One of the correct ways to start JS projects in 2017


I choose to use create-react-app, then use ES2016 standard to write react to build the UI and use redux to manage the data, and write flexbox to manage layouts in CSS, if I am going to start a completely new general-purposes front end project in early 2017.


This post only expresses my current opinion and suggestions and I am not responsible for any potential lost or profit for any readers. And moreover, I respect any developers or companies trying to make the community and the world better.

personal complaints

Front end development is evolving really fast, I mean, really f***ing fast, especially in JavaScript-related fields.

It’s in late 2016 and year 2017 is coming when I am writing this post. Many new learners in front end development are confused of a bunch of different concepts: react, jQuery, webpack, browserify, gulp, npm, ES2015“How it feels to learn JavaScript in 2016” describes the confusion in a way making me laugh. As far as I am concerned, the front-end development is rapidly walking through all the ways the desktop GUI development once had. And because of the crazy optimization the browsers have, everyone is tending to making the front-end codebase larger and larger.

Besides that, I think JavaScript community likes to solve problems in unusual ways, (re-)invent the concepts, (re-)invent the toolkits, and likes to write small packages then compose them into larger packages, due to historical reasons. It was like, suddenly, many people realized that JS was a bad language and try to add features into the standard so people decided to propose ES2015 (a.k.a ES6) as a significant update to the language, with arrow function, classes, etc. And interestingly JS community likes to “use new features beforehand”, i.e., use babel.js to transform new-style JS code into old style. No other community frequently do that (For example, new compilers for latest C++ / Java standard, separated codebase for Python (or sometimes six package).). Or invent a better JavaScript like CoffeeScript or TypeScript then translate them into vanilla JS. Moreover, MVC, MVVM, pure function usage, task management, it seems that suddenly front end developers realize that those old desktop / backend / system development concepts can be applied to front end, too. Moreover, packages like to depend on small packages, and NOT hide the dependency. A small package left-pad caused tons of package broken in early 2016. Latest babeljs splits itself into small plugins compared with old versions to “reduce unnecessarily large downloads”. Oh, ES2015 eventually invent a new official module system, “combining the benefits of require() and AMD”, and later System.js was invented to “load any module format”. I could only think of the famous xkcd #927 for this situation.

xkcd: standards

I sincerely wish front end development could become easier in one or two years.

what are those concepts

HTML5 is the newer standard for HTML. Basically, it provides more markups and APIs.

CSS3 is the newer standard for CSS, providing new features like round corners and flexbox.

ECMAScript 2015 == ES2015 == ES6. “JavaScript” and “ECMAScript” are differnt but that’s not important to normal developer. ES2015 introduces new / better syntax / features to the standard. CoffeeScript is a language that can be compiled to JS, but it’s not important any more. TypeScript is another JS-like language with type annotation that can be compiled to JS, and it’s usefully and maybe the next generation of ES standard. For late 2016 and early 2017, developer should learn ES2015 / ES2016 firstly, then learn TypeScript.

“Node.js is a server-side JavaScript runtime”. And it originally came with server-side package manger npm. On client side, people used Bower to manage packages in old days, but now npm manages packages on both server side and client side.

For task management, people used Makefile, grunt, gulp, npm. Nowadays people like to use npm directly, or use npm as the entry to many task scripts.

browserify and webpack are “package loader”. Now many people choose webpack. “Package loader” can do many preprocess things, like loading packages, transforming language, “bundling” scripts, compressing outputs. As a result, many developers actually invoke some webpack scripts inside npm.

babel is an amazing library transforming new-style JS to old style for capability reasons. People usually invoke babel as one step in webpack commands.

jQuery and d3.js and react and AngularJS 1 and AngularJS 2 and VueJS are front end libraries or frameworks. People tend to not use jQuery in large applications any more. d3.js is super awesome for data visualization. react is Viewing library developed by Facebook. AngularJS 1 and AngularJS 2 are the front-end frameworks developed by Google, while they share different versions and same name, they are kind of very different in design. VueJS is another framework. react and Angular aim to solve different things: the former is just a view library (View in MV*) and the latter tries to provide whole-stack solution (MVC or MVVM) but people like to compare them. react is super easy but it should be combined with other things like redux to provide full front end solution, while AngularJS is already full solution but has a steep learning curve.

fetch is a new API and better replacement for XMLHttpRequest.

JSX in react is a syntax sugar. But we need babel or other things to transform it into normal JS.

what to choose

Hopefully I have explained many concepts above clearly. Thus, to build the front end of a website, besides HTML and CSS, we usually need JavaScript to manage the data and the corresponding viewing effects, and make things “dynamic”.

One old-style popular way was using jQuery to send AJAX calls and receive data, then manipulate the DOM. It might still be a good choice nowadays, but, on the one hand people use the “standarized” APIs abandoning the old browsers, so jQuery as the combability layer might be less necessary, and on the other hand people gradually think “manipulating DOM directly is bad”, so people invent other libraries / frameworks to think differently.

react is a view library, designed behind the totally different idea compared with that’s behind jQuery. I recommend everyone give it a try, because it has a smooth learning curve, helps building efficient UI efficiently, and plays an important role in front end development currently.

Surely react is not the only choice, but it’s more natural to developers who don’t come from Java world (yes, I am looking at you, Angular).

And, after choosing react, we only have the tool for displaying data, then (unfortunately) we need other things to “manage data” in the front end. Here comes redux, which is one of the best companions with react.

By developing front end projects nowadays, developers usually need a whole “building toolchain”. Like what I explained above, they are so confusing. Here is one choice: use webpack to “bundle” (pack) all the code, meanwhile using babel to transform ES2016 codes and codes using new APIs into the old-style code that could be run on most browsers; also open a local webserver for debugging, which may support “hot reloading”. Setting up these from scratch, in my opinion, is surprisingly annoying and time consuming.

Then here comes create-react-app. Once again, it’s not the only choice. But it’s officially supported by Facebook and has some sort of minimal configuration design. Once npm install, we could directly write modern JS (and HTML and CSS) code and the scripts would take care of the build process later.

where to start?

Basic understanding of HTML, CSS, JS (easy). Some sort of new HTML tags, some new CSS styles, and how the modern JS codes are written (easy to know, not easy to write). Then know what AJAX / fecth is, those are very important for dynamically loading data in web (easy in concept), and how JS deals with async codes (hard to understand). Then react and redux and other new worlds (once you know the fundamentals, react is easy, redux is not easy, Angular is hard).