#javascript

Through the beginning of my career in software engineering, I’ve found it challenging yet helpful to be exposed to multiple different languages and practices. This quickly teaches what languages, frameworks, and solutions can be used for the different problems that arise on a day-to-day basis. However, most of my professional experience lies with backend development in PHP as well as some recent front end development using jQuery and a bit of Angular. With a combination of PHP, Symfony, and jQuery, I’ve been fortunate to build features that I hope both end users and admins alike will appreciate. Many of these features however, are mostly based on relatively simple forms — the user enters their data using textboxes, dropdowns, radio buttons, etc. and the backend does all of the complicated work.

With one of our new projects here at Setfive, we wanted a rich and reactive user interface for the sign-up portion, while Symfony would handle the rest. We could have just used Angular for the whole thing and come up with something similar, but using Angular would mean we’d need the entire page in Angular — we didn’t want to lose our Symfony functionality for one component of the page. Using only jQuery was another option, but jQuery can quickly get complicated, hard to read, and unmaintable.  Like with many of the problems we encounter here at Setfive, a little bit of research led to a viable solution.

Introducing: Vue.js — a JavaScript framework that allows you to build rich JS components similar in design to Angular but without using the framework for the entire page. That last aspect was especially appealing to us. With Vue.js, you can build a single component with whatever functionality you need, and drop it into the HTML at basically any spot in your project and the component can work independently of everything else on that page. Thus this component appears on the page alongside anything else we have on there from our Symfony/Twig side.

Similar to Angular, Vue.js allows you to use asynchronous functions to quickly send info back and forth via GET and POST requests and notably change the information on the page almost instantly. For our project we would be able to do exactly what we wanted to do: create a sign-up section that would allow you to quickly select different sources from different categories, easily view what you can select/have selected, enter your email, and submit — all in an interactive and easy to use display. The idea was perfect, but the setup not so much.

I imagine that in a scenario where you are creating a project using mostly JavaScript and HTML/CSS, adding a basic Vue component to the project would be pretty easy as the documentation for Vue is solid. However, the process of adding a component to a Symfony project is a bit different, specifically because using Webpack Encore with Symfony is understandably not something that the Vue.js documentation covers. A quick search on the internet found me the perfect guide for integrating Vue.js into a Symfony project. Combining this guide with the actual Vue and Symfony documentation, I was able to get the crucial ‘Hello world’ to display on the page and we were ready to get going.

Similar to the Twig templates we normally use in our Symfony projects, Vue provides a few crucial features that allowed the bulk of this component to work as designed:

  • ‘For loops’ allowed us to display a drop down menu of categories, and a reactive list of sources based on which category was chosen.
  • ‘If statements’ allowed us to display errors and a confirmation message upon submitting
  • With on-click functions, we were able to instantly move sources back and forth between the list of ones they select and ones not yet selected. 
  • The input models allowed us to easily associate string variables with the different textbox inputs, allowing us to add a ‘search’ feature. 

 As someone who is not an expert in JavaScript, figuring all of this out took a lot of debugging. Luckily, the guide mentioned before had a lot of what I needed in it as well as StackOverflow and random other guides and sites found throughout my search. With the instant reactivity of Vue.js, debugging was made easy and I was able to roll through my development without having to spend much if any time waiting for data to load/finish. The main pieces that caused trouble involved making sure items displayed correctly based on what was already selected. That sort of validation of the display had to all be done manually in JavaScript. The validation of submitted data and the usage of that data can be done easily via Symfony, allowing us to use Vue solely to make a reactive and easy to use user interface that we hope will entice people to sign up for this product. 

One of the biggest pros of software development in my eyes is the satisfaction of designing and successfully building something new. Creating something, big or small, in an unfamiliar language/framework heightens that satisfaction even more. A lot of times though, the road to the end product in a new language/framework is filled with tons of frustration and confusion (especially for a relatively new developer). However, building this component using Vue was easier than expected once past my struggles with the initial set up. Thanks to the documentation from Vue and Symfony, StackOverflow, as well as the guide here by Krasimir Hristozov, I was able to create something that works well in a totally new framework without all of the trouble that can normally come with that process. Vue.js is described on their website as a blazing fast, “adoptable ecosystem” that can be used quickly by anyone who knows HTML, CSS, and JavaScript and I can attest to that. For anyone who needs a relatively small reactive component in their project, where you know jQuery will get unnecessarily complicated, Vue.js is the way to go.

Posted In: Javascript, Tips n' Tricks

Tags: ,

One of Setfive’s New Years Resolutions is to prioritize our internal marketing. In establishing online presence, an initial project included refreshing the @setfive Twitter following list. To do so, we built a list of target accounts that we wanted to follow and then started searching for tools to automate the following. After some research, it appeared the only existing tools were paid with weird, and “sketchy,” pricing models. So, we decided to look at using the Twitter API to implement this list ourselves.

As we started looking at the API, we learned you need to be approved by Twitter to use the API. In addition, you need to implement OAuth to get tokens for write actions on behalf of a user, like following an account. We were only planning to use this tool internally once, so we decided to avoid the API and just automate browser actions via Puppeteer. For the uninitiated, Puppeteer is a library that allows developers to programmatically control Google Chromium, which is Chrome’s open source cousin.

Puppeteer ships as a npm package, so getting started is really just a “npm install,” and you’re off to the races. The Puppeteer docs provide multiple examples, so, I was able to whip up what we needed in a handful of lines of code (see below). Overall, the experience was positive and I’d be happy to use Puppeteer again.

So why would Puppeteer be interesting to your business?

In 2019 APIs are popular, many business provide access to data and actions through programatic means. However, not all of them do and that’s where Puppeteer provides an advantage. For example, many legacy insurance companies only provide quotes after you fill out a web form, which normally, you’d have to complete manually. If you automated that process with Puppeteer, you’d be able to process quotes at a much faster rate. 24 hours a day, and give yourself a competitive advantage against your competition.

Posted In: General

Tags:

Note: This post originally appeared on Codeburst.

In functional programming parlance “partial application” of a function involves reducing the number of arguments it accepts (it’s “arity”) by some N, returning a new function. Concretely, consider a function with the following signature:

Logger.log(level, dateFormat, msg)

With partial application we’d be able to do something like:

const info = partial(Logger.log, “info”, “ISO8601”);

And then subsequently be able to call our new “info” function like:

info(“Application started”)

To output an “info” message with ISO8601 date formatting.

So how can we accomplish this in JavaScript? Well you could use Lodash but that’s not really exciting.

Using Function.arguments

The classical functional programming approach would be to use the Function.arguments property to dynamically create a new partially applied function. Running with the example above, you’d end up with an implementation that looks like, (Run it on JSFiddle):

Pulling it apart, its straightforward. Save a reference to a list of the arguments that you want to “fill in”, create a new function for the partial, inside this new function combine the saved arguments with the arguments the partial is called with and execute the original function.

This works but is there a cleaner way?

Function.bind

Although it’s normally used for setting the “this” value a function will be invoked with, it’s possible to use bind() for partial application. If you check out the Function.bind docs you’ll notice that in addition to setting “this” it’s able to set the arguments for the function its operating on. By leveraging this along with Function.apply we’ll be able to cook of partial functions. The implementation ends up being something like (On JSFiddle):

Well that’s about it for partially applied functions. If you’re feeling adventurous and want to head down the functional programming check out the related topic, currying.

Posted In: Javascript

Tags:

A feature request we get fairly frequently is the ability to convert an HTML document to a PDF. Maybe it’s a report of some sort or a group of charts but the goal is the same – faithfully replicate a HTML document as a PDF. If you try Google, you’ll get a bunch of options from the open source wkhtmltopdf to the commercial (and pricey) Prince PDF. We’ve tried those two as well as a couple of others and never been thrilled with the results. Simple documents with limited CSS styles work fine but as the documents get more complicated the solutions fail, often miserably. One conversion method that has consistently generated accurate results has been using Chrome’s “Print to PDF” functionality. One of the reasons for this is that Chrome uses its rendering engine, Blink, to create the PDF files.

So then the question is how can we run Chrome in a way to facilitate programmatically creating PDFs? Enter, Electron. Electron is a framework for building cross platform GUI applications and it provides this by basically being a programmable minimal Chrome browser running nodejs. With Electron, you’ll have access to Chrome’s rendering engine as well as the ability to use nodejs packages. Since Electron can leverage nodejs modules, we’ll use Gearman to facilitate communicating between our Electron app and clients that need HTML converted to PDFs.

The code as well as a PHP example are below:

As you can see it’s pretty straightforward. And you can start the Electron app by running “./node_modules/electron/dist/electron .” after running “npm install”.

One caveat is you’ll still need a X windows display available for Electron to connect to and use. Luckily, you can use Xvfb, which is a virtual framebuffer, on a server since you obviously wont have a physical display. If you’re on Ubuntu you can run the following to grab all dependencies and setup the display:

sudo apt-get install chromium-browser libgconf-2-4 xvfb
Xvfb :19 -screen 0 1024x768x16 &
export DISPLAY=:19

After that, you can launch your Electron app normally and it’ll use a virtual display.

Anyway, as always let me know if you have any questions or feedback!

Posted In: Javascript

Tags: ,

Over the past few day we’ve been evaluating using Angular 1.x vs. Angular 2 for a new project on which in the past we would have used Angular 1.x without much debate. However, with release of Angular 2 around the corner we decided to evaluate what starting a project with Angular 2 would involve. As we started digging in it became clear that using Angular 2 without programming in TypeScript would be technically possible but painful to put it lightly. Because of the tight timeline of the project we decided that was too large of a technical risk so we decided to move forward with 1.x. But I decided to spend some time looking at TypeScript anyway, for science. I didn’t have anything substantial to write but needed to hammer out a quick HTML scraper so I decided to whip it up in TypeScript.

Getting started with TypeScript is easy you just use npm to install the tranpiler and you’re off to the races. As I started experimenting, I fired up PhpStorm 10+ and was thrilled to learn it has good TypeScript support out of the box (thanks JetBrains!). The scraper I was writing is pretty simple – make a series of HTTP requests, extract some elements out of the HTML via CSS selectors, and write the results out to a CSV. Coming from a JavaScript background, jumping right into TypeScript was easy enough since TypeScripts’ syntax is basically ES2015 with additional Java or C# like type declarations. The scraper is less than 100 lines so I didn’t get a great sense of what programming with TypeScript would be like but here are some initial takeaways.

It’s easy to end up missing out on the benefits. Since TypeScript is a superset of JavaScript you’re free to ignore all the type features and write TypeScript that is basically ES2015. Combine that with the fact that the tsc transpiler will produce JavaScript even with type errors and you can quickly find yourself not enjoying any of the benefits TypeScripts introduces. This issue isn’t unique to TypeScript since you can famously write You Can Write FORTRAN in any Language but I think since its a superset of an existing, popular langue the temptation is much stronger.

Discovering functionality in modules is easier. In order to properly interface with nodejs modules you’ll need to grab type definitions from somewhere like DefinitelyTyped. The definition files are similar to “.h” files from C++, code stubs that just provide function type signatures to TypeScript. An awesome benefit of this is that it’s much easier to “discover” the functionality of nodejs modules by looking at how the functions transform data between types. It also makes it much easier to figure out the parameters of a callback without having to dig into docs or code.

Typed generics will unequivocally reduce bugs. I’d bet a beer or two that most web developers spend the majority of their day writing code that deals with lists. Creating them, filtering them, transforming them, etc. Unfortunately, most of the popular scripting languages don’t have support for typed generics and specifically enforcing uniform types within arrays. Specifically with JavaScript, it’s pretty easy to end up at a point where you’re unsure of what’s contained in a list and moreover if the objects within it share any of the same properties. Because of this, I think TypeScript’s typed generics will cut down on bugs almost immediately.

TypeScript is definitely interesting and it’s tight coupling to Angular 2 only bolsters how useful it’ll be in the future. Next up, I’d be interested in building something more substantial with both a client and server component and hopefully share some of the same code on both.

As always, questions and comments are more than welcome!

Posted In: Javascript

Tags: , ,