Front-end ops gaining prominence in Web development

Front-end ops gains footing with a crop of new tools and growing respect

Front-end operations is attracting more attention these days as a mechanism for getting Web applications built quicker and running faster. The concept is an emerging discipline in Web application development and engineering.

Front-end ops, the subject of Sauce Labs' first-ever Front End Ops Conf this week in San Francisco, is about application testing via any number of tools and weighs heavily in real-life situations such as Flickr's move from PHP code to Node.js code.

The main goal of front-end operations is speed, as in speed of websites and speed in developing applications, says Alex Sexton, an authority on the subject and a product engineer at payments SDK provider Stripe. The entire application stack is factored into front-end operations. "The key to becoming faster is measurement. Front-end operations is about measuring, so you know how to get faster," said Sexton, who has written about front-end operations.

Although not necessarily a new concept, front-end operations is taking on new meaning from the tools being developed to reinforce it.  "The act of doing things that are in the front-end operations landscape has been around forever," Sexton said. "But the tooling around doing it is certainly becoming more popular as we build bigger applications on the client side, rather than applications on the server side."

Build tools such as Broccoli and the Grunt JavaScript task runner factor into front-end operations along with tools and techniques to compile JavaScript in different ways, Sexton said. Other tools leveraged in front-end operations include Sauce Labs' Appium test automation framework for mobile applications. Tasks such as unit testing, code coverage, and continuous integration are factored into the mix.

At Flickr, Bertrand Fan, principal engineer, sees similarities between front-end operations and what he is doing in the course of moving over to Node.js. "We've ported a few pages over, but we're working on moving the entire site over to [Node.js] over the course of many years." Flickr's migration processes incorporate a variety of technologies, including the Flicker API for fetching and writing data, dual server clusters, and an Apache traffic server.

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