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Frontend Development / JavaScript

Keep It Simple, Frameworks: Netlify CEO Praises Astro, Remix

At TheJam.dev virtual conference this week, Netlify CEO Matt Biilmann said that Jamstack needs to lose the complexity and get simple again.
Jan 25th, 2024 9:31am by
Featued image for: Keep It Simple, Frameworks: Netlify CEO Praises Astro, Remix
Photo by John Barkiple on Unsplash

Today and tomorrow, an event for web developers called TheJam.dev is being held virtually by CFE.dev, a community for developers founded by Brian Rinaldi. Rinaldi opened the event by noting that web development has changed dramatically over the past four years — he cited generative AI tools, but also the changes in Next.js and the emergence of new JavaScript frameworks like Astro and Remix. He then handed it over to Netlify CEO Matt Biilmann for the keynote (Netlify is the lead sponsor for the event).

Biilmann began by talking through the history of the term “Jamstack,” which his company coined, and what it means now, in 2024. As I’ve noted before, Netlify has stepped back from using the term and now prefers the more enterprise-friendly “composable web” as its rallying cry for developers. But Biilmann was keen to point out that the reasons why he introduced Jamstack back in 2016 are still valid today.

“We should start fundamentally decoupling the frontend and the backend. We should put the backend around API’s and generate the frontend with modern build tools.”

Oh, the Complexity…

That was what Biilmann pitched in 2016, and today that core premise isn’t much different. What has changed, however, is that Jamstack tools and processes have gotten much more complicated. This became apparent, Biilmann said, when hybrid architectures began infiltrating Jamstack — when there is a mix of client-side and server-side programming.

Biilmann went on to describe some of the products and new features that emerged after Jamstack was coined — Gatsby and its React hydration features, headless CMS platforms like Contentful, and Netlify’s own “functions” feature. He also noted that JavaScript itself has gotten more complex; in particular, he pointed to the release of React Server Components in 2021.

While all of this increased the power of Jamstack tools, Biilmann acknowledged that it also meant the concept was no longer simple. To illustrate this, Biilmann used a recent tweet from Vercel CEO Guillermo Rauch about the flexibility of Next.js (it’s worth noting that Netlify and Vercel are direct competitors!):

TheJam1

Biilmann’s point: this is undoubtedly powerful functionality, but it’s no longer simple to understand or implement.

“We definitely won in terms of decoupling the front end into its own thing,” he said, regarding the Jamstack evolution. “We’re now almost seeing a separate pressure to twist everything into the frontend — [to] rebuild the monolith in this frontend layer. But we made that decoupling happen, we made frontend developers much more powerful, we made release management much easier, and infrastructure much easier — but, it also got a lot more complex.”

The Paths Back to Simplicity

Biilmann then talked about the “two paths to simplicity.” The first path is what he called “pre-baked Jamstack,” by which he means using a build tool to send content to a CDN (content delivery network). This is basically what the initial vision for Jamstack was, before hybrid approaches took over.

prebaked jamstack

Biilmann said that Astro, a framework that can be used as an alternative to Next.js, is a good example of simplifying Jamstack. In its recent developer survey, Astro was the fastest growing in both usage and satisfaction (side note: Zach Leatherman, creator and maintainer of Eleventy, claimed that “it’s clear that Netlify has a vested interest in elevating Astro because Astro is best poised to dethrone Next.js.”)

“I think it comes from this urge to get to something simpler,” said Biilmann about Astro. “I think the Astro team went back to the idea of, like, how do we build content-first websites and how do we make those hybrids with an island architecture. We can go back to the core idea of, like, what if we can pre-bake very easily, build out all the core pages, and then instead of hydrating everything and turning every page into a full single-page application with all the complexities, what if we can just pick the individual components that should actually do something interactive, and make them small dynamic islands.”

Jamstack and Astro

It seems clear that Netlify has chosen Astro as its preferred framework going forward!

The other way to get to simplicity, according to Biilmann, is to “forget about the pre-baking” and instead “embrace server-side rendering” (SSR).

jamstack ssr

Of course, when Jamstack was originally coined, the use of static site generators (SSGs) was heavily promoted. But Biilmann says that static sites are no longer always necessary.

“[With] Jamstack, the fundamental is not about static,” he said. “It’s about how do we build great dynamic experiences, how do we build the right user experiences. At the time, the only way to deliver these in a decoupled way was by static. That’s not the case anymore. This [SSR] starts becoming a viable model.”

He then predicted that Remix, which has a simple SSR model, will be the trending JavaScript framework in the next Netlify survey.

Conclusion

Overall, this was a fascinating look at the evolution of Jamstack, the difficulties that beset it during the early 2020s, and the possible paths back to the simplicity that characterized the first iteration of Jamstack.

It must be noted that Netlify likely does have a bias towards Astro and Remix, since Next.js is under the thumb of its competitor Vercel (Rauch created Next.js). However, Biilmann also made a compelling case for the two newer frameworks. Simple is almost always better in web development, and that’s a good reason to try out Astro or Remix if you’re tired of all the complexity.

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