Daniel Cannon

Building a real application with BackboneJS

Introduction

user

Daniel Cannon

I am a software engineer working at Hailo and living in London, UK. I enjoy working with Go, JS, ReactJS and Microservices, I also maintain a number of open-source projects.


BackboneJS

Building a real application with BackboneJS

Posted by Daniel Cannon on .
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BackboneJS

Building a real application with BackboneJS

Posted by Daniel Cannon on .

A couple of months ago when I started looking at new things to learn BackboneJS caught my eye, it meant that I could take all of the knowledge that I had learnt with Symfony2 and apply it to the client side and make desktop style web apps. However as with many new libraries and frameworks the amount of full featured examples was almost non-existent.

The application I choose to create was a jsFiddle style application that includes the ability to create multiple files. However the point of this article isn’t just to talk about why I made this application but to share with you what I learnt.

Application | Public Example | Source

Application Architecture

For this application I used Tim Branyens backbone.boilerplate and backbone.layoutmanager along with RequireJS. I also used backbone.relational to deal with associations between models. The use of backbone.boilerplate and RequireJS allowed me to have structure the javascript side of the application in a straight forward way which I believe is one of the hardest parts of backbone. However even after writing this application I don’t believe that RequireJS is the answer to our javascript loading issues. Sure it solves some problems such as dependency management however the fact that many libraries do not offer support so you end up having to deal with shim plug-ins and a load more configuration for these files. Another issue I have with it is that you have to include even more code to run the code, in my ideal world the compiled code would only contain the application code.

For the back-end I used the PHP framework Symfony2 with the FOSRestBundle to create a RESTful API. Although this framework is not as lightweight as some solutions it allowed me to quickly set-up the database access and the large collection of "bundles" meant that I didn’t need to reinvent the wheel with things like user authentication.

Modularity

Modularity is a key part of any application so it was important to ensure that all parts of this application were as modular as possible. Backbone boilerplate and RequireJS help this by keeping modules in separate files and managing dependencies. Another important thing to take note of is events, this is because events allow you to pass information between different modules allowing for loose coupling which in turn makes your code more maintainable. It also means that there are fewer dependencies between modules. Backbone has a powerful event system which should be used to send events between different modules using the name-spaced app object. Here is an example from the application.

save: function() {  
    app.trigger("save");
},

Trigger an event Source

app.on("save", function() {  
    that.save().success(function() {
        if (that.has('current_version')) {
            app.router.navigate('/' + that.id + '/' + that.get('current_version'));
        }

        app.trigger("reload");
    });
});

Event callback Source

Authentication

Authentication is handled on the server side by FriendsOnSymfony's Symfony2 bundle FOSUserBundle. As mentioned before the use of these bundles reduced development time. However this bundle only dealt with security on the server side so I had to come up with another way of dealing with it on the client side. To do this I choose to send different HTTP status codes when requesting something from the API. For example if an anonymous user tries to send a POST request to /projects then a 503 error code will be returned. Alternatively if a user tries to edit a project they do not have access to by sending a PUT request to /projects they a 501 error code will be returned.

<?php  
protected function checkPermission(OwnableEntity $entity=null)  
{
    if($entity !== null) {
        if(!$this->get('security.context')->isGranted('ROLE_USER')) {
            throw new HttpException(401, "Unauthorized");
        }
        if($this->get('security.context')->getToken()->getUser() !== $entity->getUser()) {
            throw new HttpException(403, "Unauthorized");
        }

        return true;
    } else {
        if(!$this->get('security.context')->isGranted('ROLE_USER')) {
            throw new HttpException(401, "Unauthorized");
        }

        return true;
    }
}
?>

Server side authentication code Source

On the client side we then check if the response code is 200, if it is not the we show an error message to the user.

$.ajaxError(function(e, xhr, settings) {
    if(xhr.status === 401) {
        //Not logged in
    }
    if(xhr.status === 403) {
        //Not allowed
    }
}

Ajax error checking Source

Templating/Handlebars

For the templating I used handlebars, one of the reasons for this is that it is similar to twig which is used on the server side and it is very simple, however this simplicity is also a slight disadvantage. It would have been nice to have a little more power to allow template inheritance as well as more integration with backbone.

To load templates the application first the cache and if it is not found it then loads the template from the server using Ajax. It then caches the template and returns the content. For the cache I choose to use session storage with a fall-back to a javascript object.

The reason that I choose to cache the content instead of including the templates with the rest of the javascript files is that this way the templates only have to be loaded once however in my testing the differences in page loads were negligible.

Views/LayoutManager

As mentioned previously LayoutManager is a huge improvement over the default views however it is far from perfect, when I was working on the modal windows I noticed that due to LayoutManagers structure it is very difficult to deal with as a lot of the functionality is hidden away the best example of this being the render method. Another issue I found was because I used the views property to structure my application views re-rendering the application caused views to disappear or occasionally duplicate. Overall I found some very strange functionality but I would still recommend using LayoutManager.

Tips

Here are some other tips that don’t warrant a full section

  • For the layout manager don't use the views property instead use setViews inside the initialize function, this is because when using RequireJS you sometimes access variables that have not been declared yet.
  • When filtering a collection an array is returned so you cannot use the collection functions directly. (_.each() instead of filteredCollection.each())
  • Using the snippet of code at main:343 allows for simple navigation between routes without setting a click event for each link.
  • This is less of a tip but more of something I would change in future projects, currently the layout and its view is set each time it is used which means code is repeated. In future I would try to move this code to a separate module and stop the code from being repeated.

Conclusion

OK so that’s all for this article however the comments are there for a reason, if there is any part of the code you do not quite understand or the code doesn’t cover something then please post a message. Also since this is my first article if you could give me some constructive criticism that would be great.

Thanks for reading!

user

Daniel Cannon

http://danielcannon.co.uk

I am a software engineer working at Hailo and living in London, UK. I enjoy working with Go, JS, ReactJS and Microservices, I also maintain a number of open-source projects.