Joshua Wood Tech Entrepreneur & Software Developer

Don't let modern be the enemy of good

The new generation of JavaScript developers calls what they do “modern JS”. As an old guy, that got me thinking about the difference between my front-end worldview and theirs.

In my experience, front-end development is a battle of competing standards and compatibility across platforms. Remember developing for IE 6? I do. “I’ve seen some things, man…” [eye twitches]

Browsers are good at rendering HTML, and servers are good at generating HTML; doing things client-side—while often necessary—was tedious and brittle at best.

Things are arguably better now, but client-side still comes with a cost. Fully embracing modern JS (in the form of a static single-page app) usually means rejecting the traditional paradigm.

Given the complexities of modern development in general, it still seems silly to move everything client-side just for the hell of it when there are well-established standards and patterns to build on.

“You can’t build a lot of apps without modern JS.” That’s true, but there are many types of apps, and in my experience, good development is all about managing complexity.

“Single-page apps perform better than traditional web apps.” OK, but at what cost?

When I look at the tooling that is necessary to reap all the benefits of “modern JS”, I really begin to wonder why you would subject yourself to that if you’re not building a Slack or a Notion.

The DHH/Basecamp/Rails full-stack approach still makes sense for a lot of people. Laravel and Phoenix are great too. As a small team, skipping hype cycles and shipping is one of the best things we’ve done at Honeybadger.

What about devs who haven’t spent 20+ years battling JS in the browser? To them, JS has always been cross-platform, it’s always been in a state of constant improvement, and “everyone does it this way.”

I think it’s great that JS has come so far. For the first time in my career I actually enjoy working with JavaScript, thanks to the hard work of everyone who has invested in it.

The simplest solution is usually best, and if everyone’s first and only choice is to build a “modern JS” app, we’re all maintaining a lot of needless complexity. Use modern JS; just do the math first, and use what you can afford.

Don’t let modern be the enemy of good. The End. </👴>


Questions or comments? I love to chat. Find me on Twitter @joshuap, or email me: josh@joshuawood.net

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