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Adopting New Technologies

Argenta was founded 18 years ago, back then we developed relatively simple Excel-based applications and soon moved on to using Visual Basic in conjunction with Excel.  It is incredible what can be achieved with that technology but as the applications and the associated data became more complex they became more difficult to support and maintain.  So we moved to .NET Framework, using C# and relational databases using SQL Server.  We also introduced National Instruments’ LabVIEW for complex data acquisition and analysis in engineering and manufacturing applications.  Then as more and more users became interested in using our applications we developed the ability to provide web-based solutions.  In fact, almost without exception, all of our projects are now web-based.

Each one of those changes in technologies requires an enormous amount of resource for our engineers and developers to attain a professional level of competence.  But we recognise that we need to continue increasing our productivity and the robustness of our applications which means adopting new technologies as they become available and mature.

With the recent pandemic we have had some spare time to do something we’ve been meaning to do for a while and investigate the latest frameworks and tools.

The Single Page Application or SPA concept for websites has been around for a number of years and we have dabbled with some of the tools utilising SPA.  A traditional web application involves multiple pages and each change on the client side results in the rendering of a new page from the server in the browser.  A SPA on the other hand works within the browser and does not require pages to be reloaded.  One of the benefits is that they are more responsive.

To support the development of SPAs a number of new JavaScript based frameworks have been developed.  After a review of the various frameworks available we decided to develop a prototype application using Angular.  Angular is an open-source framework primarily developed and supported by Google and based on Typescript.  It also utilises NodeJS and the node package manager, npm.  One of the advantages of Angular is that a number of other frameworks have been developed to work together with it. 

In our application we used MongoDB, a document-based, distributed database to handle data storage and supply.  Whilst it is not a full relational database we found that, for a relatively simple data structure, it is possible to use joins between tables effectively.  We then used the LoopBack framework to link the Mongo database to the Angular front end.  LoopBack’s real advantage is the capability to create APIs automatically and reduce the amount of coding required.

To develop and manage the code we used Visual Studio Code.  Overall we found this to be a very productive environment. 

Despite the very steep learning curve involved in adopting so many new technologies at the same time we found the experience to be very rewarding.  We found using these tools and frameworks have significant productivity gains from the reduced amount of coding and effective debugging. We also found that the combination of these frameworks provided strong support for good coding practice in separating out the various functions of an application.

We will follow this up with further posts going into a bit of detail on some the elements of the solution. We would love to hear your experience of SPA and the Angular development tools so do get in touch!

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