Build Spine applications with Brunch

Crafting JavaScript web applications can be a tedious process without a scalable structure. The rise of MVC (or MV*) frameworks for JS, had a huge impact on the web and for sure, it defined new standards. Standards that we developers, can’t ignore anymore.

However, choosing the right JavaScript MV* framework can be tricky and it really depends on your needs. There are tons of available options out there like, Backbone, Spine, Knockout, Ember and more. My choice was, well, Spine.

Spine is a lightweight framework authored by Alex MacCaw and it’s entirely written in CoffeeScript. When I first read about Spine. I already knew about CoffeeScript but I didn’t really have the chance to extensively use it. Though I knew I could use Spine with plain JS, I considered this as great opportunity to switch.

The companion of Spine is Hem, which is defined as a “bundler for Node/CommonJS/Web Apps”. It essentially provides a seamless environment for Spine based projects. It includes features like dependency management, single .js file build and Stylus compilation to CSS.

The only drawback I encountered though, was the ability to use SASS instead. So I had to additionally execute a sass --watch process in another terminal tab. This wasn’t really an issue for me at first, but it started to be annoying later. I needed a way to ditch the hack and that costed me more time than I expected. I had a brief conversation with Jonnie Hallman who quickly suggested to use Grunt. Though he didn’t have the chance to try it before, I decided to give it a spin. Basically, Grunt is a JavaScript task runner, so I had to write all the tasks that Hem gives for granted, by hand. I ended up with a huge Gruntfile which soon became another issue rather than a fix.

Luckily I came across Brunch, by Paul Miller which is a build tool for HTML5, with very little configuration. It already provided a boilerplate for Spine, but as I gave a look at it, I decided to build my own skeleton.

Why? Hem, uses CommonJS to wrap JavaScript or CoffeeScript modules into a single, minified .js file. The great thing about Hem is that it even modularizes the Spine framework components. I could then use:

Spine = require("spine") # <- this is the real deal!

class App extends Spine.Controller
  constructor: ->

The fact that I can “import” my class dependencies first, by using require('spine'), makes sense to me as I come from programming languages that used to import classes. In the available Brunch Spine skeleton, Spine is included in the HTML file as a vendor.js file which is minified but not wrapped into a CommonJS module. This means I don’t have to require Spine on every CoffeeScript class because that would be already “loaded”. Which for me, at least, didn’t feel right. If I’m using a particular class, I should import it. It’s an extra line of code, yes, but feels better and makes the whole thing more readable as well.

That’s why I wrote my own Brunch with Spine Skeleton. It wraps jQuery, Spine, my classes (and whatever else you want) into CommonJS modules and it joins them in one application.js file. It also (at last!) compiles SASS files into one style.css minified file for me. The great thing about it, is that thanks to Brunch, you are up and running right away and optional configuration is a breeze.

Give it a try, it comes with a comprehensive guide to get you started in no time. Feel free to @omarfouad me if you have questions.

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