Thursday, November 9, 2017

Modern Notes like UI using ReactJS

The world is evolving fast, and so technologies are. Today, for now a little while, when we talk about building a new web UI or a mobile hybrid one, we think about using pure client technologies without markup generation on the server side. JSF, JSP, ASP.NET are being replaced by Angular, ReactJS, VueJS and services...  I personally think this is a great evolution. But, are these technologies easy enough to use? Can a developer be as productive as he/she is with XPages, for example? Well, the quick answer is no, at least without any addition to these core libraries, in term of components and tooling.

This is the problem we are currently tackling with Darwino: let's make it easy to consume these new JavaScript technologies without compromising their power. For these, Darwino 2.0 is featuring a brand new ReactJS component libraries as well as some new templates (or boilerplates, or pods, ...) that make the creation of a project easy.

The components should give you all the necessary UI constructs to create a form based application. Of course, all of this is responsive to adapt to mobile devices. In short, everything you need to build Notes/Domino like applications in minutes, but with pure standard ReactJS.
Curious? Have a look a running instance here http://playground.darwino.com:8080/contacts-react (use demo/demo to log in)

The applications should also be data source agnostic, in a sense that the same application should,  almost seamlessly, connect the Darwino JSON store, or to Notes/Domino backend, or even other DB like LiveGrid data store. With this architecture in mind, these applications can work online, connecting to any server data, but also offline, connecting to the locally Darwino replicated data in your mobile device.

There are different steps in this journey. Let's go through them.

Choosing the JS library/framework

There is nothing wrong picking up one of the major library currently available. In a previous post, I explained why we choose VueJS for ProjExec and how our developers quickly became productive using this library. It was great with this goal in mind.
Darwino has different goals. As a development tool, it should target the broader set of use cases. This implies using a library with a bigger eco-systems, a large set of third party additions, several rendering libraries (bootstrap, material design...). For these reasons, we choose ReactJS, as it is adopted by the many vendors like IBM or Microsoft. The later is interesting, as we can quickly create apps with the Office look & feel, thanks to the Office UI Fabric

ReactJS it is.

Choosing the right ReactJS components

ReactJS by itself is low-level: let's consider it as a powerful, core engine that can be extended through components. For example, ReactJS has *no* built-in data binding capabilities like the one you'll find in Angular or VueJS. You should either implement them yourself, or use a third party library.
To get a decent set of capabilities without reinventing the wheel, you have to pick-up libraries from one of the large JavaScript repositories. Nowadays, I would advise you to use npm (or eventually yarn) and leave tools like Bower to the historian.
Gasp, this is where the troubles come in: the npm repository features a plethora of libraries designed for the same job. How would you pickup one over the others? Number of downloads? Stars on Github? Recent activity? Return on experience from other developers? Making the right choices takes time as there is no obvious ones.

For Darwino, we choose the following:
  • react-redux
  • react-router
  • redux-form
  • react-intl
  • react-data-grid
  • react-bootstrap (or eqv for other UI targets)
  • ... and a few others

Project boilerplates

If, for you, building an app if about saving a design element in an NSF, then your life is good. The JavaScript world is way more complex! Even if JavaScript is an interpreted language, you'll quickly feel the need of running build tools to use the latest JS specifications, consume libraries, produce an optimized/compressed version of the code... Again, you 'll have to make some choices between Grunt, Gulp, Webpack, Browserify, ... and many other tools. This is another time consuming research.
Once your choice is made, you have to configure the tools, generally using a JavaScript based DSL (e.g. a JavaScript piece of code driving the tool). This is fairly complex as the DSLs feature many options. To get started, developers created templates, also called boilerplates. They contains the configuration files with default behaviors that you then have to customize. But again you have many available, with some clearly developed by people without a deep knowledge of the technology. Furthermore, they are generally tailored for a particular version of the tool and will not function properly with yours...
Ok, we spent many days of try/fail/redo and we are coming with our own template. Well, it is even easier: go to the Darwino studio, create a new project, select the target technology and voila, you're ready to go. Pfuuuu...

Component library

As we'd like to make the developer experience as smooth as possible, we are providing a series of ready to use components covering most of the developer needs. What started as a demo library became a very useful set of components, covering:

  • Forms with document access (load, save, validation)
  • Data binding controls, including read-only mode, multiple values, pickers, rich text, attachments upload & download
  • Computed fields (yes, not that obvious with ReactJS!)
  • Data grid with Notes view like behaviors: categorization, totals, response doc
  • Navigators, action bars, sub-forms
  • Dialogs, messages
  • Easy access to server side business logic using micro services

And more... But again, these components are just regular ReactJS components, that any ReactJS developer would consume without fear. They do not carry any idiosyncrasies from the original Notes ones. They exist to create Notes like UI for Web and Mobile, not to replicate 1-1 what the Notes UI does.

Ah, I foresee a question: can you automatically convert an existing Notes UI to this technology? The answer is... yes! Feel interested?

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