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Web on the edge

The first electronic computers, like ENIAC, were entirely centralised-no networks, indeed not even peripherals.

Marlyn Wescoff [left] and Ruth Lichterman were two of the female programmers of ENIAC

Over time, computing power shifted toward peripherals, until peripherals were in fact computers themselves, and a whole new architecture, of client/server computing was born.

Yep, still women doing the computing.

Over the decades, this architecture of client/server has remained the dominant paradigm of computing–with sometimes the bulk of the computation and data storage taking place on the client (we used to call these ‘fat’ clients), and sometimes that taking place on the server (so called thin clients). This has more or less been the model of web based computing since the dawn of the Web, though with the increases in the capabilities of browsers, particularly the advent of PWAs in recent years, the shift from the primacy of the server to the primacy of the client seems to be playing out once more.

But, something very interesting has been happening in the last few, years, something I feel that is gaining momentum, and which might dislodge client/server as the dominant architecture of computing.

Back to the edge

The term ‘edge computing’ has been long used to describe an important aspect of network architectures

An edge device is any piece of hardware that controls data flow at the boundary between two networks. Edge devices fulfill a variety of roles, depending on what type of device they are, but they essentially serve as network entry — or exit — points.

Tech Target: What is an Edge Device

But what’s been happening with innovations like CloudFlare Workers, Fastly’s [email protected], Akamai’s EdgeWorkers, Deno Deploy, Vercel Functions, and elsewhere is something new. Using JavaScript, and browser APIs like Workers and fetch, we’re seeing fully fledged computing capability move to the edge. Which will have huge impacts on performance, since this computational power is much closer to your end user, no matter where they are. But it’s more than just speeding up web sites–new architectures enable whole new models of computing.

And for Web developers, the added, and enormous, bonus is you already know the language–JavaScript–and the APIs–they’re the same as those in the browser.

It is relatively early days, but I feel the possibilities these new edge technologies bring will have an even greater impact than NodeJS did a decade or more ago.

Just a few weeks ago Ryan Dahl, inventor of NodeJS, and more recently Deno, wrote “about JavaScript Containers and speculate[d] about how this technology will unfold over the next couple years“.

Maybe the majority of “web services” can be simplified by thinking in terms of JavaScript containers, rather than Linux containers.

Edge at Lazy Load

So much do Henri Helvetica our curator for Lazy Load and I believe that JavaScript/Web at the edge will impact how we architect Web applications, that we’re focussing a lot of our attention on this topic at the conference, with several high level talks, alongside some short sharp presentations on specific implementations.

All this on top of nearly a dozen other presentations on all things front end performance.

Early bird pricing ends next Friday, and we’d love to see you there!

In 2022 we have a whole series of events for Front End Developers

Across 2022 Web Directions is presenting our series of online conferences for front end designers and developers. Focussed deep dives, they go far beyond what you might expect from conference programs.

Learn more and register now

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Priced individually from $195, or attend all 6, plus get access to our conference presentation platform Conffab for just $595, or $59 a month.


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Three days of talks, two of them in the engineering room. Web Directions you have broken my brain.

Cheryl Gledhill Product Manager, BlueChilli