Tags: script



Friday, September 15th, 2023

Speedy tunes

Performance is a high priority for me with The Session. It needs to work for people all over the world using all kinds of devices.

My main strategy for ensuring good performance is to diligently apply progressive enhancement. The core content is available to any device that can render HTML.

To keep things performant, I’ve avoided as many assets (or, more accurately, liabilities) as possible. No uneccessary images. No superfluous JavaScript libraries. Not even any web fonts (gasp!). And definitely no third-party resources.

The pay-off is a speedy site. If you want to see lab data, run a page from The Session through lighthouse. To see field data, take a look at data from Chrome UX Report (Crux).

But the devil is in the details. Even though most pages on The Session are speedy, the outliers have bothered me for a while.

Take a typical tune page on the site. The data is delivered from the server as HTML, which loads nice and quick. That data includes the notes for the tune settings, written in ABC notation, a nice lightweight text format.

Then the enhancement happens. Using Paul Rosen’s brilliant abcjs JavaScript library, those ABCs are converted into SVG sheetmusic.

So on tune pages there’s an additional download for that JavaScript library. That’s not so bad though—I’m using a service worker to cache that file so there’ll only ever be one initial network request.

If a tune has just a few different versions, the page remains nice and zippy. But if a tune has lots of settings, the computation starts to add up. Converting all those settings from ABC to SVG starts to take a cumulative toll on the main thread.

I pondered ways to avoid that conversion step. Was there some way of pre-generating the SVGs on the server rather than doing it all on the client?

In theory, yes. I could spin up a headless browser, run the JavaScript and take a snapshot. But that’s a bit beyond my backend programming skills, so I’ve taken a slightly different approach.

The first time anyone hits a tune page, the ABCs getting converted to SVGs as usual. But now there’s one additional step. I grab the generated markup and send it as an Ajax payload to an endpoint on my server. That endpoint stores the sheetmusic as a file in a cache.

Next time someone hits that page, there’s a server-side check to see if the sheetmusic has been cached. If it has, send that down the wire embedded directly in the HTML.

The idea is that over time, most of the sheetmusic on the site will transition from being generated in the browser to being stored on the server.

So far it’s working out well.

Take a really popular tune like The Lark In The Morning. There are twenty settings, and each one has four parts. Previously that would have resulted in a few seconds of parsing and rendering time on the main thread. Now everything is delivered up-front.

I’m not out of the woods. A page like that with lots of sheetmusic and plenty of comments is going to have a hefty page weight and a large DOM size. I’ve still got a fair bit of main-thread work happening, but now the bulk of it is style and layout, whereas previously I had the JavaScript overhead on top of that.

I’ll keep working on it. But overall, the speed improvement is great. A typical tune page is now very speedy indeed.

It’s like a microcosm of web performance in general: respect your users’ time, network connection and battery life. If that means shifting the work from the browser to the server, do it!

Wednesday, September 13th, 2023

Multi-page web apps

I received this email recently:

Subject: multi-page web apps

Hi Jeremy,

lately I’ve been following you through videos and texts and I’m curious as to why you advocate the use of multi-page web apps and not single-page ones.

Perhaps you can refer me to some sources where your position and reasoning is evident?

Here’s the response I sent…


You can find a lot of my reasoning laid out in this (short and free) online book I wrote called Resilient Web Design:


The short answer to your question is this: user experience.

The slightly longer answer…

For most use cases, a website (or multi-page app if you prefer) is going to provide the most robust experience for the most number of users. That’s because a user’s web browser takes care of most of the heavy lifting.

Navigating from one page to another? That’s taken care of with links.

Gathering information from a user to process on a server? That’s taken care of with forms.

This frees me up to concentrate on the content and the design without having to reinvent the wheels of links and form fields.

These (let’s call them) multi-page apps are stateless, and for most use cases that’s absolutely fine.

There are some cases where you’d want a state to persist across pages. Let’s say you’re playing a song, or a podcast episode. Ideally you’d want that player to continue seamlessly playing even as the user navigates around the site. In that situation, a single-page app would be a suitable architecture.

But that architecture comes at a cost. Now you’ve got stop the browser doing what it would normally do with links and forms. It’s up to you to recreate that functionality. And you can’t do it with HTML, a robust fault-tolerant declarative language. You need to reimplement all that functionality in JavaScript, a less tolerant, more brittle language.

Then you’ve got to ship all that code to the user before they can use your site. It might be JavaScript code you’ve written yourself or it might be a third-party library designed for building single-page apps. Either way, the user pays a download tax (and a parsing tax, and an execution tax). Whereas with links and forms, all of that functionality is pre-bundled into the user’s web browser.

So that’s my reasoning. At least nine times out of ten, a multi-page approach is leaner, more robust, and simpler.

Like I said, there are times when a single-page approach makes sense—it all comes down to whether state needs to be constantly preserved. But these use cases are the exceptions, not the rule.

That’s why I find the framing of your question a little concerning. It should be inverted. The default approach should be to assume a multi-page approach (which is the way the web works by default). Deciding to take a JavaScript-driven single-page approach should be the exception.

It’s kind of like when people ask, “Why don’t you have children?” Surely the decision to have a child should require deliberation and commitment, rather than the other way around.

When it comes to front-end development, I’m worried that we’ve reached a state where the more complex over-engineered approach is viewed as the default.

I may be committing a fundamental attribution error here, but I think that we’ve reached this point not because of any consideration for users, but rather because of how it makes us developers feel. Perhaps building an old-fashioned website that uses HTML for navigations feels too easy, like it’s beneath us. But building an “app” that requires JavaScript just to render text on a screen feels like real programming.

I hope I’m wrong. I hope that other developers will start to consider user experience first and foremost when making architectural decisions.

Anyway. That’s my answer. User experience.



Wednesday, September 6th, 2023

Making Large Language Models work for you

Another great talk from Simon that explains large language models in a hype-free way.

Wednesday, August 9th, 2023

Things you forgot (or never knew) because of React - Josh Collinsworth blog

I don’t think most people using React on a regular basis realize quite how much it’s fallen behind.

Following on from Josh’s earlier post where he said “React isn’t great at anything except being popular”, here are the details.

Every decision React’s made since its inception circa 2013 is another layer of tech debt—one that its newer contemporaries aren’t constrained by.

This is particularly damning:

No other modern frontend framework is as stubbornly incompatible with the platform as React is.

The good news:

React is a bit like a git branch that’s fallen well behind main. You might not realize it, if React is the star your galaxy orbits around, but…well, frontend has moved on. The ecosystem has taken those ideas and run with them to make things that are even better.

Monday, August 7th, 2023

Relative times

Last week Phil posted a little update about his excellent site, ooh.directory:

If you’re in the habit of visiting the Recently Updated Blogs page, and leaving it open, the times when each blog was updated will now keep up with the relentless passing of time.

Does that make sense? “3 minutes ago” will change to “4 minutes ago” and so on and on and on, until you refresh the page.

I thought that was a nice little addition, and I immediately thought of The Session. There are time elements all over the site with relative times as the text content: 2 minutes ago, 7 hours ago, 1 year ago, and so on. Those strings of text are generated on the server. But I figured it would be nice enhancement to periodically update them in the browser after the page has loaded.

I viewed source to see how Phil was doing it. The code is nice and short, using a library called Day.js with a plug-in for relative time.

“Hang on”, I thought, “isn’t there some web standard for doing this kind of thing?” I had a vague memory of some JavaScript API for formatting dates and times.

Sure enough, we’ve now got the Intl.RelativeTimeFormat object. It’s got browser support across the board.

Here’s the code I wrote.

I’ve got a function that loops through all the time elements with datetime attributes. It compares the current timestamp to that value to get the elapsed time. Then that’s formatted using the format() method and output as innerText.

You need to tell the format() method which units you want to use: seconds, minutes, hours, days, etc. So there’s a little bit of looping to figure out which unit is most appropriate. If the elapsed time is less than a minute, use seconds. If the elapsed time is less than an hour, use minutes. If the elapsed time is less than a day, use hours. You get the idea.

It’s a pity there isn’t some kind of magic unit like “auto” to do this, but it’s not much extra code to figure it out.

Anyway, that function runs periodically using setInterval(). I’ve set it to run every 30 seconds in my gist. On The Session I’ve set it to one minute.

You’ll notice that I’m grabbing all the relevant time elements—using document.querySelector('time[datetime]')—every time the function is run. That may seem inefficient. Couldn’t I just grab them once and then keep them stored as an array? But I want this to work even if the page contents have been updated with Ajax. (Do people even say “Ajax” any more? Get off my lawn, you pesky kids!)

I think I’ve written this code in an abstract way so that you should be able to drop it into any web page. For the calculations to work, you’ll need to either make sure that your datetime attributes are using timezones. Or, if there’s no timezone info, UTC is assumed.

This was a fun little piece of functionality to play around with. Now I know a little more about this Intl.RelativeTimeFormat object. The way I’m using it as a classic example of progressive enhancement. If a browser doesn’t support it, or if my code breaks, it’s no big deal. The funtionality is a little bonus that almost nobody will notice anyway. Just a small delighter …if you’re the kind of person who finds it delightful when relative time strings automatically update.

Saturday, August 5th, 2023

Catching up on the weird world of LLMs

This is a really clear, practical, level-headed explanatory talk from Simon. You can read the transcript or watch the video.

Just normal web things.

A plea to let users do web things on websites. In other words, stop over-complicating everything with buckets of JavaScript.

Honestly, this isn’t wishlist isn’t asking for much, and it’s a damning indictment of “modern” frontend development that we’ve come to this:

  • Let me copy text so I can paste it.
  • If something navigates like a link, let me do link things.

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2023

Splitting the Web

This rings true to me.

Monday, July 31st, 2023

Tuesday, July 4th, 2023

Talking about “web3” and “AI”

When I was hosting the DIBI conference in Edinburgh back in May, I moderated an impromptu panel on AI:

On the whole, it stayed quite grounded and mercifully free of hyperbole. Both speakers were treating the current crop of technologies as tools. Everyone agreed we were on the hype cycle, probably the peak of inflated expectations, looking forward to reaching the plateau of productivity.

Something else that happened at that event was that I met Deborah Dawton from the Design Business Association. She must’ve liked the cut of my jib because she invited me to come and speak at their get-together in Brighton on the topic of “AI, Web3 and design.”

The representative from the DBA who contacted me knew what they were letting themselves in for. They wrote:

I’ve read a few of your posts on the subject and it would be great if you could join us to share your perspectives.

How could I say no?

I’ve published a transcript of the short talk I gave.

The Cost Of JavaScript - 2023 - YouTube

A great talk from Addy on just how damaging client-side JavaScript can be to the user experience …and what you can do about it.

The Cost Of JavaScript - 2023

Monday, June 12th, 2023

Web Developer Ground Hog Day | Go Make Things

JavaScript is great. I love using it, and it does amazing things. But maybe it’s time we stop repeating these same patterns of development over and over again. Maybe we can use JavaScript more responsibly, and focus more effort on HTML and CSS.

Tuesday, May 30th, 2023

Jack Franklin – Abstractions, complexities and off-ramps – All Day Hey! 2023 - YouTube

This is a terrific talk by Jack on how to deal with the tooling involved in modern front-end development:

  • Maintaining control,
  • Dependency awareness,
  • Lean on browser primitives,
  • Have an exit strategy.
Jack Franklin – Abstractions, complexities and off-ramps – All Day Hey! 2023

Monday, May 22nd, 2023

Building a Frontend Framework; Reactivity and Composability With Zero Dependencies

The thinking behind the minimal JavaScript framework, Strawberry:

Even without specialized syntax, you can do a lot of what the usual frontend framework does—with similar conciseness—just by using Proxy and WebComponents.

How to build lean efficient websites in 2023 | Go Make Things

  1. Start with mostly static HTML.
  2. Progressively enhance the dynamic parts.
  3. Pick small, focused tools.

Thursday, April 20th, 2023

Read-only web apps

The most cartoonish misrepresentation of progressive enhancement is that it means making everything work without JavaScript.

No. Progressive enhancement means making sure your core functionality works without JavaScript.

In my book Resilient Web Design, I quoted Wilto:

Lots of cool features on the Boston Globe don’t work when JS breaks; “reading the news” is not one of them.

That’s an example where the core functionality is readily identifiable. It’s a newspaper. The core functionality is reading the news.

It isn’t always so straightforward though. A lot of services that self-identify as “apps” will claim that even their core functionality requires JavaScript.

Surely I don’t expect Gmail or Google Docs to provide core functionality without JavaScript?

In those particular cases, I actually do. I believe that a textarea in a form would do the job nicely. But I get it. That might take a lot of re-engineering.

So how about this compromise…

Your app should work in a read-only mode without JavaScript.

Without JavaScript I should still be able to read my email in Gmail, even if you don’t let me compose, reply, or organise my messages.

Without JavaScript I should still be able to view a document in Google Docs, even if you don’t let me comment or edit the document.

Even with something as interactive as Figma or Photoshop, I think I should still be able to view a design file without JavaScript.

Making this distinction between read-only mode and read/write mode could be very useful, especially at the start of a project.

Begin by creating the read-only mode that doesn’t require JavaScript. That alone will make for a solid foundation to build upon. Now you’ve built a fallback for any unexpected failures.

Now start adding the read/write functionally. You’re enhancing what’s already there. Progressively.

Heck, you might even find some opportunities to provide some read/write functionality that doesn’t require JavaScript. But if JavaScript is needed, that’s absolutely fine.

So if you’re about to build a web app and you’re pretty sure it requires JavaScript, why not pause and consider whether you can provide a read-only version.

Rich Harris: Hot takes on the web 🌶️ - YouTube

I don’t agree with all of these takes-of-varying-spiciness, but Rich Harris is always worth paying attention to.

Rich Harris on frameworks, the web, and the edge

Tuesday, March 28th, 2023

Defaulting on Single Page Applications (SPA)—zachleat.com

This isn’t an opinion piece. This is documentation.

You can’t JavaScript your way out of an excess-JavaScript problem.

Tuesday, March 14th, 2023


I’ve spent a lot of time thinking, talking and writing about evaluating technology and what Robin describes here is definitely a bad “code smell” that should ring alarm bells:

What’s really concerning is when everyone is consumed with the technology-first and the problem-last.

Unless you’re working in an R’n’D lab, start with user needs.

I’m certain now that if you want to build something great you have to see through the tech. And that’s really hard to do when this cool new thing is all that anyone is talking about. But that’s why this one specific thing is the hallmark of a great organization; they aren’t distracted by short-lived trends and instead focus on the problem-first. Relentlessly, through the noise.

When JavaScript Fails

So, if progressive enhancement is no more expensive to create, future-proof, provides us with technical credit, and ensures that our users always receive the best possible experience under any conditions, why has it fallen by the wayside?

Because before, when you clicked on a link, the browser would go white for a moment.

JavaScript frameworks broke the browser to avoid that momentary loss of control. They then had to recreate everything that the browser had provided for free: routing, history, the back button, accessibility features, the ability for search engines to read the page, et cetera iterum ad infinitum.