Top 5 Open Source Tools to Create a Progressive Web App (PWA)

Today, close to 50% of all people on the planet now have a phone that runs Android or iOS. The computing power of each device, even entry-level devices, is similar to a desktop computer. The outcome is that we now have the opportunity to build increasingly sophisticated solutions. In this article, you will learn why you need to leverage Progressive Web Apps (PWA) to optimize your mobile web experience to take advantage of the advances over the last four years.

What Is a Progressive Web App?

A progressive web app (PWA) is a web application designed to function like native apps on a mobile platform, although they are delivered over the web.

Progressive web apps are similar to mobile apps, but they don't have to be downloaded and installed to use. Instead, the user can access and use the PWA from any device, such as a mobile phone or a laptop, without downloading and installing the app. This feature is often referred to as "fire and forget" mobile applications.

Progressive web apps are typically built on top of web technologies such as HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and top of joint open-source projects, such as React Native and Angular 2.

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Additionally, progressive web apps follow the same platform-agnostic design principle as apps from other platforms such as iOS and Android, which means that organizations can distribute PWA applications over various platforms with minimal to no modifications.

In other words, in addition to the standard HTML, CSS, and JavaScript syntax supported by all browsers, a PWA can be built to run across different mobile operating systems and browser combinations that use similar native app frameworks.

The most significant advantage of a PWA is that once deployed, it becomes accessible through a Web App Manifest (a specification for describing a web app). This feature means that the application can be accessed from any device with a Web App Manifest, even without a mobile network connection or a Wi-Fi connection.

Why Use Open Source to Create a PWA? 

There are several reasons you should consider using open source tools to create progressive web apps.

Many developers worldwide develop open-source applications, are free, and usually have much better security and scalability capabilities than their proprietary counterparts.

Moreover, open-source applications are built with open standards that anyone can build on. These open standards are also free and, in most cases, have an open-source code base that anyone can use to build software. These properties once again make these open-source tools the most efficient when it comes to building applications with small coding teams.

How Do You Create a PWA?

So how do you go about building a PWA without breaking any rights to the user's data or compromising the security of the user's information? First, a PWA has to be able to provide a great user experience. So the user has to be able to access and utilize the application without having to download it first.

Second, a PWA has to be easy to create. Developers often use drag-and-drop visual design patterns, such as Bootstrap, for creating PWA applications.

When you look at many of the top PWA providers, such as Microsoft, ProgressiveWeb, and Docker, you find they provide tools and solutions that allow you to create, deploy, and manage PWA applications. These tools are straightforward and easy to use, but their main goal is to deploy your applications to the web as quickly as possible.

Progressive Web Apps offer several benefits to the users and developers that need to benefit from this solution. The first one is that once the application is downloaded and installed, users can use the application without worrying about having to log in again and again and again.

Another great benefit of PWA is that they use as little memory as possible, which can be a significant advantage for users, especially for people who frequently access the mobile network, such as truck drivers or outdoor recreation enthusiasts.

Finally, a PWA can perform much faster than traditional mobile apps since users don't need to download and install it. That means you don't have to worry about getting users to sign up for a service and manage the user's login information. It also means that you don't have to worry about compatibility issues and updates.

The commercial side of the development is not the framework, such as PWA, but the services available from Cloud providers. The bottom line is, the delivery of successful PWAs happens through a combination of Open Source and Commercial Cloud solutions. 

Top 5 Open Source Frameworks to use to create excellent PWA solutions

Why Would a Company Use Webpack Module Bundler to Create Mobile-Optimized Websites?

Webpack Modules Bundler will create the bundles on the client-side. That means your source files will be parsed and compiled on the server as the code is processed. It will also pass the compiled bundles to the browser as-is without any more work.

Webpack Modules Bundler will automatically create additional modules to include in the final bundle known as transpilers. Webpack Modules Bundler uses Babel to transform code between languages. Transpilers perform Babel translations and optimize the code to take advantage of hardware-specific features. Babel works with both global and custom modules for custom language support.

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To get started, you must have Node.js and npm installed on your machine.

  1. Create a new folder, webpack, and cd into it.
  2. Create a package.json file to store all dependencies in your project.
  3. Create a file called webpack.config.js to configure webpack.
  4. Open the file and add the following code to the head section:

import loader from 'webpack-loader';

const webpack = require('webpack');

const path = require('path');

const pathSets = {

default: path.join(__dirname, 'webpack'),

'.build' : pathSets.build

};

const WebpackConfig = {

configuration: [

{

rules: [

{

cache: {

lib: [ 'jquery', 'under Armour', 'sass' ],

},

}

],

build: {

filters: [

{

mode: 'production',

target: 'generator' }

]

}

],

production: {

stage: {

loader: loader.js

},

test: {

output: 'dist'

}

},

debug: true

}

];

1. Build your project with the following command:

npm run build.

After the build process completes, you can open your browser and visit your website with your favorite URL.

Please note that the above instructions are intended for developers using webpack in an environment that supports Google Chrome, but it should work in other browsers.

You can use the webpack CLI to generate and test a bundle, which you can then install with npm:

npm install --save-dev webpack-cli@1.11.1

You can then use the following command to create a bundle that uses Babel and asset pipeline transpilers.

$ webpack build

To make sure the above command worked, open the browser console and type:

https://localhost:8080

If all went well, the bundle will be listed at the top of the console window.

To build your application, you will need to do the following:

2. Install the following packages:

$ npm install

3. Create the following folder:

src/main/webpack.js

src/main/webpack.css

index.html

To activate webpack Modules in the server, you will also need to install the following packages:

npm install babel-core babel-loader babel-preset-react-native

You will also need to install the following libraries available in the root node of the project.

  • Install jQuery Library from the project root node:

$ npm install --save-dev jQuery

  • Install Under Armour Library from the project root node:

$ npm install --save-dev Under Armour

  • Install Sass Library from the project root node:

$ npm install --save-dev Sass

  • Install Sass @styles/framework/bootstrap/sass/sass
  • Install Angular 2 Library from the project root node:

$ npm install --save-dev Angular 2

4. You can now create the index.html file to include Angular 2, jQuery, and jQuery UI CSS in the final bundle.

First, add the following code to the head section of the file:

<link rel="stylesheet" href="//netdna.bootstrapcdn.com/bootstrap/3.0.0/css/bootstrap.min.css">

Then, remove the following code from the CSS section:

.modal {

width: 100%;

height: 60px;

}

Add the following code to the code section of the file:

<html>

<head>

<title>Bootstrap and Angular 2</title>

</head>

<body>

<div class="container">

<h1>Hi!</h1>

<button class="btn btn-default" type="submit">Submit</button>

</div>

<script src="bundle.js"></script>

<script src="index.js"></script>

</body>

</html>

5. To make sure the above script works, run the following command:

npm run build

You should see the following output in the console:

$ npm run build

If all went well, the bundle is now ready to be downloaded by the browser:

http://localhost:8080/index.html

Note: The above script will not work if you need to include an Angular 2 application.

6. Run the application

You can now run the application from the command line by issuing the following command:

$ webpack run

The above command will execute the webpack server bundle generator and run the app bundle by calling build.

7. See the results

To view the bundle, open the browser console and type:

http://localhost:8080

The app should display the following output:

Hello World!

This set of instructions shows you how to set up the development environment for developing an Angular application to React and Bootstrap. If you don't have a development environment already, you can learn how to create one using VSCode, Atom, Visual Studio Code, or Node.

Leveraging Ionic

Ionic apps offer you two key benefits for developing a progressive website application:

  • Direct control: App developers usually only have limited control over a website. However, there are places we can exert some control, for example, during deployment or displaying pages. One advantage of progressive websites is that you get to take some control back.
  • More control over content: When developing progressive websites, you can use Ionic's UI components to add extra features to a website. This more flexible code supports developing more immersive experiences.

Ionic is a robust framework and when PWA solutions were still new, it was an excellent solution to use. Today, when my teams find Ionic incorporated into other CMS solutions, we are happy to use it. Still, Angular is our current favorite.

Creating Solutions With PWA Builder

PWA Builder places a focus on easily converting an existing website and converting it to a PWA. A production version of the open-source project is at: https://www.pwabuilder.com/.

Here are some of the primary reasons:

  • Clean and intuitive user experience
  • Fast and easy development
  • Simplified deployment with pre-built typography, HTML, JavaScript, CSS, and UX
  • Provides the freedom of an application with the power of a CMS

PWA Builder is an excellent tool to convert a website and showcase a "to be" PWA version of the original site. Small and mid-sized sites where time and budget are restrictive especially benefit from PWA Builder. I will be frank: this is not a tool we use very often. The reason is that many of the sites we build are very large. 

Why Would a Company Use Angular to Create Mobile-Optimized Websites?

Responsive design has made our lives so much more comfortable with websites that scale according to the device. It's not possible to write all websites in a strict architectural manner, which makes it difficult to design websites for specific devices.

Angular introduces the concept of Progressive Enhancement. Using directives, we can make websites scale to different devices. This way, we can write high-quality code that fits any device platform without requiring significant HTML code modifications.

Angular uses TypeScript, a superset of JavaScript, and is built on JavaScript. TypeScript automatically converts JavaScript code into other languages to make development much smoother. Also, TypeScript is polyglot and can handle more than one programming language.

Using Angular's built-in TypeScript compiler and its real-time runtime, you can write JavaScript code using the latest JavaScript APIs, but you don't have to know the intricate details of JavaScript to program your website.

Using Svelte to Create a PWA

Svelte's strength is ease of use. The drag and drop interface makes Svelte good tools for designers with no development experience to use. With that said, my team does not often use Svelte. Other platforms, such as Angular, offer a much richer set of features, although you need to know TypeScript to build solutions with them.

How Does AMP Complement PWA Solutions? 

You should also consider applying Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) to your website because, as Google says AMP gives developers, publishers, and publishers "a fast and secure publishing experience."

AMP uses HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to load and render a website to a mobile device quickly. The AMP Store makes it easy for publishers to find and test AMP-compatible technology with hundreds of free templates and themes.

Since AMP is open source, it can also be incorporated into any type of site, from blogs, forums, shopping carts, wikis, and galleries to music sites, news sites, stock photography sites, online game sites, and even WordPress sites.

Also, many of the leading CMS platforms, like WordPress.com and Joomla, have adopted AMP. AMP opens up a whole new world for WordPress website owners: publishers and users can reach the same search traffic and traffic from social networks.

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Summary

Here is the bottom line: you must have a website that can adapt quickly to any screen size. Check your weblogs, and you will see that 75-80% of the traffic to your site will be on the phone with a screen size from 3.5"-6". Your customers are using iPads, and we still all have laptops. Not using a PWA does not convert to a good customer experience. Developing your site as a progressive web app can lead to a positive customer experience.

One final point I'd like to cover. I will often hear myself say that commercial, licensed software and services complement Open Source. PWA is one area where that is not true. Open Source is the dominant player in the PWA space. You should not be paying money for a commercial PWA solution when the Open Source solutions are so good and have such a strong, sharing community.

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If you need any clarifications or have any feedback for us on this article, or if you think we missed any tools in our list, do write to us in the comments section below. We’d be happy to review them and provide a resolution or address your queries at the earliest.

About the Author

Matthew DavidMatthew David

Matt is a Digital Leader at Accenture. His passion is a combination of solving today's problems to run more efficiently, adjusting focus to take advantage of digital tools to improve tomorrow and move organizations to new ways of working that impact the future.

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