Designing the architecture of a web application is difficult. First, there are many different programming languages among which to chose, then there are many frameworks , some leave design decisions to the programmer, some come “opinionated’ (= with default settings/strategies). Additionally, within each framework, a number of plugins exists that often solve similar problems, yet have different solution approaches.
In order to help application designers to make decisions, programmers talk about applying “patterns” or using a “pattern language”. Patterns give some heuristics, whether a system composition makes sense, or will be risky in the future. In my view, a number of patterns are driven by making code and systems modular, a concept that I read in this book some years ago. Modular code (and data) should be easier to re-use, and allows to extend and adapt ideas where needed.
One of the most important pattern in a web application is called Model-View-Controller (MVC). A nice background discussion by Trygve Reenskaug (who discovered the MVC pattern in the 1970ies) can be found here, I will use the following definitions for MVC:
- Model: All data items are representations of the real things; they make up the Model.
- View: A View is componenent that transforms a model into something visible. A View is both input and output. A View is also a filter showing the interesting parts only [to a user].
- Controller: The Controller sets up and coordinates one or more Views.
1. How do we serve “views” to a client?
As long as a MVC stack lives on a server (e.g. a standard Rails application), this question is easy to answer. Views can easily access model instances, and the rendered views can be served from server to clients.
In a mobile context however, the view rendering might happen on the client-side for efficiency. Or, in the context of a single-page application, views are only partially updated as needed. These designs require servers to prepare assets for clients, and new tool-chains are becoming popular. I wrote about some experiences of working with new tools for asset management here.
Also, for serving frontends assets, no full application stack is needed. And since my programming background the last year was mainly in Ruby, I have been looking into serving assets with Sinatra and authenticating HTTP requests with Rack. Other basic assets servers, such as Express.JS and other Node.JS approaches might be interesting to look at too.
2. How to organize “MVC” modules on the client?
When working with MVC on the client, new decisions might be needed on how to organize an MVC structure. E.g. with Backbone, views are logic for state, events and accessing models, together with templates that help in rendering data.
Additionally, there might be multiple MVC’s defined on a client, depending on the current scope of a HTTP conversation (e.g. /protected or /guest or /admin).
So, far in Backbone, my application structure starts to look as follows:
/dashboard app.js main.js /collections /models /views /templates /welcome app.js main.js /collections /models /views /templates