Understanding and Implementing Information Management Concepts and Techniques

JavaScript Front-End Web App Tutorial Part 1: Building a Minimal App in Seven Steps

Learn how to build a front-end web application with minimal effort, using plain JavaScript and the LocalStorage API

Gerd Wagner

Warning: This tutorial may still contain errors and may still be incomplete in certain respects. Please report any issue to Gerd Wagner at G.Wagner@b-tu.de.

This tutorial is also available in the following formats: PDF. You may run the example app from our server, or download it as a ZIP archive file. See also our Web Engineering project page.

This tutorial article, along with any associated source code, is licensed under The Code Project Open License (CPOL), implying that the associated code is provided "as-is", can be modified to create derivative works, can be redistributed, and can be used in commercial applications, but the article must not be distributed or republished without the author's consent.

2015-11-12

Revision History
Revision 0.820151112gw
Added quiz questions
Revision 0.720151003gw
Improved practice project section
Revision 0.620150828gw
Added section on accessibility
Revision 0.520150617gw
Added chapter "Practice Projects"
Revision 0.420150127gw
Added section "Possible Variations and Extensions"
Revision 0.320141116gw
Move sections about JSON tables and LocalStorage to a separate chapter
Revision 0.220140924gw
add sections about JSON tables and Local Storage
Revision 0.120140221gw
create first version

Table of Contents

Foreword
1. A Quick Tour of the Foundations of Web Apps
1. The World Wide Web (WWW)
2. HTML and XML
2.1. XML documents
2.2. Unicode and UTF-8
2.3. XML namespaces
2.4. Correct XML documents
2.5. The evolution of HTML
2.6. HTML forms
3. Styling Web Documents and User Interfaces with CSS
4. JavaScript - "the assembly language of the Web"
4.1. JavaScript as an object-oriented language
4.2. Further reading about JavaScript
5. Accessibility for Web Apps
2. More on JavaScript
1. JavaScript Basics
1.1. Types and data literals in JavaScript
1.2. Variable scope
1.3. Strict Mode
1.4. Different kinds of objects
1.5. Array lists
1.6. Maps
1.7. JavaScript supports four types of basic data structures
1.8. Methods and Functions
1.9. Defining and using classes
2. Storing Database Tables with JavaScript's localStorage API
2.1. Entity Tables
2.2. JavaScript's LocalStorage API
3. Building a Minimal App with Plain JavaScript in Seven Steps
1. Step 1 - Set up the Folder Structure
2. Step 2 - Write the Model Code
2.1. Representing the collection of all Book instances
2.2. Creating a new Book instance
2.3. Loading all Book instances
2.4. Updating a Book instance
2.5. Deleting a Book instance
2.6. Saving all Book instances
2.7. Creating test data
2.8. Clearing all data
3. Step 3 - Initialize the Application
4. Step 5 - Implement the Create Use Case
5. Step 4 - Implement the Retrieve/List All Use Case
6. Step 6 - Implement the Update Use Case
7. Step 7 - Implement the Delete Use Case
8. Run the App and Get the Code
9. Possible Variations and Extensions
9.1. Using IndexedDB as an Alternative to LocalStorage
9.2. Dealing with date/time information using Date and <time>
10. Points of Attention
10.1. Database size and memory management
10.2. Code clarity
10.3. Boilerplate code
10.4. Architectural separation of concerns
11. Practice Projects
11.1. Develop a Plain JS Front-End App for Managing Movie Data
11.2. Managing Persistent Data with IndexedDB
Glossary

List of Figures

2.1. The built-in JavaScript classes Object and Function.
3.1. The object type Book.
3.2. The minimal app's start page index.html.
3.3. The object type Movie.

List of Tables

2.1. An example of an entity table representing a collection of books
2.2. Required and desirable features of JS code patterns for classes
2.3. A entity table representing a collection of books
3.1. Sample data for Book
3.2. An entity table representing a collection of books
3.3. A collection of book objects represented as a table
3.4. Sample data

Foreword

This tutorial is Part 1 of our series of six tutorials about model-based development of front-end web applications with plain JavaScript. It shows how to build such an app with minimal effort, not using any (third-party) framework or library. While libraries and frameworks may help to increase productivity, they also create black-box dependencies and overhead, and they are not good for learning how to do it yourself.

This tutorial provides theoretically underpinned and example-based learning materials and supports learning by doing it yourself.

A front-end web app can be provided by any web server, but it is executed on the user's computer device (smartphone, tablet or notebook), and not on the remote web server. Typically, but not necessarily, a front-end web app is a single-user application, which is not shared with other users.

The minimal version of a JavaScript front-end data management application discussed in this tutorial only includes a minimum of the overall functionality required for a complete app. It takes care of only one object type ("books") and supports the four standard data management operations (Create/Read/Update/Delete), but it needs to be enhanced by styling the user interface with CSS rules, and by adding further important parts of the app's overall functionality. The other parts of the tutorial are:

  • Part 2: Handling constraint validation.

  • Part 3: Dealing with enumerations.

  • Part 4: Managing unidirectional associations, such as the associations between books and publishers, assigning a publisher to a book, and between books and authors, assigning authors to a book.

  • Part 5: Managing bidirectional associations, such as the associations between books and publishers and between books and authors, not only assigning authors and a publisher to a book, but also the other way around, assigning books to authors and to publishers.

  • Part 6: Handling subtype (inheritance) relationships between object types.

Chapter 1. A Quick Tour of the Foundations of Web Apps

If you are already familiar with HTML, XML and JavaScript, you may skip this chapter and immediately start developing a minimal web application by going to the next chapter.

1. The World Wide Web (WWW)

After the Internet had been established in the 1980'ies, Tim Berners-Lee developed the idea and the first implementation of the WWW in 1989 at the European research institution CERN in Geneva, Switzerland. The WWW (or, simply, "the web") is based on the Internet technologies TCP/IP and DNS. Initially, it consisted of

Later, further technology components have been added to this set of basic web technologies:

  • the page/document style language Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) in 1995,

  • the web programming language JavaScript in 1995,

  • the Extensible Markup Language (XML), as the basis of XHTML and the web formats SVG and MathML, in 1998.

2. HTML and XML

HTML allows to mark up (or describe) the structure of a human-readable web document or web user interface, while XML allows to mark up the structure of all kinds of documents, data files and messages, whether they are human-readable or not. XML has become the basis for HTML.

2.1. XML documents

XML provides a syntax for expressing structured information in the form of an XML document with elements and their attributes. The specific elements and attributes used in an XML document can come from any vocabulary, such as public standards or your own user-defined XML format. XML is used for specifying

  • document formats, such as XHTML5, the Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) format or the DocBook format,

  • data interchange file formats, such as the Mathematical Markup Language (MathML) or the Universal Business Language (UBL),

  • message formats, such as the web service message format SOAP

2.2. Unicode and UTF-8

XML is based on Unicode, which is a platform-independent character set that includes almost all characters from most of the world's script languages including Hindi, Burmese and Gaelic. Each character is assigned a unique integer code in the range between 0 and 1,114,111. For example, the Greek letter π has the code 960, so it can be inserted in an XML document as &#960; using the XML entity syntax.

Unicode includes legacy character sets like ASCII and ISO-8859-1 (Latin-1) as subsets.

The default encoding of an XML document is UTF-8, which uses only a single byte for ASCII characters, but three bytes for less common characters.

Almost all Unicode characters are legal in a well-formed XML document. Illegal characters are the control characters with code 0 through 31, except for the carriage return, line feed and tab. It is therefore dangerous to copy text from another (non-XML) text to an XML document (often, the form feed character creates a problem).

2.3. XML namespaces

Generally, namespaces help to avoid name conflicts. They allow to reuse the same (local) name in different namespace contexts.

XML namespaces are identified with the help of a namespace URI (such as the SVG namespace URI "http://www.w3.org/2000/svg"), which is associated with a namespace prefix (such as "svg"). Such a namespace represents a collection of names, both for elements and attributes, and allows namespace-qualified names of the form prefix:name (such as "svg:circle" as a namespace-qualified name for SVG circle elements).

A default namespace is declared in the start tag of an element in the following way:

<html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml">

This example shows the start tag of the HTML root element, in which the XHTML namespace is declared as the default namespace.

The following example shows a namespace declaration for the SVG namespace:

<html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml">
  <head>
   ...
  </head>
  <body>
    <figure>
      <figcaption>Figure 1: A blue circle</figcaption>
      <svg:svg xmlns:svg="http://www.w3.org/2000/svg">
        <svg:circle cx="100" cy="100" r="50" fill="blue"/>
      </svg:svg>
    </figure>
  </body>
</html>

2.4. Correct XML documents

XML defines two syntactic correctness criteria. An XML document must be well-formed, and if it is based on a grammar (or schema), then it must also be valid against that grammar.

An XML document is called well-formed, if it satisfies the following syntactic conditions:

  1. There must be exactly one root element.

  2. Each element has a start tag and an end tag; however, empty elements can be closed as <phone/> instead of <phone></phone>.

  3. Tags don't overlap, e.g. we cannot have

    <author><name>Lee Hong</author></name>
  4. Attribute names are unique within the scope of an element, e.g. the following code is not correct:

    <attachment file="lecture2.html" file="lecture3.html"/>

An XML document is called valid against a particular grammar (such as a DTD or an XML Schema), if

  1. it is well-formed,

  2. and it respects the grammar.

2.5. The evolution of HTML

The World-Wide Web Committee (W3C) has developed the following important versions of HTML:

  • 1997: HTML 4 as an SGML-based language,

  • 2000: XHTML 1 as an XML-based clean-up of HTML 4,

  • 2014: (X)HTML5 in cooperation (and competition) with the WHAT working group supported by browser vendors.

HTML was originally designed as a structure description language, and not as a presentation description language. But HTML4 has a lot of purely presentational elements such as font. XHTML has been taking HTML back to its roots, dropping presentational elements and defining a simple and clear syntax, in support of the goals of

  • device independence,

  • accessibility, and

  • usability.

We adopt the symbolic equation

HTML = HTML5 = XHTML5

stating that when we say "HTML" or "HTML5", we actually mean XHTML5

because we prefer the clear syntax of XML documents over the liberal and confusing HTML4-style syntax that is also allowed by HTML5.

The following simple example shows the basic code template to be used for any HTML document:

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml" xml:lang="en" lang="en">
 <head>
  <meta charset="UTF-8" />
  <title>XHTML5 Template Example</title>
 </head>
 <body>
  <h1>XHTML5 Template Example</h1>
  <section><h1>First Section Title</h1>
   ...
  </section>
 </body>
</html>

2.6. HTML forms

For user-interactive web applications, the web browser needs to render a user interface. The traditional metaphor for a software application's user interface is that of a form. The special elements for data input, data output and form actions are called form controls. In HTML, a form element is a section of a web page consisting of block elements that contain controls and labels on those controls.

Users complete a form by entering text into input fields and by selecting items from choice controls. A completed form is submitted with the help of a submit button. When a user submits a form, it is normally sent to a web server either with the HTTP GET method or with the HTTP POST method. The standard encoding for the submission is called URL-encoded. It is represented by the Internet media type application/x-www-form-urlencoded. In this encoding, spaces become plus signs, and any other reserved characters become encoded as a percent sign and hexadecimal digits, as defined in RFC 1738.

Each control has both an initial value and a current value, both of which are strings. The initial value is specified with the control element's value attribute, except for the initial value of a textarea element, which is given by its initial contents. The control's current value is first set to the initial value. Thereafter, the control's current value may be modified through user interaction or scripts. When a form is submitted for processing, some controls have their name paired with their current value and these pairs are submitted with the form.

Labels are associated with a control by including the control as a child element within a label element ("implicit labels"), or by giving the control an id value and referencing this ID in the for attribute of the label element ("explicit labels"). It seems that implicit labels are (in 2015) still not widely supported by CSS libraries and assistive technologies. Therefore, explicit labels may be preferable, despite the fact that they imply quite some overhead by requiring a reference/identifier pair for every labeled HTML form field.

In the simple user interfaces of our "Getting Started" applications, we only need four types of form controls:

  1. single line input fields created with an <input name="..." /> element,

  2. single line output fields created with an <output name="..." /> element,

  3. push buttons created with a <button type="button">...</button> element, and

  4. dropdown selection lists created with a select element of the following form:

    <select name="...">
      <option value="value1"> option1 </option>
      <option value="value2"> option2 </option>
      ...
    </select>

An example of an HTML form with implicit labels for creating such a user interface is

<form id="Book">
  <p><label>ISBN: <output name="isbn" /></label></p>
  <p><label>Title: <input name="title" /></label></p>
  <p><label>Year: <input name="year" /></label></p>
  <p><button type="button">Save</button></p>
</form>

In an HTML-form-based user interface, we have a correspondence between the different kinds of properties defined in the model classes of an app and the form controls used for the input and output of their values. We have to distinguish between various kinds of model class attributes, which are mapped to various kinds of form fields. This mapping is also called data binding.

In general, an attribute of a model class can always be represented in the user interface by a plain input control (with the default setting type="text"), no matter which datatype has been defined as the range of the attribute in the model class. However, in special cases, other types of input controls (for instance, type="date"), or other controls, may be used. For instance, if the attribute's range is an enumeration, a select control or, if the number of possible choices is small enough (say, less than 8), a radio button group can be used.

3. Styling Web Documents and User Interfaces with CSS

While HTML is used for defining the content structure of a web document or a web user interface, the Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) language is used for defining the presentation style of these web pages, which means that you use it for telling the browser how you want your HTML (or XML) rendered: using which layout of content elements, which fonts and text styles, which colors, which bachgrounds, and which animations. Normally, these settings are made in a separate CSS file that is associated with an HTML file via a special link element in the HTML's head.

CSS is based on a form of rules that consist of selectors, which select the document element(s) to which a rule applies, and a list of property-value pairs that define the styling of the selected element(s) with the help of CSS properties such as font-size or color. There are two fundamental mechanisms for computing the CSS property values for any page element as a result of applying the given set of CSS rules: inheritance and the cascade.

The basic element of a CSS layout is a rectangle, also called "box", with an inner content area, an optional border, an optional padding (between content and border) and an optional margin around the border. This structure is defined by the CSS box model.

We will not go deeper into CSS in this tutorial, since our focus here is on the logic and functionality of an app, and not so much on its beauty.

4. JavaScript - "the assembly language of the Web"

This section provides a brief overview of JavaScript, assuming that the reader is already familiar with basic programming concepts and has some experience with programming, for instance, in PHP, Java or C#.

JavaScript is a dynamic functional object-oriented programming language that can be used for

  1. Enriching a web page by

    • generating browser-specific HTML content or CSS styling,

    • inserting dynamic HTML content,

    • producing special audio-visual effects (animations).

  2. Enriching a web user interface by

    • implementing advanced user interface components,

    • validating user input on the client side,

    • automatically pre-filling certain form fields.

  3. Implementing a front-end web application with local or remote data storage, as described in the book Building Front-End Web Apps with Plain JavaScript.

  4. Implementing a front-end component for a distributed web application with remote data storage managed by a back-end component, which is a server-side program that is traditionally written in a server-side language such as PHP, Java or C#, but can nowadays also be written in JavaScript with NodeJS.

  5. Implementing a complete distributed web application where both the front-end and the back-end components are JavaScript programs.

The version of JavaScript that is currently supported by web browsers is called "ECMAScript 5.1", or simply "ES5", but the next two versions, called "ES6" and "ES7" (or "ES 2015" and "ES 2016", as new versions are planned on a yearly basis), with lots of added functionality and improved syntaxes, are around the corner (and already partially supported by current browsers and back-end JS environments).

4.1. JavaScript as an object-oriented language

JavaScript is object-oriented, but in a different way than classical OO programming languages such as Java and C++. There is no explicit class concept in JavaScript. Rather, classes have to be defined by following some code pattern in the form of special JS objects: either as constructor functions or as factory objects.

However, objects can also be created without instantiating a class, in which case they are untyped, and properties as well as methods can be defined for specific objects independently of any class definition. At run time, properties and methods can be added to, or removed from, any object and class. This dynamism of JavaScript allows powerful forms of meta-programming, such as defining your own concepts of classes and enumerations (and other special datatypes).

4.2. Further reading about JavaScript

Good open access books about JavaScript are

5. Accessibility for Web Apps

The recommended approach to providing accessibility for web apps is defined by the Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA) standard. As summarized by Bryan Garaventa in his article on different forms of accessibility, there are 3 main aspects of accessibility for interactive web technologies: 1) keyboard accessibility, 2) screen reader accessibility, and 3) cognitive accessibility.

Further reading on ARIA:

Chapter 2. More on JavaScript

1. JavaScript Basics

In this summary we try to take all important points of the classical JavaScript summary by Douglas Crockford into consideration.

1.1. Types and data literals in JavaScript

JavaScript has three primitive data types: string, number and boolean, and we can test if a variable v holds a value of such a type with the help of typeof(v) as, for instance, in typeof(v)==="number".

There are three reference types: Object, Array, Function, Date and RegExp. Arrays, functions, dates and regular expressions are special types of objects, but, conceptually, dates and regular expressions are primitive data values, and happen to be implemented in the form of wrapper objects.

The types of variables, array elements, function parameters and return values are not declared and are normally not checked by JavaScript engines. Type conversion (casting) is performed automatically.

The value of a variable may be

  • a data value: either a string, a number, or a boolean;

  • an object reference: either referencing an ordinary object, or an array, function, date, or regular expression;

  • the special data value null, which is typically used as a default value for initializing an object variable;

  • the special data value undefined, which is the implicit initial value of all variables that have been declared, but not initialized.

A string is a sequence of Unicode characters. String literals, like "Hello world!", 'A3F0', or the empty string "", are enclosed in single or double quotes. Two string expressions can be concatenated with the + operator, and checked for equality with the triple equality operator:

if (firstName + lastName === "James Bond") ...

The number of characters of a string can be obtained by applying the length attribute to a string:

console.log("Hello world!".length);  // 12

All numeric data values are represented in 64-bit floating point format with an optional exponent (like in the numeric data literal 3.1e10). There is no explicit type distinction between integers and floating point numbers. If a numeric expression cannot be evaluated to a number, its value is set to NaN ("not a number"), which can be tested with the buil-in predicate isNaN( expr).

Unfortunately, a built-in function, Number.isInteger, for testing if a number is an integer has only been introduced in ES6, so a polyfill is needed for using it in browsers that do not yet support it. For making sure that a numeric value is an integer, or that a string representing a number is converted to an integer, one has to apply the predefined function parseInt. Similarly, a string representing a decimal number can be converted to this number with parseFloat. For converting a number n to a string, the best method is using String(n).

There are two pre-defined Boolean data literals, true and false, and the Boolean operator symbols are the exclamation mark ! for NOT, the double ampersand && for AND, and the double bar || for OR. When a non-Boolean value is used in a condition, or as an operand of a Boolean expression, it is implicitly converted into a Boolean value according to the following rules. The empty string, the (numerical) data literal 0, as well as undefined and null, are mapped to false, and all other values are mapped to true. This conversion can be performed explicitly with the help of the double negation operation, like in the variable assignment var boolVar = !!val where val can be any type of value.

In addition to strings, numbers and Boolean values, also calendar dates and times are important types of primitive data values, although they are not implemented as primitive values, but in the form of wrapper objects instantiating Date. Notice that Date objects do, in fact, not really represent dates, but rather date-time instants represented internally as the number of milliseconds since 1 January, 1970 UTC. For converting the internal value of a Date object to a human-readable string, we have several options. The two most important options are using either the standard format of ISO date/time strings of the form "2015-01-27", or localized formats of date/time strings like "27.1.2015" (for simplicity, we have omitted the time part of the date/time strings in these examples). When x instanceof Date, then x.toISOString() provides the ISO date/time string, and x.toLocaleDateString() provides the localized date/time string. Given any date string ds, ISO or localized, new Date(ds) creates a corresponding date object.

For testing the equality (or inequality) of two primitive data vales, always use the triple equality symbol === (and !==) instead of the double equality symbol == (and !=). Otherwise, for instance, the number 2 would be the same as the string "2", since the condition (2 == "2") evaluates to true in JavaScript.

Assigning an empty array literal, as in var a = [] is the same as, but more concise than and therefore preferred to, invoking the Array() constructor without arguments, as in var a = new Array().

Assigning an empty object literal, as in var o = {} is the same as, but more concise than and therefore preferred to, invoking the Object() constructor without arguments, as in var o = new Object(). Notice, however, that an empty object literal {} is not really an empty object, as it contains property slots and method slots inherited from Object.prototype. So, a truly empty object (without any slots) has to be created with null as prototype, like in var emptyObject = Object.create(null).

A summary of type testing is provided in the following table:

TypeExample valuesTest if x of type
string"Hello world!", 'A3F0'typeof(x)==="string"
booleantrue, falsetypeof(x)==="boolean"
(floating point) number-2.75, 0, 1, 1.0, 3.1e10typeof(x)==="number"
integer-2, 0, 1, 250Number.isInteger(x)*)
Object{}, {num:3, denom:4}, {isbn:"006251587X," title:"Weaving the Web"}, {"one":1, "two":2, "three":3}

excluding null: x instanceof Object

including null: typeof(x) === "object"

Array[], ["one"], [1,2,3], [1,"one", {}]Array.isArray(x)
Functionfunction () { return "one"+1;}typeof(x)==="function"
Datenew Date("2015-01-27")x instanceof Date
RegExp/(\w+)\s(\w+)/x instanceof RegExp

A summary of type conversions is provided in the following table:

TypeConvert to stringConvert string to type
booleanString(x)Boolean(y)
(floating point) numberString(x)parseFloat(y)
integerString(x)parseInt(y)
Objectx.toString() or JSON.stringify(x)JSON.parse(y)
Arrayx.toString() or JSON.stringify(x)y.split() or JSON.parse(y)
Functionx.toString()new Function(y)
Datex.toISOString()new Date(y)
RegExpx.toString()new RegExp(y)

1.2. Variable scope

In the current version of JavaScript, ES5, there are only two kinds of scope for variables: the global scope (with window as the context object) and function scope, but no block scope. Consequently, declaring a variable within a block is confusing and should be avoided. For instance, although this is a frequently used pattern, even by experienced JavaScript programmers, it is a pitfall to declare the counter variable of a for loop in the loop, as in

function foo() {
  for (var i=0; i < 10; i++) {
    ...  // do something with i
  }
}

Instead, and this is exactly how JavaScript is interpreting this code (by means of "hoisting" variable declarations), we should write:

function foo() {
  var i=0;
  for (i=0; i < 10; i++) {
    ...  // do something with i
  }
}

All variables should be declared at the beginning of a function. Only in the next version of JavaScript, ES6, block scope will be supported by means of a new form of variable declaration with the keyword let.

1.3. Strict Mode

Starting from ES5, we can use strict mode for getting more runtime error checking. For instance, in strict mode, all variables must be declared. An assignment to an undeclared variable throws an exception.

We can turn strict mode on by typing the following statement as the first line in a JavaScript file or inside a <script> element:

'use strict';

It is generally recommended that you use strict mode, except your code depends on libraries that are incompatible with strict mode.

1.4. Different kinds of objects

JS objects are different from classical OO/UML objects. In particular, they need not instantiate a class. And they can have their own (instance-level) methods in the form of method slots, so they do not only have (ordinary) property slots, but also method slots. In addition they may also have key-value slots. So, they may have three different kinds of slots, while classical objects (called "instance specifications" in UML) only have property slots.

A JS object is essentially a set of name-value-pairs, also called slots, where names can be property names, function names or keys of a map. Objects can be created in an ad-hoc manner, using JavaScript's object literal notation (JSON), without instantiating a class:

var person1 = { lastName:"Smith", firstName:"Tom"};
var o1 = Object.create( null);  // an empty object with no slots

Whenever the name in a slot is an admissible JavaScript identifier, the slot may be either a property slot, a method slot or a key-value slot. Otherwise, if the name is some other type of string (in particular when it contains any blank space), then the slot represents a key-value slot, which is a map element, as explained below.

The name in a property slot may denote either

  1. a data-valued property, in which case the value is a data value or, more generally, a data-valued expression;

    or

  2. an object-valued property, in which case the value is an object reference or, more generally, an object expression.

The name in a method slot denotes a JS function (better called method), and its value is a JS function definition expression.

Object properties can be accessed in two ways:

  1. Using the dot notation (like in C++/Java):

    person1.lastName = "Smith"
  2. Using a map notation:

    person1["lastName"] = "Smith"

JS objects can be used in many different ways for different purposes. Here are five different use cases for, or possible meanings of, JS objects:

  1. A record is a set of property slots like, for instance,

    var myRecord = {firstName:"Tom", lastName:"Smith", age:26}
  2. A map (also called 'associative array', 'dictionary', 'hash map' or 'hash table' in other languages) supports look-ups of values based on keys like, for instance,

    var numeral2number = {"one":"1", "two":"2", "three":"3"}

    which associates the value "1" with the key "one", "2" with "two", etc. A key need not be a valid JavaScript identifier, but can be any kind of string (e.g. it may contain blank spaces).

  3. An untyped object does not instantiate a class. It may have property slots and method slots like, for instance,

    var person1 = { 
      lastName: "Smith", 
      firstName: "Tom",
      getFullName: function () {
        return this.firstName +" "+ this.lastName; 
      }  
    };

    Within the body of a method slot of an object, the special variable this refers to the object.

  4. A namespace may be defined in the form of an untyped object referenced by a global object variable, the name of which represents a namespace prefix. For instance, the following object variable provides the main namespace of an application based on the Model-View-Controller (MVC) architecture paradigm where we have three subnamespaces corresponding to the three parts of an MVC application:

    var myApp = { model:{}, view:{}, ctrl:{} };

    A more advanced namespace mechanism can be obtained by using an immediately invoked JS function expression, as explained below.

  5. A typed object instantiates a class that is defined either by a JavaScript constructor function or by a factory object. See Section 1.9, “Defining and using classes”

1.5. Array lists

A JavaScript array represents, in fact, the logical data structure of an array list, which is a list where each list item can be accessed via an index number (like the elements of an array). Using the term 'array' without saying 'JS array' creates a terminological ambiguity. But for simplicity, we will sometimes just say 'array' instead of 'JS array'.

A variable may be initialized with a JavaScript array literal:

var a = [1,2,3];

Because they are array lists, JS arrays can grow dynamically: it is possible to use indexes that are greater than the length of the array. For instance, after the array variable initialization above, the array held by the variable a has the length 3, but still we can assign a fifth array element like in

a[4] = 7;

The contents of an array a are processed with the help of a standard for loop with a counter variable counting from the first array index 0 to the last array index, which is a.length-1:

for (i=0; i < a.length; i++) { ...}

Since arrays are special types of objects, we sometimes need a method for finding out if a variable represents an array. We can test, if a variable a represents an array by applying the predefined datatype predicate isArray as in Array.isArray( a).

For adding a new element to an array, we append it to the array using the push operation as in:

a.push( newElement);

For deleting an element at position i from an array a, we use the pre-defined array method splice as in:

a.splice( i, 1);

For searching a value v in an array a, we can use the pre-defined array method indexOf, which returns the position, if found, or -1, otherwise, as in:

if (a.indexOf(v) > -1)  ...

For looping over an array a, we have two options: either use a for loop, or the array looping method forEach. In any case, we can use a for loop:

var i=0;
for (i=0; i < a.length; i++) {
  console.log( a[i]);
}

If performance doesn't matter, that is, if a is sufficiently small (say, it does not contain more than a few hundred elements), we can use the array looping method forEach, as in the following example, where the parameter elem iteratively assumes each element of the array a as its value:

a.forEach( function (elem) {
  console.log( elem);
}) 

For cloning an array a, we can use the array function slice in the following way:

var clone = a.slice(0);

1.6. Maps

A map (also called 'hash map' or 'associative array') provides a mapping from keys to their associated values. The keys of a JS map are string literals that may include blank spaces like in:

var myTranslation = { 
    "my house": "mein Haus", 
    "my boat": "mein Boot", 
    "my horse": "mein Pferd"
}

A map is processed with the help of a special loop where we loop over all keys of the map using the pre-defined function Object.keys(m), which returns an array of all keys of a map m. For instance,

var i=0, key="", keys=[];
keys = Object.keys( myTranslation);
for (i=0; i < keys.length; i++) {
  key = keys[i];
  alert('The translation of '+ key +' is '+
      myTranslation[key]);
}

For adding a new entry to a map, we simply associate the new value with its key as in:

myTranslation["my car"] = "mein Auto";

For deleting an entry from a map, we can use the pre-defined delete operator as in:

delete myTranslation["my boat"];

For searching in a map if it contains an entry for a certain key value, such as for testing if the translation map contains an entry for "my bike" we can check the following:

if ("my bike" in myTranslation)  ...

For looping over a map m, we first convert it to an array of its keys with the help of the predefined Object.keys method, and then we can use either a for loop or the forEach method. The following example shows how to loop with for:

var i=0, key="", keys=[];
keys = Object.keys( m);
for (i=0; i < keys.length; i++) {
  key = keys[i];
  console.log( m[key]);
}

Again, if m is sufficiently small, we can use the forEach method, as in the following example:

Object.keys( m).forEach( function (key) {
  console.log( m[key]);
}) 

Notice that using the forEach method is more concise.

For cloning a map m, we can use the composition of JSON.stringify and JSON.parse. We first serialize m to a string representation with JSON.stringify, and then de-serialize the string representation to a map object with JSON.parse:

var clone = JSON.parse( JSON.stringify( m))

Notice that this method works well if the map contains only simple data values or (possibly nested) arrays/maps containing simple data values. In other cases, e.g. if the map contains Date objects, we have to write our own clone method.

1.7. JavaScript supports four types of basic data structures

In summary, the four types of basic data structures supported are:

  1. array lists, such as ["one","two","three"], which are special JS objects called 'arrays', but since they are dynamic, they are rather array lists as defined in the Java programming language.

  2. records, which are special JS objects, such as {firstName:"Tom", lastName:"Smith"}, as discussed above,

  3. maps, which are also special JS objects, such as {"one":1, "two":2, "three":3}, as discussed above,

  4. entity tables, which are special maps where the values are entity records with a standard ID (or primary key) slot, such that the keys of the map are the standard IDs of these entity records.

Table 2.1. An example of an entity table representing a collection of books

Key Value
006251587X { isbn:"006251587X," title:"Weaving the Web", year:2000 }
0465026567 { isbn:"0465026567," title:"Gödel, Escher, Bach", year:1999 }
0465030793 { isbn:"0465030793," title:"I Am A Strange Loop", year:2008 }

Notice that our distinction between maps, records and entity tables is a purely conceptual distinction, and not a syntactical one. For a JavaScript engine, both {firstName:"Tom",lastName:"Smith"} and {"one":1,"two":2,"three":3} are just objects. But conceptually, {firstName:"Tom", lastName:"Smith"} is a record because firstName and lastName are intended to denote properties (or fields), while {"one":1,"two":2,"three":3} is a map because "one" and "two" are not intended to denote properties/fields, but are just arbitrary string values used as keys for a map.

Making such conceptual distinctions helps to better understand how to use the options offered by JavaScript.

1.8. Methods and Functions

In JavaScript, methods are called "functions", no matter if they return a value or not. As shown below in Figure 2.1, JS functions are special JS objects, having an optional name property and a length property providing their number of parameters. If a variable v references a function can be tested with

if (typeof(v) === "function") {...}

Being JS objects implies that JS functions can be stored in variables, passed as arguments to functions, returned by functions, have properties and can be changed dynamically. Therefore, JS functions are first-class citizens, and JavaScript can be viewed as a functional programming language.

The general form of a JS function definition is an assignment of a JS function expression to a variable:

var myMethod = function theNameOfMyMethod( params) {
  ...
}

where params is a comma-separated list of parameters (or a parameter record), and theNameOfMyMethod is optional. When it is omitted, the method/function is anonymous. In any case, JS functions are normally invoked via a variable that references the function. In the above case, this means that the JS function is invoked with myMethod(), and not with theNameOfMyMethod(). However, a named JS function can be invoked by name from within the function (for recursion). Consequently, a recursive JS function must be named.

Anonymous function expressions are called lambda expressions (or shorter lambdas) in other programming languages.

As an example of an anonymous function expression being passed as an argument in the invocation of another (higher-order) function, we can take a comparison function being passed to the pre-defined function sort for sorting the elements of an array list. Such a comparison function must return a negative number if its first argument is smaller than its second argument, it must return 0 if both arguments are of the same rank, and it must return a positive number if the second argument is smaller than the first one. In the following example, we sort a list of lists of 2 numbers in lexicographic order:

var list = [[1,2],[1,3],[1,1],[2,1]]; 
list.sort( function (x,y) { 
  if ((x[0] === y[0]) return x[1]-y[1]; 
  else return x[0]-y[0]);
});

A JS function declaration has the following form:

function theNameOfMyMethod( params) {...}

It is equivalent to the following named function definition:

var theNameOfMyMethod = function theNameOfMyMethod( params) {...}

that is, it creates both a function with name theNameOfMyMethod and a variable theNameOfMyMethod referencing this function.

JS functions can have inner functions. The closure mechanism allows a JS function using variables (except this) from its outer scope, and a function created in a closure remembers the environment in which it was created. In the following example, there is no need to pass the outer scope variable result to the inner function via a parameter, as it is readily available:

var sum = function (numbers) {
  var result = 0;
  numbers.forEach( function (n) {
      result = result + n;
  });
  return result;
};
console.log( sum([1,2,3,4]));  // 10

When a method/function is executed, we can access its arguments within its body by using the built-in arguments object, which is "array-like" in the sense that it has indexed elements and a length property, and we can iterate over it with a normal for loop, but since it's not an instance of Array, the JS array methods (such as the forEach looping method) cannot be applied to it. The arguments object contains an element for each argument passed to the method. This allows defining a method without parameters and invoking it with any number of arguments, like so:

var sum = function () {
  var result = 0, i=0;
  for (i=0; i < arguments.length; i++) {
    result = result + arguments[i];
  }
  return result;
};
console.log( sum(0,1,1,2,3,5,8));  // 20

A method defined on the prototype of a constructor function, which can be invoked on all objects created with that constructor, such as Array.prototype.forEach, where Array represents the constructor, has to be invoked with an instance of the class as context object referenced by the this variable (see also the next section on classes). In the following example, the array numbers is the context object in the invocation of forEach:

var numbers = [1,2,3];  // create an instance of Array
numbers.forEach( function (n) {
  console.log( n);
});

Whenever such a prototype method is to be invoked not with a context object, but with an object as an ordinary argument, we can do this with the help of the JS function call method that takes an object, on which the method is invoked, as its first parameter, followed by the parameters of the method to be invoked. For instance, we can apply the forEach looping method to the array-like object arguments in the following way:

var sum = function () {
  var result = 0;
  Array.prototype.forEach.call( arguments, function (n) {
    result = result + n;
  });
  return result;
};

A variant of the Function.prototype.call method, taking all arguments of the method to be invoked as a single array argument, is Function.prototype.apply.

Whenever a method defined for a prototype is to be invoked without a context object, or when a method defined in a method slot (in the context) of an object is to be invoked without its context object, we can bind its this variable to a given object with the help of the JS function bind method (Function.prototype.bind). This allows creating a shortcut for invoking a method, as in var querySel = document.querySelector.bind( document), which allows to use querySel instead of document.querySelector.

The option of immediately invoked JS function expressions can be used for obtaining a namespace mechanism that is superior to using a plain namespace object, since it can be controlled which variables and methods are globally exposed and which are not. This mechanism is also the basis for JS module concepts. In the following example, we define a namespace for the model code part of an app, which exposes some variables and the model classes in the form of constructor functions:

myApp.model = function () {
  var appName = "My app's name";
  var someNonExposedVariable = ...;
  function ModelClass1() {...}
  function ModelClass2() {...}
  function someNonExposedMethod(...) {...}
  return {
    appName: appName,
    ModelClass1: ModelClass1,
    ModelClass2: ModelClass2
  }
}();  // immediately invoked

This pattern has been proposed in the WebPlatform.org article JavaScript best practices.

1.9. Defining and using classes

The concept of a class is fundamental in object-oriented programming. Objects instantiate (or are classified by) a class. A class defines the properties and methods (as a blueprint) for the objects created with it.

Having a class concept is essential for being able to implement a data model in the form of model classes in a Model-View-Controller (MVC) architecture. However, classes and their inheritance/extension mechanism are over-used in classical OO languages, such as in Java, where all variables and procedures have to be defined in the context of a class and, consequently, classes are not only used for implementing object types (or model classes), but also as containers for many other purposes in these languages. This is not the case in JavaScript where we have the freedom to use classes for implementing object types only, while keeping method libraries in namespace objects.

Any code pattern for defining classes in JavaScript should satisfy five requirements. First of all, (1) it should allow to define a class name, a set of (instance-level) properties, preferably with the option to keep them 'private', a set of (instance-level) methods, and a set of class-level properties and methods. It's desirable that properties can be defined with a range/type, and with other meta-data, such as constraints. There should also be two introspection features: (2) an is-instance-of predicate that can be used for checking if an object is a direct or indirect instance of a class, and (3) an instance-level property for retrieving the direct type of an object. In addition, it is desirable to have a third introspection feature for retrieving the direct supertype of a class. And finally, there should be two inheritance mechanisms: (4) property inheritance and (5) method inheritance. In addition, it is desirable to have support for multiple inheritance and multiple classifications, for allowing objects to play several roles at the same time by instantiating several role classes.

There is no explicit class concept in JavaScript. Different code patterns for defining classes in JavaScript have been proposed and are being used in different frameworks. But they do often not satisfy the five requirements listed above. The two most important approaches for defining classes are:

  1. In the form of a constructor function that achieves method inheritance via the prototype chain and allows to create new instances of a class with the help of the new operator. This is the classical approach recommended by Mozilla in their JavaScript Guide.

  2. In the form of a factory object that uses the predefined Object.create method for creating new instances of a class. In this approach, the prototype chain method inheritance mechanism is replaced by a copy&append mechanism. Eric Elliott has argued that factory-based classes are a viable alternative to constructor-based classes in JavaScript (in fact, he even condemns the use of classical inheritance with constructor-based classes, throwing out the baby with the bath water).

When building an app, we can use both kinds of classes, depending on the requirements of the app. Since we often need to define class hierarchies, and not just single classes, we have to make sure, however, that we don't mix these two alternative approaches within the same class hierarchy. While the factory-based approach, as exemplified by mODELcLASSjs, has many advantages, which are summarized in Table 2.2, the constructor-based approach enjoys the advantage of higher performance object creation.

Table 2.2. Required and desirable features of JS code patterns for classes

Class feature Constructor-based approach Factory-based approach mODELcLASSjs
Define properties and methods yes yes yes
Declare properties with a range (and other meta-data) no possibly yes
Built-in is-instance-of predicate yes yes yes
Built-in direct type property yes yes yes
Built-in direct supertype property of classes no possibly yes
Property inheritance yes yes yes
Method inheritance yes yes yes
Multiple inheritance no possibly yes
Multiple classifications no possibly yes
Allow object pools no yes yes

1.9.1. Constructor-based classes

In ES5, we can define a base class with a subclass in the form of constructor functions, following a code pattern recommended by Mozilla in their JavaScript Guide, as shown in the following steps.

Step 1.a) First define the constructor function that implicitly defines the properties of the class by assigning them the values of the constructor parameters when a new object is created:

function Person( first, last) {
  this.firstName = first; 
  this.lastName = last; 
}

Notice that within a constructor, the special variable this refers to the new object that is created when the constructor is invoked.

Step 1.b) Next, define the instance-level methods of the class as method slots of the object referenced by the constructor's prototype property:

Person.prototype.toString = function () {
  return this.firstName + " " + this.lastName;
}

Step 1.c) Class-level ("static") methods can be defined as method slots of the constructor function itself (recall that, since JS functions are objects, they can have slots), as in

Person.checkLastName = function (ln) {
  if (typeof(ln)!=="string" || ln.trim()==="") {
    console.log("Error: invalid last name!");
  }
}

Step 1.d) Finally, define class-level ("static") properties as property slots of the constructor function:

Person.instances = {};

Step 2.a): Define a subclass with additional properties:

function Student( first, last, studNo) {
  // invoke superclass constructor
  Person.call( this, first, last);
  // define and assign additional properties
  this.studNo = studNo;  
}

By invoking the supertype constructor with Person.call( this, ...) for any new object created as an instance of the subtype Student, and referenced by this, we achieve that the property slots created in the supertype constructor (firstName and lastName) are also created for the subtype instance, along the entire chain of supertypes within a given class hierarchy. In this way we set up a property inheritance mechanism that makes sure that the own properties defined for an object on creation include the own properties defined by the supertype constructors.

In Step 2b), we set up a mechanism for method inheritance via the constructor's prototype property. We assign a new object created from the supertype's prototype object to the prototype property of the subtype constructor and adjust the prototype's constructor property:

// Student inherits from Person
Student.prototype = Object.create( 
    Person.prototype);
// adjust the subtype's constructor property
Student.prototype.constructor = Student;

With Object.create( Person.prototype) we create a new object with Person.prototype as its prototype and without any own property slots. By assigning this object to the prototype property of the subclass constructor, we achieve that the methods defined in, and inherited from, the superclass are also available for objects instantiating the subclass. This mechanism of chaining the prototypes takes care of method inheritance. Notice that setting Student.prototype to Object.create( Person.prototype) is preferable over setting it to new Person(), which was the way to achieve the same in the time before ES5.

Step 2c): Define a subclass method that overrides a superclass method:

Student.prototype.toString = function () {
  return Person.prototype.toString.call( this) +
      "(" + this.studNo + ")";
};

An instance of a constructor-based class is created by applying the new operator to the constructor and providing suitable arguments for the constructor parameters:

var pers1 = new Person("Tom","Smith");

The method toString is invoked on the object pers1 by using the 'dot notation':

alert("The full name of the person is: " + pers1.toString());

When an object o is created with o = new C(...), where C references a named function with name "C", the type (or class) name of o can be retrieved with the introspective expression o.constructor.name, which returns "C". However, the Function::name property used in this expression is supported by all browsers except Internet Explorer up to version 11.

In JavaScript, a prototype is an object with method slots (and sometimes also property slots) that can be inherited by other objects via JavaScript's method/property slot look-up mechanism. This mechanism follows the prototype chain defined by the (in ES5 still unofficial) built-in reference property __proto__ (with a double underscore prefix and suffix) for finding methods or properties. As shown below in Figure 2.1, every constructor function has a reference to a prototype as the value of its reference property prototype. When a new object is created with the help of new, its __proto__ property is set to the constructor's prototype. For instance, after creating a new object with f = new Foo(), it holds that Object.getPrototypeOf(f), which is the same as f.__proto__, is equal to Foo.prototype. Consequently, changes to the slots of Foo.prototype affect all objects that were created with new Foo(). While every object has a __proto__ property slot (except Object), only objects constructed with new have a constructor property slot.

Figure 2.1. The built-in JavaScript classes Object and Function.

The built-in JavaScript classes Object and Function.

Notice that we can retrieve the prototype of an object with Object.getPrototypeOf(o), which is an official ES5 alternative to o.__proto__.

1.9.2. Factory-based classes

In this approach we define a JS object Person (actually representing a class) with a special create method that invokes the predefined Object.create method for creating objects of type Person:

var Person = {
  typeName: "Person",
  properties: {
    firstName: {range:"NonEmptyString", label:"First name", 
        writable: true, enumerable: true},
    lastName: {range:"NonEmptyString", label:"Last name", 
        writable: true, enumerable: true}
  },
  methods: {
    getFullName: function () {
      return this.firstName +" "+ this.lastName; 
    }
  },
  create: function (slots) {
    // create object
    var obj = Object.create( this.methods, this.properties);
    // add special property for *direct type* of object
    Object.defineProperty( obj, "type", 
        {value: this, writable: false, enumerable: true});
    // initialize object
    Object.keys( slots).forEach( function (prop) {
      if (prop in this.properties) obj[prop] = slots[prop];
    });
    return obj;
  }
};

Notice that the JS object Person actually represents a factory-based class. An instance of such a factory-based class is created by invoking its create method:

var pers1 = Person.create( {firstName:"Tom", lastName:"Smith"});

The method getFullName is invoked on the object pers1 of type Person by using the 'dot notation', like in the constructor-based approach:

alert("The full name of the person are: " + pers1.getFullName());

Notice that each property declaration for an object created with Object.create has to include the 'descriptors' writable: true and enumerable: true, as in lines 5 and 7 of the Person object definition above.

In a general approach, like in the mODELcLASSjs library for model-based development, we would not repeatedly define the create method in each class definition, but rather have a generic constructor function for defining factory-based classes. Such a factory-based class constructor, like mODELcLASS, would also provide an inheritance mechanism by merging the own properties and methods with the properties and methods of the superclass. This mechanism is also called Inheritance by Concatenation.

2. Storing Database Tables with JavaScript's localStorage API

In most apps, we have some form of data management where data is represented in tables such that table rows correspond to objects, and the table schema corresponds to the objects' type. When building a front-end web app with JavaScript, the simplest approach for persistent data storage is using JavaScript's localStorage API, which provides a simple key-value database, but does not support database tables. So, the question is: how can we store and retrieve tables with Local Storage?

We show how to represent database tables in JavaScript in the form of (what we call) JSON tables, and how to store these tables in Local Storage.

2.1. Entity Tables

The JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) defines a concise syntax for JavaScript array literals (lists) and JavaScript object literals (maps):

  • Lists are expressed as comma-separated lists of data literals enclosed in brackets:

    ["penguin", "arctis", "snow"]
  • Maps are expressed as comma-separated lists of key-value slots enclosed in curly braces:

    {"id": 2901465, "my phone number":"0049.30.227109"}

    A record is a special type of map where the keys are admissible JavaScript identifiers denoting properties, so they need not be enclosed in quotation marks in JavaScript code. For example, {id: 2901465, phone:"0049.30.227109"} is a record. The value of a property in a record, or the value associated with a key in a map, may be a simple data literal, or an array literal, or another object literal as in:

    {tags:["penguin","arctis"], photographer:{"last":"Wagner","first":"Gerd"}}

A entity table contains a set of records (or table rows) such that each record represents an object with a standard identifier property slot. Consequently, an entity table can be represented as a map of records such that the keys of the map are the values of the standard identifier property, and their associated values are the corresponding records, as illustrated by the following example:

Table 2.3. A entity table representing a collection of books

Key Value
006251587X { isbn:"006251587X," title:"Weaving the Web", year:2000 }
0465026567 { isbn:"0465026567," title:"Gödel, Escher, Bach", year:1999 }
0465030793 { isbn:"0465030793," title:"I Am A Strange Loop", year:2008 }

2.2. JavaScript's LocalStorage API

For a front-end app, we need to be able to store data persistently on the front-end device. Modern web browsers provide two technologies for this purpose: the simpler one is called Local Storage, and the more powerful one is called IndexDB. For simplicity, we use the Local Storage API in our example app.

A Local Storage database is created per browser and per origin, which is defined by the combination of protocol and domain name. For instance, http://example.com and http://www.example.com are different origins because they have different domain names, while http://www.example.com and https://www.example.com are different origins because of their different protocols (HTTP versus HTTPS).

The Local Storage database managed by the browser and associated with an app (via its origin) is exposed as the built-in JavaScript object localStorage with the methods getItem, setItem, removeItem and clear. However, instead of invoking getItem and setItem, it is more convenient to handle localStorage as a map, writing to it by assigning a value to a key as in localStorage["id"] = 2901465, and retrieving data by reading the map as in var id = localStorage["id"]. The following example shows how to create an entity table and save its serialization to Local Storage:

var persons = {};
persons["2901465"] = {id: 2901465, name:"Tom"};
persons["3305579"] = {id: 3305579, name:"Su"};
persons["6492003"] = {id: 6492003, name:"Pete"};
try {
  localStorage["personTable"] = JSON.stringify( persons);
} catch (e) {
  alert("Error when writing to Local Storage\n" + e);
}

Notice that we have used the predefined method JSON.stringify for serializing the entity table persons into a string that is assigned as the value of the localStorage key "personTable". We can retrieve the table with the help of the predefined de-serialization method JSON.parse in the following way:

var persons = {};
try {
  persons = JSON.parse( localStorage["personTable"]);
} catch (e) {
  alert("Error when reading from Local Storage\n" + e);        
}

Chapter 3. Building a Minimal App with Plain JavaScript in Seven Steps

In this chapter, we show how to build a minimal front-end web application with plain JavaScript and Local Storage. The purpose of our example app is to manage information about books. That is, we deal with a single object type: Book, as depicted in Figure 3.1.

Figure 3.1. The object type Book.

The object type Book.

The following is a sample data population for the model class Book:

Table 3.1. Sample data for Book

ISBN Title Year
006251587X Weaving the Web 2000
0465026567 Gödel, Escher, Bach 1999
0465030793 I Am A Strange Loop 2008

What do we need for a data management app? There are four standard use cases, which have to be supported by the app:

  1. Create a new book record by allowing the user to enter the data of a book that is to be added to the collection of stored book records.

  2. Retrieve (or read) all books from the data store and show them in the form of a list.

  3. Update the data of a book record.

  4. Delete a book record.

These four standard use cases, and the corresponding data management operations, are often summarized with the acronym CRUD.

For entering data with the help of the keyboard and the screen of our computer, we use HTML forms, which provide the user interface technology for web applications.

For maintaining a collection of persistent data objects, we need a storage technology that allows to keep data objects in persistent records on a secondary storage device, such as a harddisk or a solid state disk. Modern web browsers provide two such technologies: the simpler one is called Local Storage, and the more powerful one is called IndexDB. For our minimal example app, we use Local Storage.

1. Step 1 - Set up the Folder Structure

In the first step, we set up our folder structure for the application. We pick a name for our app, such as "Public Library", and a corresponding (possibly abbreviated) name for the application folder, such as "publicLibrary". Then we create this folder on our computer's disk and a subfolder "src" for our JavaScript source code files. In this folder, we create the subfolders "model", "view" and "ctrl", following the Model-View-Controller paradigm for software application architectures. And finally we create an index.html file for the app's start page, as discussed below. Thus, we end up with the following folder structure:

publicLibrary
  src
    ctrl
    model
    view
  index.html

The start page of the app loads the Book.js model class file and provides a menu for choosing one of the CRUD data management operations performed by a corresponding page such as, for instance, createBook.html, or for creating test data with the help of the procedure Book.createTestData() in line 17, or clearing all data with Book.clearData() in line 18:

Figure 3.2. The minimal app's start page index.html.

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml" xml:lang="en" lang="en">
<head>
  <meta charset="UTF-8" />
  <title>Minimal JS Front-End App Example</title>
  <script src="src/model/Book.js"></script>
</head>
<body>
  <h1>Public Library</h1>
  <h2>An Example of a Minimal JavaScript Front-End App</h2>
  <p>This app supports the following operations:</p>
  <menu>
    <li><a href="listBooks.html"><button type="button">
      List all books
    </button></a></li>
    <li><a href="createBook.html"><button type="button">
      Add a new book
    </button></a></li>
    <li><a href="updateBook.html"><button type="button">
      Update a book
    </button></a></li>
    <li><a href="deleteBook.html"><button type="button">
      Delete a book
    </button></a></li>
    <li><button type="button" onclick="Book.clearData()">
      Clear database
    </button></li>
    <li><button type="button" onclick="Book.createTestData()">
      Create test data
    </button></li>
  </menu>
</body>
</html>

2. Step 2 - Write the Model Code

In the second step, we write the code of our model class and save it in a specific model class file. In an MVC app, the model code is the most important part of the app. It's also the basis for writing the view and controller code. In fact, large parts of the view and controller code could be automatically generated from the model code. Many MVC frameworks provide this kind of code generation.

In the information design model shown in Figure 3.1 above, there is only one class, representing the object type Book. So, in the folder src/model, we create a file Book.js that initially contains the following code:

function Book( slots) {
  this.isbn = slots.isbn;
  this.title = slots.title;
  this.year = slots.year;
};

The model class Book is encoded as a JavaScript constructor function with a single slots parameter, which is supposed to be a record object with properties isbn, title and year, representing values for the ISBN, the title and the year attributes of the class Book. Therefore, in the constructor function, the values of the slots properties are assigned to the corresponding attributes whenever a new object is created as an instance of this class.

In addition to defining the model class in the form of a constructor function, we also define the following items in the Book.js file:

  1. A class-level property Book.instances representing the collection of all Book instances managed by the application in the form of an entity table.

  2. A class-level method Book.loadAll for loading all managed Book instances from the persistent data store.

  3. A class-level method Book.saveAll for saving all managed Book instances to the persistent data store.

  4. A class-level method Book.add for creating a new Book instance.

  5. A class-level method Book.update for updating an existing Book instance.

  6. A class-level method Book.destroy for deleting a Book instance.

  7. A class-level method Book.createTestData for creating a few example book records to be used as test data.

  8. A class-level method Book.clearData for clearing the book datastore.

2.1. Representing the collection of all Book instances

For representing the collection of all Book instances managed by the application, we define and initialize the class-level property Book.instances in the following way:

Book.instances = {};

So, initially our collection of books is empty. In fact, it's defined as an empty object literal, since we want to represent it in the form of an entity table (a map of entity records) where an ISBN is a key for accessing the corresponding book record (as the value associated with the key). We can visualize the structure of an entity table in the form of a lookup table, as shown in Table 3.2.

Table 3.2. An entity table representing a collection of books

Key Value
006251587X { isbn:"006251587X," title:"Weaving the Web", year:2000 }
0465026567 { isbn:"0465026567," title:"Gödel, Escher, Bach", year:1999 }
0465030793 { isbn:"0465030793," title:"I Am A Strange Loop", year:2008 }

Notice that the values of such a map are records corresponding to table rows. Consequently, we could also represent them in a simple table, as shown in Table 3.3.

Table 3.3. A collection of book objects represented as a table

ISBN Title Year
006251587X Weaving the Web 2000
0465026567 Gödel, Escher, Bach 1999
0465030793 I Am A Strange Loop 2008

2.2. Creating a new Book instance

The Book.add procedure takes care of creating a new Book instance and adding it to the Book.instances collection :

Book.add = function (slots) {
  var book = new Book( slots);
  // add book to the Book.instances collectio
  Book.instances[slots.isbn] = book;
  console.log("Book " + slots.isbn + " created!");
};

2.3. Loading all Book instances

For persistent data storage, we use the Local Storage API supported by modern web browsers. Loading the book records from Local Storage involves three steps:

  1. Retrieving the book table that has been stored as a large string with the key "books" from Local Storage with the help of the assignment

    booksString = localStorage["books"];

    This retrieval is performed in line 5 of the program listing below.

  2. Converting the book table string into a corresponding entity table books with book rows as elements, with the help of the built-in procedure JSON.parse:

    books = JSON.parse( booksString);

    This conversion, performed in line 11 of the program listing below, is called deserialization.

  3. Converting each row of books, representing a record (an untyped object), into a corresponding object of type Book stored as an element of the entity table Book.instances, with the help of the procedure convertRow2Obj defined as a "static" (class-level) method in the Book class:

    Book.convertRow2Obj = function (bookRow) {
      var book = new Book( bookRow);
      return book;
    };

Here is the full code of the procedure:

Book.loadAll = function () {
  var key="", keys=[], 
      booksString="", books={};  
  try {
    if (localStorage["books"]) {
      booksString = localStorage["books"];
    }
  } catch (e) {
    alert("Error when reading from Local Storage\n" + e);
  }
  if (booksString) {
    books = JSON.parse( booksString);
    keys = Object.keys( books);
    console.log( keys.length +" books loaded.");
    for (i=0; i < keys.length; i++) {
      key = keys[i];
      Book.instances[key] = Book.convertRow2Obj( books[key]);
    }
  }
};

Notice that since an input operation like localStorage["books"] may fail, we perform it in a try-catch block, where we can follow up with an error message whenever the input operation fails.

2.4. Updating a Book instance

For updating an existing Book instance we first retrieve it from Book.instances, and then re-assign those attributes the value of which has changed:

Book.update = function (slots) {
  var book = Book.instances[slots.isbn];
  var year = parseInt( slots.year);
  if (book.title !== slots.title) { book.title = slots.title;}
  if (book.year !== year) { book.year = year;}
  console.log("Book " + slots.isbn + " modified!");
};

Notice that in the case of a numeric attribute (such as year), we have to make sure that the value of the corresponding input parameter (y), which is typically obtained from user input via an HTML form, is converted from string to number with one of the two type conversion functions parseInt or parseFloat.

2.5. Deleting a Book instance

A Book instance is deleted from the entity table Book.instances by first testing if the table has a row with the given key (line 2), and then applying the JavaScript built-in delete operator:, which deletes a slot from an object, or an entry from a map:

Book.destroy = function (isbn) {
  if (Book.instances[isbn]) {
    console.log("Book " + isbn + " deleted");
    delete Book.instances[isbn];
  } else {
    console.log("There is no book with ISBN " + 
        isbn + " in the database!");
  }
};

2.6. Saving all Book instances

Saving all book objects from the Book.instances collection in main memory to Local Storage in secondary memory involves two steps:

  1. Converting the entity table Book.instances into a string with the help of the predefined JavaScript procedure JSON.stringify:

    booksString = JSON.stringify( Book.instances);

    This conversion is called serialization.

  2. Writing the resulting string as the value of the key "books" to Local Storage:

    localStorage["books"] = booksString;

These two steps are performed in line 5 and in line 6 of the following program listing:

Book.saveAll = function () {
  var booksString="", error=false,
      nmrOfBooks = Object.keys( Book.instances).length;  
  try {
    booksString = JSON.stringify( Book.instances);
    localStorage["books"] = booksString;
  } catch (e) {
    alert("Error when writing to Local Storage\n" + e);
    error = true;
  }
  if (!error) console.log( nmrOfBooks + " books saved.");
};

2.7. Creating test data

For being able to test our code, we may create some test data and save it in our Local Storage database. We can use the following procedure for this:

Book.createTestData = function () {
  Book.instances["006251587X"] = new Book(
      {isbn:"006251587X", title:"Weaving the Web", year:2000});
  Book.instances["0465026567"] = new Book(
      {isbn:"0465026567", title:"Gödel, Escher, Bach", year:1999});
  Book.instances["0465030793"] = new Book(
      {isbn:"0465030793", title:"I Am A Strange Loop", year:2008});
  Book.saveAll();
};

2.8. Clearing all data

The following procedure clears all data from Local Storage:

Book.clearData = function () {
  if (confirm("Do you really want to delete all book data?")) {
    localStorage["books"] = "{}";
  }
};

3. Step 3 - Initialize the Application

We initialize the application by defining its namespace and MVC subnamespaces. Namespaces are an important concept in software engineering and many programming languages, including Java and PHP, provide specific support for namespaces, which help grouping related pieces of code and avoiding name conflicts. Since there is no specific support for namespaces in JavaScript, we use special objects for this purpose (we may call them "namespace objects"). First we define a root namespace (object) for our app, and then we define three sub-namespaces, one for each of the three parts of the application code: model, view and controller. In the case of our example app, we may use the following code for this:

var pl = { model:{}, view:{}, ctrl:{} };

Here, the main namespace is defined to be pl, standing for "Public Library", with the three subnamespaces model, view and ctrl being initially empty objects. We put this code in a separate file initialize.js in the ctrl folder, because such a namespace definition belongs to the controller part of the application code.

4. Step 5 - Implement the Create Use Case

For a data management operation with user input, such as the "create object" operation, an HTML page with an HTML form is required as a user interface. The form typically has an input or select field for each attribute of the Book class. For our example app, this page is called createBook.html (located in the app folder publicLibrary) and contains the following HTML code:

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml" xml:lang="en" lang="en">
<head>
  <meta charset="UTF-8" />
  <title>Minimal JS Front-End App Example</title>    
  <script src="src/ctrl/initialize.js"></script>
  <script src="src/model/Book.js"></script>
  <script src="src/view/createBook.js"></script>
  <script>
   window.addEventListener("load", 
       pl.view.createBook.setupUserInterface);
  </script>
</head>
<body>
  <h1>Public Library: Create a new book record</h1>
  <form id="Book">
    <p><label>ISBN: <input name="isbn" /></label></p>
    <p><label>Title: <input name="title" /></label></p>
    <p><label>Year: <input name="year" /></label></p>
    <p><button type="button" name="commit">Save</button></p>
  </form>
  <nav><a href="index.html">Back to main menu</a></nav>
</body>
</html>

The view code file src/view/createBook.js contains two procedures:

  1. setupUserInterface takes care of retrieveing the collection of all objects from the persistent data store and setting up an event handler (handleSaveButtonClickEvent) on the save button for handling click button events by saving the user input data;

  2. handleSaveButtonClickEvent reads the user input data from the form fields and then saves this data by calling the Book.saveRow procedure.

pl.view.createBook = {
  setupUserInterface: function () {
    var saveButton = document.forms['Book'].commit;
    // load all book objects
    Book.loadAll();
    // Set an event handler for the save/submit button
    saveButton.addEventListener("click", 
        pl.view.createBook.handleSaveButtonClickEvent);
    window.addEventListener("beforeunload", function () {
        Book.saveAll(); 
    });
  },
  // save user input data
  handleSaveButtonClickEvent: function () {
    var formEl = document.forms['Book'];
    var slots = { isbn: formEl.isbn.value, 
        title: formEl.title.value, 
        year: formEl.year.value};
    Book.add( slots);
    formEl.reset();
  }
};

5. Step 4 - Implement the Retrieve/List All Use Case

This use case corresponds to the "Retrieve" from the four basic data management use cases Create-Retrieve-Update-Delete (CRUD).

The user interface for this use case is provided by the following HTML page containing an HTML table for displaying book data. For our example app, this page is called listBooks.html, located in the main folder publicLibrary, and it contains the following HTML code:

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml" xml:lang="en" lang="en">
<head>
  <meta charset="UTF-8" />
  <title>Simple JS Front-End App Example</title>
  <script src="src/ctrl/initialize.js"></script>
  <script src="src/model/Book.js"></script>
  <script src="src/view/listBooks.js"></script>
  <script>
   window.addEventListener( "load", 
       pl.view.listBooks.setupUserInterface);
  </script>
</head>
<body>
  <h1>Public Library: List all books</h1>
  <table id="books">
    <thead><tr><th>ISBN</th><th>Title</th><th>Year</th></tr></thead>
    <tbody></tbody>
  </table>
  <nav><a href="index.html">Back to main menu</a></nav>
</body>
</html>

Notice that this HTML file loads three JavaScript files: the controller file src/ctrl/initialize.js, the model file src/model/Book.js and the view file src/view/listBooks.js. The first two files contain the code for initializing the app and for the model class Book as explained above, and the third one, which represents the UI code of the "list books" operation, is developed now. In fact, for this operation, we just need a procedure for setting up the data management context and the UI, called setupUserInterface:

 pl.view.listBooks = {
  setupUserInterface: function () {
    var tableBodyEl = document.querySelector("table#books>tbody");
    var keys=[], key="", row={};
    // load all book objects
    Book.loadAll();
    keys = Object.keys( Book.instances);
    // for each book, create a table row with cells for the 3 attributes
    for (i=0; i < keys.length; i++) {
      key = keys[i];
      row = tableBodyEl.insertRow();
      row.insertCell(-1).textContent = Book.instances[key].isbn;      
      row.insertCell(-1).textContent = Book.instances[key].title;  
      row.insertCell(-1).textContent = Book.instances[key].year;
    }
  }
};

The simple logic of this procedure consists of two steps:

  1. Read the collection of all objects from the persistent data store (in line 6).

  2. Display each object as a row in a HTML table on the screen (in the loop starting in line 9).

More specifically, the procedure setupUserInterface first creates the book objects from the corresponding rows retrieved from Local Storage by invoking Book.loadAll() and then creates the view table in a loop over all key-value slots of the entity table Book.instances where each value represents a book object. In each step of this loop, a new row is created in the table body element with the help of the JavaScript DOM operation insertRow(), and then three cells are created in this row with the help of the DOM operation insertCell(): the first one for the isbn property value of the book object, and the second and third ones for its title and year property values. Both insertRow and insertCell have to be invoked with the argument -1 for making sure that new elements are appended to the list of rows and cells.

6. Step 6 - Implement the Update Use Case

Again, we have an HTML page for the user interface (updateBook.html) and a view code file (src/view/updateBook.js). The HTML form for the UI of the "update book" operation has a selection field for choosing the book to be updated, an output field for the standard identifier attribute isbn, and an input field for each attribute of the Book class that can be updated. Notice that by using an output field for the standard identifier attribute, we do not allow changing the standard identifier of an existing object.

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml" xml:lang="en" lang="en">
<head>
  <meta charset="UTF-8" />
  <title>Minimal JS Front-End App Example</title>
  <script src="src/ctrl/initialize.js"></script>
  <script src="src/model/Book.js"></script>
  <script src="src/view/updateBook.js"></script>
  <script>
   window.addEventListener("load", pl.view.updateBook.setupUserInterface);
  </script>
</head>
<body>
  <h1>Public Library: Update a book record</h1>
  <form id="Book" action="">
    <p>
      <label>Select book: 
        <select name="selectBook"><option value=""> --- </option></select>
      </label>
    </p>
    <p><label>ISBN: <output name="isbn" /></label></p>
    <p><label>Title: <input name="title" /></label></p>
    <p><label>Year: <input name="year" /></label></p>
    <p><button type="button" name="commit">Save Changes</button></p>
  </form>
  <nav><a href="index.html">Back to main menu</a></nav>
</body>
</html>

Notice that we include a kind of empty option element, with a value of "" and a display text of ---, as a default choice in the selectBook selection list element. So, by default, the selectBook form control's value is undefined, requiring the user to choose one of the available options for defining a value for this element.

The setupUserInterface procedure now has to populate the select element's option list by loading the collection of all book objects from the persistent data store and creating an option element for each book object:

pl.view.updateBook = {
  setupUserInterface: function () {
    var formEl = document.forms['Book'],
        saveButton = formEl.commit,
        selectBookEl = formEl.selectBook;
    var key="", keys=[], book=null, optionEl=null;
    // load all book objects
    Book.loadAll();
    // populate the selection list with books
    keys = Object.keys( Book.instances);
    for (i=0; i < keys.length; i++) {
      key = keys[i];
      book = Book.instances[key];
      optionEl = document.createElement("option");
      optionEl.text = book.title;
      optionEl.value = book.isbn;
      selectBookEl.add( optionEl, null);
    }
    // when a book is selected, populate the form with the book data
    selectBookEl.addEventListener("change", function () {
        var book=null, key = selectBookEl.value;
        if (key) {
          book = Book.instances[key];
          formEl.isbn.value = book.isbn;
          formEl.title.value = book.title;
          formEl.year.value = book.year;
        } else {
          formEl.reset();
        }
    });
    saveButton.addEventListener("click", 
        pl.view.updateBook.handleUpdateButtonClickEvent);
    window.addEventListener("beforeunload", function () {
        Book.saveAll(); 
    });
  },
  handleUpdateButtonClickEvent: function () {
    var formEl = document.forms['Book'];
    var slots = { isbn: formEl.isbn.value, 
        title: formEl.title.value, 
        year: formEl.year.value
    };
    Book.update( slots);
    formEl.reset();
  }
};

7. Step 7 - Implement the Delete Use Case

This use case corresponds to the delete/destroy operation from the four basic CRUD data management operations. The UI just has a selection field for choosing the book to be deleted:

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml" xml:lang="en" lang="en">
<head>
  <meta charset="UTF-8" />
  <title>Minimal JS Front-End App Example</title>
  <script src="src/ctrl/initialize.js"></script>
  <script src="src/model/Book.js"></script>
  <script src="src/view/deleteBook.js"></script>
  <script>
   window.addEventListener("load", pl.view.deleteBook.setupUserInterface);
  </script>
</head>
<body>
  <h1>Public Library: Delete a book record</h1>
  <form id="Book">
    <p>
      <label>Select book: 
        <select name="selectBook"><option value=""> --- </option></select>
      </label>
    </p>
    <p><button type="button" name="commit">Delete</button></p>
  </form>
  <nav><a href="index.html">Back to main menu</a></nav>
</body>
</html>

The view code in src/view/deleteBook.js consists of the following two procedures:

pl.view.deleteBook = {
  setupUserInterface: function () {
    var deleteButton = document.forms['Book'].commit;
    var selectEl = document.forms['Book'].selectBook;
    var key="", keys=[], book=null, optionEl=null;
    // load all book objects
    Book.loadAll();
    keys = Object.keys( Book.instances);
    // populate the selection list with books
    for (i=0; i < keys.length; i++) {
      key = keys[i];
      book = Book.instances[key];
      optionEl = document.createElement("option");
      optionEl.text = book.title;
      optionEl.value = book.isbn;
      selectEl.add( optionEl, null);
    }
    deleteButton.addEventListener("click", 
        pl.view.deleteBook.handleDeleteButtonClickEvent);
    window.addEventListener("beforeunload", function () {
        Book.saveAll(); 
    });
  },
  handleDeleteButtonClickEvent: function () {
    var selectEl = document.forms['Book'].selectBook;
    var isbn = selectEl.value;
    if (isbn) {
      Book.destroy( isbn);
      selectEl.remove( selectEl.selectedIndex);
    }
  }
};

8. Run the App and Get the Code

You can run the minimal app from our server or download the code as a ZIP archive file.

9. Possible Variations and Extensions

9.1. Using IndexedDB as an Alternative to LocalStorage

Instead of using the Local Storage API, the IndexedDB API could be used for locally storing the application data. With Local Storage you only have one database (which you may have to share with other apps from the same domain) and there is no support for database tables (we have worked around this limitation in our approach). With IndexedDB you can set up a specific database for your app, and you can define database tables, called 'object stores', which may have indexes for accessing records with the help of an indexed attribute instead of the standard identifier attribute. Also, since IndexedDB supports larger databases, its access methods are asynchronous and can only be invoked in the context of a database transaction.

Alternatively, for remotely storing the application data with the help of a web API one can either use a back-end solution component or a cloud storage service. The remote storage approach allows managing larger databases and supports multi-user apps.

9.2. Dealing with date/time information using Date and <time>

Assume that our Book model class has an additional attribute publicationDate, the values of which have to be included in HTML tables and forms. While date/time information items have to be formatted as strings in a human-readable form on web pages, preferably in localized form based on the settings of the user's browser, it's not a good idea to store date/time values in this form in a database. Rather we use instances of the pre-defined JavaScript class Date for representing and storing date/time values. In this form, the pre-defined functions toISOString() and toLocaleDateString() can be used for turning Date values into ISO standard date/time strings (of the form "2015-01-27") or to localized date/time strings (like "27.1.2015"). Notice that, for simplicity, we have omitted the time part of the date/time strings.

In summary, a date/time value is expressed in three different forms:

  1. Internally, for storage and computations, as a Date value.

  2. Internally, for annotating localized date/time strings, or externally, for displaying a date/time value in a standard form, as an ISO standard date/time string, e.g., with the help of toISOString().

  3. Externally, for displaying a date/time value in a localized form, as a localized date/time string, e.g., with the help of toLocaleDateString().

When a date/time value is to be included in a web page, we can use the HTML <time> element that allows to display a human-readable representation (typically a localized date/time string) that is annotated with a standard (machine-readable) form of the date/time value.

We illustrate the use of the <time> element with the following example of a web page that includes two <time> elements: one for displaying a fixed date, and another (initially empty) element for displaying the date of today, which is computed with the help of a JavaScript function. In both cases we use the datetime attribute for annotating the displayed human-readable date with the corresponding machine-readable representation.

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml" xml:lang="en" lang="en">
<head>
 <meta charset="UTF-8" />
 <title>Using the HTML5 Time Element</title>
 <script src="assignDate.js"></script>
 <script>window.addEventListener("load", assignDate);</script>
</head>
<body>
 <h1>HTML5 Time Element</h1>
 <p>HTML 2.0 was published on <time datetime="1995-11-24">November 24, 1995</time>.</p>
 <p>Today is <time id="today" datetime=""></time>.</p>
</body>
</html> 

This web page loads and executes the following JavaScript function for computing today's date as a Date value and assigning its ISO standard representation and its localized representation to the <time> element:

function assignDate() {
  var dateEl = document.getElementById("today");
  var today = new Date();
  dateEl.textContent = today.toLocaleDateString();
  dateEl.setAttribute("datetime", today.toISOString());
}

10. Points of Attention

The code of this app should be extended by

  • adding some CSS styling for the user interface pages and

  • adding constraint validation.

We show how to do this in the follow-up tutorial JavaScript Front-End Web App Tutorial Part 2: Adding Constraint Validation.

We briefly discuss some further points of attention: database size and memory management, code clarity, boilerplate code, and separation of concerns.

10.1. Database size and memory management

Notice that in this tutorial, we have made the assumption that all application data can be loaded into main memory (like all book data is loaded into the map Book.instances). This approach only works in the case of local data storage of smaller databases, say, with not more than 2 MB of data, roughly corresponding to 10 tables with an average population of 1000 rows, each having an average size of 200 Bytes. When larger databases are to be managed, or when data is stored remotely, it's no longer possible to load the entire population of all tables into main memory, but we have to use a technique where only parts of the table contents are loaded.

10.2. Code clarity

Any damn fool can write code that a computer can understand, the trick is to write code that humans can understand. (Martin Fowler in After the Program Runs)

Code is often "unnecessarily complicated, convoluted, disorganized, and stitched together with disdain", as observed in a post by Santiago L. Valdarrama who recommends using comments when necessary, only to explain things that can't be made clear enough, but rather make your code reveal its intention through the use of better names, proper structure, and correct spacing and indentation.

10.3. Boilerplate code

Another issue with the do-it-yourself code of this example app is the boilerplate code needed per model class for the data storage management methods add, update, and destroy. While it is good to write this code a few times for learning app development, you don't want to write it again and again later when you work on real projects. In our mODELcLASSjs tutorial, we present an approach how to put these methods in a generic form in a meta-class, such that they can be reused in all model classes of an app.

10.4. Architectural separation of concerns

One of the most fundamental principles of software architecture is separation of concerns. It requires to keep the different functional parts of a software application independent of each other as much as possible. More specifically, it implies to keep the app's model classes independent of

  1. the user interface (UI) code because it should be possible to re-use the same model classes with different UI technologies;

  2. the storage management code because it should be possible to re-use the same model classes with different storage technologies.

In this tutorial, we have kept the model class Book independent of the UI code, since it does not contain any references to UI elements, nor does it invoke any view method. However, for simplicity, we didn't keep it independent of storage management code, since we have included the method definitions for add, update, destroy, etc., which invoke the storage management methods of JavaScrpt's localStorage API. Therefore, the separation of concerns is incomplete in our minimal example app.

We will show in our mODELcLASSjs tutorial how to achieve a more complete separation of concerns by defining abstract storage management methods in a special storage manager class, which is complemented by libraries of concrete storage management methods for specific storage technologies, called storage adapters.

11. Practice Projects

If you have any questions about how to carry out the following projects, you can ask them on our discussion forum.

11.1. Develop a Plain JS Front-End App for Managing Movie Data

The purpose of the app to be developed is managing information about movies. Like in the book data management app discussed in the tutorial, you can make the simplifying assumption that all the data can be kept in main memory. So, on application start up, the movie data is read from a persistent data store. When the user quits the application, the data has to be saved to the persistent data store, which should be implemented with JavaScript's Local Storage API, as in the tutorial.

The app deals with just one object type: Movie, as depicted in Figure 3.3 below. In the subsequent parts of the tutorial, you will extend this simple app by adding integrity constraints, further model classes for actors and directors, and the associations between them.

Notice that in most parts of this project you can follow, or even copy, the code of the book data management app, except that in the Movie class there is an attribute with range Date, so you have to use the HTML <time> element in the list objects table, as discussed in Section 9.2.

Figure 3.3. The object type Movie.

The object type Movie.

For developing the app, simply follow the sequence of seven steps described in the tutorial:

  1. Step 1 - Set up the Folder Structure

  2. Step 2 - Write the Model Code

  3. Step 3 - Initialize the Application

  4. Step 4 - Implement the List Objects Use Case

  5. Step 5 - Implement the Create Object Use Case

  6. Step 6 - Implement the Update Object Use Case

  7. Step 7 - Implement the Delete Object Use Case

You can use the following sample data for testing:

Table 3.4. Sample data

Movie ID Title Release date
1 Pulp Fiction 1994-05-12
2 Star Wars 1977-05-25
3 Casablanca 1943-01-23
4 The Godfather 1972-03-15


Make sure that

  1. your HTML pages comply with the XML syntax of HTML5,

  2. international characters are supported by using UTF-8 encoding for all HTML files,

  3. your JavaScript code complies with our Coding Guidelines and is checked with JSLint (http://www.jslint.com); it must pass the JSLint test (e.g. instead of the unsafe equality test with "==", always the strict equality test with "===" has to be used).

11.2. Managing Persistent Data with IndexedDB

Improve your app developed in project 1 by replacing the use of the localStorage API for persistent data storage with using the more powerful IndexedDB API.

Glossary

E

Extensible Markup Language

XML allows to mark up the structure of all kinds of documents, data files and messages in a machine-readable way. XML may also be human-readable, if the tag names used are self-explaining. XML is based on Unicode. SVG and MathML are based on XML, and there is an XML-based version of HTML.

XML provides a syntax for expressing structured information in the form of an XML document with elements and their attributes. The specific elements and attributes used in an XML document can come from any vocabulary, such as public standards or user-defined XML formats.

H

Hypertext Markup Language

HTML allows marking up (or describing) the structure of a human-readable web document or web user interface. The XML-based version of HTML, which is called "XHTML5", provides a simpler and cleaner syntax compared to traditional HTML.

Hypertext Transfer Protocol

HTTP is a stateless request/response protocol based on the Internet technologies TCP/IP and DNS, using human-readable text messages for the communication between web clients and web servers. The main purpose of HTTP has been to allow fetching web documents identified by URLs from a web browser, and invoking the operations of a back-end web application program from a HTML form executed by a web browser. More recently, HTTP is increasingly used for providing web APIs and web services.

U

Unicode

A platform-independent character set that includes almost all characters from most of the world's script languages including Hindi, Burmese and Gaelic. Each character is assigned a unique integer code in the range between 0 and 1,114,111. For example, the Greek letter π has the code 960. Unicode includes legacy character sets like ASCII and ISO-8859-1 (Latin-1) as subsets.

XML is based on Unicode. Consequently, the Greek letter π (with code 960) can be inserted in an XML document as &#960; using the XML entity syntax. The default encoding of Unicode characters in an XML document is UTF-8, which uses only a single byte for ASCII characters, but three bytes for less common characters.

W

World Wide Web

The WWW (or, simply, "the web") is a huge client-server network based on HTTP, HTML and XML, where web 'user agents' (such as browsers), acting as HTTP clients, access web server programs, acting as HTTP servers.