StackBlitz Launches Codeflow and Announces Figma Investment
“StackBlitz is very much the development analogy of what Figma did for design,” StackBlitz co-founder and CEO Eric Simons told me in an interview. Today, StackBlitz is announcing a new GitHub integration product called Codeflow, along with what Simons says is a “strategic investment from Figma,” which began just weeks before Figma was acquired by Adobe in a $20 billion deal.
StackBlitz is a cloud IDE that aims to give developers “instant dev experiences.” It features an editor built with Microsoft’s open sourced VS Code, but the core of StackBlitz is a proprietary technology called WebContainers, which the company describes as “the first WebAssembly-based operating system.” Introduced last May, WebContainers “allow you to create full-stack Node.js environments that boot in milliseconds.” The patent for this has just been approved by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and was issued today, Simons said.
Codeflow, the new product being announced today at ViteConf, adds one-click GitHub integration to the StackBlitz IDE. It will enable developers to “create and review pull requests instantly and seamlessly.” As part of this announcement, PR.new allows you to open any GitHub URL instantly in a live environment.
With over 2 million developers using its product, StackBlitz is one of a number of cloud IDEs jockeying for position as the tool of choice for browser-based development environments. But unlike Figma in web design, there isn’t one web tool that currently stands out from the pack — although Simons argues otherwise.
“It’s actually running the desktop version of VS Code wholesale in your browser. No one has been able to do that before,” he said, adding that StackBlitz achieved it using WebContainers. “Other [projects] have gotten VS Code running in a browser, like vscode.dev [Microsoft’s online IDE, announced last October], but you can’t actually run desktop extensions that require an OS or Node.js, and there’s no terminal, etc. So, [StackBlitz] is actually the real deal, entirely in your browser.”
Cooking on a Multi-Burner Stove
Even though StackBlitz is a browser-based IDE, Simons says that developers still need their localhost to store their data and sync with the main repository. Codeflow aims to make this workflow easier for developers.
“The problem on local is [that] you have one copy of your repo that you’re working on,” he said, “and usually developers are working on a feature […] but throughout the week, they have a PM [Product Manager] that says, hey, I need you to put in an urgent hotfix. And if they need to do that, they have to stash their changes locally, pull down a fresh branch, install dependencies, blah blah blah, ship it and then flip back [to the work on the feature]. So it’s kind of like developers have a single-burner stove that they’re working on today.”
According to Simons, Codeflow gives developers a “multi-burner stove” where they can do everything in the StackBlitz environment.
“You still have your main burner where you’re cooking your steak — you know, the big feature you’re working on — but when things come in, you have one quick way, in GitHub, to instantly spin up an environment, literally instantly.”
Goal: Figma-Like Collaboration
Ultimately, what StackBlitz wants to achieve is something very similar to what Figma did in design: enable development to happen collaboratively, fully online and in real-time. StackBlitz has spent the past several years building up to this, said Simons.
“If you look at what happened with Figma, it was the same thing — Dylan and Evan [the founders] spent years building this rendering engine before they could actually go and build collaboration software around that. Same sort of thing here.”
Also like Figma, the goal is to expand its user base beyond the core audience: in StackBlitz’s case, developers. Low code and no code have been trending product categories recently, primarily because they give non-developers a way to create business applications. StackBlitz wants to get in on this, too.
“StackBlitz is not just going to be for developers using an IDE, it’s also a bridge for this kind of low code or no code future,” said Simons. “But the key primitive [is] to do that stuff in the browser, with the existing toolchains that are out there.”
Codeflow will help this progression toward low code, says Simons.
“Codeflow is the dawn of a new era for the company,” he said, noting that it’s currently in beta and will be generally available “sometime in Q1” 2023. He once again brought up Figma as a point of comparison. “What they’ve brought to design [is] other people being looped into the design process that wasn’t possible before, because the business person doesn’t have to download Photoshop and have a license to view the design and comment on it, and stuff like that.”
In the case of StackBlitz, he continued,” you can open the link, and an entire OS boots a full dev toolchain, with zero issues consistently, and it’s totally transparent to you, and you can just type words and then your marketing site changes. That opens up a pretty wild future where you have people writing actual production code [who] don’t even know how to write production code. So I think there are things like that where, for both developers and non-developers alike, this is going to be a huge boon for collaboration — and productivity software in general.”
Using the Web to Improve Localhost
Eric Simons and his co-founder Albert Pai (CTO) have known each other since childhood, and both are also friends with Figma’s founding CEO Dylan Field. Simons told me about a conversation he had with Field on a Caltrain back in 2013, when Field told him he was building “Photoshop, but better, in the browser.” As Simons tells it, he was initially skeptical of Field’s idea — “can you even do that in a browser, would anyone want to use it?” But of course, Field turned out to be right, to the tune of $20 billion worth of value to Adobe.
It’s clear that Simons wants StackBlitz to achieve something similar with developer IDEs, but he also acknowledges that localhost isn’t going anywhere in the near future.
“You don’t need to delete your local environment,” he insisted, “because your local environment works pretty well. The issue is just that one local copy is not enough for you to do your job.”
That’s where Codeflow and its multi-burner stove approach comes in. But from a collaboration perspective, Simons ultimately wants StackBlitz to be a URL where developers (and others) “just instantly go there” and they don’t have to think about the complexities of developing applications. “People [will] just kind of naturally start going to the browser to do these things,” he said.