These are the Best Tools to Help Developers Build Progressive Web Apps

The year 2015 signaled the shift toward a new era of web development. It was the time when Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) came into the picture. The emergence of this software methodology was caused by the rise of progressive frameworks and libraries such as React.js, Vue.js, and Angular.js which are used to build user interfaces. The dev community jumped on the PWA bandwagon and by the beginning of 2020, the web environment was filled with applications built with cutting-edge technologies.

Introduced by Google, progressive applications took both the UX and performance of standard websites to a new level. On desktops, they demonstrate unrivaled speed due to client-side rendering and GraphQL. Unlike older architectural styles (for example, REST), GraphQL offers a different approach to working with data. For instance, when a visitor opens a page for the first time, a request to the server is made for receiving general website information. After the initial load, as the visitor starts browsing the PWA website from page to page, GraphQL doesn't deliver the entire data scope but fetches only those parts of data that were requested. As a result, since GraphQL extracts only request-specific data, this tremendously cuts down the waiting time. 

From a technical perspective, PWAs have three indicators which differ them from standard websites:

  • Service workers are responsible for providing core PWA functionality such as push-notifications and website caching. 
  • HTTPS protocol delivering a secure context. Even though HTTPS has become commonplace, lots of websites continue to serve content over unencrypted connections. However, enabling the protocol is a must have in creating a PWA since the service worker that delivers offline functionality and fast-performance requires a secure environment to run.
  • A web manifest that determines the visual appearance of a web application. It includes all the UX and UI elements.

With all the powerful possibilities PWAs offer, a number of leading  brands have transformed their regular websites into progressive applications. Among these brands are Adidas, Lancome USA, Agent Provocateur, Oliver Bonas, Asos, and others. 

Now it is high time to dig into the tools web developers can leverage to create a PWA with minimum fuss and at a faster pace.

Framework Specific Tools

Using progressive frameworks makes it painless to create an interactive UI and significantly simplifies the PWA development process. To fit specific PWA requirements such as progressive loading and push-notifications, its component logic should be written in JavaScript. Progressive frameworks provide developers with a wide array of tools and instruments to leverage, reducing the need to write tons of code by hand.

Angular.js

Angular is one of the oldest web frameworks released in 2010. The framework is open source, free, licenced under the Apache license version 2.0, supported by Google, and used by thouthands of developers around the world. Entirely written in JavaScript, Angular.js is a great framework to build high-performance, large scale, as well as easy-to-maintain single-page client-side applications. 

However, not all of the Angular versions are suitable for building a PWA. In order to do so, you need to use the fifth edition and beyond. Released in 2017, Angular 5 was a great leap forward in terms of new features and functionalities and became the first version of this framework to leverage a dedicated script provided by the @angular/service-worker module. This script allows you to create a PWA through JSON configuration instead of building it from scratch.

However, this framework is far from being user-friendly and requires a solid level of coding skills, as well as experience in TypeScript. In this regard, some developers find it too advanced for their needs. If this is the case, we recommend choosing Polymer or React as they support the use of templates and reusable components that prune down the processes. 

Ionic 

Ionic is famous for its framework-agnostic approach meaning that the toolkit doesn’t depend on any front-end framework whether it is Angular, React, or Vue. It includes all the essential components needed for creating a fast and responsive web application out-of-the-box.

It is worth mentioning that under the hood it leverages some additional tools. For instance, Ionic uses Stencil, a compiler that generates custom elements, as well as Workbox, a set of Node.js modules for making it easy to work with cache strategies and service workers. The framework offers a rich toolkit covering all the PWA functionality including unit tests, pre-built routing maintained by Ionic Core, and reusable UI components. As well, the framework provides developers with a step-by-step guide on how to build a PWA with Ionic.

Vue.js

Driven by the MIT community, Vue.js is one of the most popular and advanced JavaScript libraries in terms of both rendering and coding. Even though Vue is not specifically designed for creating progressive apps, it offers multiple default packages: for state management, routing, server-side rendering, that make it suited for PWA development. Particular attention should be given to CLI3, a specific package for PWA building, and Nuxt (the twin brother of Next that works for React.js). These are huge time savers that will allow you to reap all the benefits of Vue PWAs at a faster pace.

Other Vue.js advantages include:

  • simple structure and lots of beneficial features
  • the simplicity of code
  • fast server-side rendering thanks to virtual DOM.

Vue.js has enough capacity for dynamic and complex applications, but it is used primarily for smaller projects and MVPs. The only problem you will have to face if you decide to build a PWA with this framework is the relative lack of experienced developers who are familiar with Vue.js.

React.js

React.js is a library that is widely used for creating user interfaces for single-page applications although it can be employed for building multi-page apps, as well. It is maintained by Facebook and makes use of additional libraries (Next, Gatsby) that enable developers to generate server-side rendering, API interactions, and routing.

Developers are free to use the create-react-app package that eliminates the hassle of configuring and setting up their apps and assists them in building out PWAs with little to no configuration needed. React itself offers a mature ecosystem, robust tools, exhaustive documentation, and a huge developer community that can resolve any issue that may arise.

Best Dev Tools For Building PWAs

Of course, you can build a PWA by exploiting some of the above-mentioned progressive JavaScript libraries and frameworks. However, in order to make the process even easier, you can employ one of the following dev tools.

Magento PWA Studio

Designed specifically for Magento 2 websites, the PWA Studio exploits advanced tools and libraries corresponding to Magento’s principle of extensibility to enable developers to compile, deploy, and maintain a PWA Storefront on top of a Magento 2 website.

A noteworthy detail is that PWA Studio employs GraphQL which is an integral part of Magento 2.3. and beyond. The main purpose of this feature is for building progressive web applications so it contains everything for so-called “progressive loading”. GraphQL is a perfect fit for the API side of the work. Since Magento 2 itself is a massive and highly loaded system, this tool is indispensable for “unloading” it by indicating the return of the results based on the required field with GraphQL.

Unfortunately, GraphQL doesn’t support offline usage due to the absence of default support for network caching. However, this problem can be solved by building libraries on top.

Apart from GraphQL, Magento PWA Studio includes:
 

  • PWA-buildpack (needed to set up the local environment for PWA development)
  • UPWARD that contains a spec for a file determining the behavior of a web server
  • Peregrine and Venia that are both repositories providing visual elements
  • shared server for Magento 2, and other tools. 

Most critically, PWA Studio adheres to the same release patterns as Magento 2. So, the toolkit is regularly updated to stay in line with Magento 2 development and architectural changes.

However, hiring experienced developers who will be able to transform your site into a PWA may turn out to be pretty challenging. To cope with the task, developers should have expertise in Magento 2 architecture, one of the above-mentioned JavaScript frameworks, and know at least one markup language.

ScandiPWA

ScandiPWA is also designed mostly for Magento websites but this ready-made solution is quite different from PWA Studio. Unlike the last one that has the form of a toolkit, Scandi is an open-source first theme. It requires no middleware, databases, or extra service but offers plenty of features that support the whole user journey, for instance, this tool supports multiple stores, languages, currencies, and domains. Scandi leverages GraphQL as the only data exchange channel to deliver server-side rendering.
 

PWA Builder

PWA Builder is an optimal solution for those developers who have little experience with progressive applications, as well as for those who want to test-drive a PWA format at a faster pace and with a smaller budget as the tool requires little development work and is free to use.

PWA builder is a starter that includes everything you may need to transform a website into a progressive app with an awesome UX and performance. The tool is very easy to use. Once you type your URL in the starter's input string, It automatically identifies whether your website is able to support PWA features. It generates a web manifest if you don’t have one in place and it can deploy a page service worker. Of course, you can hardly create a large-scale PWA project with this tool, but it is a reasonable solution for turning small WordPress websites into progressive apps.

SuperPWA

Super PWA is one of the most popular solutions for turning WordPress websites into PWAs. Since creating a PWA with progressive frameworks can be challenging and requires solid coding skills, this tool makes the processes much easier for inexperienced WordPress users. 

It is basically a WordPress plugin that is famous for its user-friendliness, as well as for the ability to create high-quality offline pages. Bear in mind that this plugin alone can not be considered an all-in-one solution that is able to launch a PWA project from the ground up. In fact, it is a fit only if you want to add offline functionality to your site. As such, once Super PWA is installed, your visitors can see “Add to Home Screen” notifications on their mobile devices.

WP-AppKit

This third-party module is also tailored to WP websites. WP-AppKit enables developers to send push notifications to the visitors who installed their app on the home screens, as well as pre-cache some aspects of the sites reducing load time and making them perform faster.

WP-AppKit leverages Backbone.js that gives structure to web applications. It provides custom events and models with key-value binding, collections of rich APIs, and connects it all with the existing API over a JSON interface. WP-AppKit is free of charge and available on WordPress.org.

Modern market conditions require applying state-of-the-art technologies to stay on course. PWAs are definitely worth a business’ attention due to their flexibility, engaging interface, immersive UX, and a plethora of useful features. The number of progressive frameworks, as well as dev tools that are available for building PWA projects is growing exponentially. Taken all around, the choice of the tools should be based mostly on the developer’s expertise and the area of interest. A dev tool does not affect much of your app’s behavior, their use is aimed at helping developers build projects with minimal efforts.

 

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