If you want to build a solid app then you better do your homework. Here we'll walk through some of the problems we've encountered and explain the design choices that make Factor ideal to solve them.
Problems and Solutions
Working Across Environments (Portability)
The most common CMS structure—used by tools like WordPress, Drupal, Ghost, etc.— is to combine everything together into one giant "monolith." That means the code for your your database, image storage, email, app all live together in the same install.
While this may have certain advantages, there is one massive problem that arises: you can't work easily across environments. In other words, your development work and production work are always going to be different. This leads to challenges because things that work locally, might break when you push to production.
Also, you may want to share a database or images across multiple websites or apps. This isn't possible with the monolithic approach without working with their APIs (and adopting a bunch more code in the process.)
Factor follows the 12 Factor App methodology which outlines a strategy for achieving maximum portability in your applications. It does this by having your connect key services—like your image storage and database— which allows you to easily share them across multiple apps.
Scaling Servers Cheaply
The ability of your application to "scale" is important, not necessarily because you'll be pushing millions of page views, but also because this directly correlates to the cost of running your app.
Many server-rendered CMS' and frameworks are hard to scale. With WordPress, for example, there are 100s of sites and businesses dedicated to this subject.
The reason is because they re-render everything whenever someone loads a page. This can be solved somewhat by caching but becomes challenging when you want to deliver user-specific content.
Factor handles authentication fully in the user's browser (instead of a session on your server). This means all routes are served with the same content.
When you serve the same content to everyone, it's easily cached and cheap to scale.
This works well for certain use cases. But in the case of extension, it means that plugins and themes can only do so much.
As opposed to JS frameworks, with older CMS' they learned that when you standardize the entire stack and data model then plugins can do way more.
In Factor, we've taken this idea and carefully selected open-source technologies to standardize a stack that can be easily extended.
Avoiding Proprietary APIs and Services
Recently the idea of using static sites along with APIs to drive functionality has taken hold (i.e. JamStack). While this approach has its applications, it quickly gets out of hand if you'd like to build anything but the most basic of static apps.
APIs can be problematic. They are usually non-standard services that typically lock you in and make you pay for the privilege. It is also hard to work across APIs. Things can quickly become a web of requests and integrations that are nearly impossible to work with effectively.
The solution is an old idea: having a back-end server connected to your app. This allows you to do things like authentication, form handling, emailing, without having to rely on and pay for third parties.
It also comes with added benefits like server side rendering, instant editing (no build step), etc..
Avoiding Full-Stack Complication
Most full-stack applications are a compilation of dozens of technologies which sometimes don't work well together. This commonly leads to high cognitive costs when switching between environments and tools.
Optimizing for Search and Sharing
Server-rendering (SSR) is not obsolete; however, it is difficult to implement. Since Factor already has a backend server, needed for endpoints, it was just one step further to provide robust SSR for all pages and routes.
In designing Factor it became necessary to make opinionated choices around key elements in the technology stack.
- Fully featured and carefully implemented codebase. Evan You the creator of Vue clearly works hard to craft a well-designed framework that will stand the test of time.
- No corporate bias.
- All the competitive solutions suffer from some form of corporate bias which is largely the reason they are successful. In the case of Vue, it was successful purely because of its merits and quality.
- Corporate bias can lead to conflicts of interest in the direction and decisions regarding a platform.
- Standards Oriented.
- Vue is designed to be as close to standard JS, HTML, etc. as possible. That means you'll spend less time learning custom APIs and syntax and more time building standard skill sets.
Factor requires a MongoDB/Mongoose compatible database:
- Simple setup. SQL databases are highly technical to manage and setup. In contrast, MongoDB is very easy to work with. All that's needed to create your DB is a working install and a "connection string" to get a DB working.
- Flexible. Working with the Mongo API does not necessarily mean you're stuck with MongoDB. DynamoDB (Amazon) and CosmosDB (Microsoft) are designed to support the same API and can work with plugins.
- Portable. Using MongoDB removes the need to use an abstraction layer like GraphQL or REST API. Mongo works "over the wire" by default, just connect it and start making queries.
Here are some key "rules" we follow in Factor:
- Simple as possible, not simpler. All features and code sets that are added to Factor core have a clear reason for being there. Anything else belongs in an extension.
- 80% Rule of Core vs Extension. Most features belong in an extension; this allows us to keep Factor core light while allowing users to "choose their own adventure" regarding which features they'd like to have (via plugins and themes). The rule is that any core feature must be needed or useful to at least 80% of the user base.
- Unix philosophy. Factor generally follows the rules and guidelines outlined in books about the Unix Philosophy. Essentially, this means we:
- Favor portability over efficiency.
- Use small modules with one key purpose.
- Build new modules rather than add new features to old ones.
- The 12 Factor App The 12 Factor App guideline discusses how to build apps that are scalable and portable; also, easy to develop. Factor leverages this philosophy.
- The value of open-source. Working with proprietary technology often leads to risks and costs in the long term. We've found that open-source tech is not only free but also reduces risk and encourages standardization of your app.