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Designing And Building A Progressive Web Application Without A Framework

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19 August 2019 | by Ben Frain

In this final part, we will cover turning a basic web application into a Progressive Web Application (PWA) and ‘shipping’ the application before looking at the most valuable lessons learned by making the simple web application In/Out.

MAKING A PROGRESSIVE WEB APPLICATION

The good news is that when it comes to turning a little JavaScript-powered app into a ‘Progressive Web App’ there are heaps of tools to make life easy. If you cast your mind back to part one of this series, you’ll remember that to be a Progressive Web App means meeting a set of criteria.

To get a handle on how your web-application measures up, your first stop should probably be the Lighthouse tools of Google Chrome. You can find the Progressive Web App audit under the ‘Audits’ tab. This is what Lighthouse told me when I first ran In/Out through it.

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DESIGN IS DEVELOPMENT

At the outset, I didn’t value design enough. I started this project believing that my time spent sketching with a pad and pen or in the Sketch application, was time that could be better spent with coding. However, it turns that when I went straight to code, I was often just being a busy fool. Exploring concepts first at the lowest possible fidelity, saved far more time in the long run.

There were numerous occasions at the beginning where hours were spent getting something working in code only to realize that it was fundamentally flawed from a user experience point of view.

The next thing I learned to appreciate, and I don’t know why it took so long to figure out, is that design is iterative. I’d sub-consciously bought into the myth of a Designer with a capital “D”. Someone flouncing around, holding their mechanical pencil up at straight edges, waxing lyrical about typefaces and sipping on a flat white (with soya milk, obviously) before casually birthing fully formed visual perfection into the world.

I believe it was the novelist, Michael Crichton, who coined the maxim, “Books are not written — they’re rewritten”. Accept that every creative process is essentially the same. Be aware that trusting the process lessens the anxiety and practice will refine your aesthetic understanding and judgment.

YOU ARE THE OTHER DEV ON YOUR PROJECT

There were evenings when, for the 30 minutes I had to work on the project, I did nothing more than try to understand a function I had written six months ago. The main reasons code re-orientation took so long was a lack of quality comments and poorly named variables and function arguments.

I’m very diligent in commenting code in my day job, always conscientious that someone else might need to make sense of what I’m writing. However, in this instance, I was that someone else. Do you really think you will remember how the block of code works you wrote in six months time? You won’t. Trust me on this, take some time out and comment that thing up!

MAINTENANCE AND SECURITY

Anything you build that makes any use of NPM, even if just for build tools, carries the possibility of being vulnerable to security issues. GitHub does a good job of keeping you aware of potential problems but there is still some burden of maintenance.

For something that is a mere side-project, this can be a bit of a pain in the months and years that follow active development.

The reality is that every time you update dependencies to fix a security issue, you introduce the possibility of breaking your build.

SUMMARY

Overall, as it comes up to a year since I have worked on In/Out, my feelings fall broadly into three areas: things I regretted, things I would like to improve/fix and future possibilities.

THINGS I REGRETTED

I was embarrassed by my code at first but in the following months, I have grown more philosophical. If I hadn’t used more pedestrian techniques later on, there is a very real possibility the project would never have concluded. Getting something out into the world that needs improving still feels better than it never being birthed into the world at all.

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