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State of the Union: Future and Historic Thoughts on WebAssembly, JavaScript, and .NET

With all the goodness happening in the world of WebAssembly it's important to keep an eye on what's happening and how this will positively impact development going forward. In the world of JavaScript there are questions about how the worlds will converge. This maybe in contrast with a portion of the .NET community, which seems at times they don't want it to converge; they want JS dev to be thrown out with the garbage as evidence by the sly remarks toward our community over the years (which as a JS dev I've digested kindly). This sentiment is also supported via the primary description of Blazor:

Blazor lets you build interactive web UIs using C# instead of JavaScript

Although that picture gets clearer as I realize their baby (web in .NET) was called ugly for the last decade so they are salivating for Blazor to feel at home again on the web. (zing!) OK back on track and in all seriousness, Blazor is a rich platform to build modern apps using C#, and I do fully appreciate the excitement of being able to run the same code on the client and server. This is a significant strength in addition to several other bullet points about the stack. 

BTW, I qualify to make these remarks as I've been both a .NET developer and a JavaScript developer, so I've been on both sides of the fence for extended periods of time. Just look at the header image on this blog; it's a legacy Visual Studio logo representing the numerous years I've spent as a .NET developer.

History will show though without JS, the development community as a whole I don't think would be near where they are today and still creating per-platform apps like 15 years ago. The ability to write-once and deploy platform agnostic for the last 10 years is unparalleled until recent advancements. It's historic significance can't be ignored. 

Also there is no hidden agenda here to resist change or remain some kind of isolated JS developer wearing blinders. I'm not that dogmatic in my career path as I've typically moved along with change remaining modern to where mainstream development has gone, and not tried to hang on to a stack out of stubbornness. I'll adopt change as the community does, and always excited about the advancements of the future.

The reality is there is too much momentum in JavaScript development for companies/customers/clients to pump the brakes and change everything. This process is always an evolution. There is also the fact that not all development is greenfield, so the question arises about how to have the best of both worlds (JS and WASM)? 

Being pragmatic and assessing the current landscape, I think the real step forward for folks not purely on a single stack like C#/.NET, or any narrow/single stack for that matter will be a hybrid one (by definition hybrid); at least in the beginning. This is even suggested straight from the horse's mouth: https://webassembly.org/docs/faq/


I feel like bullet points 2 and 3 above will emerge in the 1st 3-5 years as a prevalent way of developing modern web apps. A hybrid approach that uses both JavaScript and compiled WASM modules referenced within to produce performant and modern web applications. The language used to create and target a WASM module will be dependent on the team's experience. 

Here are some interesting examples that do just this:

Angular:

React:

It's important to continually modernize our stack and remain fluid with the direction the community guides us. WebAssembly plays an important role in the future of all types of development. What are your thoughts on how this will evolve?

Using Quokka.js for Real-Time Feedback in TypeScript

I'm always looking for cool VS Code extensions and Quokka.js certainly hits the spot. It provides real-time feedback on JavaScript and TypeScript directly in VS Code in a variety of forms. For example if you're testing some code via console.log, you can get the output directly inline to the right of the code which is awesome.

Once installed, all I needed to do was open the command pallet in VS Code (Ctrl+Shift+P) and select, 'Quokka.js: Start on Current File' as shown below:


After initiating the extension, as seen below I was getting live logging directly in the code.


If there's a value not provided in the scope of the file, Quokka.js obviously can't produce an output and this was expected behavior:


There is quite a bit more functionality offered like code coverage assessment (as it pertains to code execution paths, not unit testing), and a provided value explorer. There is also a Pro edition with additional tools available.

Check out the links below to get started:

Quokka.js
VS Code Extension for Quokka.js

I'm excited about WebAssembly, but not as much about my beloved .NET, Blazor's implementation

As a web client developer these days, I'm sold on WebAssembly and looking forward to it's adoption by the multiple languages that can compile to it. However interestingly one of the things I'm beginning to feel is my personal dislike for the Blazor syntax and implementation. I suppose my multiple years being entrenched in JS/TS with really enjoying TypeScript + the SPA frameworks that have a relatively clean separation of markup (declarative) and logic (imperative) has made me have a bit of dislike for lacing the view directly with imperative view logic like this in Blazor:

@page "/myorders"
@inject HttpClient HttpClient

<div class="main">
</div>

@if (ordersWithStatus == null)
{
  <text>Loading...</text>
}
else if (ordersWithStatus.Count == 0)
{
  <h2>No orders placed</h2>
  <a class="btn btn-success" 
        href="https://www.blogger.com/2404">Order some pizza</a>
}
else
{
  <text>TODO: show orders</text>
}

As a side of humor, to format code blocks on this blog I have to select a 'brush' for the language formatting. Case in point, in the above snippet I wasn't sure if I should have picked HTML, C#, or Blazor.

This is probably because I was never a fan of the classic ASP, MVC Razor, or even Blazor implementations where view logic is interlaced with the markup (for web client code I'd even throw in JSX - as explained here). This doesn't matter a pile of beans really because this is all subjective and has absolutely no bearing on how successful Blazor or any other language targeting WebAssembly will be. I actually love the .NET stack and was carved from that block since the beginnings of my professional career, but I just don't like that particular style of implementation for the web. Shoot for all of ASP.NET's webforms shortcomings, the view overall was relatively clean (keeping logic in code separate from the markup) and pure aside the fact the tags may have been ASP.NET server-side controls but still took the shape of HTML tags (analogous in form to today's custom HTML elements).

I also do not like the JSInterop style in Blazor. You can invoke JavaScript functions from within C#, and that alone is handy I suppose, but messy. The functions you want to invoke must be available on the global scope of windowYuck. JavaScript scope and encapsulation was difficult enough to manage through the years, I'd rather not go back to the days of hanging code off the window object making everything globally available. In 100 level examples this seems fine, but get to 10's or 100's of thousands of lines of code in an enterprise app and this could get ugly.

<script>
  window.MyFunction = (someValue) => {
    //JS code here...
  };
</script>

using Microsoft.JSInterop;
public class JsInteropExample
{
  public static Task MethodName(strings someValue)
  {
    return JSRuntime.Current.InvokeAsync("MyFunction", someValue);
  }
}

I'm probably not alone in my opinions, and that's why I'll be keeping an eye on the ability to use TypeScript as a target for WA. I like JS/TS and am comfortable with it for developing web applications. I feel many client side developers may have a similar sentiment and not want to either learn a server-side language, or just prefer the front-end languages they've been using for years. TS on it's own won't be enough (it's just a language), so it would have to be TS + some web framework (??) and we'll have to wait for the pieces to come together.

To that end I'll keep an eye on things like assemblyscript which is a TypeScript to WebAssembly compiler. It doesn't appear to have the traction some of the other compilers do at the moment, but I'm sure it or something similar will gain momentum as WA picks up and the masses of web developers may not feel like using C#, C++, or Rust.

AssemblyScript: a TypeScript to WebAssembly compiler

AssemblyScript: Status and Roadmap

I'm not counting Blazor out for sure, and it's still going to evolve as it's only an experimental project at the moment. I really enjoy developing in C# so it seems like a great match, but in it's early stages it's rough around the edges and maybe that's just my opinion that's shaped as a front-end developer. I'm pragmatic and will not count out the usefulness of developing on a single-stack and this is where Blazor shines for .NET developers. 

I'd be interested in feedback or thoughts about using TypeScript to transpile to WebAssembly or anything else along these lines, so please feel free to leave a comment and let me know.