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Cover image for MoonZoon Dev News (2): Live demo, Zoon, Examples, Architectures

MoonZoon Dev News (2): Live demo, Zoon, Examples, Architectures

martinkavik profile image Martin Kavík ・8 min read

The Zoon dev marathon is over. And it does something! And it does something on Heroku!

Demo

You can try it by yourself: Live demo


Welcome to the MoonZoon Dev News!

MoonZoon is a Rust full-stack framework. If you want to read about new MZ features, architecture and interesting problems & solutions - Dev News is the right place.


News

There are again two big news. I've written the Zoon core (GitHub PR) and created a new GitHub repo with the demo.

However the main goal for this iteration was to write working examples:

You can follow the updated Development.md to run those examples on your local machine.


Other significant changes:

  • The dev server runs on HTTP by default and the Moon server(s) are configurable through environment variables. See updated Cli.md.
  • The Zoon API has been changed a bit - see updated Frontend.md.
  • I've written a super simple Heroku buildpack. Feel free to improve it (e.g. to use cache).

And I would like to thank:

  • gilescope for MoonZoon improvements in PRs 3 and 4.
  • sagiegurari for very quick integration of my PRs into his awesome cargo-make. This task runner is very useful for both MoonZoon and Seed.

Frontend framework architectures

The basic purpose of all frontend frameworks is to present some useful data to users and handle user reactions to those presented data.


The Elm architecture

The Elm architecture (TEA) is the most accurate representation of that purpose definition.

The official Elm guide explains TEA this way:

--

TEA

Credits: elm-lang.org

The Elm program produces HTML to show on screen, and then the computer sends back messages of what is going on. "They clicked a button!"

What happens within the Elm program though? It always breaks into three parts:

  • Model — the state of your application
  • View — a way to turn your state into HTML
  • Update — a way to update your state based on messages

These three concepts are the core of The Elm Architecture.

--

However every architecture shows its trade-offs when apps become larger.

In the case of TEA, you'll soon find out:

  • Your code consists of 5 big isolated trees - Model, init (to setup Model), Msg, update and view.
  • Many parts of these trees are used only by one module (aka app part / component).
  • Many modules are spread across all trees.

A typical example of such module is a page. A contact page and a login page use different data and business logic and render different elements. However both pages probably want to know what user is currently logged in.

TEA Trees

Then, app developers cut the trees into pieces and group them together to somehow express the relation between modules and trees.

And that's how components are born in TEA.

However the pieces are grouped mostly logically (by a name or location in the source code), not by a language construct, so developers tend to start looking for a stronger grouping mechanism due to the fear of broken components. In the end, they sacrifice flexibility for cumbersome abstraction. And then they add an extra abstraction layer for shared data (e.g. the logged user in our example).

Layers of Fear

Credits: Game Layers of Fear, downloaded from WallpaperCave

With those groups (aka components) comes another problem - inter-component communication. There are some patterns for parent-child communication but for other relations there are basically none. Elm has subscriptions to alleviate the problem but you can't create custom subscriptions. Seed has a similar concept subscribe/notify that helps a lot with the app architecture from my experience.

The great advantage of TEA is Model (aka global state). It guarantees a single source of truth for all your data and you can easily inspect the entire app state when needed. However one big chunk of data has also some disadvantages.

There are two data features that are difficult to take into account in TEA:

  • A) You can't use most "raw" data directly for rendering.

    • You often need formatting functions - e.g. you need to round real numbers to show nice values in your e-shop orders.
    • There are also much more complex transformations - e.g. you need to interpolate values and compute geometric data to render your charts. (Note: We often escape from TEA and use custom elements and Javascript libraries for such cases.)
  • B) Not all data are equally important for your business and for all app parts.

    • User's mail will be used by many pages and you really don't want to accidentally modify it or use its old value.
    • The size of an animated button will be important probably only for the associated button.

In TEA we have only one Model. It means our business data will be mixed with non-business values and precomputed data (or we have to generate temporary data for each rendering). Also relations between "raw" and "derived" data won't be obvious on the first look.

Tea and Book

Credits: Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

I was focusing mostly on TEA drawbacks in this article, but I think TEA is one of the best architectures, beginner friendly and allows to write very reliable apps with readable code. However there are some trade-offs: It makes writing reusable app parts difficult and it lacks some mechanisms for data management and communication within larger apps. Another problem is difficult optimization of apps based on TEA in many programming languages.


Component-based architecture

Imagine an apple tree. Where tree is a DOM tree. And where apples have their own properties and life-cycles like grow, change color, drop.

Tada! New Javascript framework is ready. Just sprinkle a template engine, CSS-in-JS and a state management on it and we have the version 1.0. A router will be included in the next major version.

Garden of Eden

Credits: Downloaded from WallpaperCave

However I don't think components are evil. I think many frontend frameworks have 4 problems:

  1. They are too modular. "No, I don't feel like I play with Lego when I write frontend apps. I sew a Frankenstein's monster."

  2. Abstraction at wrong places. "Why we have things like Higher-Order Components but I still have to keep in mind that multi-line input (aka textarea) doesn't have the attribute value and z-index doesn't work with the default position?"

  3. Javascript. It's trendy to write compile-to-JS languages or at least framework-specific compilers and template engines to fight with Javascript (and HTML / CSS).

  4. Everybody wants components but almost nobody really knows how to work with them effectively. There are no strict rules defined like in TEA.

As the result, there are million of frontend frameworks and libraries because they try to heal only some symptoms and be compatible with all other layers.

There are also many "kinds" of web developers. From veterans: "Your website should run with no Javascript!" or "CSS is the best, you just need to learn it for years to become expert like me!" to clever beginners: "Javascript is easy and the best language ever, let's publish some libraries!". It means there are relatively too few people who have time and knowledge to really resolve the problems and define best practices and patterns. Their works are also difficult to find among other ones.

TEA vs Components architecture (CA):

  • TEA is simple and clearly defined. CA is a pretty general concept, each framework uses different patterns.
  • TEA advantage is a single source of truth. CA needs a state manager.
  • TEA requires to write some boilerplate to integrate a new component. Writing component libraries and component usage is easy in CA (its best selling point).

Zoon architecture

Let's pick the best parts from both previous architectures and add HTML and CSS abstraction.

#[s_var]
fn counter() -> SVar<i32> {
    0
}

#[update]
fn increment() {
    counter().update(|counter| counter + 1);
}

#[update]
fn decrement() {
    counter().update(|counter| counter - 1);
}

#[cmp]
fn root() -> Cmp {
    col![
        button![button::on_press(decrement), "-"],
        counter().inner(),
        button![button::on_press(increment), "+"],
    ]
}
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The snippet above is very similar to TEA

  • counter would be Model
  • increment and decrement would be Msg handlers in update
  • root would be view

However TEA trees have been naturally split into standalone blocks (#[s_var], #[update], #[cmp], ...). And the root component is recomputed only on counter change.

Instead of divs with explicitly defined CSS properties like float / flexbox / position and aria-* attributes to improve accessibility, we just use col! and button! (they can be also created by Column::new() and Button::new()). It allows us to write more accessible apps faster and also to write reusable element libraries.

Another Zoon example:

    #[s_var]
    fn column_count() -> SVar<i32> {
        5
    }

    #[s_var]
    fn row_count() -> SVar<i32> {
        5
    }

    #[cache]
    fn counter_count() -> Cache<i32> {
        column_count().inner() * row_count().inner()
    }
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counter_count is automatically recomputed on column_count or row_count change. It allows us to pre-compute required values outside of the render loop. And developers are able to easily distinguish between "raw" data and "derived" data.

And the last Zoon example:

#[cmp]
fn click_me_button() -> Cmp {
    let title = cmp_var(|| "Click me!".to_owned());
    let click_count = cmp_var(|| 0);
    row![
        button![
            title.inner(),
            button::on_press(move || {
                click_count.update(|count| count + 1);
                title.set(format!("Clicked {}x", click_count.inner()));
            }),
        ],
    ]
} 
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title and click_count are local variables for the component click_me_button. It means each click_me_button component instance will have own local state and we don't have to mix those variables with our important business data in other parts of the app.

Only the related click_me_button component instance is recomputed and effectively rerendered on click_count or title change.

Let's admire my second professional schema with basic Zoon blocks:

Zoon Tree

Notes:

  • Zoon will have also listen/notify mechanism, but I'll write about it once it's implemented.

  • I'll write more about Zoon implementation when I think the code is refactored enough.


And that's all for today!
Thank You for reading and I hope you are looking forward to the next episode.

Martin

P.S.
We are waiting for you on Discord.

Discussion (1)

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Markus Kohlhase

Nice post! I'm looking forward to the next part, especially how you'll avoid cyclic communication with the listen/notify pattern.

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