6 threats of the modern FE environment

Standard

Web’s frontend has always been a dynamic environment with it’s own specific characteristics. It has gained a lot of professionalism regarding job roles, technologies, processes and as a platform in the last years. But besides this evolutional change, frontend plays a growing role in multi device strategy and application architecture. This evolution, shift and growth can also introduce some possible threats that, if not addressed, can lead to disaster.

Complexity

Our frontend domain is maturing rapidly. We started with a relatively simple web design environment and are entering a full-blown system development platform where we use professional development methodologies that have a high learning curve. Thorough knowledge of structured and Object oriented programming and design patterns like MVC, module, AMD etc is needed. We are continuously shifting away from the open low-level character of our web standards. The user environment is also rapidly expanding. A plethora of devices and browsers must be served. Users are getting more demanding regarding their experience. Browsers are evolving from an agent to a platform where new technologies are growing like a herd of mushrooms.All these new features drive an unstoppable temptation to bloat our frontend environment with all kinds of goodies, resulting in a full fat overloaded client where everything is happening without any goal or fundamental reason.If we don’t continuously reduce complexity, we will end up with a unmanageable environment.

Ignorance

Ignorance of the fact that the frontend environment is an environment with it’s own specific habits, requirements and behavior, and the fact that frontend developers are professionals that are aware of these specific characteristics, can be an important threat. The frontend environment should not be treated as a server side environment, like java or c#. We have to deal with an unstable, unreliable hostile runtime environment, build on a single threaded execution model. we don’t have compilers that save us from all kinds of mistakes. We struggle with runtime isolation, etc.

Agile development methodologies have morphed multi disciplinary teams into omni disciplinary teams where frontend developers have to test and backend developers have to write frontend code. No problem with that. This LEAN approach surely has potential, but it will only work with ignorance-free backend developers. They should be aware of the pitfalls, quirks and best practices of FE development. But we as FE professionals have to make them less ignorant by sharing our FE knowledge.

Complex environments need structure and some level of architectural foundation to keep them maintainable, so for the Frontend environment. We have come a long way from table-based web design to the current state. A lot of clever technologies and methodologies have been invented that contribute to the initial foundations of the web and have become de-facto standards. Patterns like REST, Progressive enhancement, Graceful degradation, Accessibility, semantics are great goods. Don’t ignore them.

Compatibility

The continuously diverging landscape of devices we have to support, and the ever growing richness of the user interface we have to build in order to server the demanding user’s online responsive experience, is asking a lot of our technologies and us as developers. Old design paradigms like ‘pixel perfect’, ‘page-design’ and ‘wireframes’ don’t fit to this complex new world. They create a lot of friction, don’t ignore.

Future

Don’t think of the future as a goal, but as a process. Not only new technologies are entering our FE world with an amazing speed, but also the way’s we use them do do stuff are. Future in FE terms is now + 3 months. This means we have to be ready to absorb the future by providing flexibility and agility in our FE architecture. One other big threat in regard to future is to use new technologies or methodologies as a goal on their own, instead of means to reach a goal. Don’t let you be influenced by buzz driven people.

Openness

Our frontend environment has always been a very open, easy to use environment with technologies that have a low learning curve and where it is easy to book visible result. FE sourcecode files are easy editable and deployable to any environment, locally or remote.We only need a browser to view the result of our work. This openness has been one of the drivers for the growth and widely use of the web.In fact, anyone can build a webpage. But bit by bit we are raising barricades and thereby influencing the openness in a negative way. Complex tooling, abstractions, automation, mix-ins, etc. are good means to make our daily life easier and add more structure to our environment, but don’t overdo. Don’t make things difficult when they could be easy.

Uncertainty

FE development has always been a discipline with some aspects of uncertainty. The most annoying perhaps has been the deviating level of browser compliance to web standards. But today the most important uncertainty are the things that lay ahead of us. What does our FE future look like. What technologies will arrive and which devices do we have to serve? Will my current knowledge still be sufficient? which developments should i track? All questions that will constantly pop up, every day of your FE life.

Like i told, future is a process. But don’t let this uncertainty scare you. Embrace it, treat it like a gift. Just be sure you have enough flexibility and agility in your architecture, so you can adapt quickly.

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