Peterbe.com

A blog and website by Peter Bengtsson

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A Python and Preact app deployed on Heroku

13 December 2019 2 comments   Javascript, Docker, Python, Django, Web development


Heroku is great but it's sometimes painful when your app isn't just in one single language. What I have is a project where the backend is Python (Django) and the frontend is JavaScript (Preact). The folder structure looks like this:

/
  - README.md
  - manage.py
  - requirements.txt
  - my_django_app/
     - settings.py
     - asgi.py
     - api/
        - urls.py
        - views.py
  - frontend/
     - package.json
     - yarn.lock
     - preact.config.js
     - build/
        ...
     - src/
        ...

A bunch of things omitted for brevity but people familiar with Django and preact-cli/create-create-app should be familiar.
The point is that the root is a Python app and the front-end is exclusively inside a sub folder.

When you do local development, you start two servers:

The latter is what you open in your browser. That preact app will do things like:

const response = await fetch('/api/search');

and, in preact.config.js I have this:

export default (config, env, helpers) => {

  if (config.devServer) {
    config.devServer.proxy = [
      {
        path: "/api/**",
        target: "http://localhost:8000"
      }
    ];
  }

};

...which is hopefully self-explanatory. So, calls like GET http://localhost:3000/api/search actually goes to http://localhost:8000/api/search.

That's when doing development. The interesting thing is going into production.

Before we get into Heroku, let's first "merge" the two systems into one and the trick used is Whitenoise. Basically, Django's web server will be responsibly not only for things like /api/search but also static assets such as / --> frontend/build/index.html and /bundle.17ae4.js --> frontend/build/bundle.17ae4.js.

This is basically all you need in settings.py to make that happen:

MIDDLEWARE = [
    "django.middleware.security.SecurityMiddleware",
    "whitenoise.middleware.WhiteNoiseMiddleware",
    ...
]

WHITENOISE_INDEX_FILE = True

STATIC_URL = "/"
STATIC_ROOT = BASE_DIR / "frontend" / "build"

However, this isn't quite enough because the preact app uses preact-router which uses pushState() and other code-splitting magic so you might have a URL, that users see, like this: https://myapp.example.com/that/thing/special and there's nothing about that in any of the Django urls.py files. Nor is there any file called frontend/build/that/thing/special/index.html or something like that.
So for URLs like that, we have to take a gamble on the Django side and basically hope that the preact-router config knows how to deal with it. So, to make that happen with Whitenoise we need to write a custom middleware that looks like this:

from whitenoise.middleware import WhiteNoiseMiddleware


class CustomWhiteNoiseMiddleware(WhiteNoiseMiddleware):
    def process_request(self, request):
        if self.autorefresh:
            static_file = self.find_file(request.path_info)
        else:
            static_file = self.files.get(request.path_info)

            # These two lines is the magic.
            # Basically, the URL didn't lead to a file (e.g. `/manifest.json`)
            # it's either a API path or it's a custom browser path that only
            # makes sense within preact-router. If that's the case, we just don't
            # know but we'll give the client-side preact-router code the benefit
            # of the doubt and let it through.
            if not static_file and not request.path_info.startswith("/api"):
                static_file = self.files.get("/")

        if static_file is not None:
            return self.serve(static_file, request)

And in settings.py this change:

MIDDLEWARE = [
    "django.middleware.security.SecurityMiddleware",
-   "whitenoise.middleware.WhiteNoiseMiddleware",
+   "my_django_app.middleware.CustomWhiteNoiseMiddleware",
    ...
]

Now, all traffic goes through Django. Regular Django view functions, static assets, and everything else fall back to frontend/build/index.html.

Heroku

Heroku tries to make everything so simple for you. You basically, create the app (via the cli or the Heroku web app) and when you're ready you just do git push heroku master. However that won't be enough because there's more to this than Python.

Unfortunately, I didn't take notes of my hair-pulling excruciating journey of trying to add buildpacks and hacks and Procfiles and custom buildpacks. Nothing seemed to work. Perhaps the answer was somewhere in this issue: "Support running an app from a subdirectory" but I just couldn't figure it out. I still find buildpacks confusing when it's beyond Hello World. Also, I didn't want to run Node as a service, I just wanted it as part of the "build process".

Docker to the rescue

Finally I get a chance to try "Deploying with Docker" in Heroku which is a relatively new feature. And the only thing that scared me was that now I need to write a heroku.yml file which was confusing because all I had was a Dockerfile. We'll get back to that in a minute!

So here's how I made a Dockerfile that mixes Python and Node:

FROM node:12 as frontend

COPY . /app
WORKDIR /app
RUN cd frontend && yarn install && yarn build


FROM python:3.8-slim

WORKDIR /app

RUN groupadd --gid 10001 app && useradd -g app --uid 10001 --shell /usr/sbin/nologin app
RUN chown app:app /tmp

RUN apt-get update && \
    apt-get upgrade -y && \
    apt-get install -y --no-install-recommends \
    gcc apt-transport-https python-dev

# Gotta try moving this to poetry instead!
COPY ./requirements.txt /app/requirements.txt
RUN pip install --upgrade --no-cache-dir -r requirements.txt

COPY . /app
COPY --from=frontend /app/frontend/build /app/frontend/build

USER app

ENV PORT=8000
EXPOSE $PORT

CMD uvicorn gitbusy.asgi:application --host 0.0.0.0 --port $PORT

If you're not familiar with it, the critical trick is on the first line where it builds some Node with as frontend. That gives me a thing I can then copy from into the Python image with COPY --from=frontend /app/frontend/build /app/frontend/build.

Now, at the very end, it starts a uvicorn server with all the static .js, index.html, and favicon.ico etc. available to uvicorn which ultimately runs whitenoise.

To run and build:

docker build . -t my_app
docker run -t -i --rm --env-file .env -p 8000:8000 my_app

Now, opening http://localhost:8000/ is a production grade app that mixes Python (runtime) and JavaScript (static).

Heroku + Docker

Heroku says to create a heroku.yml file and that makes sense but what didn't make sense is why I would add cmd line in there when it's already in the Dockerfile. The solution is simple: omit it. Here's what my final heroku.yml file looks like:

build:
  docker:
    web: Dockerfile

Check in the heroku.yml file and git push heroku master and voila, it works!

To see a complete demo of all of this check out https://github.com/peterbe/gitbusy and https://gitbusy.herokuapp.com/

MDN Documents Size Tree Map

14 November 2019 0 comments   MDN, Web development

https://8mw9v.csb.app/


Recently I've been playing with the content of MDN as a whole. MDN has ~140k documents in its Wiki. About ~70k of them are redirects which is the result of many years of switching tech and switching information architecture and at the same time being good Internet citizens and avoiding 404s. So, out of the ~70k documents, how do they spread? To answer that I wrote a Python script that evaluates size as a matter of the sum of all the files in sub-trees including pictures.

Here are the screenshots:

All locales

All locales

Specifically en-US

Specifically en-US

The code that puts this together uses Toast UI which seems cool but I didn't spend much time worrying about how to use it.

Be warned! Opening this link will make your browser sweat: https://8mw9v.csb.app/

You can fork it here: https://codesandbox.io/s/zen-swirles-8mw9v

A React vs. Preact case study for a widget

24 July 2019 0 comments   Javascript, Web Performance, ReactJS, Web development


tl;dr; The previous (React) total JavaScript bundle size was: 36.2K Brotli compressed. The new (Preact) JavaScript bundle size was: 5.9K. I.e. 6 times smaller. Also, it appears to load faster in WebPageTest.

I have this page that is a Django server-side rendered page that has on it a form that looks something like this:

<div id="root">  
  <form action="https://songsear.ch/q/">  
    <input type="search" name="term" placeholder="Type your search here..." />
    <button>Search</button>
  </form>  
</div>

It's a simple search form. But, to make it a bit better for users, I wrote a React widget that renders, into this document.querySelector('#root'), a near-identical <form> but with autocomplete functionality that displays suggestions as you type.

Anyway, I built that React bundle using create-react-app. I use the yarn run build command that generates...

Then, in Python, a piece of post-processing code copies the files from the build/static/ directory and inserts it into the rendered HTML file. The CSS gets injected as an inline <style> tag.

It's a simple little widget. No need for any service-workers or react-router or any global state stuff. (Actually, it only has 1 single runtime dependency outside the framework) I thought, how about moving this to Preact?

In comes preact-cli

The app used a couple of React hooks but they were easy to transform into class components. Now I just needed to run:

npx preact create --yarn widget name-of-my-preact-project
cd name-of-my-preact-project
mkdir src
cp ../name-of-React-project/src/App.js src/
code src/App.js

Then, I slowly moved over the src/App.js from the create-react-app project and slowly by slowly I did the various little things that you need to do. For example, to learn to build with preact build --no-prerender --no-service-worker and how I can override the default template.

Long story short, the new built bundles look like this:

(The polyfills.9168d.js gets injected as a script tag if window.fetch is falsy)

Unfortunately, when I did the move from React to Preact I did make some small fixes. Doing the "migration" I noticed a block of code that was never used so that gives the build bundle from Preact a slight advantage. But I think it's nominal.

In conclusion: The previous total JavaScript bundle size was: 36.2K (Brotli compressed). The new JavaScript bundle size was: 5.9K (Brotli compressed). I.e. 6 times smaller. But if you worry about the total amount of JavaScript to parse and execute, the size difference uncompressed was 129K vs. 18K. I.e. 7 times smaller. I can only speculate but I do suspect you need less CPU/battery to process 18K instead of 129K if CPU/batter matters more (or closer to) than network I/O.

WebPageTest - Visual Comparison - Mobile Slow 3G

Rendering speed difference

Rendering speed is so darn hard to measure on the web because the app is so small. Plus, there's so much else going on that matters.

However, using WebPageTest I can do a visual comparison with the "Mobile - Slow 3G" preset. It'll be a somewhat decent measurement of the total time of downloading, parsing and executing. Thing is, the server-side rended HTML form has a button. But the React/Preact widget that takes over the DOM hides that submit button. So, using the screenshots that WebPageTest provides, I can deduce that the Preact widget completes 0.8 seconds faster than the React widget. (I.e. instead of 4.4s it became 3.9s)

Truth be told, I'm not sure how predictable or reproducible is. I ran that WebPageTest visual comparison more than once and the results can vary significantly. I'm not even sure which run I'm referring to here (in the screenshot) but the React widget version was never faster.

Conclusion and thoughts

Unsurprisingly, Preact is smaller because you simply get less from that framework. E.g. synthetic events. I was lucky. My app uses onChange which I could easily "migrate" to onInput and I managed to get it to work pretty easily. I'm glad the widget app was so small and that I don't depend on any React specific third-party dependencies.

But! In WebPageTest Visual Comparison it was on "Mobile - Slow 3G" which only represents a small portion of the traffic. Mobile is a huge portion of the traffic but "Slow 3G" is not. When you do a Desktop comparison the difference is roughtly 0.1s.

Also, in total, that page is made up of 3 major elements

  1. The server-side rendered HTML
  2. The progressive JavaScript widget (what this blog post is about)
  3. A piece of JavaScript initiated banner ad

That HTML controls the "First Meaningful Paint" which takes 3 seconds. And the whole shebang, including the banner ad, takes a total of about 9s. So, all this work of rewriting a React app to Preact saved me 0.8s out of the total of 9s.

Web performance is hard and complicated. Every little counts, but keep your eye on the big ticket items assuming there's something you can do about them.

At the time of writing, preact-cli uses Preact 8.2 and I'm eager to see how Preact X feels. Apparently, since April 2019, it's in beta. Looking forward to giving it a try!

Find out all localStorage keys and their value sizes

13 July 2019 0 comments   Javascript, Web development


I use localhost:3000 for a lot of different projects. It's the default port on create-react-app's dev server. The browser profile remains but projects come and go. There's a lot of old stuff in there that I have no longer any memory of adding.

My Storage tab in Firefox

Working in a recent single page app, I tried to use localStorage as a cache for some XHR requests and got: DOMException: "The quota has been exceeded.".
Wat?! I'm only trying to store a ~250KB JSON string. Surely that's far away from the mythical 5MB limit. Do I really have to lzw compress the string in and out to save room and pay for it in CPU cycles?

Better yet, find out what junk I still have in there.

Paste this into your Web Console (it's safe as milk):

Object.entries(localStorage).forEach(([k,v]) => console.log(k, v.length, (v.length / 1024).toFixed(1) + 'KB'))

The output looks something like this:

Web Console output

Or, sorted and filtered a bit:

Object.entries(localStorage).sort((a, b) => b[1].length -a[1].length).slice(0,5).forEach(
([k,v]) => console.log(k, v.length, (v.length / 1024).toFixed(1) + 'KB'));

Looks like this:

Sorted and sliced

And for the record, summed total in kilobytes:

(Object.values(localStorage).map(x => x.length).reduce((a, b) => a + b) / 1024).toFixed(1) + 'KB';

Summed in KB

Wrapping up

Seems my Firefox browser's localStorage limit is still 5MB.

Also, you can do the loop using localStorage.length and localStorage.key(n) and localStorage.getItem(localStorage.key(n)).length but using Object.entries(localStorage) seems neater.

I guess this means I can still use localStorage in my app. It seems I just need to localStorage.removeItem('massive-list:items') which sounds like an experiment, from eons ago, for seeing how much I can stuff in there.

From jQuery to Cash

18 June 2019 3 comments   Javascript, Web development


tl;dr; The main JavaScript bundle goes from 29KB to 6KB by switching from JQuery to Cash. Both with Brotli compression.

In Web Performance, every byte counts. Downloading less stuff means faster network operations but for JavaScript it also means less to parse and execute. This site used use JQuery 3.4.1 but now uses Cash 4.1.2. It requires some changes to how you use $ and most noticeable is the lack of animations and $.ajax.

I still stand by the $ function. It's great when you have a regular (static) website that isn't a single page app but still needs a little bit of interactive JavaScript functionality. On this site, I use it for making the commenting work and some various navigation/header stuff.

Switching to Cash means you have to stop doing things like $.getJSON() and $('.classname').fadeIn(400) which, in a sense, gives Cash an unfair advantage because those bits take up a large portion of the bundle size. Yes, there is a custom build of jQuery without those but check out this size comparison:

Bundle Uncompressed (bytes) Gzipped (bytes)
jQuery 3.4.1 88,145 30,739
jQuery 3.4.1 Slim 71,037 24,403
Cash 4.1.2 14,818 5,167

I still needed a fadeIn function, which I was relying on from jQuery, but to remedy that I just copied one of these from youmightnotneedjquery.com. It would be better to not do that an use a CSS transform instead but, well, I'm only human.

Before: with jQuery
Before: with jQuery

Another thing you'll need to replace is to switch from $.ajax to fetch but there are good polyfills but I haven't bothered with polyfills because the tiny percentage of visitors I have, without fetch support still get a working site but can't post comments.

I was contemplating doing what GitHub did in 2018 which was to replace jQuery with real vanilla JavaScript code but it didn't seem worth it now that Cash is only 5KB (gzipped) and it's an actively maintained project too.

Before: with jQuery
Before: with jQuery

After: with Cash
After: with Cash

WebSockets vs. XHR 2019

05 May 2019 0 comments   Javascript, Web Performance, Web development

https://sockshootout.app/


Back in 2012, I did an experiment to compare if and/or how much faster WebSockets are compared to AJAX (aka. XHR). It would be a "protocol benchmark" to see which way was faster to schlep data back and forth between a server and a browser in total. The conclusion of that experiment was that WebSockets were faster but when you take latency into account, the difference was minimal. Considering the added "complexities" of WebSockets (keeping connections, results don't come where the request was made, etc.) it's not worth it.

But, 7 years later browsers are very different. Almost all browsers that support JavaScript also support WebSockets. HTTP/2 might make things better too. And perhaps the WebSocket protocol is just better implemented in the browsers. Who knows? An experiment knows.

So I made a new experiment with similar tech. The gist of the code is best explained with some code:

// Inside App.js

loopXHR = async count => {
  const res = await fetch(`/xhr?count=${count}`);
  const data = await res.json();
  const nextCount = data.count;
  if (nextCount) {
    this.loopXHR(nextCount);
  } else {
    this.endXHR();
  }
};

Basically, pick a big number (e.g. 100) and send that integer to the server which does this:

# Inside app.py 

# from the the GET querystring "?count=123"
count = self.get_argument("count")   
data = {"count": int(count) - 1}
self.write(json.dumps(data))

So the browser keeps sending the number back to the server that decrements it and when the server returns 0 the loop ends and you look how long the whole thing took.

Try It

The code is here: https://github.com/peterbe/sockshootout2019

And the demo app is here: https://sockshootout.app (Just press "Start!", wait and press it 2 or 3 more times)

Location, location, location

What matters is the geographical distance between you and the server. The server used in this experiment is in New York, USA.

What you'll find is that the closer you are to the server (lower latency) the better WebSocket performs. Here's what mine looks like:

My result between South Carolina, USA and New York, USA
My result between South Carolina, USA and New York, USA

Now, when I run the whole experiment all on my laptop the results look very different:

Running all locally
Running all locally

I don't have a screenshot for it but a friend of mine ran this from his location in Perth, Australia. There was no difference. If any difference it was "noise".

Same Conclusion?

Yes, latency matters most. The technique, for the benefit of performance, doesn't matter much.

No matter how fancy you're trying to be, what matters is the path the bytes have to travel. Or rather, the distance the bytes have to travel. If you're far away a large majority of the total time is sending and receiving the data. Not the time it takes the browser (or the server) to process it.

However, suppose you do have all your potential clients physically near the server, it might be beneficial to use WebSockets.

Thoughts and Conclusions

My original thought was to use WebSockets instead of XHR for an autocomplete widget. At almost every keystroke, you send it to the server and as search results come in, you update the search result display. Things like that need to be fast and "snappy". But that's not where WebSockets shine. They shine in their ability to actively await results without having a loop that periodically pulls. There's nothing wrong with WebSocket and it has its brilliant use cases.

In summary, don't bother just to get a single-digit percentage performance increase if the complexity of the code and infrastructure is non-trivial. Keep building cool stuff with WebSockets but if you expect one result per action, XHR is good enough.

Bonus

The experiment app does collect everyone's results (just the timings and IP) and I hope to find the time to process this and build graph a correlating the geographical distance compared to the difference between the two techniques. Watch this space!

By the way, if you do plan on writing some WebSocket implementation code I highly recommend Sockette. It's solid and easy to use.