• Jul 20, 2018

Last time, I went over my switch in tack for how I'm making the new version of my blog, and my overall focus on picking an interesting stack of JEE technologies. In this post, I'm going to start diving into the implementation of the UI, though I think that it will make sense to dedicate two posts to it.

The biggest decision I made with the UI side of this app is that I didn't want to make a client-side JS app. There's a reason they're so ascendant, and I find development with React or Stencil pretty enjoyable, but I wanted to go a different route here for a few reasons:

  • For a blog, a CSJS app is wildly overkill, and, in fact, would require extra work to fulfull one of the basic requirements of a blog, which is being web-crawler friendly.
  • I want to see how svelte I can make the client payload.
  • Skipping a JS framework (and a CSS one) is a great way to brush up on what plain HTML and CSS are capable of nowadays.
  • Unlike a typical Darwino app, my only target is a full-on Java web server, so I'm not held back on the Java side by the capabilities, say, of Dalvik on Android 4.
  • Part of me misses the simplicity of my early PHP days, albeit not the language.

The Java Side

I decided to go with the MVC 1.0 draft spec because it lets me write extremely focused code. Here is the controller for the home page:

package controller;

import javax.inject.Inject;
import javax.mvc.Models;
import javax.mvc.annotation.Controller;
import javax.ws.rs.GET;
import javax.ws.rs.Path;

import model.PostRepository;

@Path("/")
@Controller
public class HomeController {
	@Inject
	Models models;
	
	@Inject
	PostRepository posts;
	
	@GET
	public String get() {
		models.put("posts", posts.homeList());
		
		return "home.jsp";
	}
}

Naturally, there's a lot of magic going on behind the scenes - there's tons of heavy lifting going on here by JAX-RS, MVC, CDI, JNoSQL, and Darwino - but that's the point. All the other components are off doing their jobs in their areas, while the code that provides the UI doesn't have to care about the specifics.

Things can get more complicated on the pages that actually have some functionality to them, but the code remains pleasantly focused. Take the handler for deleting posts:

@DELETE
@Path("{postId}")
@RolesAllowed("admin")
public String delete(@PathParam("postId") String postId) {
	Post post = posts.findByPostId(postId).orElseThrow(() -> new IllegalArgumentException("Unable to find post matching ID " + postId));
	posts.deleteById(post.getId());
	return "redirect:posts";
}

This adds another level of magic in the form of javax.security.annotation.RolesAllowed, but it's more of the good kind: even with no knowledge of the underlying frameworks, it's pretty clear what every bit of code is doing here. It's a refreshing bit of that Rails simplicity, just more compile-type-safe and much uglier.

Even beyond the minimal code is the cleanliness that this brings to the structure of the application: other than the img, css, and js paths, all of the routing within the application is done care of JAX-RS and MVC. It's not beholden to the folder structure in the project or to a Domino-style implicit app router.

JSP

JSP has been the prototypical Java HTML language for about 20 years, and it's had a rough upbringing. The early versions committed the PHP/XPages sin of encouraging you to put business logic right on the page, and it even still has the typical Java problem that it's tricky to find advice about using it that uses technologies added since 2005.

Still, when used properly, it can be a nice, clean templating language. Again from the main home page:

<%@page contentType="text/html" pageEncoding="UTF-8"%>
<%@taglib prefix="t" tagdir="/WEB-INF/tags" %>
<%@ taglib prefix="c" uri="http://java.sun.com/jsp/jstl/core" %>
<t:layout>
	<c:forEach items="${posts}" var="post">
		<t:post value="${post}"/>
	</c:forEach>
</t:layout>

For an XPages developer, this is extremely comfortable. It's also very refreshingly elemental: there's no server-side persistence of the page, so everything is "load-time bound" and, with just HTML tags and core JSTL tags, nothing ends up on the page that you don't explicitly put there.

Ozark, the MVC implementation, also supports using JSF "Facelets" for the view portion, but JSP suits the task just fine.

HTML + CSS

It'd been far too long since I last really sat down and looked at what baseline HTML and CSS are like - in particular, I'd watched the rise of CSS Flexbox and Grid from afar, and never gave them a shot. Using components that generate their own HTML and pre-existing CSS frameworks to target with class names is all well and good, but it does leave you a bit disconnected from the fundamentals.

So, for this iteration, I tossed aside the very-nice Bootstrap framework I've been using, dusted off one of my old hand-built ones, and got to translating it into CSS Grid. This cut down on the page size enormously: I had already echewed Dojo by not using XPages, but this now also meant that I could ditch the core bootstrap.css, jQuery, and any jQuery plugins.

Beyond CSS Grid, have you seen how nice HTML forms are nowadays? Just looking at this post reveals how much is built in in the way of validation and different input types, even before you write a line of JavaScript.

Turbolinks

Having such a trimmed-down UI means that pages already load extremely quickly, but I figured this was also a perfect chance to try out a bit of clever tech from the team at Basecamp: Turbolinks. Turbolinks is a JS file that you bring into your app which then transparently takes over your in-app links to minimize the amount of rendering you have to do. Since the surrounding boilerplate of the app usually doesn't change between requests, it can figure out the "diff" between old and new and just replace the body. It's essentially like partial refreshes without the server knowing anything about it.

It's still technically inefficient to have the server render and transfer surrounding page elements that are just going to be discarded anyway. But, on the other hand, skipping that means that I don't have to write JavaScript handlers myself, use a full CSJS app framework, or keep state on the server side. The server just keeps doing what it does with a fully context-less request and the browser sorts it out. Basecamp's programmers are masters at the targeted deployment of kludges for maximum benefit.


In the next (final?) post in the series, I'll finish up with my "low-JS" experience and other lessons learned from this project.

Nov 30, 2018
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