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Turn your website into a progressive web app (PWA)

Starting from scratch is easy, but how do you start when you already have a website running?

Progressive web app (PWA) describes a web site/app that facilitates modern technologies like service workers and offline storage to create a fast and reliable user experience, that might even be available offline. You can read more about it here if you want.

It has long been time for a refresh of my portfolio so I figured I will take the chance to explore this new and exciting idea. Currently my website sits on top of a Laravel php backend. While you can use this without a problem, I decided to transfer my website to Nodejs. Since I will be using a lot of ajax to send incremental updates from the server, I feel node is a perfect fit. That being said, feel free to stick to PHP or any other backend technology you prefer.

To start getting the benefits of the update as fast as possible, we will not rewrite everything from the ground up, but add updates in small iterations. Each part of this series will end with a working version that we can publish.

Moving to mustache templates

My website consist of three main sections: homepage, portfolio and blog. The blog is actually a separate Laravel app, which I will leave as is in the first iterations, as it does some heavy work, like converting markdown to html, which we can deal with later. Splitting complicated sections into a separate app is perfect for us, as it allows for small changes at a time, without needing to solve the complicated issues in the beginning. If you have parts you do not want to tackle yet, just point some paths to a new separate app that slowly takes over more and more as you progress with the PWA.

My first iteration will consist of moving from the Laravel templating engine to mustache. Those templates will be converted to html files using gulp so that they can be served as static files.

The fastest way to get the content into mustache is to view the rendered pages in the browser and copy the source. This way you don't need to collect the content from all the different template files.

I like to separate my app directory into two folders. A resources folder with all templates and assets in their raw state, before compilation. And a public folder with the complied files. Anything within public should be create via a build script, so that if deleted you can recreate the public folder by just running this build script.

Lets start by creating our main templates like /resources/templates/index.mustache and copying the source from the live page into those files.

For the individual portfolio pages I added a /resources/templates/portfolio subfolder. You might need to tweak some links, to actually call the .html files, if you where using mod_rewrite before, or make sure that your mod_rewrite is still working with the new page setup.

Converting mustache to html using gulp

Since we are dealing with static content, we don't need the mustache templates to be converted at runtime. Converting them in our build step and serving static files will give us a better performance.

Assuming you have node installed on your machine, you should have npm available to install gulp, our build tool, as well as the gulp-mustache package to convert our templates.

# cd to your project $ cd ~/website # install gulp & gulp-mustache $ npm i --save-dev gulp gulp-mustache # create an empty gulpfile.js $ touch gulpfile.js

Within the gulpfile.js we need to load gulp and the gulp-mustache package. Afterwards we can create a new html task that takes our .mustache files from resources/templates/ and any subdirectory and converts those into .html files. The converted html files are now stored within the public/ directory.

Once done, you simply need to type gulp html into your terminal to convert your files, woot (well, currently we are more or less only renaming the files 🙃).

const gulp = require('gulp') const mustache = require('gulp-mustache') gulp.task('html', function () { return gulp.src([ 'resources/templates/*.mustache', 'resources/templates/**/*.mustache' ]) .pipe(mustache({ extension: '.html' })) .on('error', console.log) .pipe(gulp.dest('public')) }) })

Extracting duplicated content into partials

To improve the maintainability of our website further and keep our code DRY, we can extract reusable parts into partials – small bits that are included in our main templates. The head and footer sections are the first that come to mind, so lets create resources/templates/partials/head.mustache and resources/templates/partials/footer.mustache. The head.mustache holds everything from the <!DOCTYPE html> to the opening <body> tag. The footer will only have the closing </body> and </html> tag.

In our main templates we can now replace the parts that we just moved to the partials with {> partials/head} and {> partials/footer}. The > indicated that we are referencing a partial. If we run gulp html again everything should still be working as before, but now if you want to change something in the head you only need to update one file.

However, currently, all files from the partials directory are converted to html files as well. To avoid this, we update the gulp.src in our html task by adding !resources/templates/partials/*.mustache (note the leading !). This excludes all files within the partials directory from the glob of our task.

const gulp = require('gulp') const mustache = require('gulp-mustache') gulp.task('html', function () { return gulp.src([ 'resources/templates/*.mustache', 'resources/templates/**/*.mustache', '!resources/templates/partials/*.mustache' ]) // ...

Repeating objects with JSON data

On most websites you have some elements with the exact same html, just with different content. For me those are the items on my portfolio overview page. To improve this can extract the html into a template and the content into a JSON file. Afterwards adding a new item will be as easy as adding a couple lines to our JSON file.

Lets start with the JSON file resources/templates/data/portfolio.json and just add the content to it. If you need to, you can get creative and add something like a class property to toggle certain behaviours by adding or removing classes.

{ "portfolioItems": [ { "title": "Open Everything", "description": "This magazine for the re:publica conference 2013 combines different articles on the topic Open Everything.", "src": "/media/card-open-everything.png", "link": "/portfolio/open-everything", }, { "title": "swift / we are fast", "description": "Swift is a case study of a corporate identity for an airline focusing on speed and comfort.", "src": "/media/card-swift.png", "link": "/portfolio/swift" }, // … repeat for every portfolio item ] }

To have this data available within out mustache templates we need to load the file and supply it to the mustache() function in our gulp html task. The file is with nodes fs.readFileSync and parsed into the data variable using JSON.parse so that we get a JSON object. This object can be supplied as the first argument to the mustache function.

gulp.task('html', function () { // load portfolio data let data = { 'portfolioItems': JSON.parse(fs.readFileSync('resources/templates/data/portfolio.json')) } return gulp.src([ 'resources/templates/*.mustache', 'resources/templates/**/*.mustache', '!resources/templates/partials/*.mustache' ]) .pipe(mustache(data, { extension: '.html' })) .on('error', console.log) .pipe(gulp.dest('public')) }) })

To reference a variable we just use double curly braces e.g. {{link}. Now add the blueprint of your portfolio item to resources/templates/partials/portfolio-item.mustache and add the {{variables}} to the appropriate places.

<a class="o-card__container" href="{{link}}"> <div class="o-card"> <div class="o-card__sides"> <div class="o-card__front"> <img class="o-image" src="{{src}}"> </div> <div class="o-card__back"> <div class="o-card__content"> <h2 class="o-headline--h3">{{title}}</h2> <p class="o-copy">{{description}}</p> <div class="o-icon--arrow">&rarr;</div> </div> </div> </div> </div> </a>

To loop over our portfolioItems in mustache we can use section. In every iteration we load the specified partial, which gets the values injected automatically. The section below loads the partial partials/portfolio-item for every entry in the portfolioItems array, values like title are available within the partial directly without the parent {title}.

<div class="o-cards"> {{#portfolioItems}} {{> partials/portfolio-item}} {{/portfolioItems}} </div>

Final steps

Now you just need to add you css, js and other tasks that either compile the given assets, or at least copy them into the public folder.

That's it, our website should look identical to when we started, but everything in the background was changed. We moved from a PHP based website, to an entirely static html website, using mustache templates which are converted in a build step. This should already give us a small performance boost.

Push your website to production and move on with the next part of Building a Progressive web app in which we will add asset revisioning.