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февруари 05, 2012

Developing frontend with node js and cloud9

Not so long ago I was describing how disguised I am with the whole nodejs and cloud9 story, how it was working bad, how it does not support 'MY' use case and so on.

Well as with most things I tend to re-evaluate my position from time to time, just to be sure and sometimes to check if things are progressing.

The last few days I was starting an spin-off of my Tornado UI project ( an Open Source interface for Tornado IPTV devices, read more ). The new code is loosely based on the existing one, re-using some of the components, but still is a chance for fresh start and evaluation of new options in code organization and structuring.

Part of the code for the previous project was ported to closure-library to allow it to cleanly compile with closure compiler. I can gladly tell that it was a success, all tests of the converted code passed and it is available online for anyone to use it in a closure based project. It covers completely the communication layer for Tornado, but does not provide any UI. It assumes the closure developer would use closure techniques for the UI as well and I doubt my ability to fully utilize closure paradigm for UI components.

The effort to use closure library was an enlightening in a way, allowing me to free myself from Crockford's mantra for privacy in the code. Meanwhile I have read tons of posts and articles about patterns, speed, reuse as well as package management, what Harmony will bring, what should we do until then and so on and so on, basically re-educating myself on the matter of serious JavaScript.

One big problem for me was the fact that I am not actually using any of the power of the 'abstraction' the libraries provide (i.e. Jquery, MooTools, closure and so on), when developing for a known environment one does not need abstractions and polyfils (well, mostly does not, if you have seen the code for TUI, you'd notice that bind is not part of the Function prototype). It just bloats the code and rarely enforces useful patterns ( unlike closure, mootools and jquery allow you to code in any style possible, even with no style).

Another problem was that I wanted to be able to test the code on a test server or at least in a console with cli, instead of loading it in browser every time. At the time I started the project there was no clean way to run the same code without any change on node and in the browser. Or at least I could not find it.

This week I started the new project, it aims to bring new features to the Tornado line of device, at least two of which will be co-developed with the in-house development team at the company. It will also be able to work on any android device (2.2+). This time I was determined to use some CLI testing for the code to speed up development and bug catching.

I went looking for a suitable tool again. First I was thinking about closure library and found nclosure. Unfortunately it seem to be not updated lately and does not work with node 0.6+. Then I tried JSClass, it require shift in package management, but still is manageable. Unfortunately the dependency tracking and loading is not working as I expected, maybe it is me, that cannot figure it out, (even though I figured out closure and requirejs), but after two attempts I gave it up.

The last was amdefine. It requires node 0.6+ but apart from that works very well and suits me perfectly. Very good explanation on how to use it could be found on their github page, linked above.

Lastly I wanted to try cloud9 again. I downloaded the latest source from github and it work very nicely with node 0.4. Unpleasantly for me it does not work with node 0.6, while amdefine requires it, which makes it impossible to use nodejs as test run and cloud9 locally. The only possibility remained hosted version of cloud9. Recently they announced support for running your code on node 0.4 or node 0.6, configurable from your IDE. Month ago they also featured npm command line interface, so I figured I should try it.

A working setup follows:

On c9.io open your project and add requirejs and amdefine:

npm install requirejs
npm install amdefine

In your project, configure the test runners, one for node and one for browser. Node:

var requirejs = require('requirejs');

    baseUrl: __dirname + '/javascript',
    nodeRequire: require

//Use eyes-console in node js for prettier output

requirejs(['tests', 'debug/eyes-console'], function(tests, SimpleConsole) {
//    Enable logging in node
    (new SimpleConsole()).enable();


    baseUrl: "tablet/javascript"
], function(tests, SimpleConsole) {
    (new SimpleConsole()).enable();

Note: the past are relative and fit my project, those may vary for yours. 

The browser runner requires html file as well, however the node test runner can be run as easily as starting a node process with the file. Remember to set the run process to use node 0.6.

Conclusion: Cloud9 ide is a viable option for developing and testing your code, even if you are developing only a front-end application. However not all approaches for code organization work, currently I have managed to make only AMD with requireJS. I expect the future to bring more variety in the options.

As a side note, Eclipse Orion has much better git UI (as a real UI, not only cli), however it is still in a very early development and on top it does not support running node instance, so you cannot really test your JS code in it.

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