Sunday, June 7, 2015

Isomorphic Web Apps: Back to the Future, Again

As web application development evolves, we continue to see the pendulum swing between client and server. Over the past two decades we have moved from simple multi-page HTML applications that are rendered exclusively on the server to ultra fat single page applications (SPA) containing more javascript than anyone would have imagined a few years ago.

Over the past couple of years, many large hosted sites (i.e. Airbnb, Facebook and others) have run into challenges with building heavy javascript client apps and have rediscovered the value of rendering some of the web content on the server. Technology such as Node.js has made this easier and so has the creation of frameworks such as ReachJS. This rediscovering of using the server for rendering UI now has a new cool name, Isomorphic Javascript. The name seams to have stuck, so we will need to add it our lexicon :)

The technology around this new approach is gaining some steam of late. Here is a good blog from from Airbnb on what led them to consider this architecture for their hosted web application services. While the idea for moving away from SPA has been around for while, it is gaining more steam of late and we will for sure start to see more of the established front-end JavaScript frameworks incorporating it in one way or another as well as new frameworks such as ReachJS.

ReactJS is one of the more popular frameworks that leverage server side rendering and that advocates for this hybrid web application development. While Node.js is the leading container for supporting this application delivery model, we will start to see JVM support and integration as well with Java 8 Nashorn.

There are many benefits to building your web application with an isomorphic javascript architecture that I will try to cover in an up coming blog. There are already some good blogs covering the subject. Also expect AngularJS 2.0 to offer support for server side rendering, but we will have to wait and see what Google comes up with as AngularJS 2.0 gets further along.

So keep an eye out for this new twist in web application development. It will will be a boost for mobile development as well since mobile can certainly benefit from some server-side offloading of processing. But like most things, this new technology approach is no free lunch. Isomorphic javascript does add some complexity to constructing your web applications. Some of this maybe alleviated as web application frameworks evolve and as HTML web component standard mature. Stay tuned.

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