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Author: Steve Jenkins
29th November 2013

“Anyone who knows HTML can get started with Meteor”

Web Designer gets the lowdown on the new open-source Javascript framework Meteor from founder Matt Debergalis. He reveals how the platform makes building web apps quicker and easier

Need to build web apps? Need a framework that will get the job done quickly and easily? Then say hello to Meteor.

Meteor is the brainchild of Matt Debergalis, who succinctly describes the platform as ‘a better, faster way to build apps’. So, what is Meteor?
In a nutshell, it’s a new open-source framework that makes it easy to write modern applications in pure JavaScript. As Matt pointed out, most of the best-written apps today – social apps like Google+ and Facebook’s photo browser, productivity tools like Asana and Trello, and sites like Twitter that let people communicate faster – are all JavaScript programs that run inside your web browser. People like these apps, but building them has long been the work of a team of experts with months to spare. What makes Meteor different, then, is its ethos. The aim of Meteor is to get more people involved and developing in a fraction of the time. To find out more about the JavaScript framework Web Designer spoke to the man behind the mission, Matt Debergalis.

The Meteor framework is currently at the beta stage, as Matt explains: “Meteor is pre-1.0 software, which mostly means we’re not ready to freeze all of the APIs just yet. Early developers who are writing apps with Meteor today just need to be comfortable with some of the modules occasionally changing between releases. They should also be actively monitoring the online discussion groups in order to stay current on
what is coming next.”

The Meteor platform is billed as ‘A better way to build apps’, but this doesn’t reveal its true character and features. The premise of the platform is to bring consistency and ease, as Matt elaborates: “When you write an application in Meteor, you use one language and one consistent API throughout your application – both the pieces that run in the browser and the pieces that run in the data center. That means there’s less to learn and fewer parts to juggle – and all of Meteor’s parts were designed to work together without making you do a bunch of pointless work. When the database changes, every open tab automatically redraws to show you the latest information, subject to any security and sharing rules you wrote. Instead of having to design a custom API that the client can use to change data, you can use the popular MongoDB commands, even when you’re in the browser.

“You can deploy your finished application with one command to our free servers today and to your own servers in the future – and when you change the app, every active browser takes a hot code push without disrupting the user.”

On top of all this, it seems as though the potential for the platform is huge thanks to its adoption of standard web technologies. “Anyone who knows some HTML and JavaScript can get started with Meteor. We want you to be able to build something great right away before you have to dive into all the details,” Matt says. “You’ll want to learn more as you go, of course.  We recommend the www.discovermeteor.com book to help you if you’re just getting started, and docs.meteor.com for an API reference.”

The scope of the platform embraces newcomers as well as experts, offering alternative APIs dependent on the level of control users require. “We designed Meteor to be the best possible choice for complex JavaScript applications. So, most APIs come in two forms – a high-level layer that makes the common stuff easy, and a low-level layer that gives you full control over the system. Both experts and newcomers should feel right at home.

“For example, any client-side application needs to communicate with its server component. Meteor uses a websocket-based protocol called DDP to transmit data back and forth. Expert developers can control each DDP message, so you can change the way the server publishes data to the client or even integrate with another system by writing a DDP client in another language.
“If you want to get really advanced, you can even take apart the Meteor stack and just use the individual packages that you need. You can write command-line clients and server daemons in Meteor as well – we do it all the time!”

If Meteor has grabbed your interest, there is a host of ways for you to get involved with the platform, Matt says: “Besides getting on the mailing list and sharing your ideas, check out if there is a local Meteor meetup near you – there are user groups in over 40 cities around the world. If that’s not an option, you can tune into Meteor Devshop Live (devshop.meteor.com) on the last Thursday of each month to catch a live stream of technical talks from core devs and app developers from our San Francisco office.”

To get all the details and find out more, be sure to check out the website at www.meteor.com.

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    • Chris Randle

      I’m continually fascinated by the number of new languages released for JavaScript. Most of them are either too advanced for newcomers, or too simple for professionals. At last – it sounds like something has come along that satisfies all levels. Scalable APIs is a genuinely clever move, enabling Rapid Application Development, followed by an easy fleshing out of the core architecture. I’ve also seen some decent uptake with some of the big training sites investing time in Meteor.JS by running courses on it.