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How to create-react-app with Docker

17 November 2017 0 comments   Docker, ReactJS, Javascript, Web development, Linux


Why would you want to use Docker to do React app work? Isn't Docker for server-side stuff like Python and Golang etc? No, all the benefits of Docker apply to JavaScript client-side work too.

So there are three main things you want to do with create-react-app; dev server, running tests and creating build artifacts. Let's look at all three but using Docker.

Create-react-app first

If you haven't already, install create-react-app globally:

▶ yarn global add create-react-app

And, once installed, create a new project:

▶ create-react-app docker-create-react-app
...lots of output...

▶ cd docker-create-react-app
▶ ls
README.md    node_modules package.json public       src          yarn.lock

We won't need the node_modules here in the project directory. Instead, when building the image we're going let node_modules stay inside the image. So you can go ahead and... rm -fr node_modules.

Create the Dockerfile

Let's just dive in. This Dockerfile is the minimum:

FROM node:8

ADD yarn.lock /yarn.lock
ADD package.json /package.json

ENV NODE_PATH=/node_modules
ENV PATH=$PATH:/node_modules/.bin
RUN yarn

WORKDIR /app
ADD . /app

EXPOSE 3000
EXPOSE 35729

ENTRYPOINT ["/bin/bash", "/app/run.sh"]
CMD ["start"]

A couple of things to notice here.
First of all we're basing this on the official Node v8 repository on Docker Hub. That gives you a Node and Yarn by default.

Note how the NODE_PATH environment variable puts the node_modules in the root of the container. That's so that it doesn't get added in "here" (i.e. the current working directory). If you didn't do this, the node_modules directory would be part of the mounted volume which not only slows down Docker (since there are so many files) it also isn't necessary to see those files.

Note how the ENTRYPOINT points to run.sh. That's a file we need to create too, alongside the Dockerfile file.

#!/usr/bin/env bash
set -eo pipefail

case $1 in
  start)
    # The '| cat' is to trick Node that this is an non-TTY terminal
    # then react-scripts won't clear the console.
    yarn start | cat
    ;;
  build)
    yarn build
    ;;
  test)
    yarn test $@
    ;;
  *)
    exec "$@"
    ;;
esac

Lastly, as a point of convenience, note that the default CMD is "start". That's so that when you simply run the container the default thing it does is to run yarn start.

Build container

Now let's build it:

▶ docker image build -t react:app .

The -t react:app is up to you. It doesn't matter so much what it is unless you're going to upload your container the a registry. Then you probably want the repository to be something unique.

Let's check that the build is there:

▶ docker image ls react:app
REPOSITORY          TAG                 IMAGE ID            CREATED             SIZE
react               app                 3ee5c7596f57        13 minutes ago      996MB

996MB! The base Node image is about ~700MB and the node_modules directory (for a clean new create-react-app) is ~160MB (at the time of writing). What the remaining difference is, I'm not sure. But it's empty calories and easy to lose. When you blow away the built image (docker image rmi react:app) your hard drive gets all that back and no actual code is lost.

Before we run it, lets go inside and see what was created:

▶ docker container run -it react:app bash
root@996e708a30c4:/app# ls
Dockerfile  README.md  package.json  public  run.sh  src  yarn.lock
root@996e708a30c4:/app# du -sh /node_modules/
148M    /node_modules/
root@996e708a30c4:/app# sw-precache
Total precache size is about 355 kB for 14 resources.
service-worker.js has been generated with the service worker contents.

The last command (sw-precache) was just to show that executables in /node_modules/.bin are indeed on the $PATH and can be run.

Run container

Now to run it:

▶ docker container run -it -p 3000:3000 react:app
yarn run v1.3.2
$ react-scripts start
Starting the development server...

Compiled successfully!

You can now view docker-create-react-app in the browser.

  Local:            http://localhost:3000/
  On Your Network:  http://172.17.0.2:3000/

Note that the development build is not optimized.
To create a production build, use yarn build.

Default app running

Pretty good. Open http://localhost:3000 in your browser and you should see the default create-react-app app.

Next step; Warm reloading

create-react-app does not support hot reloading of components. But it does support web page reloading. As soon as a local file is changed, it sends a signal to the browser (using WebSockets) to tell it to... document.location.reload().

To make this work, we need to do two things:
1) Mount the current working directory into the Docker container
2) Expose the WebSocket port

The WebSocket thing is set up by exposing port 35729 to the host (-p 35729:35729).

Below is an example running this with a volume mount and both ports exposed.

▶ docker container run -it -p 3000:3000 -p 35729:35729 -v $(pwd):/app react:app
yarn run v1.3.2
$ react-scripts start
Starting the development server...

Compiled successfully!

You can now view docker-create-react-app in the browser.

  Local:            http://localhost:3000/
  On Your Network:  http://172.17.0.2:3000/

Note that the development build is not optimized.
To create a production build, use yarn build.

Compiling...
Compiled successfully!
Compiling...
Compiled with warnings.

./src/App.js
  Line 7:  'neverused' is assigned a value but never used  no-unused-vars

Search for the keywords to learn more about each warning.
To ignore, add // eslint-disable-next-line to the line before.

Compiling...
Failed to compile.

./src/App.js
Module not found: Can't resolve './Apps.css' in '/app/src'

In the about example output. First I make a harmless save in the src/App.js file just to see that the dev server notices and that my browser reloads when I did that. That's where it says

Compiling...
Compiled successfully!

Secondly, I make an edit that triggers a warning. That's where it says:

Compiling...
Compiled with warnings.

./src/App.js
  Line 7:  'neverused' is assigned a value but never used  no-unused-vars

Search for the keywords to learn more about each warning.
To ignore, add // eslint-disable-next-line to the line before.

And lastly I make an edit by messing with the import line

Compiling...
Failed to compile.

./src/App.js
Module not found: Can't resolve './Apps.css' in '/app/src'

This is great! Isn't create-react-app wonderful?

Build build :)

There are many things you can do with the code you're building. Let's pretend that the intention is to build a single-page-app and then take the static assets (including the index.html) and upload them to a public CDN or something. To do that we need to generate the build directory.

The trick here is to run this with a volume mount so that when it creates /app/build (from the perspective) of the container, that directory effectively becomes visible in the host.

▶ docker container run -it -v $(pwd):/app react:app build
yarn run v1.3.2
$ react-scripts build
Creating an optimized production build...
Compiled successfully.

File sizes after gzip:

  35.59 KB  build/static/js/main.591fd843.js
  299 B     build/static/css/main.c17080f1.css

The project was built assuming it is hosted at the server root.
To override this, specify the homepage in your package.json.
For example, add this to build it for GitHub Pages:

  "homepage" : "http://myname.github.io/myapp",

The build folder is ready to be deployed.
You may serve it with a static server:

  yarn global add serve
  serve -s build

Done in 5.95s.

Now, on the host:

▶ tree build
build
├── asset-manifest.json
├── favicon.ico
├── index.html
├── manifest.json
├── service-worker.js
└── static
    ├── css
    │   ├── main.c17080f1.css
    │   └── main.c17080f1.css.map
    ├── js
    │   ├── main.591fd843.js
    │   └── main.591fd843.js.map
    └── media
        └── logo.5d5d9eef.svg

4 directories, 10 files

The contents of that file you can now upload to a CDN some public Nginx server that points to this as the root directory.

Running tests

This one is so easy and obvious now.

▶ docker container run -it -v $(pwd):/app react:app test

Note the that we're setting up a volume mount here again. Since the test runner is interactive it sits and waits for file changes and re-runs tests immediately, it's important to do the mount now.

All regular jest options work too. For example:

▶ docker container run -it -v $(pwd):/app react:app test --coverage
▶ docker container run -it -v $(pwd):/app react:app test --help

Debugging the node_modules

First of all, when I say "debugging the node_modules", in this context, I'm referring to messing with node_modules whilst running tests or running the dev server.

One way to debug the node_modules used is to enter a bash shell and literally mess with the files inside it. First, start the dev server (or start the test runner) and give the container a name:

▶ docker container run -it -p 3000:3000 -p 35729:35729 -v $(pwd):/app --name mydebugging react:app

Now, in a separate terminal start bash in the container:

▶ docker exec -it mydebugging bash

Once you're in you can install an editor and start editing files:

root@2bf8c877f788:/app# apt-get update && apt-get install jed
root@2bf8c877f788:/app# jed /node_modules/react/index.js

As soon as you make changes to any of the files, the dev server should notice and reload.

When you stop the container all your changes will be reset. So if you had to sprinkle the node_modules with console.log('WHAT THE HECK!') all of those disappear when the container is stopped.

NodeJS shell

This'll come as no surprise by now. You basically run bash and you're there:

▶ docker container run -it -v $(pwd):/app react:app bash
root@2a21e8206a1f:/app# node
> [] + 1
'1'

Conclusion

When I look back at all the commands above, I can definitely see how it's pretty intimidating and daunting. So many things to remember and it's got that nasty feeling where you feel like your controlling your development environment through unwieldy levers rather than your own hands.

But think of the fundamental advantages too! It's all encapsulated now. What you're working on will be based on the exact same version of everything as your teammate, your dev server and your production server are using.

Pros:

Cons:

In my (Mozilla Services) work, the projects I work on, I actually use docker-compose for all things. And I have a Makefile to help me remember all the various docker-compose commands (thanks Jannis & Will!). One definitely neat thing you can do with docker-compose is start multiple containers. Then you can, with one command, start a Django server and the create-react-app dev server with one command. Perhaps a blog post for another day.

React lifecycle hooks must-have

13 August 2017 0 comments   ReactJS, Javascript, Web development

http://imgh.us/react-lifecycle.svg


I don't know who made this flowchart originally, but whoever you are: Thank you!

At this point, in my React learning I think I've memorized much of this but it's taken me a lot of time and having to dig up the documentation again. (Also, not to mention the number of times I've typo'ed componentWillReciveProps and componentWillRecevieProps etc.)

Remember this; You don't need to know all of these by heart to be good at React. In fact, there's several of these that I almost never use.

React lifecycle hooks flowchart

UPDATE

The above link is dead. Use this blog post instead.

Public Class Fields saves sooo many keystrokes in React code

14 April 2017 0 comments   ReactJS, Javascript

https://tc39.github.io/proposal-class-public-fields/


tl;dr; I'm not a TC39 member and I barely understand half of what those heros are working on but there is one feature they're working on that really stands out, in my view, for React coders; Public Class Fields.

The Problem?

Very common pattern in React code is that have a component that has methods that are tied to DOM events (e.g. onClick) and often these methods need acess to this. The component's this. So you can reach things like this.state or this.setState().

You might have this in your code:

class App extends Component {
  state = {counter: 0}

  constructor() {
    super()

    // Like homework or situps; something you have to do :(
    this.incrementCounter = this.incrementCounter.bind(this) 
  }

  incrementCounter() {
    this.setState(ps => {
      return {counter: ps.counter + 1}
    })
  }

  render() {
    return (
      <div>
        <p>
          <button onClick={this.incrementCounter}>Increment</button>
        </p>
        <h1>{this.state.counter}</h1>
      </div>
    )
  }
}

Demo

If you don't bind the class method to this in the constructor, this will be undefined inside the class instance field incrementCounter. Buu!

Suppose you don't like having the word incrementCounter written in 4 placecs, you might opt for this shorthand notation where you create a new unnamed function inside the render function:

class App extends Component {
  state = {counter: 0}

  render() {
    return (
      <div>
        <p>
          <button onClick={() => {
            this.setState(ps => {
              return {counter: ps.counter + 1}
            })
          }}>Increment</button>
        </p>
        <h1>{this.state.counter}</h1>
      </div>
    )
  }
}

Demo

Sooo much shorter and kinda nice that the code can be so close in proximity to the actual onClick event definition.

But this notation has a horrible side-effect. It creates a new function on every render. If instead of a regular DOM jsx object <button> it might be a sub-component like <CoolButton/> then that sub-component would be forced to re-render every time (unless you write your own shouldComponentUpdate.

Also, this notation works when the code is small and light but it might get messy quickly if you need that functionality on other element's onClick. Or it might become mess with really deep indentation.

The Solution?

Public Class Fields.

That new feature is currently in the "Draft" stage at TC39. Aka. stage 1.

However, I discovered that you can use stage-2 in Babel to use this particular feature.

Note! I don't understand why you only have to put on your stage-2-brave socks for this feature when it's part of a definition that is stage 1.

Anyway, what it means is that you can define your field (aka method) like this instead:

class App extends Component {
  state = {counter: 0}

  incrementCounter = () => {
    this.setState(ps => {
      return {counter: ps.counter + 1}
    })
  }

  render() {
    return (
      <div>
        <p>
          <button onClick={this.incrementCounter}>Increment</button>
        </p>
        <h1>{this.state.counter}</h1>
      </div>
    )
  }
}

Demo

Now it's only mentioned by name incrementCounter twice. And no need for that manual binding in a constructor.
And since it's automatically bound, the function isn't recreated and those can easily make sub-components be pure.

So, let's always write our React methods this way from now on.

Oh, and in case you wonder. Inheritence works the same with these public class fields as the regular class instance fields.

More CSS load performance experiments (of a React app)

25 March 2017 0 comments   ReactJS, Javascript, Web development


tl;dr; More experiments with different ways to lazy load CSS with and without web fonts. Keeping it simple is almost best but not good enough.

Background

Last week I blogged about Web Performance Optimization of a Single-Page-App and web fonts in which I experimented with tricks to delay the loading of some massive CSS file. The app is one of those newfangled single-page-app where JavaScript (React in this case) does ALL the DOM rendering, which is practical but suffers the first-load experience.

Again, let's iterate that single-page-apps built with fully fledged JavaScript frameworks isn't the enemy. The hope is that your visitors will load more than just one page. If users load it once, any further click within the app might involve some "blocking" AJAX but generally the app feels great since a click doesn't require a new page load.

Again, let's iterate what the ideal is. Ideally the page should load and be visually useful by the server sending all the DOM you almost need and once loaded, some JavaScript can turn the app "alive" so that further clicks just update the DOM instead of reloading. But that's not trivial. Things like react-router (especially version 4) makes it a lot easier but you now need a NodeJS server to render the pages server-side and you can't just easily take your "build" directory and put into a CDN like Firebase or CloudFront.

When I first started these experiements I was actually looking at what I can do with the JavaScript side to make first loads faster. Turns out fixing your CSS render blocking load and assessing use of web fonts has a bigger "bang for the buck".

Go Straight to the Results

Visual comparison on WebPagetest.org
Visual comparison of 6 different solutions

Same visual but as a comparative video

Stare at that for a second or two. Note that some versions start rendering something earlier than others. Some lose some of their rendered content and goes blank. Some change look significantly more than once before the final rendered result. As expected they almost all take the same total time till the final thing is fully rendered with DOM and all CSS loaded.

What Each Experimental Version Does

Original

A regular webapp straight out of the ./build directory built with Create React App. Blocking CSS, blocking JS and no attempts to show any minimal DOM stuff first.

Optimized Version 1

Inline CSS with basic stuff like background color and font color. CSS links are lazy loaded using tricks from loadCSS.

Optimized Version 2

Same as Optimized version 1 but both the JavaScript that lazy loads the CSS and the React JavaScript has a defer on it to prevent render blockage.

Optimized Version 3

Not much of an optimization. More of a test. Takes the original version but moves the <link rel="stylesheet" ... tags to just above the </body> tag. So below the <script src="..."> tags. Note how, around the 15 second mark, this renders the DOM (by the JavaScript code) before the CSS has loaded and it gets ugly. Note also how much longer this one takes because it has to context switch and go back to CSS loading and re-rendering after the DOM is built by the JavaScript.

Optimized Version 4

All custom web font loading removed. Bye bye "Lato" font-family. Yes you could argue that it looks worse but I still believe performance makes users more happy ultimately than prettiness (not true for all sites, e.g. a fashion web app).
Actually this version is copied from the Optimized version 1 but with the web fonts removed. The final winner in my opinion.

Optimized Version 5

Out of curiousity, let's remove the web fonts one more time but do it based on the Original. So no web fonts but CSS still render blocking.

So, Which Is Best?

I would say Optimized version 4. Remove the web font and do the loadCSS trick of loading the CSS after some really basic rendering but do that before loading the JavaScript. This is what I did to Podcast Time except slightly improved the initial server HTML so that it says "Loading..." immediately and I made the header nav look exactly like the one you get when everything is fully loaded.

Also, Chrome is quite a popular browser after all and the first browser that supports <link rel="preload" ...>. That means that when Chrome (and Opera 43 and Android Browser) parses the initial HTML and sees <link rel="preload" href="foo.css"> it can immediately start downloading that file and probably start parsing it too (in parallel). The visual comparison I did here on WebPagetest used Chrome (on 3G Emerging Markets) so that gives the optimized versions above a slight advantage only for Chrome.

What's Next?

To really make your fancy single-page-app fly like greased lightning you should probably do two things:

  1. Server-side render the HTML but perhaps do it in such a way that if your app depends on a lot of database data, skip that so you at least send a decent amount of HTML so when React/Angular/YouNameIt starts executing it doesn't have to do much DOM rendering and can just go straight to a loading message whilst it starts fetching the actual AJAX data that needs to be displayed. Or if it's a news article or blog post, include that in the server rendered HTML but let the client-side load other things like comments or a sidebar with related links.

  2. Tools like critical that figures out the critical above-the-fold CSS don't work great with single-page-apps where the DOM is generated by loaded JavaScript but you can probably hack around that by writing some scripts that generate a DOM as a HTML string by first loading the app in PhantomJS in various ways. That way you can inline all the CSS needed even after the JavaScript has built the DOM. And once that's loaded, then you can lazy load in the remaining CSS (e.g. bootstrap.min.css) to have all styles ready when the user starts clicking around on stuff.

Most important is the sites' functionality and value but hopefully these experiments have shown that you can get pretty good mileage from your standard build of a single-page-app without having to do too much tooling.

Web Performance Optimization of a Single-Page-App and web fonts

16 March 2017 0 comments   ReactJS, Javascript, Web development


tl;dr; Don't worry so much about your bloated JavaScript and how to async it. Worry about your CSS and your Web fonts. Here I demonstrate a web performance optimization story with Webpagetest.org results demonstrating the improvements.

The app playground

I have a little app called Podcast Time. It's a single-page-app that renders all the functionality in React with the help of MobX and I use Bootstrap 4 and Bootswatch to make it "pretty". And that Bootswatch theme I chose depends on the Lato font by Google Fonts.

I blogged about it last month. Check it out if you're curious what it actually does. As with almost all my side-projects, it ultimately becomes a playground to see how I can performance optimize it.

sourcemap of combined .js file
The first thing I did was add a Service Worker so that consecutive visits all draws from a local cache. But I fear most visitors (all 52 of them (I kid, I don't know)) come just once and don't benefit from the Service Worker. The compiled and minified JavaScript weighs 124 KB gzipped (440 KB uncompressed) and the CSS weighs 20 KB gzipped (151 KB uncompressed). Not only that but the bootstrap.min.css contained an external import to Google Fonts's CSS that loads the external font files. And lastly, the JavaScript is intense. It's almost 0.5 MB of heavy framework machinery. Of that JavaScript about 45 KB which is "my code". By the way, as ES6 code it's actually 66 KB that my fingers have typed. So that's an interesting factoid about the BabelJS conversion to ES5 code.

Anyway, to make site ultra fast the bestest thing would be to rewrite all the JavaScript in vanilla JavaScript and implement, with browser quirks (read: polyfills), HTML5 pushState etc. Also, I guess I should go through the bootstrap.css file and extract exactly only the selectors I'm actually using. But I'm not going to do that. That would be counter productive and I wouldn't have a chance to add the kind of features I have and can add. So that fat JavaScript and that fat CSS needs to be downloaded.

So what can I do to make that slightly less painful? ...when Service Workers isn't an option.

1. The baseline

Here's the test results on Webpagetest.org

Click on the first Filmstrip View and notice that the rendering both starts and finishes between the 3.0 and 3.5 second mark. The test is done using Chrome on what they call "Mobile 3G Fast".

2. Have some placeholder content whilst it's downloading

I poked around at the CSS to get some really basics out of it. The background color, the font color, the basic grid. I then copied that into the index.html as an inline stylesheet. You can see it here.

The second thing I did was to replace all <link rel="stylesheet" href="..."> meta tags with this:

<link rel="preload" href="FOO.css" as="style" onload="this.rel='stylesheet'">
<noscript><link rel="stylesheet" href="FOO.css"></noscript>

Also, near the bottom of the index.html I took the loadCSS.js and cssrelpreload.js scripts from Filament Group's loadCSS solution.

And lastly I copied the header text and the sub-title from the DOM, once rendered, plus added a little "Loading..." paragraph and put that into the DOM element that React mounts into once fully loaded.

Now the cool effect is that the render blocking CSS is gone. CSS loads AFTER some DOM rendering has happened. Yes, there's going to be an added delay when the browser has to re-render everything all over again, but at least now it appears that the site is working whilst you're waiting for the site to fully load. Much more user-friendly if you ask me.

Here's the test results on Webpagetest.org

A lot of blankness
Click on the first Filmstrip View and notice that some rendering started at the 0.9 second mark (instead of 3 seconds in the previous version). Then, after the browser notices that it's not the right font so it blanks the DOM, waits for the web font to load and around the time the web font is loaded, the JavaScript is loaded and ready so it starts rendering the final version at around the 2.8 second mark.

Note that the total time from start to finish is still the same. 3.1 second vs. 3.5 second. It's just that in this second version the user gets some indication that the site is alive and loading. I think the pulsating "Loading..." message puts the user at ease and although they're unhappy it still hasn't loaded I think it buys me a smidge of patience.

3. Hang on! Are web fonts really that important?

That FOIT is still pretty annoying though. When the browser realizes that the font is wrong, it makes the DOM blank until the right font has been loaded. My poor user has to stare at a blank screen for 1.3 seconds instad of seeing the "Loading..." message. Not only that but instead of just saying "Loading..." this could be an opportunity to display something more "constructive" that the user can actually start consuming with their eyes and brains. Then, by the time the full monty has been downloaded and ready the user will not have been waiting in vain.

So how important are those web fonts really? It's a nerdy app where search, content and aggregates matter more than the easthetic impression. Sure, a sexy looking site (no matter what the context/environment) does yield a better impression but there's tradeoffs to be made. If I can load it faster, my hunch is that that'll be more impressive than a pretty font. Secs sells.

I know there are possible good hacks to alleviate these FOIT problems. For example, in "How We Load Web Fonts Progressively" they first set the CSS to point to a system font-family, then, with a JavaScript polyfill they can know when the external web font has been downloaded and then they change the CSS. Cute and cool but it means yet another piece of JavaScript that has to be loaded. It also means "FOUT" (Flash Of Unstyled Text) which can disturb the view quite a lot if the changed font changes layout shifts.

Anyway, I decided I'll prefer fast loading over pretty font so I removed all font family hacks and references to the external font. Bye bye!

Here's the test results on Webpagetest.org

Click on the first Filmstrip View and notice that the rendering starts already at 1.2 seconds and stay with the "Loading..." message all the way till around 3.0 seconds when both the CSS and the full JavaScript has been loaded.

Side note; Lato vs. Helvetica Neue vs. Helvetica

You decide, is the Lato font that much prettier?

Lato

Lato

Helvetica Neue

Helvetica Neue

Helvetica

Helvetica

In Conclusion

PageSpeed Insights
I started this exploration trying to decide if there are better ways I can load my JavaScript files. I did some experiments with some server-side loading and async and defer. I scrutinized my ES6 code to see if there are things I can cut out. Perhaps I should switch to Preact instead of React but then I'd have to own the whole es-lint, babel and webpack config hell that create-react-app has eliminated and I'd get worried about not being able to benefit from awesome libraries like MobX and various routing libraries. However, when I was doing various measurements I noticed that all the tricks I tried, for a better loading experience, dwarfed in comparison to the render blocking CSS and the web font loading.

Service Workers is to web apps, what smartphone native apps are to mobile web pages in terms of loading performance. But Service Workers only work if you have a lot of repeat users.

If you want a fast loading experience and still have the convenience of building your app in a powerful JavaScript framework; focus on your CSS and your web font loading.

Podcasttime.io - How Much Time Do Your Podcasts Take To Listen To?

13 February 2017 3 comments   ReactJS, Javascript, Django, Web development, Python

https://podcasttime.io/about


tl;dr; It's a web app where you search and find the podcasts you listen to. It then gives you a break down how much time that requires to keep up, per day, per week and per month. Podcasttime.io

Podcasttime.io on Firefox iOS
First I wrote some scripts to scrape various sources of podcasts. This is basically a RSS feed URL from which you can fetch the name and an image. And with some cron jobs you can download and parse each podcast feed and build up an index of how many episodes they have and how long each episode is. Together with each episodes "publish date" you can easily figure out an average of how much content each podcast puts out over time.

Suppose you listen to JavaScript Air, Talk Python To Me and Google Cloud Platform Podcast for example, that means you need to listen to podcasts for about 8 minutes per day to keep up.

The Back End

The technology is exciting. The backend is a Django 1.10 server. It manages a PostgreSQL database of all the podcasts, episodes, cron jobs etc. Through Django ORM signals is packages up each podcast with its metadata and stores it in an Elasticsearch database. All the communication between Django and ElasticSearch is done with Elasticsearch DSL.

Also, all the downloading and parsing of feeds is done as background tasks in Celery. This got really interesting/challenging because sooo many podcasts are poorly marked up and many a times the only way to find out how long an episode is is to use ffmpeg to probe it and that takes time.

Another biggish challenge is that fact that often things simply don't work because of networks being what they are, unreliable. So you have to re-attempt network calls without accidentally getting caught in infinite loops of accidentally putting a bad/broken RSS feed back into the background queue again and again and again.

The Front End

Actually, the first prototype of this app was written with Django as the front end plus some jQuery to tie things together. On a plane ride, and as an excuse to learn it, I re-wrote the whole thing in React with Redux. To be honest, I never really enjoyed that and it felt like everything was hard and I had to do more jumping-around-files than actual coding. In particular, Redux is nice but when you have a lot of AJAX both inside components and upon mounting it gets quite messy in my humble opinion.

So, on another plane ride (to Hawaii, so I had more time) I re-wrote it from scratch but this time using three beautiful pieces of front end technology: create-react-app, Mobx and mobx-router. Suddenly it became fun again. Mobx (or Redux or something "fluxy") is necessary if you want fancy pushState URLs AND a central (aka global) state management.

To be perfectly honest, I never actually tried combining Mobx with something like react-router or if it's even possible. But with mobx-router it's quite neat. You write a "views route map" (see example) where you can kick off AJAX before entering (and leaving) routes. Then you use that to populate a global store and now all components can be almost entirely about simply rendering the store. There is some AJAX within the mounted components (e.g. the search and autocomplete).

Plotly graph
On the home page, there's a chart that rather unscientifically plots episode durations over time as a line chart. I'm trying a library called Plotly which is actually a online app for building charts but they offer a free JavaScript library too for generating graphs. Not entirely sure how I feel about it yet but apart from looking a big crowded on mobile, it's working really well.

A Killer Feature

This is a pattern I've wanted to build but never managed to get right. The way to get data about a podcast (and its episodes) is to do an Elasticsearch search. From the homepage you basically call /find?q=Planet%20money when you search. That gives you almost all the information you need. So you store that in the global store. Then, if the user clicks on that particular podcast to go to its "perma page" you can simply load that podcast's individual route and you don't need to do something like /find?id=727 because you already have everything you need. If the user then opens that page in a new tab or reloads you now have to fetch just the one podcast, so you simply call /find?id=727. In other words, subsequent page loads load instantly! (Basically, it updates the store's podcast object upon clicking any of the podcasts iterated over from the listing. Code here)

And to top that - and this is where a good router shines - if you make a search or something, click something and click back since you have a global store of state, you can simply reuse that without needing another AJAX query.

The State of the Future

First of all, this is a fun little side project and it's probably buggy. My goal is not to make money on it but to build up a graph. Every time someone uses the site and finds the podcasts they listen to that slowly builds up connections. If you listen to "The Economist", "Planet Money" and "Freakonomics", that tie those together loosely. It's hard to programmatically know that those three podcasts are "related" but they are by "peoples' taste".

The ultimate goal of this is; now I can recommend other podcasts based on a given set. It's a little bit like LastFM used to work. Using Audioscrobbler LastFM was able to build up a graph based on what people preferred to listen to and using that network of knowledge they can recommend things you have not listened to but probably would appreciate.

At the moment, there's a simple Picks listing of "lists" (aka "picks") that people have chosen. With enough time and traffic I'll try to use Elasticsearch's X-Pack Graph capabilities to develop a search engine based on this.

At the time of writing, I've indexed 4,669 podcasts, spanning 611,025 episodes which equates to 549,722 hours of podcast content.

The Code

The front end code is available on github.com/peterbe/podcasttime2 and is relatively neat and tidy. The most interesting piece is probably the views/index.js which is the "controller" of things. That's where it decides which component to render, does the AJAX queries and manages the global store.

The back end code is a bit messier. It's done as an "app" as part of this very blog. The way the Elasticsearch indexing is configured is here and the hotch potch code for scraping and parsing RSS feeds is here.

Please try it out and show me your selection. You can drop feedback here.

How to deploy a create-react-app

04 November 2016 1 comment   ReactJS, Javascript, Web development


First of all, create-react-app is an amazing kit. It's a zero configuration bundle that gives you a react app boilerplate with a dev server, linting and a deployment tool. All are awesome but not perfect.

I could go on giving this project praise but if you're here reading this you might be convinced already.

Anyway, the way you deploy a create-react-app project is actually stunningly simple, but there is one major caveat to look out for. Basically running yarn run build will first delete existing files in the ./build/ directory. Files that it indents to replace. For example your ./build/index.html or your ./build/static/js/main.94a86fe3.js.

So, what I suggest is that you deploy it like this:

#!/bin/bash

# Go into the project where the package.json exists
cd myproject
# Upgrade any libraries
yarn
# Use 
yarn run build
mv build build_final

Note! This tip is only applicable if you deploy "in place" as opposed to building a whole new container/image and swapping an old container/image for a new one.

Now, for your Nginx point to the ./build_final directory instead. For example:

# /etc/nginx/sites-enabled/mysite.conf
server {
    server_name mydomain.example.com;
    root /full/path/to/myproject/build_final;

    location / {
        try_files $uri /index.html;
        add_header   Cache-Control public;
        expires      1d;
    }
}

The whole point of this tip is that it's a good idea to not point Nginx to the ./build directory (but to a copy of it instead) because otherwise, during the seconds that yarn run build runs (1-5 seconds) a bunch of files will be missing and Nginx will send 404 errors to the clients unlucky enought to connect during the deployment.

4 different kinds of React component styles

07 April 2016 4 comments   Javascript, ReactJS


I know I'm going to be laughed at for having misunderstood the latest React lingo and best practice. But guess, what I don't give a ...

I'm starting to like React more and more. There's a certain element of confidence about them since they only do what you ask them to do and even though there's state involved, if you do things right it feels like it's only one direction that state "flows". And events also only flow in one direction (backwards, sort of).

However, an ugly wart with React is the angle of it being hard to learn. All powerful things are hard to learn but it's certainly not made easier when there are multiple ways to do the same thing. What I'm referring to is how to write components.

Partly as a way of me learning and summorizing what I've come to understand and partly to jot it down so others can be helped by the same summary. Others who are in a similar situation as I am with learning React.

The default Component Class

This is what I grew up learning. This is code you most likely start with and then realize, there is no need for state here.

class Button extends React.Component {

  static propTypes = {
    day: PropTypes.string.isRequired,
    increment: PropTypes.func.isRequired,
  }

  render() {
    return (
      <div>
        <button onClick={this.props.increment}>Today is {this.props.day}</button>
      </div>
    )
  }
}

The old style createClass component

I believe this is what you used before you had ES6 so readily available. And I heard a rumor from Facebook that this is going to be deprecated. Strange rumor considering that createClass is still used in the main documentation.

const Button = React.createClass({
  propTypes: {
    day: PropTypes.string.isRequired,
    increment: PropTypes.func.isRequired,
  },

  render: function() {
    return (
      <div>
        <button onClick={this.props.increment}>Today is {this.props.day}</button>
      </div>
    )
  }
})

The Stateless Function component

Makes it possible to do some JavaScript right there before the return

const Button = ({
  day,
  increment
}) => {
  return (
    <div>
      <button onClick={increment}>Today is {day}</button>
    </div>
  )
}

Button.propTypes = {
  day: PropTypes.string.isRequired,
  increment: PropTypes.func.isRequired,
}

The Presentational Component

An ES6 shortcut trick whereby you express a onliner lambda function as if it's got a body of its own.

const Button = ({
  day,
  increment
}) => (
  <div>
    <button onClick={increment}>Today is {day}</button>
  </div>
)

Button.propTypes = {
  day: PropTypes.string.isRequired,
  increment: PropTypes.func.isRequired,
}

Some thoughts and reactions

Please Please Share your thoughts and reactions and I'll try to collect it and incorporate it into this blog post.

Headsupper.io

05 December 2015 0 comments   Python, Web development, Django, Javascript, ReactJS


tl;dr

Headsupper.io is a free GitHub webhook service that emails people when commits have the configurable keyword "headsup" in it.

Introduction

Headsupper.io is great for when you have a GitHub project with multiple people working on it and when you make a commit you want to notify other people by email.

Basically, you set up a GitHub Webhook, on pushes, to push to https://headsupper.io and then it'll parse the incoming push and its commits and look for certain things in the commit message. By default, it'll look for the word "headsup". For example, a git commit message might look like this:

fixes #123 - more juice in the Saab headsup! will require updating

Or you can use the multi-line approach where the first line is short and sweat and after the break a bit more elaborate:

bug 1234567 - tea kettle upgrade 2.1

Headsup: Next time you git pull from master, remember to run 
peep install on the requirements.txt file since this commit 
introduces a bunch of crazt dependency changes.

Git commits that come through that don't have any match on this word will simply be ignored by Headsupper.

How you use it

Maybe paradoxically, you need to authenticate with your GitHub account but that's in read-only mode and does NOT set up the Webhook for you. The reason you have to authenticate to prepare a configuration on headsupper.io is to tie the configuration to a real user.

Once you've authenticated you get the option to create your first configuration, then you have to enter at least these three piece of information:

  1. The GitHub "full name". This is the org name, slash, repo name. E.g. peterbe/django-peterbecom or mozilla/socorro.
  2. Pick a secret. Remember what you typed, because you'll need to type in this same secret when you set up the Webhook on your GitHub project's Webhooks page. (This is used to checksum and verify the source of the Webhook push)
  3. Who to send to. A list of email addresses separated with a newline or a semi-colon.

Once you've set that up, you'll need to go to your GitHub project's Setting page and enter a new Webhook and the URL you need to type in is https://headsupper.io and for the "Secret" type in that secret you used earlier. That's it!

Rules and options

The word that triggers is configurable by you. The default is headsupper. And by default, it's case insensitive. You can change that so it's case sensitive. Also, the word has to be word delimited on the left (e.g. a space or a newline character) and on the right it needs to be a space, a : or a !. So this won't match: theheadsup: or headsupper.

Other optional things you can configure are:

That last option, Only send when a new tag is created, is interesting. I added that option because at work, we make production server releases by pushing a git tag. When a tag is pushed, all those commits are sent to the continuous deployment service which makes a server upgrade. This means you get a chance to enter a heads up message to be emailed to the people who care about new deployments going out.

How it was built

It's a mix between Django and ReactJS. The whole client-side app it built statically with Webpack in ES6. It's served as static files through Nginx. But Nginx is making an exception on all URLs that start with /api or /accounts. The /api/* it used for loading and setting JSON. The /accounts/* is used for the GitHub OAuth endpoints.

What's interesting about this the architecture is that it's using HTTP cookies. Not API tokens. Cookies are quite good in that they're established and the browser does all the automated work of keeping it secure and making each request potentially authenticated.

Here's the relevant React code and here's the relevant Django code that processes the Webhook.

The whole project is available on: https://github.com/peterbe/headsupper.

Also, I made a demo at the November Mozilla Beer and Tell.

How to "onchange" in ReactJS

21 October 2015 19 comments   ReactJS, Javascript


Normally, in vanilla Javascript, the onchange event is triggered after you have typed something into a field and then "exited out of it", e.g. click outside the field so the cursor isn't blinking in it any more. This for example

document.querySelector('input').onchange = function(event) {
  document.querySelector('code').textContent = event.target.value;
}

First of all, let's talk about what this is useful for. One great example is a sign-up form where you have to pick a username or type in an email address or something. Before the user gets around to pressing the final submit button you might want to alert them early that their chosen username is available or already taken. Or you might want to alert early that the typed in email address is not a valid one. If you execute that kind of validation on every key stroke, it's unlikely to be a pleasant UI.

Problem is, you can't do that in ReactJS. It doesn't work like that. The explanation is quite non-trivial:

*"<input type="text" value="Untitled"> renders an input initialized with the value, Untitled. When the user updates the input, the node's value property will change. However, node.getAttribute('value') will still return the value used at initialization time, Untitled.

Unlike HTML, React components must represent the state of the view at any point in time and not only at initialization time."*

Basically, you can't easily rely on the input field because the state needs to come from the React app's state, not from the browser's idea of what the value should be.

You might try this

var Input = React.createClass({
  getInitialState: function() {
    return {typed: ''};
  },
  onChange: function(event) {
    this.setState({typed: event.target.value});
  },
  render: function() {
    return <div>
        <input type="text" onChange={this.onChange.bind(this)}/>
        You typed: <code>{this.state.typed}</code>
      </div>
  }
});
React.render(<Input/>, document.querySelector('div'));

But what you notice is the the onChange handler is fired on every key stroke. Not just when the whole input field has changed.

So, what to do?

The trick is surprisingly simple. Use onBlur instead!

Same snippet but using onBlur instead

var Input = React.createClass({
  getInitialState: function() {
    return {typed: ''};
  },
  onBlur: function(event) {
    this.setState({typed: event.target.value});
  },
  render: function() {
    return <div>
        <input type="text" onBlur={this.onBlur.bind(this)}/>
        You typed: <code>{this.state.typed}</code>
      </div>
  }
});
React.render(<Input/>, document.querySelector('div'));

Now, your handler is triggered after the user has finished with the field.