s√°bado, 30 de mayo de 2020

An Elixir Phoenix + Preact initial setup

It's been a long time since my last post ūüėÖ Currently I'm starting to get my feet wet with Elixir (again, second attempt), because it is a functional language (I kinda love functional programming, although I'm no expert), and it is optimized for distributed and scalable applications. Also, they have a Web Framework called Phoenix, and I just found out that creating applications with socket connections seems to be a breeze with Phoenix Channels. So I've decided to build a small application, and also I'm taking the chance to give Preact (a ReactJS lightweight alternative) a try for the front-end.


Here is how I created my Elixir and Phoenix application, and set up Preact:


For this project I already have installed, at the time of writing:
  • Erlang/OTP 22.2.7
  • Elixir 1.10.1
  • Phoenix 1.5.3
  • NodeJS 12.16.2
  • NPM 6.14.4

Create Phoenix web app

First, we are going to create a new Phoenix application. For the sake of simplicity, we are going to skip the creation of the Ecto repo for database access, as this will not affect the Preact set-up.

When asked, install all the required Elixir dependencies, so you don't have to do it later.

Set-up Preact

The Phoenix web application already includes Webpack, so we can proceed to install and setup Preact right away. To install Preact, we run the next command, inside the assets folder:

All the NPM commands should be run inside the assets folder, which contains the NPM package files.
Then, we need to alias React to Preact, so we can make use of any component from the vast React ecosystem, through Preact's compatibility layer. In order to do this, we need to point react
and react-dom imports to Preact, by adding the respective aliases to be resolved in our already present Webpack config file, which is assets/webpack.config.js, like so:

Set up JSX support

The next step is to be able to transpile JSX into plain Javascript. For this we need to add a babel plugin that will do this work, so we first proceed to install @babel/plugin-transform-react-jsx.

Then, we proceed to modify the assets/.babelrc file, to specify the function for JSX that should be used from the plugin:

We also need to modify the Webpack configuration to transpile the JSX files, by modifying the JS rule to also include and resolve JSX extensions:

Update routing

The last bit to finish the set-up is to update the route configuration provided by Phoenix, so the front-end routes can be managed by the Javascript router of our choice, to have a fully fledged single page app. The first step is to open the file lib/phoenix_preact_web/router.ex and move the scope block for "/" to the end, so all of the other routes can take precedence and be handled by Phoenix. Then, we modify the get section to always direct to the index action regardless of the path (lines 37-42):

This way, all routes that do not belong to the API, nor Phoenix dashboard, will load the index page.

Clean Phoenix page templates

Before start adding our UI components, we should get rid of all the static content that Phoenix added by default in our index page. So let's open the template file lib/phoenix_preact_web/templates/page/index.html.eex, and remove all its contents. Let's also open the layout template lib/phoenix_preact_web/templates/layout/app.html.eex and remove all of the body contents. The reason for all this cleanup is because we will use the index page's body to render our components, so we won't need all of that content to be rendered on the server side. The layout file will look something like this:

Render a component

Now that we have the skeleton set-up, we can proceed to add our first component. Let's create a components folder inside assets/js, and inside it add a folder named App, where we will place our initial component. We will end up with a folder structure like this:

Then create a file named index.jsx under our App folder, and add the following code to create a basic counter:

Finally, let's render the component in our main Javascript app file (assets/js/app.js):

Now we are ready to go! Let's run the web application in the command line with mix phx.server, and we will have something like this:

Notice that this is a very basic setup, so other ES6 features like class properties are not available and will require additional configurations.

The full project for this example is available at GitHub: https://github.com/guillegr123/phoenix_preact

Happy coding!
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