Electron and cross-platform applications

These days with the latest new technologies applied to apps we want everything faster, accessible and lightweight. To accomplish these goals, companies find that the developers do their job with tools that  require  low effort and can be used in many places.

Then, developers went to work and improve a kind of automatic programming with open source. For this reason, developers at Github started to work on developing something quick and comfortable without the need to learn another programing language. They wanted a framework to get a piece of product without reworking the same application on multiple platforms.

Chromium and the open source

Cheng Zhao, Electron’s director, realized the advantages of Google Chromium and their open source, at the beginning developed by Google Inc. to the community of developers who needed their own browser, without realizing about the potential which was delivering to Github’s developers. Later on, they started working on that for long weeks to get the Chromium core.

Finally, with the job done and successfully tested, it was launched in April of 2015. A few months later, Microsoft launched Windows10 with the possibility of installing applications from the Windows store (web based) then. For that reason, they believed in the great potential of this project.

But, what is Electron?

Electron is an open source project (GNU) written by  Cheng Zhao, an engineer working at GitHub  in Beijing  for the Atom text editor team. Its combines Google Chromium and NodeJS´s features in one codebase. Because of that, Electron updates with their releases. Under the hood, together they share the same Javascript engine V8, and it means that we, as developers, could use both context at the same time (something that, with a regular web app would be impossible)

NodeJS has supported Mac, Windows and Linux equally from the version 0.6 and Google Chromium is also cross-platform. The Electron’s API philosophy is that it only adds features supported by all platforms.  For example, on Windows, applications can put shortcuts in the JumpList of task bar, and on Mac, applications can put a custom menu in the dock menu. Electron conveniently allows developers to send notifications with the HTML5 Notification API, using the currently running operating system’s native notification APIs to display it.

Forget to develop one web application written in asp.NET and another one in C# for desktop, now with Electron you can develop only one NodeJS application and rebuild for desktop platform. Besides, it is an open source and you can improve some aspects such as performance or your custom features.

The project at present.

The team released Electron when they launched Atom two years ago, known as Atom Shell, the framework they’d built Atom on top of. In those days was the ‘driving force’ behind the features and functionalities that Electron provided as they pushed to get the initial Atom release out.

Today as a dedicate project, Electron is a growing community of developers and companies building a lot of apps (just in the past year it has been downloaded over 1.2 million times) and releasing the mature 1.0 version.

electron-downloads

In the last times Electron has since been used to create applications by companies as Microsoft, Slack, Docker etc. we can inspect a few of them here.

Angular2 and the future of HTML5 on desktop

  • The main process  provides platform specific API’s and taking care about the application lifecycle
  • Meanwhile the render process  provides functionality for the user interface, in this case Chromium with all it’s advantages such as Chrome Developer Tools available right inside of your desktop app.
  • Angular2 currently has become one the most popular open source javascript frameworks in the world:
    – Its modular so we can choice what part of Angular use
    – its modern, is targeted on ES6 and “evergreen” modern browsers, no hacks or workarounds are needed, allowing developers to focus on the code related to their business domain.
    – its focused on mobile devices which means that we can port a current mobile applications to desktop just wrapping up in Electron.

Looks like Electron + Angular2 is a pretty good combination.

In the next post about Electron we will make a real code basic application to demonstrate the use of this nice stack.

My two cents

There are a lot of good features but here are some collected pros and cons:

Pros:

  • No cross-browser compatibility issues
  • No loading of remote assets (then no latency)
  • Reuse of npm modules, out of the box
  • hardware access
  • Native-ish features (system dialogs, file selection dialogs, notifications, printer, etc)

Cons:

  • The size, the Electron API Demos for linux compress takes 41MB (it could be worst, giving account that is a complete and customizable browser).

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