I’m learning React

Some people who know me well may not quite have heard me correctly, so I’ll repeat:

I’m learning React.

Does this mean I’m turning my back on the principle of Progressive Enhancement? Does it mean I’m going to start building websites which are 99% JavaScript and 1% everything else? Have I given in?

No, dear reader, my opinions – shaped by luminaries like Jeremy Keith, Alex Russell, Tim Kadlec and many others – have not changed. The web is neck-deep in JavaScript and sinking deeper all the time, and organisations drinking the SPA framework kool-aid think that browsers are waving not drowning.

There are two reasons I’m learning this framework – and I’ll also be looking at Vue as well (I already have some commercial experience with Angular).

Firstly, when talking with teams and encouraging them to reduce their reliance on JavaScript for core functionality I’ve repeatedly received a “but you don’t understand it!” response. I do understand it, my 20+ years building websites hasn’t been spent hiding under a rock. JavaScript is cool, I get it,

This “but we’re building a web app, not a static site” is a common fallacy, and in a large part fuelling the current untenable position. I’ve not yet found anyone who can explain the difference between an “app” and a “site”, and most grudgingly accept there’s a big grey area between the extremes of a rarely-updated content site and, say, GMail. Most projects involve a mixture of slow and fast-moving information.

If I learn React then I can counter the lack-of-understanding argument. I can speak in the language of die-hard Reactians (is that the right word) and – hopefully – put across some reasons why core functionality should be delivered using the simplest technology possible (generally server-side generated HTML).

Secondly, I expect to fail to convince many people to use less JavaScript. So I want to have some practical examples of apps that use React (or any JavaScript framework) in a less all-or-nothing way.

After all, I don’t see any reason why this should be delivered to a browser:

<!doctype html>
<title>MY 'app'</title>
<script src="my-huge-bundle.js"></script>
<div id="app"></div>

If I learn React maybe I can implement some new patterns that will incorporate a Progressive Enhancement mindset.

I may fail at both those aims, of course. In which case I will still have learnt a new technology.