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Jonathan Pugh

Software Engineer / Project Manager / Technical Architect
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Software Engineer / Project Manager / Technical Architect

I needed to choose a full stack of tools for cross platform mobile application design & development. After much research and trying different tools, these are what I came up with that work for me today:

For the client coding I chose Framework7 because of its performance, easy learning curve, and very well designed, beautiful UI widgets. I think it's perfect for solo development or small teams. I didn't like React Native. It felt heavy to me and rigid. Framework7 allows the use of #CSS3, which I think is the best technology to come out of the #WWW movement. No other tech has been able to allow designers and developers to develop such flexible, high performance, customisable user interface elements that are highly responsive and hardware accelerated before. Now #CSS3 includes variables and flexboxes it is truly a powerful language and there is no longer a need for preprocessors such as #SCSS / #Sass / #less. React Native contains a very limited interpretation of #CSS3 which I found very frustrating after using #CSS3 for some years already and knowing its powerful features. The other very nice feature of Framework7 is that you can even build for the browser if you want your app to be available for desktop web browsers. The latest release also includes the ability to build for #Electron so you can have MacOS, Windows and Linux desktop apps. This is not possible with React Native yet.

Framework7 runs on top of Apache Cordova. Cordova and webviews have been slated as being slow in the past. Having a game developer background I found the tweeks to make it run as smooth as silk. One of those tweeks is to use WKWebView. Another important one was using srcset on images.

I use #Template7 for the for the templating system which is a no-nonsense mobile-centric #HandleBars style extensible templating system. It's easy to write custom helpers for, is fast and has a small footprint. I'm not forced into a new paradigm or learning some new syntax. It operates with standard JavaScript, HTML5 and CSS 3. It's written by the developer of Framework7 and so dovetails with it as expected.

I configured TypeScript to work with the latest version of Framework7. I consider TypeScript to be one of the best creations to come out of Microsoft in some time. They must have an amazing team working on it. It's very powerful and flexible. It helps you catch a lot of bugs and also provides code completion in supporting IDEs. So for my IDE I use Visual Studio Code which is a blazingly fast and silky smooth editor that integrates seamlessly with TypeScript for the ultimate type checking setup (both products are produced by Microsoft).

I use Webpack and Babel to compile the JavaScript. TypeScript can compile to JavaScript directly but Babel offers a few more options and polyfills so you can use the latest (and even prerelease) JavaScript features today and compile to be backwards compatible with virtually any browser. My favorite recent addition is "optional chaining" which greatly simplifies and increases readability of a number of sections of my code dealing with getting and setting data in nested objects.

I use some Ruby scripts to process images with ImageMagick and pngquant to optimise for size and even auto insert responsive image code into the HTML5. Ruby is the ultimate cross platform scripting language. Even as your scripts become large, Ruby allows you to refactor your code easily and make it Object Oriented if necessary. I find it the quickest and easiest way to maintain certain aspects of my build process.

For the user interface design and prototyping I use Figma. Figma has an almost identical user interface to #Sketch but has the added advantage of being cross platform (MacOS and Windows). Its real-time collaboration features are outstanding and I use them a often as I work mostly on remote projects. Clients can collaborate in real-time and see changes I make as I make them. The clickable prototyping features in Figma are also very well designed and mean I can send clickable prototypes to clients to try user interface updates as they are made and get immediate feedback. I'm currently also evaluating the latest version of #AdobeXD as an alternative to Figma as it has the very cool auto-animate feature. It doesn't have real-time collaboration yet, but I heard it is proposed for 2019.

For the UI icons I use Font Awesome Pro. They have the largest selection and best looking icons you can find on the internet with several variations in styles so you can find most of the icons you want for standard projects.

For the backend I was using the #GraphCool Framework. As I later found out, #GraphQL still has some way to go in order to provide the full power of a mature graph query language so later in my project I ripped out #GraphCool and replaced it with CouchDB and Pouchdb. Primarily so I could provide good offline app support. CouchDB with Pouchdb is very flexible and efficient combination and overcomes some of the restrictions I found in #GraphQL and hence #GraphCool also. The most impressive and important feature of CouchDB is its replication. You can configure it in various ways for backups, fault tolerance, caching or conditional merging of databases. CouchDB and Pouchdb even supports storing, retrieving and serving binary or image data or other mime types. This removes a level of complexity usually present in database implementations where binary or image data is usually referenced through an #HTML5 link. With CouchDB and Pouchdb apps can operate offline and sync later, very efficiently, when the network connection is good.

I use PhoneGap when testing the app. It auto-reloads your app when its code is changed and you can also install it on Android phones to preview your app instantly. iOS is a bit more tricky cause of Apple's policies so it's not available on the App Store, but you can build it and install it yourself to your device.

So that's my latest mobile stack. What tools do you use? Have you tried these ones?

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PouchdbPouchdb
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Pouchdb is a #Javascript implementation of #CouchDB that's particularly suited for mobile devices as you can replicate/sync between a local database on the phone to and from remote databases. You can build highly reliable systems using it that don't depend on a particular vendor or geographic location. This is something that I really value if you are building fault tolerant systems. For mobile devices Pouchdb means a fully functional offline mode that syncs with low bandwidth, and also provides optimised real-time data updates when online.

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Adobe PhotoshopAdobe Photoshop
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Adobe Photoshop is the go-to app for bitmap graphic design for games. It's powerful layer options and effects allow you to apply effects to many objects that would otherwise be too time consuming to be done by hand. It caters very well for pixel editing and has thoughtful shortcut keys to optimise your workflow.

It was my go-to app for app design but now I use #Figma or #AdobeXD because they allow easy export to multiple screen densities, they have very good vector design tools, they also support grids, margins and frames in a way that's optimised for app design, and they have integrated prototyping.

I did try #Gimp for a couple of years which had good performance but in the end I found the layers implementation was very clumsy and it lacked the thoughtful keyboard shortcuts Adobe Photoshop has.

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npmnpm
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npm can take care of your javascript libraries, keeping them fresh and up to date or pinning them to a particular version for stability in your production builds. It's the most widely used and reliable packaging manager. I found #yarn to have better performance but in the end I use npm because it's not bad and it's ubiquitous and reliable. Use it with #Webpack to coalesce the many #JavaScript files in your project into an optimised and compact #Javascript package.

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CouchDB is a free and open source #Apache project. It is the predecessor to #Couchbase, which is a commercial incarnation designed by some of the people from the CouchDB project. CouchDB is the database to use if you're looking for open source, fault tolerance and efficient syncing and are also into document oriented databases (read #JSON and #Javascript) with flexible schemas. The fault tolerance and efficient syncing functionality is automagically provided by the underlying implementation layers.

Using CouchDB does require a mindset shift. You need to get the hang of its flat document store (although documents themselves can be nested #JSON documents) and map/reduce features. Once you get used to the way it works it is refreshing and light to use, very powerful, and very efficient. You are given a lot of control and power in the simplest of ways. If you're starting out with CouchDB there is it's #Mango query language (inspired by #MongoDB) that can serve as a good stepping stone into the CouchDB world from other databases. For me I prefer the raw power and control given by directly creating and querying views.

CouchDB ships with the Fauxton Admin UI which I find very simple yet very powerful and fast. You can easily create and replicate databases, create documents and views, and execute #Mango queries from within it.

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RubyRuby

It's joy to program in Ruby. I usually start with a small script and gradually increase the complexity as I make it perform more tasks. Unlike any other language I've used, Ruby seems to have a perfect balance of scripting and #objectoriented programming so I can gradually and seamlessly refactor over time to keep the project manageable and maintainable. It has very nice overloading features so you can make your code beautiful to read. The the downside it is not a typed language, which is common to most scripting languages. If you want to start learning Ruby try it the fun Ruby Warrior way at https://www.bloc.io/ruby-warrior#/.

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Visual Studio CodeVisual Studio Code

Visual Studio Code is a silky smooth, lightweight open source editor. I've tried many other editors and IDEs, but come back to this editor. It never disappoints and continues to surprise and delight with care taken in subtle UI nuances, regular updates and well presented release notes with animations of new features. I like to use it most with Typescript projects. Well done, Microsoft's VSC team!

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Font AwesomeFont Awesome
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Font Awesome contains the best designed and largest selection of standardised UI icons on the internet. They come in a variety of styles: light, regular and solid, so you can find something that suits your design needs. Easy to setup and easy to use.

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2 upvotes2 comments2.3K views
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CSS 3CSS 3

CSS 3 is one of the best technologies to come from the #WWW movement. It provides clean separation of semantic layout (#HTML5) and its presentation (CSS 3), allowing fine tuning of the presentation on different screen sizes for a fully responsive experience. With the addition of flexboxes, CSS variables, transitions and animations it is even more powerful than before. In previous versions preprocessors were required to manage complex layouts, but with the latest CSS 3, CSS variables can handle everything for you. This reduces complexity, learning curves, setup and deployment time. I like to use it with #Visualstudiocode and in conjunction with #Javascript when I need the additional power of a programming language. It's worth taking the time to really get to know CSS 3. If you are starting out I recommend starting here https://www.w3schools.com/css/.

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ImageMagick is a full featured, powerful, scriptable image manipulation tool that has stood the test of time. I usually use it within #Ruby scripts, and mainly for resizing images. You can also add effects and composite images. It has advanced options for everything so you can get just the results you want. It's almost like a programmable #Photoshop.

As an alternative, a modern #JavaScript image resizer is now available, #sharp, if you want to stick within a #JavaScript script ecosystem: https://sharp.pixelplumbing.com.

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