There are a few guiding principles for mutations in Vuex. First, they must be defined as part of the mutations property in the store; outside code cannot simply change one state value to another without going through a mutation. Second, they must be synchronous; mutations must be a fast operation, and must be accomplished in sequence, to prevent race conditions and other inconsistencies. Third, mutations cannot be called directly; mutations are “committed” against the current store. Mutations receive the current state as their first parameter, and can receive as many other parameters as necessary.

(Side note: although these functions are called “mutations,” Vuex is actually replacing the state on every call. This enables some really cool time-traveling debugging, as tools can replay states and their transformations.)

So, what do you do when you need to run an asynchronous process - like, say, calling an API to get the requests for the journal? These processes are called actions, and are defined on the actions property of the store. Actions receive an object that has the state, but it also has a commit property that can be used to commit mutations.

If you look at line 87 of store/index.js, you’ll see the above concepts put into action1 as a user’s journal is loaded. This one action can commit up to 4 mutations of state. The first clears out whatever was in the journal before, committing the LOADED_JOURNAL mutation with an empty object. The second sets the isLoadingJournal property to true via the LOADING_JOURNAL mutation. The third, called if the API call resolves successfully, commits the LOADED_JOURNAL mutation with the results. The fourth, called whether it works or not, commits LOADING_JOURNAL again, this time with false as the parameter.

A note about the names of our mutations and actions - the Vuex team recommends defining constants for mutations and actions, to ensure that they are defined the same way in both the store, and in the code that’s calling it. This code follows their recommendations, and those are defined in action-types.js and mutation-types.js in the store directory.

Using the Store

So, we have this nice data store with a finite number of ways it can be mutated, but we have yet to use it. Since we looked at loading the journal, let’s use it as our example (mpj:Journal.vue). On line 56, we wrap up the computed properties with ...mapState, which exposes data items from the store as properties on the component. Just below that, the created function calls into the store, exposed as $store on the component instance, to execute the LOAD_JOURNAL action.

The template uses the mapped state properties to control the display. On lines 4 and 5, we display one thing if the isLoadingJournal property is true, and another (which is really the rest of the template) if it is not. Line 12 uses the journal property to display a RequestCard (mpj:RequestCard.vue) for each request in the journal.

I mentioned developer sanity above; and in the last post, I said that the logic that has RequestCard making the decision on whether it should show, instead of Journal deciding which ones it should show, would make sense. This is where we put those pieces together. The Vuex store is reactive; when data from it is rendered into the app, Vue will update the rendering if the store changes. So, Journal simply displays a “hang on” note when the journal is loading, and “all the requests” once it’s loaded. RequestCard only displays if the request should be displayed. And, the entire “brains” behind this is the thing that starts the entire process, the call to the LOAD_JOURNAL action. We aren’t moving things around, we’re simply displaying the state of things as they are!

Navigation (mpj:Navigation.vue) is another component that bases its display off state, and takes advantage of the state’s reactivity. By mapping isAuthenticated, many of the menu items can be shown or hidden based on whether a user is signed in or not. Through mapping journal and the computed property hasSnoozed, the “Snoozed” menu link does not show if there are no snoozed requests; however, the first time a request from the journal is snoozed, this one appears just because the state changed.

This is one of the things that cemented the decision to use Vue for the front end2, and is one of my favorite features of the entire application. (You’ve probably picked up on that already, though.)

 

We’ve now toured our stateful front end; next time, we’ll take a look at the API we use to get data into it.


1 Pun not originally intended, but it is now!

2 The others were the lack of ceremony and the Single File Component structure; both of those seem quite intuitive.

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August 25, 2018
  A Tour of myPrayerJournal: The Front End

NOTES:

  • This is post 2 in a series; see the introduction for all of them, and the requirements for which this software was built.
  • Links that start with the text “mpj:” are links to the 1.0.0 tag (1.0 release) of myPrayerJournal, unless otherwise noted.

Vue is a front-end JavaScript framework that aims to have very little boilerplate and ceremony, while still presenting a componentized abstraction that can scale to enterprise-level if required1. Vue components can be coded using inline templates or multiple files (splitting code and template). Vue also provides Single File Components (SFCs, using the .vue extension), which allow you to put template, code, and style all in the same spot; these encapsulate the component, but allow all three parts to be expressed as if they were in separate files (rather than, for example, having an HTML snippet as a string in a JavaScript file). The Vetur plugin for Visual Studio Code provides syntax coloring support for each of the three sections of the file.

Layout

Using the default template, main.js is the entry point; it creates a Vue instance and attaches it to an element named app. This file also supports registering common components, so they do not have to be specifically imported and referenced in components that wish to use them. For myPrayerJournal, we registered our common components there (mpj:main.js). We also registered a few third-party Vue components to support a progress bar (activated during API activity) and toasts (pop-up notifications).

App.vue is also part of the default template, and is the component that main.js attaches to the app elements (mpj:App.vue). It serves as the main template for our application; if you have done much template work, you’ll likely recognize the familiar pattern of header/content/footer.

This is also our first look at an SFC, so let’s dig in there. The top part is the template; we used Pug (formerly Jade) for our templates. The next part is enclosed in script tags, and is the script for the page. For this component, we import one additional component (Navigation.vue) and the version from package.json, then export an object that conforms to Vue’s expected component structure. Finally, styles for the component are enclosed in style tags. If the scoped attribute is present on the style tag, Vue will generate data attributes for each element, and render the declared styles as only affecting elements with that attribute. myPrayerJournal doesn’t use scoped styles that much; Vue recommends classes instead, if practical, to reduce complexity in the compiled app.

Also of note in App.js is the code surrounding the use of the toast component. In the template, it’s declared as toast(ref='toast'). Although we registered it in main.js and can use it anywhere, if we put it in other components, they create their own instance of it. The ref attribute causes Vue to generate a reference to that element in the component’s $refs collection. This enables us to, from any component loaded by the router (which we’ll discuss a bit later), access the toast instance by using this.$parent.$refs.toast, which allows us to send toasts whenever we want, and have the one instance handle showing them and fading them out. (Without this, toasts would appear on top of each other, because the independent instances have no idea what the others are currently showing.)

Routing

Just as URLs are important in a regular application, they are important in a Vue app. The Vue router is a separate component, but can be included in the new project template via the Vue CLI. In App.vue, the router-view item renders the output from the router; we wire in the router in main.js. Configuring the router (mpj:router.js) is rather straightforward:

  • Import all of the components that should appear to be a page (i.e., not modals or common components)
  • Assign each route a path and name, and specify the component
  • For URLs that contain data (a segment starting with :), ensure props: true is part of the route configuration

The scrollBehavior function, as it appears in the source, makes the Vue app mimic how a traditional web application would handle scrolling. If the user presses the back button, or you programmatically go back 1 page in history, the page will return to the point where it was previously, not the top of the page.

To specify a link to a route, we use the router-link tag rather than a plain a tag. This tag takes a :to parameter, which is an object with a name property; if it requires parameters/properties, a params property is included. mpj:Navigation.vue is littered with the former; see the showEdit method in mpj:RequestCard.vue for the structure on the latter (and also an example of programmatic navigation vs. router-link).

Components

When software developers hear “components,” they generally think of reusable pieces of software that can be pulled together to make a system. While that isn’t wrong, it’s important to understand that “reusable” does not necessarily mean “reused.” For example, the privacy policy (mpj:PrivacyPolicy.vue) is a component, but reusing it throughout the application would be… well, let’s just say a “sub-optimal” user experience.

However, that does not mean that none of our components will be reused. RequestCard, which we referenced above, is used in a loop in the Journal component (mpj:Journal.vue); it is reused for every request in the journal. In fact, it is reused even for requests that should not be shown; behavior associated with the shouldDisplay property makes the component display nothing if a request is snoozed or is in a recurrence period. Instead of the journal being responsible for answering the question “Should I display this request?”, the request display answers the question “Should I render anything?”. This may seem different from typical server-side page generation logic, but it will make more sense once we discuss state management (next post).

Looking at some other reusable (and reused) components, the page title component (mpj:PageTitle.vue) changes the title on the HTML document, and optionally also displays a title at the top of the page. The “date from now” component (mpj:DateFromNow.vue) is the most frequently reused component. Every time it is called, it generates a relative date, with the actual date/time as a tool tip; it also sets a timeout to update this every 10 seconds. This keeps the relative time in sync, even if the router destination stays active for a long time.

Finally, it’s also worth mentioning that SFCs do not have to have all three sections defined. Thanks to conventions, and depending on your intended use, none of the sections are required. The “date from now” component only has a script section, while the privacy policy component only has a template section.

Component Interaction

Before we dive into the specifics of events, let’s look again at Journal and RequestCard. In the current structure, RequestCard will always have Journal as a parent, and Journal will always have App as its parent. This means that RequestCard could, technically, get its toast implementation via this.$parent.$parent.toast; however, this type of coupling is very fragile2. Requiring toast as a parameter to RequestCard means that, wherever RequestCard is implemented, if it’s given a toast parameter, it can display toasts for the actions that would occur on that request. Journal, as a direct descendant from App, can get its reference to the toast instance from its parent, then pass it along to child components; this only gives us one layer of dependency.

In Vue, generally speaking, parent components communicate with child components via props (which we see with passing the toast instance to RequestCard); child components communicate with parents via events. The names of events are not prescribed; the developer comes up with them, and they can be as terse or descriptive as desired. Events can optionally have additional data that goes with it. The Vue instance supports subscribing to event notifications, as well as emitting events. We can also create a separate Vue instance to use as an event bus if we like. myPrayerJournal uses both of these techniques in different places.

As an example of the first, let’s look at the interaction between ActiveRequests (mpj:ActiveRequests.vue) and RequestListItem (mpj:RequestListItem.vue). On lines 41 and 42 of ActiveRequests (the parent), it subscribes to the requestUnsnoozed and requestNowShown events. Both these events trigger the page to refresh its underlying data from the journal. RequestListItem, lines 67 and 79, both use this.$parent.$emit to fire off these events. This model allows the child to emit events at will, and if the parent does not subscribe, there are no errors. For example, AnswerdRequests (mpj:AnsweredRequests.vue) does not subscribe to either of these events. (RequestListItem will not show the buttons that cause those events to be emitted, but even if it did, emitting the event would not cause an error.)

An example of the second technique, a dedicated parent/child event bus, can be seen back in Journal and RequestCard. Adding notes and snoozing requests are modal windows3. Rather than specifying an instance of these per request, which could grow rather quickly, Journal only instantiates one instance of each modal (lines 19-22). It also creates the dedicated Vue instance (line 46), and passes it to the modal windows and each RequestCard instance (lines 15, 20, and 22). Via this event bus, any RequestCard instance can trigger the notes or snooze modals to be shown. Look through NotesEdit (mpj:NotesEdit.vue) to see how the child listens for the event, and also how it resets its state (the closeDialog() method) so it will be fresh for the next request.

 

That wraps up our tour of Vue routes and components; next time, we’ll take a look at Vuex, and how it helps us maintain state in the browser.


1 That’s my summary; I’m sure they’ve got much more eloquent ways to describe it.

2 …and kinda ugly, but maybe that’s just me.

3 Up until nearly the end of development, editing requests was a modal as well. Adding recurrence made it too busy, so it got to be its own page.

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