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Alexander Opalic
Alexander Opalic

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What is Local-first Web Development?


Imagine having full control over your data on every web app you use, like Twitter or Instagram. Even better, think about using your apps offline and having them sync up automatically once you're back online. What if you could easily switch apps and take your data with you? This is what Local-First Web Development is all about. Now that browsers and devices are more powerful, we can avoid backends, loading delays, and network errors. In this blog post, the first of a series, I'll explain the basics of Local-First Web Development and how it benefits users.

The Traditional Web Application

Traditional Web Application

In traditional web apps, the frontend always relies on a backend for operations. Saving something? You'll likely see a loading spinner and might run into errors if the backend is down or if you're offline. Although modern frameworks like Nuxt speed up the initial website load with server-side rendering, the apps often slow down afterward. All your data is typically stored in the cloud, which means it's not really yours. If the app shuts down, you might lose access to your data, and downloading all your data isn't usually straightforward.

What is Local-First?

Local-First is similar to offline-first. Like mobile apps on your phone, a local-first web app works offline. Here’s what makes an app truly local-first:

  • Instant Access: You can get to your work right away, no waiting for data to load or sync.
  • Device Independence: You can access your data from any device.
  • Network Independence: You don't need an internet connection for basic tasks.
  • Effortless Collaboration: The app supports easy collaboration, even offline.
  • Future-Proof Data: Your data is safe over time, even as software changes.
  • Built-In Security: Security and privacy are a priority.
  • User Control: You own and control your data.

Not everything can be offline, like deleting your account, because that needs real-time backend communication to avoid errors.

For more on what a local-first app needs, check out Ink & Switch: Seven Ideals for Local-First Software.

Types of Local-First Applications

There are two main types:

Local-Only Applications

  • Local-Only Applications: These apps don't sync data to the cloud. Data stays on your device. You can transfer data by exporting and importing it between devices. This is simpler but might not feel as smooth.

Sync-Enabled Applications

  • Sync-Enabled Applications: These apps automatically sync your data to a cloud database. This can enhance user experience but adds complexity for developers.

Challenges with Sync-Enabled Applications

Consider a note app used by multiple people. If someone edits a note offline and later syncs it, this could cause merge conflicts. Managing these requires special algorithms and data types. I'll talk more about this in the series.

Even for single-user apps, syncing local data with the cloud requires additional logic.

How to Build Local-First Apps

Here are some key steps to build local-first apps, focusing on using Vue:

  1. Turn Your Vue SPA into a PWA
    Make your Vue Single Page Application (SPA) a Progressive Web App (PWA). This lets users interact with it like a native app.

  2. Manage Storage Properly
    Using localStorage alone isn't enough. We need better storage solutions.

  3. Implement Syncing and Authentication
    For syncing apps, you must handle user authentication to manage and secure data across devices.

  4. Ensure Security
    Encrypt sensitive user data stored in the browser to protect it.

I'll cover these topics in more detail throughout the series.

Additional Resources

If you're interested in learning more about local-first applications, here are some resources:

  1. Website: A good starter site with many follow-up topics - Local First Web
  2. Podcast: The awesome Local First podcast - Local First FM
  3. Discord: Join the Local First community on Discord - Local First Discord


This series aims to be both informative and practical as we explore local-first applications. I'm excited to share what I've learned about local-first development and hope you find it useful. This is just the beginning!

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