Monday, September 19, 2016

Too Much Javascript

 

I can't understand this trend. After years of focus and interest in compiled languages and binary executables, now everyone is focussed  on what can be done in the humble browser. And its programming language, Javascript. And that's where the action is. Everyday I hear about new javascript based libraries and frameworks. And the language syntax is getting worse. With new conventions of invoking script and processing data, its almost as if they are re-inventing multiple wheels again. There are new graphing and charting libraries, and it is now possible to build entire standalone desktop applications running on javascript. It seems to be everyone's favourite, enjoying a position once occupied by Java. I can straightly see the advantages of moving your UI code to Javascript.

image

  • It is truly portable. Runs in all modern browsers, even on smartphones and tablets.
  • Flash and Java, the previous leaders in browser programming, are no longer supported by newer browsers. Maybe due to security vulnerabitlies in them.
  • None of that bytecode compilation you see in Java class files.
  • The source stays with you, so it is still modifyable.
  • It is free. Truly free. It is open source.

But I can't help noticing that it greatly increases the amount of data being downloaded into the final browser. And takes up a lot of bandwidth. Sure, many of those applications use require.js and files are loaded only conditionally. But still, they need to be downloaded. And the humongous task of executing the program is now transferred from the server to the end-user's browser. Which is definitely good for the server, lesser load balancing to take care of. But on many sites, I can actually feel the browser slowing down due to the additional processing power it needs.

I like browsing light weight. I sometimes turn off javascript completely on some news sites, I feel it gives a much faster rendering of the site, as none of those additional garbage is loaded and run. The URL links still work, because those are in the HTML.

But the bigger problem is see is un-regulated development. Everyone is writing their own libraries and packages. First it was just google and facebook. Now even new players like oracle has entered the race and are giving out their own libraries. And the tutorials of all their libraries does the same thing: render graphs and charts in the browser.

Too many tools. Too much configuration. That is the problem. Javascript experts have written better about these problems, so I will leave that there.

The bigger problem I see lines of code. After programming for more than 20 years now, I have learned to understand is that the real challenge (and fun) in programming is to achieve maximum tasks writing as little code as possible. You don't have to be Phd to understand that it is easier to debug and test a 10 line program than a 100 line program. Every extra line added to the codebase increases the difficulty in debugging it at a later stage. Not to mention the huge effort of merging code written by large teams during checkin. But all these javascript based boilerplates, linters and generators don't solve this problem, they just make it worse.

A library should be simple enough to add it into ones current code base, and the developer should not have to know how it is implemented to use it. All the real work must be transferred into the library being invoked, leaving the base code base minimal. Minimal. That should be the keyword.

Or there should be a way for RAD tools. A system of abstractions which will hide the complexity beneath and generate highly efficient code.

When I started work in Siebel, I used to hate the idea of Enterprise Application development. But I absolutely admired the way Siebel had built a layer of abstraction and user properties, and through them, indirectly invoked C++ code to achieve its functionality. Sure there is one extra layer in this packaged application method, but the final code which the consultant/developer writes is very minimal. I have seen entire projects implemented with a total of less than 1000 lines of escript code in it.

I was looking into the new Oracle JET library for javascript application development which was created by Oracle and it is completely bonkers. All they have done is to re-implement a couple of already perfecte ideas and re-do it in their own way. A lot of the final code looks exactly the same as from Angular or React. I have no idea why any enterprise customer would decided to writes thousands of lines of javascript code just to get charts rendered in the browser, when other Oracle delivered  packaged and cloud applications can do the same without ANY lines of code.

Hope somebody sits up and takes notice.

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