This is the first in a series of guest
techniques, by Amy Hoy
with the short end of the stick?
Take this simple quiz to find out. Do you...
- Break up and organize your code into small, easily digestible files?
- Keep only one canonical copy of third-party libraries?
- Use a deployment workflow, to concatenate and minify automatically?
- Automatically generate documentation?
- Unit test your business logic?
Lemme guess—sometimes, no, not really, no, and only when
There's never been a better time to learn to treat it that way.
Welcome to the Pro Workflows Series, part 1
In this series, we'll talk about tools & techniques you can use to cover
Part 1: Break up & organize your code
Spaghetti, with meatballs: Great on your plate, not in your code.
Structure is every programmer's best friend—and that applies to
should consider breaking it up. Group your code into files by "topic,"
function, or objects (e.g. accounts, DOM, CreditCard, etc.). If you've
got lots of those, further structure them in suitable directories.
Here's an example from my app, Freckle (before and after):
A place for everything, and everything in its place. It'll be easy to
find the code you need.
Easy to find code A bazillion script tags
Easy to skim Annoying to distribute
Easy to jump around your codebase
Easier to grow
As you can see, the benefits are many... and the downsides have to do
only with the fact that, well, now you have a bunch of small files. It's
not fun maintaining a bevvy of script tags in your project.
The good news: This is a problem we can fix directly.
Breaking Up Ain't Hard to Do: Tools
There are two approaches for solving the "too many script tags" problem:
- Client-side loading tools
- Server-side concatenation tools
Read on for the skinny on each approach, the best tools to use,
indicators and counter-indicators.
Client-side loading tools
Declare which source files will be loaded, and in which order, using a
over and over).
The best tool: LAB.js. It loads your script
files in parallel (while honoring dependencies), so it should offer
improved performance over what its author calls "script tag soup." And
did I mention it's prettier than script tag soup, too? And by far easier
to maintain. (See that code sample below!)
When to use: If you absolutely can't use a server-side tool, then
you should use LAB.js. Or, if you're deploying an
app to an environment where speed is truly not an issue (e.g. an
internal or local application, where everyone has super-high bandwidth
and/or a short hop to the server).
Counter-indications: If your code uses
document.write() or you use
a framework with "unsafe DOM-ready detection." Or if load-time
performance is very important.
$LAB .script("framework.js").wait() .script("plugin.framework.js") .script("myplugin.framework.js").wait() .script("init.js");
Server-side concatenation tools
The approach: Create
one master file that strings together (
require()s) all the others, in
order. Or even include snippets in the middle of other code, like inside
deploy, or by page request, with caching).
The best tool: Sprockets.
Sprockets is a Ruby-based pre-processor that
your deployment workflow will love. No deployment workflow? Sprockets
also comes in other flavors: a Ruby on Rails
plugin (official), and a
couple PHP ports (unofficial), for concatenating on page request.
Bonus: use Sprockets to store just one copy of third-party code
(like your fave library) on your computer, and reuse it in all your
projects by "remote" inclusion. Finally,
Sprockets can automatically minify and gzip your code after it does its concatenation thing.
When to use: You've got command-line fu, and especially if you
already do have a deployment workflow (or deploy rarely). If you can use
the Rails or PHP plugin for your dev time, or if you feel like porting
its (simple, clear) functionality to your own language of choice. You
need the absolute best loadtime performance.
Counter-indications: You don't care about download performance, or
it's simply too aggravating to add Sprockets
to your workflow for whatever reason. If you are allergic to Ruby (and
On the command-line:
This sample shows off the "reuse" of a single Prototype.js library, to
Load or Concatenate: Which one's for you?
Now you've got the run-down on both approaches, are you still unsure
which is the right choice for you? Maybe this will help:
LAB.js is a serious effort and a very well-made
tool, written by Kyle Simpson and Steve Souders. It offers performance
"in the background" while the rest of the page continues to load. It's great at what it does.
But no client-side loader can offer as much of a performance improvement
as a server-side tool. No amount of parallelization can perform better
you minify it.) Sprockets has the advantage of having nothing else to
maintain, to use its
require() functionality. You can just slot in
require() statements where you need 'em.
Either way, however, the pay-off for a clean, compartmentalized code
base is worth it... pardner.
Next week: How to use Sprockets. Subscribe so you don't miss a thing!