Lately I’ve been working on a cool project written exclusively in JavaScript, with a Node.js & MongoDB back end, and a CommonJS Backbone front end. What I have found most fun so far is the synergy I get between certain components.

Templates

First off, I admit I’m a reinvent-the-wheel kind of engineer. I readily find some minor fault in existing solutions and decide I have to write my own. EJS is really great, especially for someone coming from a PHP background, who doesn’t think logic-less templates are better than sliced bread. However, I really needed templates that can run asynchronously, doing file or network io for includes and other such magic.

So, I made Stencil. I was able to make templates that compile without mucking up the line numbers, so debugging is very straight-forward. No exception rethrowing necessary. The very-important async use case was satisfied without making all templates forced to use the async pattern.

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sync_result = sync_tpl(data); // works if no async code in template
async_tpl(data, function(err, async_result) { }); // always works

Where the whole becomes more than the sum of parts: A small snippet makes it so I can directly require my templates, and get back the function instead of the string:

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require.extensions['.html'] = function(module, filename) {
var fs = require('fs'), stencil = require('stencil-js'),
opts = { id:filename, src:fs.readFileSync(filename, 'utf8') };
module._compile(
'module.exports=' + stencil.compile(opts, true) + ';',
filename
);
};

Now the rest of my code that uses templates doesn’t have to care that I use Stencil. You just tpl = require('path/to/template.html'). This is possible because Node.js has an extensible require, and Stencil allows you to compile to a JavaScript string instead of just to a function. If I were to go back and change the templating system to EJS, Jade, or Mustache, I would only need to update this one little snippet.

Client CommonJS

I liked Node.js’s module system, and I didn’t want to have to replace it or use a separate system on the front end. Don’t get me started on mess of UMD. So, I created my own Modules library. You’ve heard about this before.

I got CommonJS modules to load (asynchronously) and run in the browser, so it was trivial to share code used on both ends. Again, line numbers weren’t munged in the server-side translation, so debugging works just like you always expect it to.

The library runs as a middleware for Express, enabling the reload functionality AMD lovers rave about, as well as standalone for concatenating and minifying bundles in the production build process. All with a client-side weight one-third that of AlmondJS, although that or RequireJS would also work on the front-end, since Modules still uses AMD as its transport format.

The real magic though, is that the Modules library has an option for translating certain types of files, giving us the same require functionality for our templates that we had on the server, and because the translation happens server side (or at build time), the client code can keep a Content Security Policy that disallows eval and unsafe inline code, as Stencil never has to be loaded in client code. (Lighter & more secure. Woohoo!)

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app.use(require('modules').middleware({
translate:{
html:function tpl(name, file, src) {
var opts = { id:name, src:src };
return 'module.exports=' + stencil.compile(opts, true) + ';';
}
},
root: './components/', // file root path
path: '/module/', // url root path
// ... other options
}));

Backbone

One magic thing that I got for free, is that Backbone and Underscore are already CommonJS compatible, so passing them through the same middleware just worked. Async, and countless other Node.js modules also just work.

Adding it all together

While I chose to write my own templating and module components, many other libraries include the little hooks that make these synergies possible. Each component individually is really nothing spectacular, but when you put them all together you get a product that is cohesive from front to back, and really fun to work on.