Two Paradigms of Web Development
Post from June 19, 2017 (↻ August 4, 2017), filed under Web Development.
On a sunny Tuesday in Düsseldorf a few weeks back, at Beyond Tellerrand, I had a pleasant recorded conversation (in German) with the team of Working Draft. In our discussion we briefly touched on the idea of web development paradigms—I vaguely borrowed from Thomas Kuhn—when it comes to the ideas behind the maintenance and optimization of frontend code, particularly HTML.
I suggested that we were dealing with two paradigms, and two models of web development.
The first model, which can be called the traditional or conservative model, follows the idea that HTML should only be touched on structural changes, and that the vision are CSS-only refreshs and redesigns. In this model, separation of concerns is critical, and the quality of the markup the highest priority. (You usually find me squarely in this camp.)
The second model, which may be called the ubiquitous model (other names? please leave suggestions), reflects the idea that all changes are so easy—including HTML changes that have ceased to mean edits to huge collections of static files—that there are no fix boundaries anymore around what to place particular emphasis or importance on: If anything we’ve become so efficiency-oriented that most now appears to be a matter of process and automation.
As I added on the Working Draft podcast, “paradigm” is somewhat of a misnomer in a sense that one is not currently superseding the other (Kuhn again), but they’ll likely stay with us to represent two different development realities. I personally believe in strict separation of concerns and to put most emphasis on quality HTML code (first model), yet the technological landscape has changed and one can find more taste not making such distinctions (second model).
The most important piece, however, is that we recognize and learn to work well with these paradigms, just as we’ve long been benefiting from differentiating between sites and apps, and research and production code. Like in other parts of life, answers in web development often start with “it depends,” too.
About the Author
Jens Oliver Meiert is a technical lead and author (sum.cumo, W3C, O’Reilly). He loves trying things, including in the realms of philosophy, art, and adventure. Here on meiert.com he shares and generalizes and exaggerates some of his thoughts and experiences.
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Perhaps my most relevant book: CSS Optimization Basics (2018). Writing CSS is a craft. As craftspeople we strive to write high quality CSS. In CSS Optimization Basics I lay out the, at least some of the most important aspects of such CSS.
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