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Evolving VS Adjusting

We often have to make the choice between adjusting to conditions or paying a price for improving them. Usually it is safer to adjust, but still we have to be very careful we don’t miss an opportunity to improve. Probably the best way to do that is to compare the price and improvements.

Asynchronous Module Definition is one of the hottest topics on the CommonJS this days. Unfortunately my impression is that most of the participants of these debates forget to measure price VS improvement and this can be harmful.

I believe there are two sides:

  1. People that believe that CommonJS modules are not well suited for in-browser usage (suggesting an alternative, “browser friendly” syntax).
  2. People who believe that CommonJS modules are perfectly usable within browser without any changes.

I’m one among few others who uses CommonJS modules both on the server and in the browser already. With that in mind it’s not easy to convince me, that change in well established standard is absolutely necessary.

Issues with current modules

There were many arguments why current modules are not suited for in-browser usage, but unfortunately I did not manage to convince enough people to make a list of them, so I will summarise them as: “Non of the existing module loading techniques provides perfect debugging experience across the different browsers without involvement of a server component or a building step.”

Different view on these issues

  • Debugging story is not that bad actually (much better than it used to be not a long time ago), but it’s true, rarely, but still strange issues occur. In any case those are bugs in debuggers not with a modules. Only way to fix bugs is by report them. I’m pretty confident that firebug team is going to make their best, to make debugging experience as good as possible. I also hope that it’s true for a web inspector.
  • Dismissing a server as a show stopper is also inadequate IMO, since there are few other things like Offline Application Caching that would still depend on it and won’t work without. And in the end it just matter of running one simple command before starting development. For instance to hack on jetpack you need to run source bin/activate and I believe it was show stopper for anyone.

Issues with proposed changes

Proposed changes are not perfect either:

  • Some people will argue against this statement, but there is nothing in common between proposed Asynchronous Module Definition and existing module specs other then the CommonJS label. This will be a source of confusion and community fragmentation.

    Below you can find a simple module being rewritten according to two different specs:

    Asynchronous definition:

    CommonJS module:

  • Asynchronous definition seem to encourage handwritten boilerplate but what is puzzling here is, why would any programmer prefer writing a boilerplate code by hand over writing a program that would do that for him. Yes it’s nice to refresh browser and be ready to go without any build step, but nothing prevents us form writing programs that support this workflow.
  • A most important issue is that the new proposal suggests to adjust to the unpleasant situation browser are in now, and what is even worse, it brings this mess to the server. Adjustment to broken tooling is only going to delay innovation! I truly believe that if we had had such a big adoption of CommonJS modules a few years ago, we would have perfect debugging story today (well maybe not in all browsers :). I also think that wide adoption of CommonJS modules already triggered some innovation and partially that is the reason why we might get native modules in harmony. And you know what ? Once we’ll get them, no magic will happen, as it did not happened when Web Workers arrived. It will take some time to get a decent tooling support. Again it should not stop innovation by trying to adjust new amazing platforms to the mess we are at with browsers.

Evolving

I think that the only sane thing to do now is to bring the innovation that happens in server side javascript back to the browser without compromising anything. With that in mind I’m planning to put a lot of effort in [teleport], a tool that I wrote some time ago. It allowed few projects to share CommonJS modules across server and client. I don’t believe there is any perfect solution to all problems, but each problem has a solution and I hope that [teleport] will be a set of solutions addressing CommonJS module loading problems. The list of tasks I’ll be working on, is probably the best way to get a better idea what is it all about. Feel free to fork me, suggest new ideas or just comment here.

JavaScript JS Documentation: JS Array some, JavaScript Array some, JS Array .some, JavaScript Array .some
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