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Frontend is a Separate Application

Despite my experience with working on desktop applications, I've been avoiding any frontend (here meaning JavaScript/html) for years.

It wasn't because I didn't know JavaScript, it's just that I am a developer who cares about code quality and JavaScript coding was far from any "quality" areas (in my mind).

I felt safe with programming backends and I was more than happy with Rails. Rails is a framework that is really good at abstracting the frontend problems. It gives you a set of view helpers, so that you can do almost everything in Ruby.

Whenever I had a project that involved more JavaScript (because the UX designer required it) it was a painful experience to me. I just couldn't find a good way of structuring the JS code. I didn't know how to test it well (and yes, I knew Selenium, thank you).

Now I love working on frontends.

Why the change?

I realized that my mental model of a web applications, that I had in my mind, was wrong. I'm guilty of not thinking it through harder in the past. The Rails framework created an illusion for me that the frontend is the View part of the MVC architecture. It's not and Rails is not MVC. It's not only a Rails problem, I think that in most web frameworks we see a similar illusion.

The View part is another application, that Rails happens to generate quite nicely.

The mental process of moving the View from the backend app to a separate application is quite interesting and I hope to cover it another blog post if anyone is interested [UPDATE: I blogged about this process]. I see a similar pattern of transition among my fellow developers.

Once I realized that the JS is in fact another application it was like a whole new world of programming opened to me. With the rise of CoffeeScript it became even more cool. I'm able to use all the patterns from my desktop apps experience (I've been working a lot with Java/Swing apps and on an .NET Windows Forms app with IronPython).

A CoffeeScript (or JS) application can embrace the original vision of MVC. There are new architectural patterns like DCI, which put use cases in front of everything, that fit perfectly well into this kind of apps. There are some concepts from AOP that come back (even Twitter uses them) and are great for domain - gui separation.

Even more, the backend is now an optional part (a plugin) of my project, it's possible to run the frontend application without a Rails backend.

We live in exciting times. The Single Page Applications are becoming more and more popular. I'm no longer a backend-only programmer and I am very happy with that!

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