Front End Developer Tools – Where are they going?

        Working on the front end code for a web site or web application has never been the best part of a programmer’s day. Typically User Interface for software moved from text based to a more GUI based approach. As discussed by Myers et al. [Mye00], this pushed tools for UI development to a more GUI and window based approach as well. Web development tools following this GUI based approach sprung up, each having its own merits and demerits. Microsoft FrontPage for example, one of the older more popular web page authoring tools offered the user a WYSIWYG editor [Fra99]. These visual editors, gave users the ability to develop the front end of web applications pretty easily, but  one of the major drawbacks was that the architecture these tools supported, dealt with static content, like a group of HTML files . Working with web applications which had front ends which interacted with databases did not benefit majorly from such WYSIWYG tools. These limitations however are slowly disappearing, and the definition of a web-application front end is changing.

FrontPage, offered not only development, but also management of “web-sites”

        The front end of web applications has moved over the years from simple dynamically generated HTML pages to a more interactive type of application which uses JavaScript and technologies like AJAX to make the applications, light, faster, more intuitive and user friendly. However debugging JavaScript, has for the most part been a tough process. JavaScript cannot be run like a simple program and tested. It involves simulating the JavaScript environment, the DOM of the HTML page etc.[Art11] One crucial step however which had made JavaScript hard to work with, was debugging the errors. Before tools like Firebug, and Chrome Developer tools came along, JavaScript developers relied on the “alert” function [Ler07].

When javascript didn’t work, developers ended up throwing in a bunch of such alert statements all over the place

        As the definition of web front end is changing, the tools used to develop the front end is also constantly evolving. Starting from notepad about a decade ago, we moved to GUI tools, and are now moving to combination of many kinds of tools, starting from a simple text IDE combined with a web debug and testing toolkit like Chrome Developer tools and its competitors like Firebug and F12 Developer tools.

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Raghav Tripathi & Roopak Venkatakrishnan

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