Ryan Fischer

Webpack and Rails: Part 1 - Why We Replaced Asset Pipeline

Oct. 18, 2016

Several months ago, we decided to replace Ruby on Rails’ Asset Pipeline with Webpack. In this series of blog posts, we’ll be looking into why we did it then going over examples of how we did it.

To get started, some of the reasons why we made the decision include:

  • Using Webpack allows easier maintenance for third party libraries such as versioning and installing. No more vendor folder!
  • Moved to using ES6 instead of coffeescript - this is more of a preference but there is more general acceptance and knowledge of ES6 in the javascript community.
  • Hot reloading of the application with Webpack Dev Server
  • Our page loads using Asset Pipeline were taking several seconds longer when JSX was introduced for React since it compiled files by default during each refresh.

There were difficulties involved when we first started that we have been resolving over time. The biggest time investment was learning how to configure Webpack and also working with ES6. We took a simple approach at the start with a webpack dev server for local use and a custom script to upload production builds.

Since then we have streamlined our process for development and production. For development, we have everything integrated and a Foreman process to run all the servers in one terminal with one command. On production, we have a combination of Heroku, AWS, Cloudfront and npm to automatically build a our production file on deployment. No more manual production builds!

We’ll be following up with more examples of setting Webpack with Rails locally and on a Heroku production environment. Our next post will be about integrating Weback and Rails for your local environment. Stay tuned!

Ryan Fischer

What People Are Reading



ChangeMaker Launches!

In a world where marches and protests are making weekly headlines, people are always looking for the next cause to get behind.

But what do you do when a cause or issue you’re passionate about needs more awareness and support? How do you find people to come together? How do you organize people, activities, events, and whatever else you might need to do? And if you do find people, how do you manage all the different moving parts?

And, well, what does that have to do with us at 20spokes?

Meet ChangeMaker -- a project we recently completed and launched.

Similar to sites like Kickstarter or Indiegogo, ChangeMaker allows organizations to add a project and find fellow activists to donate to or join the cause as a volunteer. The interface provides organizations the ability to detail an issue or problem, outline a solution, and how donors or volunteers can help. When people join the project as a volunteer, they can specify their particular skillset in fields such as marketing, design, legal, or data so project managers can delegate tasks to the right people.

With funding from donations, users can work on projects for their cause by using the free website. While most project management tools have some sort of fancy, pay-to-use features, ChangeMaker is completely free to use because it is donor funded and donor maintained.

We branded, designed, and coded the ChangeMaker platform in a Rails environment. We also integrated Stripe Connect, which enables organizations to receive those donations they need to power their projects.

Putting all this together sounds like it would take a good chunk of time, right? But we kicked off this project on August 8 and launched the website this week. A little more than two months. Not too shabby, eh? Just in time for the Newfounders Conference. ChangeMaker will have a big presence at the conference with donors ready to help out organizations that have ready-to-pitch projects for its demo night. Nothing is too small or too large for ChangeMaker to help its users and organizations tackle.

Give ChangeMaker a whirl at



React Lessons for Newcomers

At 20spokes, developers spend a roughly equal amount of time between Ruby on Rails and React. While we enjoy working in both frameworks, they are quite different in approach, and going from a Rails way of thinking to a React way of thinking can be an adjustment.

One major way in which these frameworks are different is that Rails takes care of a lot of architectural issues that React leaves open for interpretation. Coming from a Rails background, I found the openness of React to be a bit anxiety-inducing at first, but I've come to really embrace it, because it's forced me to think more carefully than ever about how other developers would approach my code.

As a team, we've also considered what our best practices should be towards React, as we all want to make our code understandable and friendly to anyone who encounters it. To that end, below is a (growing) list of our approaches to making our React projects not only maintainable, but enjoyable to work with.

Be relentless with components

The basic building block of React is the component. To those new to React, they can best be thought of as modules.

As a developer, I start to get nervous when I see large components that perform various functions. The solution to keeping your files short and sweet is to take every opportunity to break your objects into re-useable components. Having larger components may not seem like a big deal when starting a project from scratch, but if you relentlessly component-ize you'll thank yourself as your project grows.

There are some code smells to recognize when you should create new components. If you see lots of groups of markup within a single div, those groups should probably be their own component.

If we have lots of renderXXX functions within in one component that render more markup, that's usually a code-smell that whatever is being returned from those functions should be their own component.

Make components as reusable as possible by passing dynamic data as props.

Privilege functional components over class-based ones

In many cases, it's overkill to Use React's Component class for every component you create. Not all components need access to the Lifecycle Methods or local state that Component provides. Start with stateless functional components and turn them into React Component instances as needed.

Take advantage of PropTypes

We started the practice of listing out PropTypes at the bottom of every component, so other developers can quickly reference what props are needed or optional. Oftentimes, we'd investigate what data we should expect in a component by looking up examples of that component elsewhere in the codebase. This easily can be avoided by using PropTypes, which provide a quick way to see what data is being passed, and of what type that data should be. Here's an example from our reusable Button component:

Button.propTypes = {  
  text: PropTypes.string.isRequired,
  onPress: PropTypes.func.isRequired,
  disabled: PropTypes.bool,
  icon: PropTypes.string,

We're pointing this out because, while Facebook already notes it as a best practice in their documentation, it's something that's easy to skip over or forget to do. But for something that's not hard to do at all, it provides a lot of value when developing and maintaining your app.

Use Lifecycle Methods with care

Despite being incredibly powerful, lifecycle methods (like ComponentDidUpdate) can cause a lot of headaches to those new to React. Be careful when updating state or props within these methods, as it may cause infinite looping.

For this reason, I prefer to place lifecycle methods at the very top of a component declaration, so I can see all of that logic together when debugging.

Check out part 2 of this series, Redux Lessons for Newcomers.