View Source

Tom Dale not so recently made a rather bold statement on the Twitters:

“Can we agree that, in 2018, human-readable “View Source” is a constraint the web can discard? I benefitted from “View Source” too, but today we have an embarrassment of resources and open source examples I would have killed for as a kid.” — Tom Dale

Dale wrote this in response to Frank Chimero’s essay on the cyclical and increasing complexity of web development.

Viewing the source of a page has been a boon for budding web developers and experienced developers alike. It allows us to peek under the hood of the medium that we consume.

Dale goes on to clarify:

I’m not suggesting removing the ability to inspect what’s happening in a web app at runtime. I just mean that it’s reasonable to have the assets served to the browser require some sort of post-processing to be understandable.

Which, depending on your level of abstraction, is already what happens. Pages are deconstructed into ones and zeros, compressed and encrypted, making their way to your browser to be reconstructed into something that makes sense to your senses.

The lowly View Source is a reflection of its time. A simple tool to examine the simple lingua franca of the web.

As the complexity of how we build the web increased, the complexity of its tools to inspect and debug also increased.

We have the ability to inspect the original HTML source along with its interpreted representation. We have the ability to inspect the source of JavaScript and CSS files mapped from its minified and optimized versions. We have the ability to inspect rendering pipelines. We have the ability to stop and step through JavaScript execution line by line.

The increasing complexity of tools doesn’t negate the need for those earlier, simpler tools, though.

The sites some build may be simple static sites, befitting of a simple View Source. The sites some build may be compiled and bundled and requiring tools that allow us to dig deeper. Just because you don’t need those tools doesn’t mean that somebody doesn’t need those tools.

Maybe the question is whether a human-readable View Source is actually a constraint? The reality is no.

There are sites that are built well and there are sites that are built poorly. Having something that is coherent has never really been a constraint and while some might wince at the complexity of current day projects, we have a plethora of tools at our disposal to inspect the simple projects and the complex projects.

Published July 08, 2018
Categorized as Opinion
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