A quintessential British tradition is the pub quiz, a test of a group’s knowledge of obscure facts and trivia, typically shared over dinner and drinks at a pub. In the era of the smart phone, pub quizzes have needed to implement strict no phone policies to make sure people are answering from their knowledge rather than their computer.
I was lucky enough to attend the Progressive Web App Summit hosted by Google at the Theatre Amsterdam with two of my SitePen Colleagues. I was blown away by the quality of the talks, the speakers, the content and of course the venue and hospitality.
Progressive Web Applications take advantage of new technologies to bring the best of mobile sites and native applications to users. They are instant loading, offline capable, installable, secure, responsive and addable to the home screen. More information is available on the Progressive Web Apps website.
In this installment of our series on building web applications, we look at the SitePen approach to solving challenges in web application development. We employ all of the solutions described in part 2 of the blog series. Additionally, we have some overarching principles we apply to our work.
The right architecture and an emphasis on quality
Solid applications and robust architecture begins with finding the right approach based on the goals and requirements for a particular application. There is no one right architecture for every application, but having the right approach to understanding requirements, translating those to architecture needs, and having a strong emphasis on quality lead to approaches that work for any application. We do this by making sure we ask the right questions and challenge our assumptions for every application we create.
While there are many challenges today with building web applications, there are also many options to address the issues we face with technology, process, and people, allowing us to reap the benefits of the web as an application platform.
While many of the challenges with today’s web applications come from the vast array of technologies that are available, there are clear strategies that can be employed to turn those same issues into advantages that can make building applications easier. The key is to use a technology portfolio that allows applications to be modular, simple, and isolated from any instability in the underlying platform. Another critical aspect of each member of this portfolio is that it must be able to maintain those abilities at the scale at which the application will be built.
Web applications provide many benefits. Most organizations seek to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of business processes through the use of software.
The benefits of web applications include:
- Simple distribution model for end users (e.g. no installation required)
- Instant propagation of changes
- Unified code base to support many platforms (desktop, tablet, mobile, etc.)
- Easy piloting of new features with a subset of users
- Lower total cost of ownership
- Well-established scalability models as user-base grows
Over the past few years, building the client-side portion of web applications has changed significantly. Web application development, while arguably better than any other platform available today, is not without its challenges. We categorize these issues as coming from three sources: technology, process, and people.
We thought it was a good opportunity to take a step back and look first at the challenges, and then the solutions for building modern web applications, and to share some of the strategies and techniques we use at SitePen to improve our approach.
In this installment, we’ll begin by looking at the challenges currently faced when building web applications.
While most developers are familiar with CSS selectors, this is not always the most efficient mechanism for referencing a particular element in a page.
XPath is a technology that is often overlooked by developers because of the perception that all things XML are overly complex. That said, XPath selectors can be a very powerful and flexible approach for finding an element.
Last fall, Mozilla announced its Mozilla Open Source Support program, specifically focused on supporting the Free & Open Source Software movement. AND THIS JUST IN: Intern was selected to receive a MOSS grant in the amount of $35,000!
Initially focused on awarding grants to fund projects used in its own development initiatives, Mozilla is giving back to the OS ecosystem by directly sponsoring development on these open source projects! With Intern specifically, the following improvements will be implemented:
- Performance with an emphasis on benchmarking and regression analysis
- Visual regression testing with screenshot comparison and image analysis
- Accessibility focused on analysis against known accessibility best practices
Intern, via the Leadfoot WebDriver library, provides a lot of low-level control over the browsers it uses to run tests. Tests can navigate to new pages, resize the browser window, examine elements on a page, and interact with controls like inputs and buttons. Unfortunately, with all this power can come great complexity. Many testing tasks will involve a large number of low-level operations and dealing with these can be error prone and make tests difficult to follow. Command helpers to the rescue!