Clean setup

Then you face the opportunity to walk through an untouchable and green field. A road still free from any obstacle. That is, it is time to start a new, promising and shining application from scratch. First step? Set it up, of course. That is the moment in which not-so-interesting decisions could rapidly wash that green field out and drop the first stones over that clean road.

Configure it rather than let it be configured.

When Vue was not yet a thing and setting a React application up was nearly impossible with bundlers and transpilers still very immature, I decided to try a novelty called Aurelia. After some failed attempts to set the application up manually, I discover a package called aurelia-cli. I install it, run au new, answer to a few questions and voilá. All the failure of my previous attempts fades away in a matter of seconds. Not only its configuration, but all the structure of the application has been generated too. I quickly understood how and where to write my files, which scripts execute to get tests running, assets compiled and the application served. The horizon could not be bluer and nothing could go wrong.

I keep going with my Aurelia Developer career very excited until the moment a workmate warns me that the change I have just put in production seems not to be available for him. After clearing the browser cache, that change raises on the screen. The inconvenient sounds weird since every new application bundle had a new hash suffix on its filenames. Any kind of cache should not survive after that. Investigating a little deeper, I got convinced that there was a problem regarding the hash suffix generation. I change some source files, generate a new bundle and, surprisingly, the hash suffix does not change. The strategy used to invalidate the cache was not really working as expected. I update the Aurelia CLI package, but the bug is still there.

So what to do? I got the idea of suffixing all the assets with a timestamp parameter at each new deploy. If the hash suffix does not change, that parameter will force the cache invalidation. Great. With the idea in my hands, I just needed to know in which file to write this. As soon as I see that all the application scripts were managed by the Aurelia CLI package, I discovered that I have no control over the configurations of the application.

The Aurelia CLI package brought me a problem, but also a great lesson. Configure it rather than let it be configured.

The application is not a trash can.

During the time I worked at Conta Azul, I collaborated with new front-end developers hires. Besides planning and conducting interviews, I evaluated many technical tasks we received from candidates at some specific step of the process.

The task consisted of developing a tiny application called Weather Now that only showed a topbar and weather stats for three preselected cities. Although very simple, that application gave us total conditions to evaluate lots of skills we were looking for. How the candidate would align the application cards. How he would alternate their order on small screens. How much the final interface would match the mockup sent, how clean would be the code, how he would organize the files and directories and, finally, how he would set the application up.

Several times I got frustrated with applications that have been generated using commands like au new. In most cases, I could not even see a configuration file. Those developers would probably face difficulties to even explain which dependencies their application really needed. Sometimes I found files that were not used by the application, but they were still there taking unnecessary space because the developer forgot to remove them.

You couldn’t just roll down the street leaving huge piles of garbage everywhere you go, making life slower for everyone as they climb over your mountains of junk, just to get on with their life. You’d feel bad about it, right? That’s how I feel about the digital things we put out into the world: websites, apps, and files.
I prefer coding everything by hand, because I don’t like the huge piles of garbage that the automated generators create. These programs that generate a website, app, or file for you spit out thousands of lines of unnecessary junk when really only 10 lines are needed. Then people wonder why their site is so slow, and they think it’s their phone or connection’s fault.Derek Sivers

When you allow a third party library to set your application up, you throw away one of the most critical steps of a project. You no longer decide how and which parts get together to make your application works. When you refuse that responsibility, you can even see a working application, but you might not know why. And if you don't know the why, you might end up with an application heavier and more complex than it really needed. Do not be enticed for easy commands. Never lose total control over the configurations of the application. Saving ten, twenty, or thirty minutes setting an application up is worthless when compared to the waste that those terrible half-ass solutions and the lack of full control can charge in the short term.