From web development to delivery: Deep front end knowledge is a must for 2015

Web based deliver will be taken to new levels in 2015, as the technology used to deliver content over the web will actually become the technology used to built it as well, as development tools take to the web.

Over the last few decades, the Internet has proven to be one of the most complex and unpredictable systems ever to impact the world of technology. Software used to be designed with the assumption that it would be deployed on local hardware—or at least on a local network. The Internet was conceived of and used primarily as a communication and collaboration tool. That reality has changed dramatically, taken the programming world along with it, and this trend will continue to drive similar changes through 2015 and beyond.

The combination of HTML, CSS, and JS doesn’t look like a programming language, but you don’t get trapped in it like you do in other environments.

Simon St. Laurent, O'Reilly Publishing

The web paradigm is the new default

Simon St. Laurent, Senior Editor at O’Reilly Media, described the progression this way, "The web keeps getting bigger. We thought it was going to be a way to trade documents around. Then it became a commerce platform. Today, it’s become kind of the default way of building software. On the front-end, browsers, on mobile devices or computers, are easy to build for even though there’s some diversity out there. On the server side, we’re seeing even enterprise stuff is going to REST APIs."

If a company is considering building an application, they generally start with the assumption that it will be built around web delivery. It’s by far the most flexible, cost-effective option and offers the greatest functionality the majority of the time. As Simon said, "If you can do it on the web, you just do it." Other software development and delivery spaces are reserved for specific solutions that require a different approach.

Development now moving to the web

Today, the web-centric mindset isn’t just the norm when it comes to applications. The development process itself is coming to rely more on the web. For example, Ken Walker, the Eclipse Orion project lead, explained how the solution his team is working on makes the web the start and end point for development through deployment. The overall goal with Eclipse is to provide a platform on which to do software development that runs entirely within a browser.

It doesn’t stop there. Making changes to the platform itself will be done using front-end development skills. According to Walker, "What we are trying to do is provide a client side extensibility for this tooling platform. So, for Orion, you can write extensions to the browser IDE by just using JS, CSS, and HTML and hosting those plugins on the same site as you are hosting Orion. Or, if you’re not hosting Orion on your own site, you can write plugins for Orion that sit on your website and we’ll incorporate them into the running IDE."

Deep front-end knowledge is a must

Enterprises that want to keep up with the pace of change in the development world must pay close attention to ensure their teams can embrace the languages that make today’s applications run. There’s still plenty of resistance to JavaScript among developers who are used to more carefully constructed languages. As a former enterprise Java developer, JS consultant Mark Bates said he understands the animosity. "They’re right; JavaScript has some terrible design flaws. JavaScript is one of those languages that you wish was never invented because you would have loved to see something better in its place. But we have this lingua franca of development these days, and it’s JavaScript. It’s a language everyone has to know and it’s not going away anytime soon."

St. Laurent had a different take on the topic. He feels the front-end development situation turned out much better than it could have. Back in the 1990s, everyone was doing something different on the front-end. There was no standardization, and lack of agreement on how to integrate complex systems created permanent barriers. The model used today is far more flexible than anyone dreamed of back then. "The combination of HTML, CSS, and JS doesn’t look like a programming language, but you don’t get trapped in it like you do in other environments. You can keep building out and connecting new things to it."

He did mention that developers sometimes make things more complicated than they have to be. For example, they will use a framework like Angular for simple scripting that doesn’t really require that level of tooling. Or, they’ll miss the fact that simply declaring that something will happen in CSS can be the simplest solution with the best performance. "CSS Animation is able to do a lot of things with the device better able to accelerate than if you write it all out in JavaScript."

In short, both the web and front-end development trends are supposed to make things easier, not harder. As old habits and mindsets change, development teams will learn to make the most of these opportunities.

What do you believe will be the big trends for 2015? Let us know.

This was last published in December 2014

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