Sunday, July 8, 2012

Back to the code

The last couple of years have been a whirlwind and in my time running a relatively large part of a relatively large project I was often unable to spend time keeping up to date in any technology other than that at hand at the present time.  I have finally been able to put my head up for some air so to speak and get my head back in the tech world that I feel I have turned my back on in the last 18 months. I may post more about this soon however for now it is updates on stuff I have been playing with lately.

Im quite keen to dive back into JavaScript, which would have sounded weird to me 10 years ago as it was a language that at the time I thought was just a hack fest. Having grown up somewhat and having more experience with the language it is obvious that it deserves a bit more respect than that. With HTML 5 and Windows 8 fully harnessing javascript and the acknowledgement of node.js as a legitimate backend technology, JavaScript is here to stay. As I started diving back into the JS world I realised that my knowledge of JS fundamentals was woefully lacking.

My first step back into the JS journey is getting my head around what JS actually is (vs what I thought it was). Being a prototype based language and not a class based language, it offers different ways of solving similar solutions to languages I'm more used to. This does not mean you cant use conventional OO based techniques, we know you can, but it means you may have to rethink how you could best solve those problems. Most of the change comes into the definition of the objects, not so much the use of them... well... kinda. For more good reading on JS for people with OO background have a look into this nice blog series on the topic.

One of the major steps forward in JS, as the language has not really changed, are the new APIs available.  I have the fortune of having some friends that are in web based start ups that I can tap into as a source of up-to-date trends and whats hot in the "valley". A few of those things that I have picked up lately are UnderScore.js, Backbone.js and in the testing realm Jasmine and Sinon for isolation/mocking.

UnderScore is a handy utility library that provides a bunch of assistance functions especially helpfully, amongst other things, in the handling of collections. As it is a utility library its super helpful and at 1000 lines in a single file, if you really want to know how it all works, you are only an hour or two away from figuring it all out. I would certainly read through the website as it quickly and succinctly describes all its functions. Being a .Net fan-boi, Linq is dear to my heart, so I was please to see that method chaining was supported albeit not as cleanly as something like linq.js, but hey you cant have everything :).

Backbone to me is much more interesting. I have many times bumbled my way through DOM manipulation handling various client side events using JS.  Backbone comes to the rescue by providing a Model-View binding approach that I am much more comfortable with (at least conceptually) and leads to clean SoC and a testable model, which is all good stuff.
Learning the basics of Backbone is not super obvious and the docs IMO are not super helpful either (I have been spoilt lately learning rails with a tonne of good docs). Fortunately the PeepCode series has been a fantastic resource with 3 video tutorials and the accompanying source code so you can follow along.

Now there is no point in saying Backbone is super testable without testing it and Jasmine with Sinon fit in nicely here. Jasmine and Sinon are covered in the PeepCode series and also in this nice blog series.
Backbone goes a long way in addressing my issues that I had with my previous "DOM manipulation" heavy approach, and Jasmine fits hand and hand with an improve testing approach. If you are used to BDD style frameworks like Cucumber or SpecFlow then Jasmine maybe for you, however if you prefer standard xUnit style testing there is always QUnit.

Sinon is also a nice fit with testing as Backbone has some convention based features that allow you to hit backend servers for model updates and persistence; Sinon steps in and saves you some pretty serious pain if you were serious testing your models over the wire.

Hopefully I will give some more feedback on these various APIs and approaches as I get a bit more experience in them, however for now it is just a link fest. Depending on how well my ventures into Backbone go I may or may not use Reactive Extensions for JS. Reactive Extension (RX) is something that is pervasive on the code base I currently work on so it is an obvious choice for me to experiment with. RX is a brilliant API for event based data streams and is something that I think will become common place in .Net in the very near future. For more info check out Intro To Rx

See y'all soon.


1 comment:

Rhys Campbell said...

Looks like Derick Bailey is runing Backbone js classes and has some good info and post eg :