Front-end frameworks are about to get even cooler, says Google lead

Front-end frameworks are about to get even cooler, says Google lead

Commentary: Front-end frameworks keep getting better, but progressive delivery just might be the best thing to hit in 2020.


Image: C.Y.Ronnie.W, Getty Images/iStockphoto

VCs have been dumping cash into back-end developer technologies, but front-end development is increasingly what’s cool. How cool? In an interview with Nicole Sullivan, Google’s frameworks lead, developers love frameworks like Next.js because they allow developers to “spend more time building features and less time setting up infrastructure.” In 2020, things will heat up that much more with new functionality like progressive delivery of features.

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Sullivan is in a good position to know what’s hot (and what’s not) in frameworks, given her perch at Google. So when she says that she’s “most excited [about] progressive delivery of features,” it’s worth digging in to figure out what this means. Progressive delivery enables us to “deliver feature-rich applications, and still have them be fast,” she said. How to deliver that speed? By having the features arrive “just in time.”

Easy, right? Well, maybe not. “This is complicated to get right,” Sullivan noted, “But the big tech companies are doing it, so I believe it’s possible in open source, too.” 

Nor is this blind hope. One example of progress in this direction is React’s concurrent mode. It breaks up React’s rendering work into tiny chunks, so then you can hydrate (that is, make interactive) individual parts of the page independently. As Sullivan explained it, “This means you can focus on stuff the user can see, or that they hover over, or click on, rather than just hydrating the page from top to bottom.”

How will users notice this improvement? According to Sullivan, Google’s early experiments show that partner sites’ total blocking times (TBT) were cut in half. This means that when the user clicks, the application will be able to respond much quicker. Nor is Google stopping there. “We hope to break up the other half of blocking time with contributions to webpack to chunk their module initialization time. We have similar work to do around chunking data fetches, CSS, and JavaScript.”

None of this will be easy, of course, “but it could lead to a step change improvement in web performance if we can get all the pieces to line up,” she said. For now, Google is proving this out in Next.js and “sharing everything we find with other frameworks so they can try it, too. The entire ecosystem improves when we collaborate.”

It’s the spirit of open source, and it promises to continue to make the web better.

Disclosure: I work for AWS, but nothing herein relates to my work there.

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