Key among the events at the second day of the Jam.Dev online event was the concluding “fireside chat” with RedwoodJS creator and Github founder Tom Preston-Warner, in which Preston-Warner imagined a more full-stack edge architecture, something he is working on RedwoodJS to create. (Coverage of day one is here.)

Tom Preson-Warner

Moderator Brian Rinaldi, developer advocate at StepZen, asked Preston-Warner what he thinks of the “Jamstack” terminology. “The term jamstack was coined by the founders of netlify and I got involved with them very early in their journey when I think it was just the two of them, Preston-Warner said. “The term jamstack was something we talked about a great deal at some bars in the Dogpatch in San Francisco when they were just setting out and trying to define what Netlify was going to be and where they were going and how do you talk about the ideas behind what we now know as the jamstack, without a term. At the time, before we had the term jamstack, it was all static site generators, but When you say a static site, this does not  necessarily convey that you’re going to use javascript to pull in third-party APIs, or do dynamic things, or pull in external content and kind of mix it all together. So ‘static site generation’ did not do the job.  … . So that’s where jamstack really came from, and I thought it was great.

“It always makes me think of Ajax when google maps first came out and it blew everyone’s mind because you could drag this map around it will just load stuff in automatically. And this concept that Ajax became, it was out there, all the pieces were there but nobody thought about it and no one could really leverage it because no one could talk about it until Ajax was coined. And now this concept this more complex concept had a name and everyone could talk about how they were going to do Ajax. And to me jamstack is the same kind of a thing.”

He went on to note that “the industry needed a name for what the jamstack is, this collection of technologies that allows you to have better security, faster sites, all of these characteristics that jamstack has are now wrapped up in one word that you can talk to your colleagues about, talk to your boss about, that Netlify can talk to their customers about.”  

Rinaldi asked what RedwoodJS is providing that Jamstack isn’t providing yet. “I love Jamstack in the way that most people think about it today,” Preston-Warner said. “But I think it can go even further. There’s a lot of potential in what you can do in a serverless environment now and if you mix that with some of the ideas around static site generation and third-party apis, or even just javascript on the front end and the client talking to something, some kind of api on the backend. I think that’s cool, but what I want to do is create a custom website completely from scratch and probably not even use a lot of the third-party apis. I might pick and choose a few here and there, but I want to create a custom site that is doing a lot of its own business logic. So, being involved in Netlify, when they came out with their function support where you can write the body of a lambda function in a file and they’ll pick it up and deploy it to AWS Lambda for you. That was kind of a revelation for me in what could be possible using this stack, because nobody wants to use AWS’s ways to get your code into AWS Lambda. It’s just not pleasant.

“You can push all of these things out as far to the edge as you can, and you can get a level of architectural simplicity and scalability for a tremendously small amount of effort. Thinking about that made me want to find a framework that was going to let me do that.”  

Jamgular

Another session concerned with somewhat alternative frameworks walked through a mix of Jamstack and Angular. The presenter, Netlify Developer Experience Engineer Tara Manicsic called the combination “Jamgular.” What was nice about the session was that it featured Tara on a highwire of live demonstration and viewers got a good view into what had to happen, complete with lots of detail, in the actual work of building and configuring an Angular project. The flip-side was that, as tends to happen with live coding, various things didn’t go as expected and, well, it was like real programming.

A less-known detail that came forward was that Angular has built-in support for generating a folder containing the static output for a project, so even though Angular doesn’t come up as frequently in jamstack conversation, it’s definitely in the hunt.

Manicsic was asked by an attendee why she’d mentioned in passing that redirects were important. The point here was that a user can request something using a URL that is redirected at the CDN edge and sent to an edge handler (a function running serverlessly at the CDN). The callback is made so that it includes data about the edge node where the call originated, so that geographically specific actions can be taken.

Other Talks

Gatsby Software Engineer Obinna Ekwuno gave a more philosophical talk about when it’s good to simplify architectures and when too much gets lost in the simplification. While he pointed to some interesting tensions between having to learn lots of frameworks and libraries to find one’s way through the jamstack world (and even more as the line between front-end and back-end blurs), it seemed like we are doomed to live with those complexities for the foreseeable future.

Agility CMS President Joel Varty tackled what is surely one of the major questions that pops up around Jamstack front ends: where “everything else” goes – things like user registration, authentication, restricted access, user-generated-content, commerce and search. His talk met with lots of approval in the conference chat stream, insofar as it created a lot of clarity around the big picture of jamstack’s many architectural elements.

Jamstack, Varty said, plays mind games with us to make it hard to know, especially when first getting acquainted, to know where a given snippet of code will actually be executed.

Tessa Mero’s walkthrough of the Cloudinary (where she is a developer advocate) options for media accessibility was interesting, in that Cloudinary does indeed do some interesting tricks like using AI to automatically generate ALT tag text for images, checking photos for potential problems when viewed by color-blind users, and providing machine-generated captioning for videos. She also pointed to several open resources for testing accessibility issues.

Ohad Eder-Pressman

Ohad Eder-Pressman, cofounder and ceo of Stackbit, presented two open tools that Stackbit has created for spinning up various flavors of jamstack site. A site called Jamstack.new let’s you pick a theme, a static-site generator, and a headless store for content, then creates an instance nearly instantaneously. The company also maintains jamstackthemes.dev, which is a repository for, you guessed it, themes that can be used with various frameworks.