Why I stopped using AMD

Published on 2013-3-21

I've been asked a few times why I've stopped using AMD as I move around and folk see my use of Browserify, here-in I try to write down my thoughts on why AMD doesn't make any sense to me any more.


When I wrote a blog entry about 9 months ago, I made the statement:

The synchronous manner in which files are included in CommonJS-ish systems doesn’t lend itself to the web very well.

I was wrong. I changed my mind, and as I've said before I am now a Browserify Convert.

What I didn't explain was what turned me off AMD and in particular, RequireJS.

The list of things I want my module loader to help me with

In other words, yes - I do want the moon on a stick.

RequireJS

Seemed to help with these things, I didn't use the hideous ceremony-ridden version of AMD that looks like somebody vomitted in my Javascripts (that alone would have been enough to put me off)

The ceremonial way

define([
  '../foo', 
  './lib/bar', 
  'boo'], 
  function(foo, bar, boo) {

})

The less-ceremony way

define(function(require) {
  var foo = require('../foo')
    , bar = require('./lib/bar')
    , boo = require('boo')
})

So it was tolerable for a while because I didn't have to, however I would then run into the following road-blocks:

For every question, RequireJS had an answer

And AMD's answer for nearly every one of them is to add some configuration directives or write a r.js plug-in

And this is what put me off.

In no time at all, every project would have a configuration file many lines long of obscure directives (and I mean obscure directives, have you read the documentation? - this is not intuitive and requires a hella lot of investment if we are to make effective use of it.

Then we'd want to write tests against the code, and we'd have to either attempt to re-use this configuration or duplicate it over into our tests directory. Then we'd run into problems with that configuration, and waste hours trying to work out a compromise to keep RequireJS happy.

Most of those questions were the wrong question

First off, using actual modules has massive advantages over relative paths anyway, and while the build step of RequireJS will support these, this isn't going to work if we're using the A of AMD in development.

Secondly, if we want to compile our .coffee to JS, we should be using the coffeescript compiler to do this. If we want to compile our Typescript to JS likewise, if we want to import static files for templates then this should be part of our build process.

Trying to do everything as a long sequence of plug-ins meant to support the A/MD actually makes things a lot slower in my experience, because we're not trying to do it only when specific files change but instead trying to do it as part of the request pipeline (unless we go to lengths to work around the r.js plug-in system)

The future of JS modules is not async anyway

If yo look at the specifications and where they're going, (while last I checked they weren't perfect yet), the module system that is coming for JS isn't going to be asynchronous - and this is because our program can't run until it's loaded anyway - it actually makes little sense to add the overhead of asynchronous management to this process.

Building up an entire codebase around tooling that isn't compatible with how the future-web is going to work doesn't make an awful lot of sense, building up an entire tool-chain around this tooling makes even less sense.

I switched to Browserify

As I've said, I'm not particularly sold on using node_modules for client-side code, but the module system in node does work, and does encourage us to package things up in a neat re-usable manner (I'm not sold on component.js yet either).

However, the code we write doesn't care what module system is being used if we're just doing CommonJS - it just knows that they come from somewhere. The tools we use to convert CS into JS don't care that we're using Browserify to package the end-result. The tools we use to embed templates in the downloadables don't care that we're using Browserify to do this.

In a nut-shell, Browserify is allowing me to hedge my bets by not coupling my workflow too closely to it. It doesn't come with pages of obsuse documentation and every time I pump out a new module into my little eco-system I am ever so thankful for this.

It has enabled me to be liberal with my module creation and not care how people are going to actually consume these packages (apart from 'through npm' somehow), and I've not had to debug or diagnose issues with it in the whole time I've been using it.

Let's look at the list of things I want:

I'm able to do all of these - yes I need a build step now, but you know what? We need a build-step anyway if we're going to take advantage of the module system properly - even in RequireJS so this isn't a big deal.

We get debugging support through source maps (and this even tells us which module we're debugging) and as I said yesterday, I no longer really use relative paths so I'm a great deal happier about my JS.

Happiness and productivity, good reasons for doing most things really.

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