By Martin Angelov
A lot happened in the software development world in 2015. There were new releases of popular programming languages, new versions of important frameworks and new tools. You will find a short list of the new releases that we think are the most important below, together with suggestions for the things we believe would be a great investment of your time to learn in 2016.
Shift from the backend to the frontend
In the last few years, there has been a trend towards shifting the business logic of web apps from the backend to the frontend, with the backend being delegated to a simple API. This makes the choice of a frontend framework that much more important.
Quick browsers releases
The death of Flash
It has finally happened! YouTube switched to HTML5 this year, ditching their legacy Flash player. Firefox started blocking the Flash plugin by default. Even the powerful Adobe Flash creation suite was renamed to Adobe Animate and defaults to HTML5 exports. This leaves the doors wide open for the web platform to shine.
Languages and Platforms
Python 3.5 was released this year with a lot of new features like Asyncio, which gives you a node.js-like event loop, and type hints. As a whole Python 3 is finally gaining popularity and we heavily recommend it over the older Python 2. Nearly all libraries are available for Python 3 and now is a good time to upgrade your legacy code base.
PHP 7 is a major new version that fixes a number of issues and brings new features and speed (see an overview here). PHP 7 is around twice as fast as PHP 5.6, which will have a big impact on large codebases and CMS systems like WordPress and Drupal. We recommend PHP The Right Way, which was updated for version 7. And if you need even more speed and don’t mind switching to an alternative runtime, check out HHVM, which Facebook uses and develops to run their website.
Swift 2 was released earlier this year. This is Apple’s vision for a modern programming language that eases the development of apps on iOS and OS X. As of a few weeks ago, Swift is open source and has already been ported on Linux. This means that it is now possible to build backends and server side software with it.
Go 1.5 was released a few months ago, and brough major architectural changes. In 2015 it has grown in popularity and has been adopted in leading startups and open source projects. The language itself is relatively simple, so learning it will be a weekend well spent.
For the adventurous, you can try out one the functional languages like Haskell or Clojure. There are also interesting high performance languages like Rust and Elixir. If you are looking for a programming job, career languages like Java (which has some nice features in its 8th version) and C# (which thanks to Visual Studio Code and .net core can be run and developed cross platform) would be a good investment of your time in 2016.
Learn one or more of these: Python 3, Go, PHP 7, ES2015, Node.js, Swift, TypeScript
Polymer 1.0 was released in May. This marks the first stable and production ready version. Polymer is based around Web Components, which is a standard for packaging HTML, JS and CSS into isolated widgets that can be imported into your web apps. Web Components are only supported in Chrome and Opera at the moment, but Polymer makes them available everywhere.
Ember.js also saw a new release. Ember 2 brings modularity and removes deprecated features and optimizes the codebase. Ember follows semantic versioning and maintainers of the framework are careful to make updating as easy as possible. If you need a framework with stability and easy migration to new versions, you can give Ember a try.
Vue.js is a new library that offers reactive components for building user interfaces. It supports data binding, modular components and composition. It is similar to React, but doesn’t use a virtual DOM and works only in the browser. In the short time that it has existed, Vue has gathered a very active community around it and is establishing itself as a pragmatic tool for building web interfaces.
Learn one of these: Angular 2, React, Ember.js, Vue.js, Polymer, Web Components, Service Workers
Bootstrap has become even more popular in the last year and is turning into a web development standard. Version 4 will come out in the next few months, which brings flexbox support and integrates SASS. It promises a smooth transition from V3 (unlike what we saw with v2 to v3 a couple of years ago), so you can feel confident that what you learn about Bootstrap 3 will be applicable to version 4.
Foundation is another frontend framework that is an alternative to Bootstrap. Version 6 was released earlier this year, which focuses on modularity so that you can include only the pieces that you need for a faster load time.
MDL is an official framework by Google for building material design web apps. It was released earlier this year and has a similar goal to Google’s other framework – Polymer, but is much easier to get started with. We have a wonderful overview which compares MDL with Bootstrap.
CSS preprocessors continue improving. Less and SASS are the two most popular at the moment, with mostly comparable feature sets. However, the news that Bootstrap 4 is migrating over to SASS gives it a slight edge over Less as the preprocessor to learn in 2016. Also, there is the newer PostCSS tool that is gaining mind share, but we recommend it only for devs which already have experience with preprocessors.
Learn one or more of these: Bootstrap, MDL, Foundation, SASS, LESS, PostCSS
There has been a clear trend in web development over the last few years. More and more of our apps’ logic is shifted to the frontend, and the backend is only treated as an API. However there is still room for classic HTML-generating web apps, which is why we think that learning a classic full stack framework is still important.
Depending on which language you prefer, you have plenty of choice. For PHP you have Symfony, Zend, Laravel (and Lumen, its new lightweight alternative for APIs), Slim and more. For Python – Django and Flask. For Ruby – Rails and Sinatra. For Java – Play and Spark. For Node.js you have Express, Hapi and Sails.js, and for Go you have Revel.
AWS Lambda was released last year, but the concept is now established and ready for production. This is a service which eliminates backend servers entirely and is infinitely scaleable. You can define functions which are called on specific conditions or when routes of your API are visited. This means that you can have an entirely serverless backend which you don’t have to think about.
Another trend are static site generators like Jekyll and Octopress (see a complete list here). These tools take a number of source files like text and images, and create an entire website with prerendered HTML pages. Developers, who would normally set up a WordPress blog with a database and an admin area, now prefer to generate their HTML pages ahead of time and only upload a static version of their site. This has the benefits of increased security (no backend to hack and database to manage) and fantastic performance. Combined with CDNs like MaxCDN and CloudFlare clients can request a page of the website and receive it from a server nearby, greatly reducing latency.
Learn one of these: A full stack backend framework, AWS Lambda, A static site generator
We’ve included two of the most popular CMS systems here. Both are written in PHP and are easy to deploy and get started with. They enjoy big speedups from the new PHP 7 release.
In recent years WordPress has become much more than a simple blogging platform. It is a fully fledged CMS/Framework with plugins that make it possible to run any kind of website. High quality WordPress themes are a big market, and lots of freelancers make their living by developing for WordPress. With projects like WP-API you can use WordPress as a REST API backend.
Drupal 8 was released this year. It is a full rewrite that focuses on modern development practices. It makes use of Symfony 2 components and Composer packages and the Twig templating engine. Millions of websites run Drupal, and it is a good choice for content heavy portals.
This year the web development community lost some of its enthusiasm for NoSQL databases, and instead returned to relational databases like Postgres and MySQL. Notable exceptions to this trend are RethinkDB and Redis which gained mind share, and we recommend that you try them out in 2016.
Postgres is a popular relational database engine which sees a lot of development activity and is constantly improved with new features. Version 9.5 is expected soon. It will bring better support for JSONB columns for holding schema-less data (replacing any need for a separate NoSQL database) and the long awaited upsert operation, which simplifies INSERT-or-UPDATE queries. You might want to look into it, once it is released in 2016.
MySQL is the the most popular open source database system and is installed on most hosting providers out there. With version 5.7, MySQL also offers JSON columns for storing schema-less data. If you are just starting out with backend development, you will most likely be looking at connecting to a MySQL database that your hosting provider has set up for you. It is probably going to be an older version, so you might not be able to try out the JSON type. MySQL is included in popular packages like XAMPP and MAMP so it is easy to get started with.
Learn one of these: Redis, RethinkDB, MySQL/MariaDB, PostgreSQL
Mobile platforms are always evolving and smartphone hardware now rivals low end laptops in performance. This is great news for hybrid mobile frameworks, as mobile apps built using web technologies can now offer a smooth, native-like experience.
Learn one of these: Ionic, React Native, Meteor
Editors and Tools
The Atom editor reached version 1.0 this year. It is a free and powerful code editor that is built using web technologies. It has lots of packages available for it and a large community. It offers smart autocompletion and integrates with plugins for code refactoring and linting. Not to mention that it has lots of beautiful themes to chose from, and you can customize it by writing CoffeeScript and CSS. Facebook has used this extensibility and launched the Nuclide editor.
Microsoft surprised everybody when they released their Visual Studio Code editor earlier this year. It is a lightweight IDE that supports a number of languages and runs on Windows, Linux and OS X. It offers the powerful IntelliSense code inspection feature and integrates a debugger for ASP.Net and Node.js.
Even for a solo developer Git is a necessity these days. Its serverless model allows you to turn any folder into a version controlled repository, which you can then push to Bitbucket or Github, and sync across computers. If you haven’t used Git yet, we recommend that you add it to your list of things to learn in 2016.
Learn one of these: Atom, Visual Studio Code, NPM, Git
The Raspberry PI foundation delivered an early Christmas present this year, with the release of the Raspberry PI Zero – a $5 computer that is fast and power efficient. It runs Linux, so you can turn it into a server, a home automation device, a smart mirror, or to embed it into a dumb appliance and create that internet enabled coffee brewer you’ve been dreaming of. 2016 is the year to get a Raspberry.
Onto An Awesome 2016!
We’ve had a great 2015 and by the looks of it 2016 is going to be even more awesome. What’s on your list of things to learn in 2016?