Sunday, June 12, 2016

Decouple UX and Services API's in Single Page Apps

An old-school PHP, Struts, JSF, Rails what have you webapp was deployed with a strong binding between the application's UX and backend services. A typical "3 tier" application would involve some kind of server-side MVC framework for generating HTML, and some business objects that would manage the storage and interpretation of data stored in a SQL database, and that was often the whole shebang.

UX in a modern single page application (SPA) is implemented in javascript that accesses backend microservices via AJAX calls to REST API's. Unfortunately there is still a tendency in many projects to combine the web UX with a backend service in a single project - maybe implement an old-school server-side login flow, then dynamically generate an HTML shell that defines the authenticated context in some javascript variables, and a call to the javascript app's bootstrap routine. I am not a fan of this way of structuring an application.

I like the "app shell" approach to structuring a SPA - where the web UX is its own separate project - a UI application that accesses backend micro-services. There are various advantages to this approach, but the immediate benefit is that it simplifies the UX team's life - they can use whatever tools they want (gulp, less, typescript, bower, jslint, ...), develop locally with a simple nodejs+express server and maybe some docker containers providing backend services. The developers can focus on UX and design, and do not have to deal with whatever backend technology might be in use (play, maven, tomcat, rails, whatever, ...). The app-shell development process closely resembles the dev process for a native Android or iOS app.

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