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The Business Case for Coding With Webpack

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Challenges With Today’s Web Technology

Most major projects we work on involve taking complex data and business needs and simplifying them for users on the web. Our clients want full control and visualization of their data and content from anywhere in the world. This is no small feat since enterprise apps demand complex logic and high volumes, and web technology is based on a legacy of simple document sharing. Although server-side technology has been advancing steadily along with the rest of the software industry, web client (browser) technology has come along much slower and remains inconsistent between browsers. 


Introducing Transpilers

There are dreamy new browser standards that already exist (such as ES2015), but few of them have been fully implemented yet. To compensate for this problem, developers have created transpilers; software responsible for translating new features into old code, compatible with the extremely outdated browser environment. One such piece of software is Webpack, a system for transpiling next-generation JavaScript into optimized, browser-compliant current-generation JavaScript, HTML, and CSS. Tools like Webpack are becoming critical to our development workflow as we create and support increasingly complex and data-rich web applications for our clients.

Transpilers are Here to Stay 

Transpilers were initially intended as a temporary measure. “These features will one day be supported in your browser by default” many JavaScript and CSS documentation pages boldly declare. But, if we’re honest with ourselves, the transpiler is here to stay. For example, only a fraction of the ES2015 standard has been implemented in most major browser versions, and we’re almost halfway through 2016. Meanwhile, people are already starting to talk about ES2017. This really isn’t a new paradigm in software. If we had to  write user interfaces in machine code, we would still be reading email in a terminal and viewing images in 16-bit color.  Instead, we invented compilers that translate non-standard, unoptimized (but fully featured) code into standard, optimized code.  Transpilers are becoming as essential for the web as compilers are for desktop development. Webpack is CQL’s transpiler of choice.


The Business Case for Using Webpack

So how does using a transpiler like Webpack ultimately help companies? Developers like it because it makes their job easier. But does it really add measurable value to business? To answer that question, we need to look at some of the fundamental technical challenges that must be overcome in order to build any web app, and how those challenges impact companies in terms of finance, flexibility and time. 

Reduce Lag in Communication Like NASA

NASA faces an interesting problem with the Mars Rover. Commands sent to the Mars Rover can take more than 13 minutes to be delivered, due to the massive distance between Earth and Mars. Likewise, any information collected by the Mars Rover needs at least 13 minutes to travel back. NASA’s response to this problem was to give the Mars Rover its own logic for making decisions, so that it didn’t have to wait for a 26 minute round trip message to figure out how to avoid a rock.

The same problem, though less extreme, exists on the web. Every time an interaction takes place between a user (via a browser or mobile app) and the company (a server in some data center), a message must travel across miles of wires (and/or cell towers), introducing a definite and perceptible lag. Just like NASA’s solution with the Mars Rover, the only way companies can reliably give their users instant feedback is to build reactive behavior into the client side of their web apps with JavaScript.

For more on this separation of client and server technology, see our previous blog - Toddler Explains the Future of Web Applications.

Handle Browser Inconsistencies

Addressing inconsistencies across browsers can be a very tedious, time consuming and dangerous (likely to introduce bugs) task. For this reason, many companies choose to focus development on the server side or provide support for only very limited browsers, often at the expense of the user experience. However, using Webpack allows the use of feature-rich web programming languages (such as ES2015, JSX, Sass, and more), automatically compiling them into legacy JavaScript and CSS, compatible with browsers as old as IE 9.

Help Developers Identify and Avoid Problems

Webpack can be used to integrate unit testing, code linting and other accountability features that help developers avoid many potential pitfalls of coding for the web and write more maintainable code. The result? A feature-rich, sustainable, and cost-effective environment for building web applications; applications capable of giving users instant feedback, boosting productivity, retaining more users and possibly increasing sales.


Conclusion 

In today’s world where form, function and usability create equal demands of users on the web, there are tools, like Webpack, to help meet those demands in a cost-effective way for the business. If you are interested in optimized user experiences, reducing the server footprint of your app or have questions about Webpack, please drop us a note.  We’d love to hear from you! (Stay tuned for more on Webpack in the near future.)

*Read more about NASA’s problem with the Mars Rover here.

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