The Dopefly Tech Blog

« The Dopefly Tech Blog Main page

I Wrote My Own Vue.js

posted under category: General on October 18, 2021 at 9:28 pm by Nathan
A blog series in which I confess to accidentally having written my own poor version of a solved problem

React was frustrating.

I had the pleasure of getting to rewrite our customer survey at work. It’s like “how do you like your airplane” kinds of questions. This was 2016 and I was looking forward to a 6-month task that required us to beef up the security and improve the looks for a helpful little program. Of course I chose to rewrite the whole thing, which had me shopping for front-end frameworks. Everyone was talking about React at the time, so I decided to give it a shot. What went wrong?

React basically has two modes: 1, you build the whole application in React, which requires live sacrifices made to the great and powerful NPM, forcing you to buy into the entire lifecycle of new JS development and everything that comes with it, or 2, you manually construct your html with the React.createElement() function, which is a fate worse than going back to the pre-CSS days of the internet. There’s actually a third way I found out. For the small price of a 22mb JavaScript bundle download, you could load the entire Babel transpiler into your browser! Uhhh, no thank you!

That was the state of things in 2016. I know it’s gotten a a little better since then. Don’t @ me.

So React left me out in the cold. I played with it for some time and just decided to give up, however I couldn’t give up the notion of component-based development and JavaScript-powered UI templating, plus immutable-state-driven UI. It was the right choice for this interactive project, I just didn’t like how the only framework I’d heard about solved this problem.

(I have a lot of other gripes with React, maybe someday I’ll finish this rant)

Apparently that’s as far as my research got me, so I whined and moaned about it for days like the grown man I am. “Why isn’t there a framework that does what I need?” Eventually I decided to move on and just make my own with a little bit of what I knew.

Really, I built some simple bridges between two basic technologies: jQuery and Mustache, then a few convenience functions to make it all come together.

jQuery is, of course, the simplest little library for finding and manipulating elements in the DOM. I knew it like the back of my hand so I knew I could fit it in, under budget.

Mustache.js is the less popular feature of this pair. It’s the smallest client-side templating engine I could find that could still get the job done. Mustache is the little cousin of the broader Handlebars library. It does some basic templating loops and variable outputs with curly brace {{ mustache }} syntax for the magic.

Mustache doesn’t have an easy way to attach itself to the DOM, or to produce highly interactive components, nor can it load components across external files. That’s where jQuery shines. jQuery can easily mount Mustache components and keep them interactive for subsequent user events. An HTTP call with jQuery would be all that’s needed to bring in and cache my component files.

I also thought about the concept of state-driven UI, and I was enamored with the idea of state changes that drive what’s shown. It’s a natural fit for getting the data right and being able to visible debug it. React uses setState() to change things - something like that would be easy enough to implement. Luckily I didn’t feel the need to write any major reactive data systems. I emulated my understanding of React’s state management through a finite state machine that controlled state changes. These state events are like nextQuestion and completeSurvey.

Did I succeed in creating a great JavaScript framework? That’s laughable. You know the answer. I did not.

But did I at least come up with something that worked better than React for my situation? You better believe it.

What did I learn?

Remember kids, you can build world-class enterprise apps with the tools you already have on hand. It helps to read a few books beforehand; I think I had just finished a couple of my favorite short reads - Javascript: The Good Parts and The Facts and Fallacies of Software Engineering which put me in the mood to build something great.

Of course looking back now, I realize Vue.js was already 2 years old. I suppose I should have done a little more research!

Vue.js

Fast forward 2 years. I’m on another project dealing with production factory analytics. By now there was a lot of internet dev chatter about the big-3 frameworks - React, Angular, and Vue. I did my research and picked Vue at 3pm on a Thursday. My buddy Joseph and I, pair programming, included Vue.js onto the page, mounted it to a DOM element, and instantly I was able to loop and output properties. It was way easier than React, and much more powerful than Mustache. I was instantly hooked! I rolled out the feature change before I went home. The very next morning we got comments on how quickly that page seemed to be running.

That was the day I began to realize that Vue was the framework I had wanted all along, and attempted to build. Sure, I built a cheap, duct-tape-and-shoestring version, but Vue was what I was dreaming about.

As I studied the Vue.js framework a little more over the next few months, I quickly began to realize that Vue was so, so much more. Vue’s reactive data system is so far beyond the cheap state management solution I had, that I can only look back and laugh now. That simple include-the-script idea was there by design to lure folks like me into the NPM world. Tricky.

Nathan is a software developer at The Boeing Company in Charleston, SC. He is essentially a big programming nerd. Really, you could say that makes him a nerd among nerds. Aside from making software for the web, he plays with tech toys and likes to think about programming's big picture while speaking at conferences and generally impressing people with massive nerdiness and straight-faced sarcastic humor. Nathan got his programming start writing batch files in DOS. It should go without saying, but these thought and opinions have nothing to do with Boeing in any way.
This blog is also available as an RSS 2.0 feed. Click your heels together and click here to contact Nathan.