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App and web development in 2019: What we loved and what mattered

For app and web developers, the world at the end of the decade is very different from the one that began it. Sure, change is inevitable, but the way the discipline(s) have evolved in just a matter of years (arguably the most significant changes came in the latter half of the decade) is a mark of how technologies, business needs, customer expectations, and harsh economic realities have conspired to shape and remould our notion of what software development actually looks like.

Full-stack, cloud-native, DevOps (and maybe even ‘NoOps’): all these things have been shaping the way app and web developers work over the last ten years. And in 2019 it feels like that new world is beginning to settle into a specific pattern. Many of the trends and technologies that really defined 2019 are, in truth, trends that have been nascent and emerging for a number of years.

Cloud and microservices

When cloud first emerged – at some point much earlier this decade – it was largely just about resource efficiency. The idea was to ditch your on-premises servers and move instead to a model whereby you rent server space from big vendors.

Okay, perhaps that’s a somewhat crude summation; but it’s nevertheless the case that cloud was primarily a field dealt with by administrators and IT professionals, rather than developers. Today, of course, the cloud is having a very real impact on the way developers work, giving a degree of agility and flexibility in how software is deployed and managed.

With cloud partnering nicely with microservices – which allow developers to break down an application into constituent parts – it’s easy to see how these two trends are getting many apps and web developers excited. They shorten the development lifecycle and allow developers to get closer to their code as it runs in production.

Go and Rust

The growth of Go and Rust throughout 2019 (okay, and a bit before that too) is directly related to the increasing importance of cloud and microservices in software development. Although JavaScript has been taken beyond the browser, it isn’t the best programming language for building high-performance applications; that’s where the likes of Go and Rust have been taking over a not insignificant slice of the collective developer imagination.

Both languages share a similar history (as this article nicely details); at a fundamental level, moreover, both also aim to build on C++, but with accessibility and safety in mind ( C++ has long had a reputation for being both complicated and sometimes vulnerable to bugs and security issues).

Go is likely to continue to grow at a faster rate than Rust: it’s a lot easier to use, so for web and app developers with experience in Java or JavaScript, it’s a much gentler learning curve. But this isn’t to say that Rust won’t remain a fixture for developers. Consistently ranked the ‘most loved’ language in Stack Overflow surveys, as developers seek relentless improvements to performance alongside watertight reliability and security, Rust will remain an important language in a fast-changing development world.

WebAssembly

It’s impossible to talk about web and application development without mentioning WebAssembly. Arguably the full implications of WebAssembly are yet to be realised (indeed, at ReactConf 2019, Richard Feldman suggested that it was unlikely to initiate a wholesale transformation of the web – that, he believes, will take a few more years), but 2019 has been a year when it has properly started to make many developers sit up and take notice.

But why is WebAssembly so exciting? Essentially, it allows you to run code on the web using multiple languages at a speed that’s almost akin to native applications. Indeed, WebAssembly is making languages like Rust more attractive to web developers. If WebAssembly is a bridge between Rust and JavaScript, Rust immediately becomes more attractive to developers who previously would have paid very little attention to it.

If 2019 was the year more developers decided to take note of WebAssembly, 2020 will be the year when we start to see increased adoption.