AMD, CommonJS, and ES6

Posted: 11 Oct 2014. Tags: javascript amd commonjs es6 harmony ecmascript comments

As mentioned in previous posts I’ve been digging into javascript things more in recent days. I’ve been out of the javascript game for several years and the landscape has obviously changed quite a lot since then. Most of the dramatic change that I needed to brush up on was module specs. I knew there was a pile of vocabulary I ought to look into based upon seeing/hearing them in other developers work:

I apologize in advance if some of this is old-hat, but if you are a new like me then read on.

JavaScript Modules and Package Management Is a Mess

Something I started to discover along the way is that the current state of modules in JavaScript is an unholy disaster. There are competing module specs and an ever changing venn-diagram of libraries available/shimmed for each. The 2 main competing module specs are RequireJS and CommonJS, but ES6 is on the horizon which complicates things further because it doesn’t really correspond to either of those current leading specs.

The Old Way

The old way of making modules looks like this:

 1 // mymodule.js
 3 var mymodule = (function(dep1, dep2) {
 5   var mymodule = {};
 7 = function() {
 8     return 'hello world';
 9   };
11   return mymodule;
13 })(dependency1, dependency2);

The downside to this approach is that you must loaded the dependencies in order, usually via a plethora of script tags.

RequireJS and AMD

RequireJS is a javascript module loader for the browser. The main selling point here is that it can load modules on-demand and cache them for future calls. It uses the AMD module spec which looks like this:

1 //mymodule.js
3 define(["./dependency1", "./dependency2"], function(dependency1, dependency2) {
4   return {
5     foo: function() {
6       return 'hello world';
7     }
8   };
9 });

You then use such a module like this:

1 require(["mymodule"], function(mymodule) {
3 });

Browserify and CommonJS

CommonJS is more or less the same module loading that you see in Node.js. Using Browserify you can take NPM modules and use them in the browser. This approach is far simpler than RequireJS but rather than using on-demand loading it instead parses the AST and concatenates everything into isolated modules that can be cached. CommonJS looks like this:

1 // mymodule.js
3 var dependency1 = require('dependency1');
4 var dependency2 = require('dependency1');
6 = function() {
7   return 'hello world';
8 };

And its usage:

1 var mymodule = require('./mymodule.js');


If the previous 2 module specs weren’t enough, ES6 Harmony is on the horizon and its spec is entirely different. Here’s what ES6 modules look like:

1 // mymodule.js
3 import dependency1 from 'dependency1';
4 import dependency2 from 'dependency2';
6 export default function foo() {
7   return 'hello world';
8 }

And its usage:

1 import foo from 'mymodule';
2 foo();

This is due to hit late-2014/early-2015. It will be interesting to see what becomes of RequireJS and CommonJS.

Angular and Ember

Posted: 15 Sep 2014. Tags: ruby rails angular comments

I’ve been diving deeper on some javascript MV* frameworks recently to try and stay sharp on the growing trends in web development. In the past I’ve used Backbone.js but I wanted to try out something new this time. I started doing my homework on Ember.js and Angular.js since those are the two large players in the space.


I first started looking at Ember.js because it seems to have a lot of traction on the ruby/rails conference circuit and because I’ve been following the development of Jeff Atwood’s latest project Discourse.

Convention Over Configuration

Ember’s take on things is a lot like Rails; It’s convention over configuration and super opinionated about the way you should do things. While its true I do a lot of Rails development these days I wouldn’t say I love Rails. My take is that Rails opinionated nature tends to go too far in a lot of cases and ends up dictating how your app is written; often times involving lots of global data/functions. The tradeoff there is of course that you can usually take a Rails Developer A and drop them into a Rails Project B and they will generally get along just fine. The story is no different with Ember which is unsurprising given the core team’s history from the Rails community.

ember I started building a prototype in Ember with Rails as a JSON backend. I followed the Getting Started guide on the official site and built Todo MVC. The documentation for Ember is fine but the guide tutorial doesn’t really look like an actual application that you’d end up building and so it required a lot of digging around to see how other people were building real apps.

Funny Taste

One of the first things that weirded me out a little bit was that a significant portion of Ember as a framework is that it essentially redefines the javascript language by introducing its own object model (yes you read that right). It tries to mask javascript’s prototypal inheritance by making it seem like you’re doing classical OO that many programmers are familiar with rather than embrace the language’s true nature:

1 App.Person = Ember.Object.extend({
2   say: function(thing) {
3     alert(thing);
4   }
5 });

Why do I need an entire object model when all I want is a framework for managing my client-side apps? Why not just use plain javascript? This seems like over-engineering.

Dictating Your REST Resources

The next major roadblock I ran into was a real show stopper for me, and quite frankly I was dumbfounded that it’s even still an issue: The Ember RESTful Resource adapter does not allow singular resources. For example if I had a resource in rails declared thusly:

1 resource :user, only: [:show]
2 # ends up as: GET /user

And lets say it returned JSON like this:

1 {
2   "id": 123,
3   "first_name": "Ben"
4 }

There is no way by default to consume such a route from Ember’s REST adapter. It’s opinion is that resources are always plural and always return arrays of data in a specific JSON structure, and camelized casing. There are some discussions about it on stackoverflow and open issues that appear to have been largely ignored, which is unfortunate:

So that combined with the general difficulty of figuring out how to do stuff with Ember made me table it for now and move on to something else.

Update: I’ve since picked it back up after finding some things about Angular distasteful. (Read on)


Honestly the last time I looked into Angular was back when it wasn’t really a thing yet and Backbone vs. Ember seemed to be the only real contenders. This is why I didn’t look at it first but after my experience with Ember I decided to do some research on usage.

Wow. I guess I didn’t realize how much it’s taken off because the numbers are pretty staggering at the time of this writing:

Angular Ember
GitHub stars 29k 11k
StackOverflow questions 54k 11k
StackOverflow questions this week 1200 150

So that was pretty encouraging. I’d also heard good things from the community:

ember My brother in law also uses it and has said good things about it.

So I started to dig in to Angular.

… And then in a matter of an hour or so I’d finished the tutorial and prototyped the same app I tried to develop with Ember in another hour.

Get Things Done

With Ember there was quite a steep learning curve that just wasn’t present with Angular. I was able to get stuff done right away and the architecture just Made Sense. When I read the documentation I found myself virtually skimming sections of it because it just seemed like the obvious/correct/boring way that it should be.

In fact it’s so simple that I can show you the bulk of it in a few simple code snippets without any explanation and I bet you can see what’s going on:


 1 <!doctype html>
 2 <html lang="en" ng-app="fooApp">
 3 <head>
 4   <meta charset="utf-8">
 5   <title>Foo App</title>
 6   <script src="angular.js"></script>
 7   <script src="angular-route.js"></script>
 8   <script src="angular-resource.js"></script>
 9   <script src="foo.js"></script>
10 </head>
11 <body>
12   <div ng-view class="view-frame"></div>
13   <script type="text/ng-template" id="user.html">
14     <p>Hello {{}}!</p>
15   </script>
16 </body>
17 </html>


1 angular.module('foo', ['ngRoute']).
2   config(function($routeProvider) {
3     $routeProvider.  when('/user', { templateUrl: 'user.html', controller: 'user' });
4   }).
5   controller('user', function($scope, User) {
6     $scope.user = User.query();
7   });


Here’s a few reasons why Angular is good:

  • It’s mostly just plain old javascript and embraces the prototypal inheritance model rather than masking it with classical OO.
  • There are no models dictated by the framework. There’s not even a concept of it beyond being able to pass things from controller to view.


While Angular initially seemed very attractive due to its simplicity it quickly put a bad taste in my mouth. Here’s why:

1 <ul class="phones">
2   <li ng-repeat="phone in phones | filter:query">
3     {{}}
4   </li>
5 </ul>

Yep that’s logic in your templates. This is a violation of Separation of Concerns and since Angular is largely built on these ng-tags this is a deal killer for me.

Where does that leave things?

Initially when I made this blog post I was pretty positive about Angular being a superior option to Ember because of its simplicity but the ng-tag directive stuff has really turned me off from Angular. I don’t necessarily like Ember a whole lot right now because of the above challenges I mentioned but I’d rather have a little complexity rather than a violation of a core principle in good software design. I’m giving Ember another shot but I’m still not sure I’ve made up my mind. I’ll probably post something more on this down the road once I’ve had more time to think about it.

Introducing broken_windows

Posted: 01 Aug 2014. Tags: ruby comments

I’ve been writing code in ruby professionally for about 8 months now but until now I hadn’t ever published a gem (well, sort of… I’ve published gems on our internal geminabox.)

So today I published broken_windows. It’s a gem that helps you find broken links in markup, either by pointing it at a url from the command line or by including it in your code. You can read more about the motivations and how to use it in the README.

How I Got Here

Broken Windows is a gem I originally created to both learn ruby idioms and how to create gems. Early on in the process I had some mentoring from Pete Higgins and Ryan Davis. I was transitioning from writing Java day-to-day to becoming a rubyist and the guidance they provided was great. Once the mentoring was over though I sort of left it in disrepair for most of the year. This week though I revisited it, made it more robust, and learned how to package up things a little better and get it published.

So go check it out and give me some feedback!

Using SimpleDelegator as a Migration to Presenters

Posted: 21 Jun 2014. Tags: ruby legacy comments

Sometimes when you’re working on an MVC codebase like a Rails app you might be tempted to put conditional logic in your views to control the display of certain things based on the model. This is pretty widely accepted as being a bad practice and it’s preferrable instead to push as much logic into the model layer as possible. This is the reason for the rise of ‘logic-less’ templating languages like Mustache. As with anything in software development it is a trade-off and in small doses a single ‘if’ statement might be ok in a view depending on the circumstances.


If we accept the premise that logic-less view templates are desirable then we should try and push any view-based logic that we have right now down the stack and into the model layer. But what if you don’t control the model? What if the logic is purely display-oriented and has no business being in the domain model? Usually these 2 circumstances result in us turning to the ‘presenter’ pattern (also known as a ViewModel in some circles).

A presenter is essentially an object that uses an underlying domain model and exposes methods that interact with it to interface with the view in some way. An example before/after (contrived and arguable whether it should be in the domain model proper, but lets run with it):


1 <p>
2   Full name:
3   <% if model.last_name.present? %>
4     <%= model.last_name %>,
5   <% end %>
6   <%= model.first_name %>
7 </p>
1 class Person
2   attr_accessor :first_name, :last_name
3 end


1 <p><%= presenter.full_name %></p>
 1 class PersonPresenter
 3   def initialize(person)
 4     @person = person
 5   end
 7   def full_name
 8     [@person.last_name, @person.first_name].compact.join(", ")
 9   end
11 end

This seems pretty good. We don’t have logic littering the view so it’s easier to deal with. And if we decide to change how full names are displayed (first, last) we don’t need to make any changes to the view. The view in this case isn’t even passed the model directly anymore; it need not know about ‘first’ and ‘last’ names because it doesn’t care how a name is composed. And the best benefit of all is that we can easily unit test the presenter object to assert the name is being displayed as we want.

Dont Boil the Ocean

Perhaps I’ve convinced you of the value of presenters. But if you have an application of any significant size you have many views and models. You can’t just start passing presenters from all of your controllers. This is especially true if your views ferry along your model to a branching tree of partials, or even to other subsystems. A shift to presenters is likely a slow migration that you need to untertake with care. Ideally you’ll take one action at a time, touching just one model/view pairing at a time.

SimpleDelegator Can Help

Let’s say you don’t want to disrupt your view wholesale during a migration to presenters. Maybe you want to just focus on eliminating 1 conditional at a time instead of the entire set of conditionals. There is a way that ruby can help here, by both allowing existing methods to be called (first_name, last_name) as well as any new conditional-removing methods you choose to expose:

1 class PersonPresenter < SimpleDelegator
3   def full_name
4     [@person.last_name, @person.first_name].compact.join(", ")
5   end
7 end

It may not be immediately obvious if you’re unfamiliar with SimpleDelegator but the above object will respond to both the presentation methods as well as the underlying domain model methods:

1 presenter =
2 presenter.first_name # "Ben"
3 presenter.last_name  # "Lakey"
4 presenter.full_name  # "Lakey, Ben"

This provides a great migration path towards presenters without boiling the ocean by transitioning everything to the new way all at once.

What Makes a Good Software Developer?

Posted: 10 May 2014. Tags: software craftsmanship career software engineering comments

I spend a lot of time talking about the craft of software development. What makes a good software developer?

Do you just go pick up a CS degree and you’re done? I don’t think so. At that point you know mechanical technique but you’re missing the deeper understanding of what it takes to make truly good software.

The truth of the matter is that undergrad degrees are really just the primer. They teach you how to make sounds come out of the musical instrument but they don’t teach you how to compose and play really amazing songs. In order to create amazing software you have to constantly be keeping up to date, experimenting with new things, and have (and never lose) the passion for writing reusable and highly-maintainable code.

So this is my list of the specific things that I think make a really great software developer, in no particular order.


  • Get feedback early and often.
  • Develop incrementally and iteratively. Have tight feedback loops based on small deliverables.
  • Do code reviews for others and get your code reviewed. You need outside feedback to know where you need improvement, and doing code reviews for others will let you see how others do things.
  • Pair program for similar reasons to the previous point about code reviews.

Sharpen the Saw

  • Read. Lots. There’s a good post over at stackoverflow that lists some of the better ones. I also maintain a list here: Books.
  • Read software development blogs, listen to software development podcasts, and/or follow software developers on twitter. Most of the current trends and tech can be learned by staying up to date with these resources.
  • Learn a new language. There are other paradigms out there and you’ll understand more by knowing another language. Functional, OO, procedural, dynamic, static, etc.
  • Connect with other software developers. The difficult part about software development is communication. You cannot grow as a software developer without interacting with your peers.
  • Participate in sites like StackOverflow, Programmers Stack Exchange, or Parley.
  • Attend user groups or conferences for whatever language or software engineering aspect interests you.
  • Know the great software developers that came before you and stand on their shoulders. Understand the history of the industry so that you don’t repeat it’s past mistakes.


  • Thoroughly understand the concepts of loose coupling and tight cohesion.
  • Practice TDD (Test Driven Development) both as a design tool and a way to be confident about your code.
  • Understand the principle of least privelege. This is true for both encapsulation as well as security.
  • Don’t use exceptions except in exceptional cases. Exceptions should never be used for ordinary flow control.
  • Project estimation is hard. Don’t make a mess just to meet a schedule.
  • Don’t accumulate technical debt by kidding yourself that you’ll clean things up later.
  • K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid). Don’t over-think a problem. Favor the simpler solution over the complex one.
  • Don’t optimize code up front. Benchmark and optimize only when data proves that you need to.
  • Write code for the other humans who will maintain the code; not for the compiler. Readability of code is more amenable to change.
  • Refactor mercilessly, but do it continuously instead of refactoring just to refactor.
  • Use comments sparingly and only when you can’t articulate whats going on with code. Code should be self-documenting when possible.
  • Name variables and types in an obvious manner. Don’t abbreviate or shorten variable names when a full and easy to understand name will communicate better.
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel. If there is a quality software component or framework that will accomplish what you need, then use it.
  • Use the right tool for the job. This is true for the programming language, the tools, the frameworks, everything.
  • The code exists for solving a problem, not for itself. Recognize what adds value to your problem and what does not. Do not build castles in the clouds. Y.A.G.N.I. (You ain’t gonna need it.)
  • Favor convention over configuration. A system does not scale in power relative to the number of knobs and dials you include.
  • Use abstractions but understand what they are doing. You don’t need to know all the nitty gritty details but you should at least should know enough to recognize the benefits and trade-offs of using the abstraction.

What do you think I should add to this list?

(c) 2014 Ben Lakey

The words here do not reflect those of my employer.