When the game developer Blizzard Entertainment decommissioned some of their server blades to be auctioned off, they turned them into commemorative commodities, adding an etching onto the metal frame with the server’s name (e.g., “Proudmoore” or “Darkspear”), its dates of operation, and an inscription: “within the circuits and hard drive, a world of magic, adventure, and friendship thrived… this server was home to thousands of immersive experiences.” While stripped of their ability to store virtual memory or connect people to an online game world, these servers were valuable and meaningful as worlds and homes. They became repositories of social and spatial memory, souvenirs from WoW.
Thursday, December 12th, 2019
Monday, December 2nd, 2019
The carbon cost of collecting and storing data no one can use is already a moral issue.
So before you add another field, let alone make a new service, can you be sure it will make enough of a difference to legitimise its impact on the planet?
Tuesday, November 19th, 2019
I’ve found that the older I get, the less I care about looking stupid. This is remarkably freeing. I no longer have any hesitancy about raising my hand in a meeting to ask “What’s that acronym you just mentioned?” This sometimes has the added benefit of clarifying something for others in the room who might have been to shy to ask.
I remember a few years back being really confused about
npm. Fortunately, someone who was working at
npm at the time came to Brighton for FFConf, so I asked them to explain it to me.
As I understood it,
npm was intended to be used for managing packages of code for Node. Wasn’t it actually called “Node Package Manager” at one point, or did I imagine that?
Anyway, the mental model I had of
npm is to Node as PEAR is to PHP. A central repository of open source code projects that you could easily add to your codebase …for your server-side code.
But then I saw people talking about using
It turns out that my confusion was somewhat warranted. The
npm project had indeed started life as a repo for server-side code but had since expanded to encompass client-side code too.
I understand how it happened, but it confirmed a worrying trend I had noticed. Developers were writing front-end code as though it were back-end code.
On the other hand, it makes no sense at all! If your code’s run-time is on the server, then the size of the codebase doesn’t matter that much. Whether it’s hundreds or thousands of lines of code, the execution happens more or less independentally of the network. But that’s not how front-end development works. Every byte matters. The more code you write that needs to be executed on the user’s device, the worse the experience is for that user. You need to limit how much you’re using the network. That means leaning on what the browser gives you by default (that’s your run-time environment) and keeping your code as lean as possible.
Dave echoes my concerns in his end-of-the-year piece called The Kind of Development I Like:
I now think about npm and wonder if it’s somewhat responsible for some of the pain points of modern web development today. Fact is, npm is a server-side technology that we’ve co-opted on the client and I think we’re feeling those repercussions in the browser.
The Unix Philosophy encourages us to write small micro libraries that do one thing and do it well. The Node.js Ecosystem did this in spades. This works great on the server where importing a small file has a very small cost. On the client, however, this has enormous costs.
In a funny way, this situation reminds me of something I saw happening over twenty years ago. Print designers were starting to do web design. They had a wealth of experience and knowledge around colour theory, typography, hierarchy and contrast. That was all very valuable to bring to the world of the web. But the web also has fundamental differences to print design. In print, you can use as many typefaces as you want, whereas on the web, to this day, you need to be judicious in the range of fonts you use. But in print, you might have to limit your colour palette for cost reasons (depending on the printing process), whereas on the web, colours are basically free. And then there’s the biggest difference of all: working within known dimensions of a fixed page in print compared to working within the unknowable dimensions of flexible viewports on the web.
Fast forward to today and we’ve got a lot of Computer Science graduates moving into front-end development. They’re bringing with them a treasure trove of experience in writing robust scalable code. But web browsers aren’t like web servers. If your back-end code is getting so big that it’s starting to run noticably slowly, you can throw more computing power at it by scaling up your server. That’s not an option on the front-end where you don’t really have one run-time environment—your end users have their own run-time environment with its own constraints around computing power and network connectivity.
That’s a very, very challenging world to get your head around. The safer option is to stick to the mental model you’re familiar with, whether you’re a print designer or a Computer Science graduate. But that does a disservice to end users who are relying on you to deliver a good experience on the World Wide Web.
Thursday, May 2nd, 2019
At Codebar the other night, I was doing an intro chat with some beginners. At one point I touched on DNS. This explanation is great for detailing what’s going on under the hood.
Friday, March 29th, 2019
This is my kind of URL nerdery. Remy ponders all the permutations of URLs ending with slashes, ending without slashes, ending with with a file extension…
Sunday, November 25th, 2018
Okay, I knew about the Python shortcut—I mentioned it in Going Offline—but I had no idea it was so easy to do the same thing for PHP. This is a bit of a revelation for me!
Once in the desired directory, run:
php -S localhost:2222
Now you can go to “localhost:2222” in your browser, and if you have an index.html or .php file in your root directory, you’re in business.
Wednesday, September 26th, 2018
This is fascinating! A website that’s fast and nimble, not for performance reasons, but to reduce energy consumption. It’s using static files, system fonts and dithered images. And no third-party scripts.
Thanks to a low-tech web design, we managed to decrease the average page size of the blog by a factor of five compared to the old design – all while making the website visually more attractive (and mobile-friendly). Secondly, our new website runs 100% on solar power, not just in words, but in reality: it has its own energy storage and will go off-line during longer periods of cloudy weather.
Ping! That’s the sound of my brain going “service worker!”
I’ve sent them an email offering my help.
Tuesday, July 10th, 2018
There are a lot of static site generators out there!
I remember Jason telling me about this weird service worker caching behaviour a little while back. This piece is a great bit of sleuthing in tracking down the root causes of this strange issue, followed up with a sensible solution.
Tuesday, May 29th, 2018
Push notifications explained using astrology. But don’t worry, there’s also some code, just in case you prefer your explanations to also include models that actually work.
Thursday, September 21st, 2017
Ooh, this is a tricky scenario. If you decide to redirect all URLs (from, say, a
www subdomain to no subdomain) and you have a service worker running, you’re going to have a bad time. But there’s a solution here to get the service worker to remove itself.
The server-side specifics are for NGINX but this is also doable with Apache.
Thursday, December 8th, 2016
Remy wants to be able to apply progressive enhancement to React: server-side and client-side rendering, sharing the same codebase. He succeeded, but…
In my opinion, an individual or a team starting out, or without the will, aren’t going to use progressive enhancement in their approach to applying server side rendering to a React app. I don’t believe this is by choice, I think it’s simply because React lends itself so strongly to client-side, that I can see how it’s easy to oversee how you could start on the server and progressive enhance upwards to a rich client side experience.
I’m hopeful that future iterations of React will make this a smoother option.
Monday, March 7th, 2016
When I’ve been helping Codebar students on their personal projects, everything goes great until some kind of server-side processing is needed. Nine times out of ten, that server-side processing simply doing something with the contents of a contact form. This looks like it could be a useful service to plug into little projects like that.
Tuesday, August 13th, 2013
We have lost an ally in the fight to maintain net neutrality. I wonder how Vint Cerf feels about his employer’s backtracking.
The specific issue here is with using a home computer as a server. It’s common for ISPs to ban this activity, but that doesn’t change the fact that it flies in the face of the fundamental nature of the internet as a dumb network.
I think the natural end point to owning your own data is serving your own data—something that Steven Pemberton talked about in his fateful talk.
We must fight these attempts to turn the internet into controlled system of producers and consumers.
Monday, August 20th, 2012
Orbiting data centers. Fuck yeah!
Earth can return to what it is good at – green and growing things – while space can be filled with gray and computing things.
Sunday, September 25th, 2011
A great piece by James on the architecture, aesthetics and perception of datacenters.
Sunday, November 23rd, 2008
A patent filed by Google for offshore server farms cooled by sea water.