I've spent a lot of time trying to figure out which Javascript script loading framework to use. RequireJS or HeadJS. I still don't have an answer. Neither website refers to each other.

In general

  • To me, it's important to be able to load and execute some Javascript before downloading Javascript modules that aren't needed to render the initial screen. Makes for a more responsive behaviour and gets pixels drawn quicker for Javascript-heavy sites.
  • An understated, massive, benefit to combining multiple .js files into one is sporadic network bottlenecks. Fewer files to download and fewer things can go wrong. These bottlenecks can make a few Kb of a Javascript file take 10 seconds to download.
  • Public CDNs (e.g. jQuery from Google's CDN) is an extremely powerful optimization technique. Not only are they extremely fast, it's very likely they're preloaded because some other site uses the exact same URL.
  • Where does it say that Javascript has to be loaded in the head? Even html5-boilerplate loads Javascript just before the </body> tag.
  • Realistically, in the real world, it's not uncommon that you can't combine all .js files into one. This is not true for web apps that consists of just one HTML file. One page might require A.js, B.js and C.js but another page requires A.js, B.js and D.js. Requires manual thinking whether you should combine A,B,C,D.js or A,B.js + C|D.js. No framework can predict this.
  • All loading and browser incompatibility hacks will eventually become obsolete as browsers catch up. Again, requires manual thinking because supporting and ultra-boosting performance might have a different cost today compared to a year from now. The most guilty of this appears to be ControlJS
  • I'm confident that optimization in terms of file concatenation and white space optimization does not belong to the framework.
  • Apparently iPhone 3.x series can't cache individual files larger than 15Kb (25Kb for iPhone 4.x). That's a very small about if you combine several large modules.
  • Accepting the fact of life that sporadic network bottlenecks can kill your page, think hard about asynchronous loading and preserved order. Perhaps ideal is a mix of both. What framework allows that? (both RequireJS and HeadJS it seems)
  • Loading frameworks are not for everything and everyone. If you're building something "simple" or landing page like Google's search page frameworks might just get in your way.

RequireJS

  • Author well known but his Dojoesque style shines through in RequireJS's syntax and patterns.
  • Is only about Javascript. No CSS hacks or other html5ish boilerplates.
  • Gets into the realm of module definitions. Neat but do you want the loading framework to get involved in how you prefer to write your code or do you just want it to load your files?
  • All the module definition stuff feels excessive for every single project I can imagine but we're entering an era of "web apps" (as opposed to "web sites") so this might need to change.
  • What you learn in using RequireJS you can reuse when building NodeJS (a server-side framework). It's also possible to use RequireJS in Rhino (server-side Javascript engine) but personally I haven't reached that level yet.

HeadJS

  • Author relatively unknown. quite well known too. Author also of Flowplayer and jQuery Tools.
  • Contains a kitchen sink (CSS tricks, modernizer.js) but perhaps they're really quite useful. After all, you don't write your web site in Assembly.
  • There's a fork of HeadJS that does just the Javascript stuff. But will it be maintained? And does that defeat the whole point of using HeadJS?
  • With its CSS hacks (aka. kitchen sink) HeadJS seems great if you really care about combining HTML5 techniques with Internet Explorer.
  • This awesome experiment shows that HeadJS really works and that asynchronous loading can be really powerful. But ask yourself, are you ready to build in an asynchronous way?
  • With HeadJS I can label a combined and optimized bundle and load my code once that bundle is loaded. Can I do that with RequireJS? It seems to depend on the filename (minus the .js suffix).
  • Makes the assumption that just because a file is loaded the order of execution is a non-issue. This means you might have trouble controlling dependencies during execution. This is a grey area that might or might not matter depending on the complexity of your app.
  • A feeling I get is that HeadJS without the CSS kitchen sink stuff reduces to become LabJS or EnhanceJS.

Other alternatives

The ones I can think of are: ControlJS (feels too "hacky" for my taste), CommonJS (not sufficiently "in-browser specific" for my taste) and EnhanceJS (like HeadJS and LabJS but with less power/features)

The one I haven't studied as much is LabJS. It seems more similar to HeadJS in style. Perhaps it deserves more attention but the reason HeadJS got my attention is because it's got a better looking website.

In conclusion

You mileage will vary. The deeper I look into this I feel personal taste comes into play. It's hard enough for a single framework other to write realistic benchmarks; even harder for "evalutators" like myself to benchmark them all. It gets incrementally harder when you take into account the effects of http latency, sporadic network bottlenecks, browser garbage collection and user experience.

Personally I think HeadJS is a smoother transition for general web sites. RequireJS might be more appropriate when write web apps with virtually no HTML and a single URL.

With the risk of starting a war... If you're a Rails/Django/Plone head, consider HeadJS. If you're a mobile web app/NodeJS head consider RequireJS.

UPDATE

Sorry, I now realise that Tero Piirainen actually has built a fair amount of powerful Javascript libraries.

Martin - 10 January 2011 [«« Reply to this]
It's a pretty common practice to load javascript at the end of the page, to avoid flicker and speed rendering up. http://developer.yahoo.com/performance/rules.html#js_bottom

I never heard that js must get loaded in the head, its even valid anywhere.
Peter Bengtsson - 10 January 2011 [«« Reply to this]
What is a common practice is not necessarily correct sometimes.

I suspect that XHTML Strict is the only one that bitches about <script> tags into the body. But most likely it's still working all the time.
Tropin - 08 March 2011 [«« Reply to this]
For some reason this is being downvoted on Hacker News, but this is the only way these scripts could have any use to me (and some upvoters): do they enable asynchronous load of Adsense/Facebook web-freezer scripts?
Peter - 23 December 2013 [«« Reply to this]
Why not vanilla style? Fastest, not code affecting, full dependencies loading.

I use simple files merging tool (merge for releases and listings for debug).

It is similiar to sp[rockets but lighter, pure java, and supports all file types (like CSS).

http://sourceforge.net/projects/minimerge

Instead of wrapping your code with "require/amd" polluting software, just define dependencies in java style.

The key is a nice build for you project.


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