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Chris James -HTMX is the Future

Chris James -HTMX is the Future

2023-05-05 09:32:19

The present state of internet utility growth

Person expectations of the net are actually that you’ve got this super-smooth no-reload expertise. Sadly, it is an expectation that’s normally delivered with single-page purposes (SPAs) that depend on libraries and frameworks like React and Angular, that are very specialised instruments that may be difficult to work with.

A brand new strategy is to place the flexibility to ship this UX again into the arms of engineers that constructed web sites earlier than the SPA-craze, leveraging their present toolsets and information, and HTMX is the perfect instance I’ve used to this point.

The prices of SPA

SPAs have allowed engineers to create some nice internet purposes, however they arrive with a price:

React is a library. It enables you to put elements collectively, however it doesn’t prescribe the way to do routing and information fetching. To construct a complete app with React, we advocate a full-stack React framework.

  • By their nature, a fats consumer requires the consumer to execute numerous JavaScript. If in case you have fashionable {hardware}, that is effective, however these purposes shall be unusable & gradual for these on older {hardware} or in areas with gradual and unreliable web connections.

    • It is rather simple to make an SPA incorrectly, the place it is advisable to use the correct strategy with hooks to keep away from ending up with abysmal client-side efficiency.
  • Some SPA implementations of SPA throw away progressive enhancement (a notable and noble exception is Remix). Subsequently, you should have JavaScript turned on for many SPAs.

  • In the event you want to use one thing aside from JavaScript or TypeScript, it’s essential to traverse the treacherous street of transpilation.

  • It has created backend and frontend silos in lots of corporations, carrying excessive coordination prices.

Earlier than SPAs, you’d select your most popular language and ship HTML to a person’s browser in response to HTTP requests. That is effective, however it gives little interactivity and, in some instances, might make an annoying-to-use UI, particularly relating to having the web page absolutely reload on each interplay. To get round this, you’d sometimes sprinkle various quantities of JS to grease the UX wheels.

While this strategy can really feel old school to some, this strategy is what impressed the original paper of REST, particularly regarding hypermedia. The hypermedia strategy of constructing web sites led to the world-wide-web being an unbelievable success.


The next is a response from a knowledge API, not hypermedia.

  "type": "12-34-56",
  "quantity": "87654321",
  "stability": "123.45"

To make this information helpful in an SPA, the code should perceive the construction and resolve what to render and what controls to make accessible.

REST describes using hypermedia. Hypermedia is the place your responses are usually not simply uncooked information however are as a substitute a payload describing the media (assume HTML tags like <p>, headers, and so on.) and the way to manipulate it (like type, enter).

A server returning HTML describing a checking account, with some type of controls to work with the useful resource, is an instance of hypermedia. The server is now chargeable for deciding the way to render the info (with the slight caveat of CSS) and what controls must be displayed.

<type methodology="POST" motion="/transfer-funds">
  <label>Quantity <enter kind="textual content" /></label>
  <!-- and so on -->
  <enter kind="submit" worth="Do switch" />

The strategy means you’ve got one common consumer, the net browser; it understands the way to show the hypermedia responses and lets the person work with the “controls” to do no matter they want.

Carson Gross on The Go Time podcast

…when browsers first got here out, this concept of 1 common community consumer that might discuss to any utility over this loopy hypermedia expertise was actually, actually novel. And it nonetheless is.

In the event you instructed somebody in 1980, “You understand what – you’re gonna be utilizing the identical piece of software program to entry your information, your financial institution, your calendar, these things known as e mail, and all these things”, they might have checked out you cross-eyed, they would not know what you have been speaking about, until they occurred to be in one of many small analysis teams that was trying into this form of stuff.

While ostensibly, folks constructing SPAs discuss utilizing “RESTful” APIs to supply information trade to their client-side code, the strategy will not be RESTful within the purist sense as a result of it doesn’t use hypermedia.

As a substitute of 1 common consumer, scores of builders create bespoke shoppers, which have to grasp the uncooked information they fetch from internet servers after which render controls in line with the info. With this strategy, the browser is extra of a JavaScript, HTML and CSS runtime.

By definition, a fatter consumer will carry extra effort and value than a skinny one. Nonetheless, the “authentic” hypermedia strategy arguably will not be ok for all of immediately’s wants; the controls that the browser can work with and the way in which it requires a full web page refresh to make use of them imply the person expertise is not ok for a lot of varieties of web-app we have to make.

HTMX and hypermedia

In contrast to SPAs, HTMX does not throw away the architectural strategy of REST; it augments the browser, enhancing its hypermedia capabilities and making it less complicated to ship a wealthy consumer expertise with out having to jot down a lot JavaScript if any in any respect.

You need to use no matter programming language you want to ship HTML, identical to we used to. This implies you should utilize battle-tested, mature tooling, utilizing a “true RESTful” strategy, leading to a much more simple growth strategy with much less unintended complexity.

HTMX lets you design pages that fetch fragments of HTML out of your server to replace the person’s web page as wanted with out the annoying full-page load refresh.

We’ll now see this in observe with the basic TODO-list utility.


First-of-all, please do not get overly involved with this being written in Clojure. I did it in Clojure for enjoyable, however the great thing about this strategy is that you should utilize no matter language you want, as long as it responds to HTTP requests.

The todo list app demo

Nothing particular right here, however it does really feel like a SPA. There aren’t any full-page reloads; it is buttery {smooth}, identical to all the opposite SPA demos you’ll’ve seen.

The distinction right here is:

  • I didn’t write any JavaScript.
  • I additionally did not cheat by transpiling Clojure into JavaScript. (see ClojureScript)

I made an internet server that responds to HTTP requests with hypermedia.

HTMX provides the flexibility to outline richer hypermedia by letting you annotate any HTML aspect to ask the browser to make HTTP requests to fetch fragments of HTML to placed on the web page.

The edit management

Essentially the most thrilling and spectacular a part of this demo is the edit motion. The way in which an enter field immediately seems so that you can edit after which rapidly replace it once more feels like it could require both numerous vanilla JS writing or a React-esque strategy to realize, however what you will see is it is absurdly easy.

Let’s begin by trying on the markup for a TODO merchandise. I’ve clipped the non-edit markup for readability.

<li hx-target="closest li">
  <type motion="/todos/2a5e549c-c07e-4ed5-b7d4-731318987e05" 

It possibly seems to be rather a lot, however the primary issues to deal with for understanding how the edit performance works:

  • On the <li>, an attribute hx-target tells the browser, “If you get a fraction to render, that is the aspect I need you to switch”. The youngsters inherit this attribute, so for any HTMX actions inside this <li>, the HTML returned will substitute the contents of the <li>.
  • hx-get on the edit button means while you click on it, HTMX with inform the browser to do an HTTP GET to the URL and fetch some new markup to render to the <li> instead of what’s there.
  • The shape will not be important for the instance, however it permits us to help the performance for non-JavaScript customers, which shall be lined later.

If you begin working with HTMX, a straightforward approach to perceive what is going on on is to take a look at the community within the browser’s developer instruments.

the browser is requesting the todo resource

When a person clicks the edit button, the browser does an HTTP GET to the particular todo useful resource. The server returns a hypermedia response, which is a illustration of that useful resource with some hypermedia controls.

<type motion="/todos/45850279-bf54-4e2e-a95c-c8c25866a744/edit"
      hx-swap="outerHTML" methodology="POST">
  <enter title="performed" kind="hidden" worth="false"/>
  <enter title="title" kind="textual content" worth="Study Rust"/>
  <enter kind="submit"/>

HTMX then takes that HTML and replaces no matter we outlined because the hx-target. So the person now sees these hypermedia controls for them to control the useful resource, as a substitute of the row pictured earlier than.

You may discover the shape has a hx-patch attribute, which suggests when it’s submitted, the browser will ship a PATCH with the info to replace the useful resource. The server then responds with the up to date merchandise to render.

Embracing the net

There’s extra to HTMX, however that is the crux of the strategy, which is similar because the strategy that almost all web sites have been made earlier than SPAs turned widespread.

  • The person goes to a URL
  • The server returns hypermedia (HTML), which is content material with controls.
  • Browser renders hypermedia
  • Customers can use the controls to do work, which leads to an HTTP request despatched from the browser to the server.
  • The server does enterprise logic, after which returns new hypermedia for the person to work with

All HTMX does, is make the browser higher at hypermedia by giving us extra choices relating to what can set off an HTTP request and permitting us to replace part of the web page somewhat than a full web page reload.

By embracing the hypermedia and never viewing the browser as merely a JavaScript runtime, we get numerous simplicity advantages:

  • We will use any programming language.
  • We do not want a lot of libraries and different cruft to keep up what have been fundamental advantages of internet growth.
    • Caching
    • Search engine optimization-friendliness
    • The again button working as you’d count on
    • and so on.
  • It is rather simple to help customers who don’t want to, or can not use JavaScript

This remaining level is essential to me and to my present employer. I work for a corporation that works on merchandise used worldwide, and our content material and instruments have to be as usable by as many individuals as attainable. It’s unacceptable for us to exclude folks by poor technical selections.

This is the reason we undertake the strategy of progressive enhancement.

Progressive enhancement is a design philosophy that gives a baseline of important content material and performance to as many customers as attainable, whereas delivering the absolute best expertise solely to customers of essentially the most fashionable browsers that may run all of the required code.

All of the options within the TODO app (search, including, modifying, deleting, marking as full) all work with JavaScript turned off. HTMX does not do that for “free”, it nonetheless requires engineering effort, however due to the strategy, it’s inherently less complicated to realize. It took me round an hour’s effort and didn’t require vital adjustments.

The way it helps non-JavaScript

When the browser sends a request that was prompted by HTMX, it provides a header HX-Request: true , which suggests on the server, we are able to ship totally different responses accordingly, very very like content negotiation.

The rule of thumb for a handler is roughly:


if request is htmx then
    return hypermedia fragment
    return a full web page

Here is a concrete instance of the HTTP handler for coping with a brand new TODO:

(defn handle-new-todo [get-todos, add-todo]
  (fn [req] (let [new-todo (-> req :params :todo-name)]
              (add-todo new-todo)
              (htmx-or-vanilla req
                               (view/todos-fragment (get-todos))
                               (redirect "/todos")))))

The third line is our “enterprise logic”, calling a operate so as to add a brand new TODO to our record.

The fourth line is a few code to find out what sort of request we’re coping with, and the next traces both render a fraction to return or redirect to the web page.

Up to now, this appears a recurring theme after I’ve been creating hypermedia purposes with HTMX. By the very architectural nature, in case you can help updating a part of a web page, return a fraction; in any other case, the browser wants to do a full web page reload, so both redirect or simply return all the HTML.

HTML templating on the server is in an extremely mature state. There are numerous choices and wonderful guides on the way to construction and add automated assessments for them. Importantly, they will all supply some composition capabilities, so the hassle to return a fraction or a complete web page is very simple.

Why is it The Future ?

Clearly, I can not predict the longer term, however I do consider HTMX (or one thing prefer it) will change into an more and more widespread strategy for making internet purposes within the following years.

Lately, HTMX was announced as one of 20 projects in the GitHub Accelerator

See Also

It makes “the frontend” extra accessible.

Studying React is an business in itself. It strikes rapidly and adjustments, and there are tons to study. I sympathise with builders who used to make fully-fledged purposes being delay by fashionable frontend growth and as a substitute have been blissful to be pigeonholed into being a “backend” dev.

I’ve made moderately advanced methods in React, and while a few of it was fairly enjoyable, the quantity you need to study to be efficient is unreasonable for many purposes. React has its place, however it’s overkill for a lot of internet purposes.

The hypermedia strategy with HTMX will not be arduous to know, particularly if in case you have some REST fundamentals (which many “backend” devs ought to have). It opens up making wealthy web sites to a broader group of people that do not need to discover ways to use a framework after which sustain with its continually shifting panorama.

Much less churn

Even after over 10 years of React being round, it nonetheless does not really feel settled and mature. A couple of years in the past, hooks have been the new-fangled factor that everybody needed to study and re-write all their elements with. Within the final six months, my Twitter feed has been awash with debates and tutorials about this new-fangled “RSC” – react server elements. Pleasure emoji.

Working with HTMX has allowed me to leverage issues I realized 15-20 years in the past that also work, like my website. The strategy can be well-understood and documented, and the perfect practices are unbiased of programming languages and frameworks.

I’ve made the instance app in Go and Clojure with no bother in any respect, and I’m an entire Clojure novice. As soon as you have found out the essential syntax of a language and realized how to reply to HTTP requests, you’ve got sufficient to get going; and you’ll re-use the architectural and design finest practices with out having to study a brand new strategy over and over.

How a lot of your abilities could be transferable from React in case you needed to work with Angular? Is it simple to modify from one react framework to a different? How did you’re feeling when class elements turned “dangerous”, and everybody wished you to make use of hooks as a substitute?


It is simply much less effort!

Hotwire is a library with comparable objectives to HTMX, pushed by the Ruby on Rails world. DHH tweeted the next.

Hotwiring Rails expresses the desire to gift a lone full-stack developer all the tools they need to build the next Basecamp, GitHub, or Shopify. Not what a team of dozens or hundreds can do if they have millions in VC to buy specialists. Renaissance tech for renaissance people.

That is why it is so miserable to listen to the time period “full stack” be used as a derogative. Or an not possible mission. That we HAVE to be a scattered band of frontend vs backend vs companies vs no matter group of specialists to do cool shit. Completely fucking not.

With out the cognitive overload of understanding an enormous framework from the SPA world and the inherent complexities of creating a fats consumer, you possibly can realistically create wealthy internet purposes with far fewer engineers.

Extra resilient

As described earlier, utilizing the hypermedia strategy, making an internet utility that works with out JavaScript is comparatively easy.

It is also essential to keep in mind that the browser is an untrusted atmosphere, so while you construct a SPA, you need to work extraordinarily defensively. It’s important to implement a lot of enterprise logic consumer facet; however due to the structure, this similar logic must be replicated on the server too.

As an illustration, as an instance we wished a rule saying you can not edit a to-do whether it is marked as performed. In an SPA world, I might get uncooked JSON, and I might should have enterprise logic to find out whether or not to render the edit button on the consumer code someplace. Nonetheless, if we wished to make sure a person could not circumvent this, I might should have this similar safety on the server. This sounds low-stakes and easy, however this complexity provides up, and the prospect of misalignment will increase.

With a hypermedia strategy, the browser is “dumb” and does not want to fret about this. As a developer, I can seize this rule in a single place, the server.

Lowered coordination complexity

The complexity of SPAs has created a shift into backend and frontend silos, which carries a price.

The everyday backend/frontend staff divide causes numerous inefficiencies by way of teamwork, with hand-offs and miscommunication, and makes getting stuff performed more durable. Many individuals mistake particular person efficiencies as essentially the most essential metric and use that as justification for these silos. They see a lot of PRs being merged, and plenty of warmth being generated, however ignoring the coordination prices.

For instance, let’s assume you need to add a brand new piece of information to a web page or add a brand new button. For a lot of groups, that’ll contain conferences between groups to debate and agree on the brand new API, creating fakes for the frontend staff to make use of and at last coordinating releases.

Within the hypermedia strategy, you haven’t got this complexity in any respect. In the event you want to add a button to the web page, you possibly can add it, and also you needn’t coordinate efforts. You do not have to fret a lot about API design. You might be free to alter the markup and content material as you please.

Groups exchanging information through JSON will be extraordinarily brittle with out care and all the time carries a coordination value. Instruments like consumer-driven contracts might help, however that is simply one other software, one other factor to grasp and one other factor that goes incorrect.

This isn’t to say there is no such thing as a room for specialisation. I’ve labored on groups the place the engineers constructed the net utility “finish to finish”, however we had individuals who have been consultants on semantic, accessible markup who helped us ensure that the work we did was of excellent high quality. It’s extremely liberating to not have to barter APIs and hand off work to at least one one other to construct a web site.

Extra choices

Rendering HTML on the server is a really well-trodden street. Many battle-tested and mature instruments and libraries can be found to generate HTML from the server in each mainstream programming language and many of the extra area of interest ones.

Wrapping up

I encourage builders trying to cut back the prices and complexities of internet utility growth to take a look at HTMX. In the event you’ve been reluctant to construct web sites as a result of honest evaluation that front-end growth is troublesome, HTMX generally is a nice possibility.

I am not making an attempt to say that SPAs are actually redundant; there’ll nonetheless be an actual want for them while you want very refined and quick interactions the place a roundtrip to the server to get some markup will not be ok.

In 2018 I asserted that a considerable number of web applications could be written with a far simpler technological approach than SPAs. Now with the likes of HTMX, this assertion carries much more weight. The frontend panorama is dominated by ready for a brand new framework to alleviate the issues of the earlier framework you occurred to be utilizing. The SPA strategy is inherently extra difficult than a hypermedia strategy, and piling on extra tech may not be the reply, give hypermedia a go as a substitute.

Take a look at a few of the hyperlinks beneath to study extra.

Additional studying and listening

  • The creator of HTMX has written a superb, free book, explaining hypermedia. It is a straightforward learn and can problem your beliefs on the way to construct internet purposes. In the event you’ve solely ever created SPAs, that is an important learn.
  • HTMX. The examples part, specifically, is excellent in exhibiting you what is attainable. The essays are additionally nice.
  • I used to be fortunate sufficient to be invited onto The GoTime podcast with the creator of HTMX, Carson Gross to discuss it! Despite the fact that it is a Go podcast, the vast majority of the dialog was concerning the hypermedia strategy.
  • The Go version was my first journey with HTMX, creating the identical todo record app described on this submit
  • I labored on The Clojure version with my colleague, Nicky
  • DHH on Hotwire
  • Progressive enhancement
  • 5 years in the past, I wrote The Web I Want, the place I bemoaned the spiralling prices of SPAs. It was initially prompted by watching my associate’s 2-year-old ChromeBook grind to a halt on a well-liked web site that actually might’ve been static HTML. Within the article, I mentioned how I wanted extra of the net caught to the essential hypermedia strategy, rendering HTML on the server and utilizing progressive enhancement to enhance the expertise. Studying again on this has made me very relieved the likes of HTMX have arrived.

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