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A new project with TypeScript and Angular


More than a year ago, I started a new adventure in a new startup company. New company, new adventure and a new project. New technology maybe?
Of course the risk of adopting a new technology in a new project is lower than migrating to a new technology in an existing one, but there still is a risk. Especially if the technology is young and almost no one in the team has experience with it.

I’m working in web projects for almost twenty years and with JavaScript for all this period. It is said that JavaScript is the least understood language. And even though you understand it you need a very high level of discipline in designing your application and writing you code if you want to keep away from spaghetti code. One of the biggest issues with JavaScript in my view is that it’s not a strong type language. In the past in my code I even tried to bring classes in JavaScript. But this solves the problem only partially.

You can understand my enthusiasm when I saw TypeScript. A strong typed language for the web. Yoohoo! And an entire framework built on top – Angular. Angular, not AngularJS. I worked with both frameworks, but basically what they have in common is the name. Angular is also known as the next version of AngularJS, or Angular 2, 4, 5, 6 …

Now coming back to the project. I proposed for it as the development language/framework the new TypeScript/Angular. At that moment it seemed like a big risk: no one in the team was used it before and even myself I have used in only couple of projects, none of which made it into production. But now, in retrospective, I believe it was one of the best decisions when it comes to technology selection for a new project.

I would not insist too much about TypeScript and Angular, but I still would like to point out a few advantages that I really like to make my case.

TypeScript

TypeScript it’s a strong typed language for the web with a lot of similarities with JavaScript. It’s not an interpreted language, but a hybrid one that compiles to JavaScript. This way you’ll catch a lot of errors right in the development phase, even better they’ll be flagged by your favorite IDE/editor.

Looking into the future, I think new projects and libraries should be written in TypeScript, even the ones targeting JavaScript. TypeScript is interoperable with JavaScript, the code compiles to JavaScript and the library is augmented also with type information for TypeScript users. The compiled script is optimized, obfuscated and easy to integrate. JavaScript acts like some kind of assembler code in this case.

A lot of the TypeScript improvements came to JavaScript through the latest ECMAScript standards, but not all are widely supported. There are also initiatives for native TypeScript support directly in the browser. But I would still see quite a few advantages from the ones outlined above still standing in a hybrid approach (compiled + interpreted).

In conclusion, I believe TypeScript is the modern and the best choice when it comes to programming languages for the web. It’s so cool, that sometimes I cannot believe it was made by Microsoft. Of course, it was a joint effort and maybe this approach will make them think about their future in a more and more open community.

Angular

Angular is the perfect companion as a framework for TypeScript. Its component-ized approach could seem an overkill in the beginning, but in an enterprise project you’ll quickly see its value. Components can be easily isolated and reused. It’s so easy to develop such a component, that sometimes could be easier to develop your own from scratch than customize an existing 3rd party one. Of course, this should be the exception, rather than the rule :).

As I said earlier AngularJS and Angular have basically only the name in common. Because of that it’s pretty hard to upgrade from the former to the latter. Quite the opposite is to upgrade between different versions of Angular as they maintain a high level of backward compatibility and features are deprecated progressibely. Usually it took me just a few hours to upgrade from Angular 2 to 4, from 4 to 5, from 5 too 6. The fact that TypeScript is strong typed, the compiler, or even better the IDE, points out the errors, making it extremely easy and straightforward.

Of course, a homogeneous product is the ideal case, but those are so rare … We had to integrate our project with an existing one built on AngularJS. It was like a case study – how to upgrade and interoperate between Angular’s. Angular came with a nice rescue solution here and with a decent effort we came up with a clean way of doing this. I will not enter into details here, but the nicest part in that, which definitely gained my vote, was that you could actually upgrade module by module, or even component by component. And the effort finally paid off when we started to reuse parts of the new project into the old one.

If you want to start a new project, Angular is a very well equipped framework that comes out of the box with TypeScript linter and compiler, webpack, SCSS support, unit and automation testing, polyfills etc. AngularJS did not have an official scaffolding tool, but Angular has Angular CLI which does a nice job.

TypeScript and Angular offered us a development landscape with emphasize on ease of development, less errors and lots of reusing opportunities. I think it was the best foundation on top of which we could build a modular toolkit, based on atomic design principles. We also managed to create a continuous build system, where the code was lint-checked and compiled for different environments, catching a lot of issues, right from that phase, a much harder or even impossible endeavor with JavaScript and other frameworks. We also integrated unit and automation tests and we’re working on extending the coverage of these. This will give us the confidence to build new features at higher speeds and shorten release cycles.

So, every time when you start a new project, especially if you’re unhappy with your development ecosystem, try investigating new ones – technologies are evolving nowadays at much higher speeds. For the past decade or so, the biggest issue in software and web development is maintainability, even before performance. And more importantly, don’t be afraid of change, embrace it.

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