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I Wrote My Own Axios

posted under category: General on October 21, 2021 at 8:03 pm by Nathan
A blog series in which I confess to accidentally having written my own poor version of a solved problem

I was new to the “new” JavaScript. You know, the one we started doing when Node.js went mainstream and everybody started using NPM to launch their apps, and back when leftPad was cool. It’s fair for me to be this cranky about it; I wrote my first line of JavaScript in 1997, and I jumped in with both feet through the Prototype years, the jQuery years, and now, something new: NPM Packages and Webpack.

The JavaScript language was evolving, too. Meanwhile I was still trying to support my Internet Explorer users. That’s the corporate life. So the new ecosystem, plus the new language features, plus the new libraries, all had my head in a spin for literally years. Ours is a learning career. When you stop learning, you might as well stop your career. So, I guess the state of confusion is a good place to be.

My first Vue.js project started off on the far side of the progressive framework’s spectrum. That is, I added a tag to my layout and wrote a new Vue for each page. Vue.js is great at easing you into this world.

My next step was to normalize the way we bring data into the UI. We needed to use a token security system, and the other developers were already trying to get their own JWT and figure out how to copy & paste that code to all the features they were working on. I needed to act fast so that this didn’t get out of hand.

A cursory glance across the JavaScript universe brought up a few contenders - Axios, the download leader, whatwg-fetch and isomorphic-fetch that gave me trouble (probably beccause IE wasn’t compatible), and there were a few others that just didn’t pan out. Then I thought about the trouble of adding yet another .js file to my application, the additional download size, and what we really needed for this project. Then, you guessed it, I decided to just do it myself. How hard could it be?

It turns out, not very!

The first version of this first Vue project had jQuery built in, and we weren’t to the point of ditching jQuery yet, so since it was available, I could utilize it to hide my XMLHttpRequest business. I was confident that I could replace jQuery later in this instance.

In front of jQuery’s $.ajax method, my http “class” had get/put/post/delete functions as its API - finally a central place for all the API requests to come in. We added some UI logging on it to track API timing. We added JWT management so that it would all be handled inside the black box. It was also the smart place to add global error handling. This worked. I changed all the API code throughout the application to use my method, and we went forward successfully.

By the end of my time on that project, I had figured out how to get Webpack to precompile our Vue applications - individual applications per page on the site. I bought that knowledge forward to my next project. Again, everything seemed to be copy-and-pasted so I centralized the code and used the browser-native Fetch api with Babel targeting IE11 for compatibility and to automatically load any polyfills for me since IE doesn’t have Fetch at all.

This next iteration was even more successful. I could finally use ESM from the start, so I exported my 4 verbs - get/put/post/delete - which called into an internal function to contact the server and return the data. It didn’t take long until I found the cracks in that system.

Fetch is more than happy to return server-side errors to the UI. I was going to handle it. I wrote a bit of code before realizing that this is probably something that Axios already does. I double-checked the package size; for some reason I thought Axios was going to add like 40kb to my vendor bundle. It turns out it’s only 16kb. Not bad. Plus Axios is well tested, and I don’t want to write all the unit tests. It was time.

I switched to letting Axios handle the connections instead of Fetch. I still have my own adapter over it - not necessarily to simplify things, but more to control and standardize everything.

What did I learn?

Well, I’d like to say I learned to not sweat over a 16kb npm package, but the truth is, I still usually prefer to make my own everything until I run into trouble. I mean, isn’t that what this whole series is about? I clearly don’t learn!

Axios

What may not be evident, is how Axios and the browser-native Fetch differ. Of course Axios is essentially a library on top of XMLHttpRequest or the Fetch API. Axios simplifies the request chain a little bit, puts a slightly friendlier face on the request and response objects, and handles HTTP errors a lot cleaner than Fetch. Also, it has a bunch of great features like a cancellation token system, which is a little tough to use but better than my own absent one.

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.
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