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InfoQ Homepage News Dynamic Web Apps without JavaScript - HTMX Showcase at DjangoCon and Devoxx

Dynamic Web Apps without JavaScript - HTMX Showcase at DjangoCon and Devoxx

DjangoCon and Devoxx Belgium recently reported examples of interactive web applications developed without JavaScript developers. The showcased htmx HTML-first framework seems to target those applications that mainly propose a friendly interface to CRUD operations over remote resources. In one case, the team was able to remove the JavaScript developer.

At DjangoCon 2022, David Guillot reported reimplementing his company’s SaaS product with HTML-first framework htmx in two months with the following results:

Guillot gladly mentioned that 15,000 lines of JavaScript code disappeared from the codebase; performance improved (as measured by time to interactive and memory usage); the only JavaScript developer in the team left and back-end developers turned to full stack developers.

The htmx team however warns that such spectacular results were achieved because this particular SaaS application was a good fit for htmx’s HTML-first approach:

These are eye-popping numbers, and they reflect the fact that the Contexte application is extremely amenable to hypermedia: it is a content-focused application that shows lots of text and images. We would not expect every web application to see these sorts of numbers.

However, we would expect many applications to see dramatic improvements by adopting the hypermedia/htmx approach, at least for part of their system.

At Devoxx Belgium 2022, Wim Deblauwe showcased the kind of interactivity that htmx can implement without any JavaScript: search-as-you-type input field, update of the user interface as some remote resource is affected by CRUD operations, regularly refresh the user interface with server-sent data, and more.

The htmx team considers an application a good fit for the framework if the UI is mostly text and images; the UI mostly interfaces CRUD operations; and HTML updates mostly take place within well-defined blocks. Conversely, applications with many, dynamic interdependencies, that require offline functionality, or update state extremely frequently would not be a good first for htmx’s hypermedia approach.

In an htmx application, the server returns pages or fragments of pages.

<button hx-post="/clicked"
    Click Me!

The previous HTML excerpt encodes that when a user clicks on the button, htmx issues an HTTP POST request to the /clicked endpoint. Htmx uses the content from the posterior response to replace the element with the id parent-div in the DOM. With htmx, any element (i.e., not just anchors and forms), any event can trigger an HTTP request. The HTML response from the server only updates the relevant part of the UI. For the full overview of htmx capabilities, developers may refer to the documentation.

Interestingly, htmx is often showcased by back-end developers who belong to non-JavaScript ecosystems (e.g., Python/Django/Flask, PHP/Laravel, Ruby/Ruby on Rails). As Guillot mentioned, with htmx, back-end developers extend their scope to the entire stack without having to learn JavaScript, npm, Webpack, React, CSS-in-JS, and many more. Matt Layman, in his You don’t need JavaScript talk summarizes:

It’s just this constant churn in the [JavaScript] ecosystem and adding a lot of complexity onto a flow when you’re trying to deliver a web application. You want to just get an experience out there that actually works for people. But then you end up fighting with [the toolchain].
At a certain amount of scale, JavaScript can be a fantastic thing to build into your applications. But for an average person or a small team, it’s a ton of extra complexity so my recommendation is: just don’t. We have other options.

htmx is an open-source project under the BSD-2-clause license.
htmx claims to provide AJAX, CSS Transitions, WebSockets, and Server-Sent Events directly in HTML, using attributes, so developers can build user interfaces with the simplicity and power of hypertext.

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