Web Frameworks

I'm not a web developer. I write the content for (a couple) of websites, and I'm a fairly competent systems administrator. Every once and a while someone will need a website, or I'll need my site to do something new that I haven't needed to do before and I'll hack something together, but for the most part, I try and keep my head out of web development. Indeed, I often think that designing applications to run in the web browser is the wrong solution to most technological problems. Nevertheless, my work (and play) involves a lot of tinkering and work with web-applications, and I do begrudgingly concede the relevance of web applications.

In any case I've been reading through the following recently, and I (unsurprisingly have a few thoughts:)

The Trouble With Frameworks

I really enjoyed how this post located "web frameworks" in terms of the larger context: what they're good for, what they're not good for, and why they're so popular. I often feel like I see a lot of writing about why FrameworkA is better or worse than FrameworkB, which doesn't really answer a useful question. While I wouldn't blame my gripe with web-based applications entirely on the shoulders of frameworks, it's interesting to think of "the framework problem" as being a problem with the framework (and the limitations therein) rather than a problem with the web itself.

This isn't to say that frameworks are inherently bad. Indeed, there is a great deal of work that websites require in-order to function: HTML is a pain to write "by hand," consistent URLs are desirable, but it's undesirable to have to mange that by hand. If you need content that's dynamic, particularly content that is database-backed, there is all sorts of groundwork that needs to be done that's basic and repetitive even for the most basic functionality. Eliminating this "grunt work" is the strength of the framework, and in this they provide a great utility.

However, from an operations (rather than development) perspective, frameworks suck. By producing tools that are broadly useful to a large audience, the frameworks are by nature not tuned for high performance operations, and they don't always enforce the most efficient operations (with regards to the databases). Thankfully this is the kind of issue that can be safely delegated to future selves, as premature optimization remains a challenge.

Thoughts on Web.py

Though I'm not much of a Python person, I have a great deal of respect for Python tools. I swear if I were going to learn a language of this type it would almost certainly be Python. Having said that, the tool looks really interesting: it's minimal and stays out of the way for the most part. It does the really "dumb" things that you don't want to have to fuss with, but doesn't do a lot of other stuff. And that's a great thing.

I'm not sure how accurate this is, but one of the things that initially intrigued me about web.py is that it sort of felt like it allows for a more "UNIX-y" approach to web applications. Most frameworks and systems for publishing content to the web work really well as long as you don't try and use anything but the application or framework. Drupal, Wordpress, and Rails seem to work best this way. Web.py seems to mostly be a few hooks around common web-programing tasks for Python developers, so that they can build their apps in whatever way they need to. The the monolithic content management approach doesn't feel very UNIXy by contrast. I think this is something that I need to explore in greater deal.

Having said that, I'm not terribly sure if there are problems that I see in the world that need to be addressed in this manner. So while I can sort of figure out how to make it work, I don't find myself thinking "wow, the next time I want to do [this], I'll definitely use web.py."

But then I'm just a dude who writes stuff.

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