Avatar of jdspugh
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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19 upvotes9 comments246.8K views
jasper4685
jasper4685
December 9th 2018 at 2:28am

Great post Jonathan.

My main TypeScript IDE is WebStorm. Its heavier on battery life, so maybe not a good idea for out-and-about coding, but I love Jetbrains IDEs for their refactoring tools, test runner, keyboard centric navigation and index searches and so forth. Their all products pack is handy for me when swapping between languages - same keyboard shortcuts, look&feel, etc.

For backend services I like using Node.js, with TypeScript and Neo4j for either RESTful or GraphQL interfaces. I've been promising to publish some details about this setup soon.

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Jonathan Pugh
Jonathan Pugh
December 9th 2018 at 4:51am

Thanks Jasper. Yeah I see the benefit of Jetbrains for multiple languages. I've used it before. For now I just love how smooth and light Visual Studio Code is since I'm only focusing on Typescript.

When I have some spare time I'm going to try Neo4j GraphQL. Can it be configured for lower end servers also? The minimum requirements are high for what I have at the moment.

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franz-see
franz-see
December 9th 2018 at 2:36pm

I used to do node with Webstorm as well. Even had the paid one. But i鈥檝e now switched to Visual Studio Code and I鈥檇 say it鈥檚 the best JS IDE out there. Way faster than WebStorm and it鈥檚 terminal is legit unlike that of Jetbrains. I highly recommend trying out VS Code. (For Java though, nothing beats IntelliJ)

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franz-see
franz-see
December 9th 2018 at 2:38pm

Javascript ES6 is not so bad. It鈥檚 actually pretty great. Used to do things in TypeScript as well till I鈥檝e learn to embrace ES6.

Also, for my ultimate scripting language, mine is Python. Just because it comes out of the box of OSX and most linux flavors.

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Jonathan Pugh
Jonathan Pugh
December 9th 2018 at 5:28pm

Hi Franz. Nice to hear your experience. For smaller projects I may go freestyle with just Javascript but I feel the type checking Typescript provides does catch more bugs. I haven't used Python for anything yet. Have you tried Ruby?

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Jonathan Pugh

Software Engineer / Project Manager / Technical Architect