Posts tagged “writing”


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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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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