Rich Harris: Hot takes on the web

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If you watch one talk about the current state of web development, I recommend the talk by Rich Harris: Frameworks, the Web, and the Edge Opens in new tab. It made me nod my head so many times I stopped counting.

It's so refreshing to listen to his humble opinions because they are detached from the ever-ongoing discussions around the best technologies of the web and focus more on a higher goal.

I wrote down my thoughts on some of his ideas to come back later to them every now and then and remind me why we are doing this.

I want to state that I don't agree with everything Rich says in his talk. However, I think that's pretty normal if you listen to someone's opinions.

Your Framework is fine.

The web doesn't suck because of JavaScript. The web sucks because of capitalism.

Rich points out that websites aren't bad because of JavaScript in this first section of his talk. They are bad because of how data and algorithms have shaped our society.

Recipe pages aren't clustered with Modals, Cookie Banners, or meaningless SEO texts because of JavaScript. They are built like that because, sadly, that's how they make most of the money.

You shouldn't switch away from whatever makes you productive at shipping software.

These things also happen when you use any tech stack besides JavaScript because they are detached from technology. So it doesn't make sense to jump on the wagon every time a new framework comes up that claims to be a few milliseconds faster and ships 10kb less JavaScript if you're intention stays the same: making the most money, tracking your users, and neglecting user experience on purpose for that case.

0kb of JS is not the goal

The goal is to satisfy the user's needs, not to ship 0kb of JS.

We need to remind ourselves why we use the technology we use. The goal is not to ship with 0kb of JS. The goal is to give users what they want in your website or app.

If this means a lot of JavaScript is necessary to deliver the best user experience, then that's how it is. A lighthouse score of 100 doesn't mean anything if your users can't solve the task they want to accomplish.

Most sites should work without JavaScript

We need to ensure our tools keep working when unexpected things happen.

A thing we as developers do way too rarely is disabling JavaScript on a website you've just built. So when I listened to Rich talk about this topic, I paused and opened all the websites I recently built, disabled JavaScript, and tried to move around them.

It's astonishing to me that this is not our highest priority. Progressive Enhancements should be enforced way more, and the most crucial user needs should be enabled to be accomplished without having to rely on JavaScript.

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MPAs are dead

Rich compares MPAs to SPAs here and explains why MPAs were on the rise, and SPAs got a bad reputation.

Many of the reasons MPAs were better than SPAs (more accessible, faster, less buggy, less JS) do not exist anymore because SPA frameworks like Next.js and Svelte improved a lot and picked up.

The key argument against MPAs: missing UI persistence. MPA means when you click a link, your browser does a full page reload.

UI persistence is only possible with client-side routing, which is only available in SPAs. And UI persistence is a significant factor for a good user experience.

None of this matters

I don't think AI will take our jobs soon, but I do think there's a better-than-even chance that it will change them beyond all recognition.

Rich points out that the way we do our job will possibly change a lot in the future due to the development of AI. He's under the impression that it will change in a way that code preferences will not play a role anymore in our day-to-day job.

So we can have discussions and share ideas and inspiration around it, but in the future, it might not be something we still need to consider.

I think that's an interesting point which I can support. It feels kind of calming to me because it will mean we'll have the freedom to focus on other things but code preferences.

And if you follow web development on social media, people love to discuss and argue about code preferences. So if they can ditch that and focus on building and shipping, it might be a good thing.


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