The New Web Is More Faster And Secure

The New Web Is More Faster And Secure

There is a little-noticed shift underway that is making our online experiences richer and more immediate: Jamstack, a collection of technologies to build faster and more functional websites.

While the trend is well-known among front-end developers, the people who build the public-facing websites that we all use, few people understand why everything on the web seems to be getting better.

“A lot of websites are still very slow and buggy, but with Jamstack they can be 10 milliseconds away and always working,” said Guillermo Rauch, one of the architects of the new way websites are built. “That means higher conversions, faster sales, more ad impressions, or whatever it is that you’re after.”

In the old days, websites were a collection of static images and text written in HTML code. Technology companies and technology teams spent their time building backend systems that eventually filled those websites with things like video players, animations, submission forms, buttons, and banner ads. Much of it was enabled by a programming language called JavaScript, which grew out of the 1990 browser wars. That’s the way things stayed for decades.

Over time, websites became increasingly complex, publishing more features with more frequency. New JavaScript libraries made it easier for developers to make websites more interactive.  A software engineer tasked with helping make Facebook more real-time and engaging built a JavaScript library called React that proved so popular, the company made it public for anyone to use. That bolstered a shift of executable code from the server to the browser, speeding performance and making websites more interactive.

Two Danes, Christian Bach, and Mathias Biilmann called the new architecture Jamstack, for JavaScript, APIs, and Markup languages. They built a platform, Netlify, for front-end developers to use when building sites with the new architecture. “They can focus on writing code and let us take care of all the infrastructure,” said Bach.

Jamstack pushed much of the functionality to the browser so that websites no longer need to call on a server to deliver content, much in the way that mobile apps downloaded on a smartphone work smoothly and swiftly and only connect to the Internet for specific actions. With Jamstack architecture, websites themselves become a collection of executable applications that make API calls to other microservices – which could themselves be backed by orchestration services such as Kubernetes, for example.

Normally, when someone opens their browser and clicks on a hyperlink or types in a URL, a load balancer, meant to manage traffic, routes the request to a web server, which fills a page template with data called from database servers and then passes the page back through the load balancer and on to your browser.

With Jamstack, when someone clicks on a hyperlink or types a URL into their browser, a pre-rendered page is sent directly from a content distribution network, a network of computers that act as a load balancer. Some data is already on the page and other data is called directly from the browser.

Besides speed and simplicity, another major benefit is a greatly reduced surface area for attack. Jamstack sites, therefore, are inherently more secure.

The new architecture is transforming the Web, enabling features such as infinite scrolling and pull-to-refresh on mobile. Entrepreneurs have been quick to build out tools that make it easy for almost anyone to use.

Rauch, who helped make JavaScript accessible with a platform called Next.js, started a company called Vercel to do the same for Jamstack. His insights made it much easier for frontend developers to tap the power and complexity of React libraries and put them to work more broadly. His work on Next.js underpins some of the most highly-trafficked web sites in the world today: AT&T, British Airways, Github, Hilton, Hulu, National Geographic, Nike, Red Bull, Ticketmaster, Twitch, Uber, and Zillow, among others. Vercel is now doing the same.

Netlify is framework and library agnostic and focuses on the general workflow and infrastructure layer. Another popular Jamstack platform, Gatsby, is more of a library. “Vercel does both,” said Dan Levine, a partner at the venture capital firm Accel, which has invested in the company.

Levine added that Vercel offers an easily extensible platform to build out more functionality over time. “His simple but brilliant insight was to offer developers a superior abstraction, a single URL, that captured the workflow of developing, preview and deploy while automating all the time-consuming backend complexities,” he said.

Like Netlify, Vercel integrates a global content distribution network to make website loading and responsiveness fast regardless of where the site is accessed.

“It just takes away all of the worries around deployment and hosting,” said Dan Rasmuson, cofounder of Labelbox, the world’s leading training data platform. Labelbox uses Vercel to host its website. “Typically, you hire an engineering team to manage that process; deal with logs, deal with debugging, deal with different regions and different zones and load balancing and all these different things,” said Mr. Rasmuson. “Vercel takes care of all of that for you.”

The history of the Web has swung between a focus on the front end – beginning with HTML websites – to a focus on the back end – with web servers feeding websites with increasingly complex services – and now back to the front end. Expect websites to become increasingly interactive and fast, in many cases replacing the downloadable apps that many people rely on now for functionality and speed.

originally posted on by Craig S. Smith