Chazona's Blog

Web design, development and business.

Roughing It Dev Style: Coding Without a Computer

Phone Nestled in Leaves

A terrible, horrible, no good, very bad thing happened to me this month: the Surface Pro that was my exclusive personal and work computer died. Even though I found an inexpensive replacement to order, I couldn't imagine not coding for about a week. I was totally freaking out.

After a few unsatisfying days of merely reading about web development topics, I set to work on figuring out how I could get some real work done, armed only with my iPhone.

Trial and Error

Not wanting to hunt down a new solution if it was unnecessary, I first turned to tools I've used before:

Codepen

Codepen wasn't terrible in a pinch. However, the layout and on-screen keyboard really wasn't optimized for coding on a phone. Making minor changes took a lot of time, and it was easy to end up with really buggy code.

Cloud9 IDE

Cloud9 had the same problems but with an already more cluttered interface. It explicitly doesn't support mobile browsers and it has been made clear multiple times that making Cloud9 mobile-friendly or developing a native mobile app for it is not anywhere on the roadmap.

CodeAnywhere

When exploring the Cloud9 issue, I saw mention of an alternative cross-platform cloud IDE called CodeAnywhere. However, the iOS app appeared to have not been updated since 2014 and after four unsuccessful attempts to so much as create an account and login, I figured there had to be something better.

What Finally Worked

After some frustrating experiences, I came across tools and techniques that worked beyond my expectations, allowing me to code productively with just a phone and that can allow you to do it, too.

Editor: Buffer Editor

Buffer Editor was a hidden gem in the App Store. It didn't have a presence from advertising or word of mouth or even enough reviews to warrant a rating. It would be easy to underestimate Buffer.

When actually downloaded, though, it's clear that Buffer Editor is a real, powerful editor truly optimized for a mobile experience. Features that won me over included:

  • An extended keyboard that makes typing quick (for one-handed) and intentional.
  • A well-designed built in terminal.
  • Full-screen editing, a necessity on such a small screen.
  • Syntax highlighting and autocomplete for 40+ languages and technologies.
  • The ability to connect via SSH, FTP, SFTP, GitHub, Dropbox and iCloud.
  • Sending files by email.

Buffer Editor Extended Keyboard

It also included useful features that I didn't utilize such as Vim support and support for bluetooth keyboards.

While it isn't free, the 4.99 USD price I got it for was well worth it, especially compared to the popular Coda at almost 25 USD.

Server: Digital Ocean

Being confined to a phone gave me the push I needed to start building more websites and applications directly in a VPS solution like Digital Ocean rather than starting out solely on a local machine. Using a Virtual Private Server (Digital Ocean calls them droplets) allows setting up a development environment and managing files/servers without needing a local environment to work with, since it's on another computer in the cloud. Another benefit of VPS is that from the start, a project isn't tied down to one local machine, even if it hasn't been checked in to version control yet.

Digital Ocean has proven to be easy to use (and inexpensive), and there is a wealth of documentation and guides for folks new to running servers.

Accessing the droplet remotely was easy in Buffer Editor, simply involving adding a new SSH connection and filling out the relevant settings with information from the droplet.

Buffer Editor New Connection Form

Browser Access: Local Server Binding

The wonderful and problematic thing about web development is, of course, the primary thing you need is a browser. Using a VPS to develop, you have access to a terminal console, but not a Graphical User Interface or a traditional web browser.

When developing a web app, you often need to be able to start a local server and access localhost in the web browser, since that's where the development server displays the app. Unfortunately localhost means this computer, and so it's inaccessible outside of the VPS hosting the app files.

The workaround here involved learning more about servers and requests:

When starting a server, it sends what is called a bind request to indicate that it is ready to receive requests associated with an IP address. Local servers typically bind to 127.0.0.1 because that IP address is used to loop back to the requesting computer; each computer can only request 127.0.0.1 from itself, which is usually convenient for developing.

That's clearly not an option. You need to have the server bind request indicate its publicly accessible IP address instead so that it's accessible from a browser outside of that computer. This IP address is easily obtained from Digital Ocean, and the workaround involved adding a --binding flag like this, for starting a Rails server:

Now, instead of typing localhost:3000 into the browser's address bar to view the app, you would type the publicly accessible IP address, like XX.XX.XX.XX:3000. As long as the local server is running with the binding flag, the app will be accessible remotely from the server's IP address.

Buffer Editor is especially convenient by keeping the server running after you back out of the terminal (so you can open it again and continue to develop). This can be confusing at first, but to stop the server, lock and unlock your phone.

Get Back to Coding Productivity

From here, you can utilize git like usual, get to work and debug your code wherever you are and regardless of WiFi/Ethernet availability. In fact, the day before my new computer arrived, I was able to make 6 commits and push them to GitHub, all from my iPhone.

While my day to day coding will be on a traditional desktop or laptop when it's available (since two hands are faster than one), I continue to utilize these tools to work on my projects when I can't bring my laptop somewhere or when mobile internet is all I'll have access to, such as riding in a car.

I'm actually thankful for the experience of losing access to the computer, because it forced me to find a solution that now allows me to code virtually anywhere.

Getting Started with Jekyll - Part 2: Meeting Jekyll's Demands

Jekyll Ruby Code

When this left off in Part 1, you had a basic Nginx server running and set up with remote access and a firewall.

So now that you have this awesome server, you should put some stuff on it.

Precious Rubies

First you’ll need to make sure you have the Ruby programming language installed both on your server and on your local computer. While you can have multiple versions of Ruby installed, you need both server and local to be using the same version. This will take some time to correct later since you’ll have to reinstall almost everything, so it’s important to pay attention now.

To install Ruby, you’re going to use the Ruby Version Manager (RVM) which also makes it easy to install additional tools and make updates. To install both RVM and Ruby, follow the instruction on the RVM website which will look something like the following but will change over time. You’ll want to make sure --ruby is added like this:

$ gpg --keyserver hkp://keys.gnupg.net --recv-keys 409B6B1796C275462A1703113804BB82D39DC0E3
$ \curl -sSl https://get.rvm.io | bash -s stable --ruby

Do the same for both your server and local computer. Before moving on, check which version of Ruby you are running by entering the following command for each system:

$ ruby -v

You should have the exact same version listed for both. If you have multiple Rubies installed, say on your local computer, you can specify which version to use with the following, replacing the numbers with the actual version number you want to use:

$ rvm use 2.3.3

Once you have the same versions being used for both, you can start working on dependencies.

Crucial Pieces

From here, you’re going to be installing and configuring packages called gems.

In your terminal for your local computer, enter the following:

$ gem install jekyll capistrano bundler

Those are set to install the Jekyll site generator, the Capistrano deployment tool, and the Bundler gem manager. You may have received an error message stating you were missing some needed gem. As many times as you get this type of error, just go back into your terminal and install the gem it tells you, then re-attempt installing our three like so:

$ gem install gem_name
$ gem install jekyll capistrano bundler

Now that you have those set up locally, it’s time to see what you’re working with in Jekyll. Go ahead and enter the following:

$ jekyll new blog
$ cd blog
$ jekyll serve

This will generate and serve a basic Jekyll blog locally. Check it out! Go into your browser to localhost:4000, and you should see something like the following:

Jekyll Blog Demo Site

When you’re done, you’re going to see that when you enter our server’s address. To do that, you’re going to need to configure a few things.

Configuration

Server-Side

In your terminal, log back into your server’s non-root user account. You’re going to need a directory for our site to go in, so go ahead and make one:

$ mkdir www
$ cd www

You can title it whatever you like. In that directory, you’re going to add a couple of additional ones that will be needed for your site:

$ mkdir shared
$ mkdir shared/log

Next, you’ll configure Nginx to know where to look for your site. Open the Nginx configuration file:

$ sudo nano /etc/nginx/nginx.conf

And look for a section that says:

Make sure the next line reads as follows, uncommented and replacing your_site.com with the domain your site will use:

Save the file, and you’ll move on. Now, you need to go into the folders Nginx will look for our site configuration information:

$ cd /etc/nginx/sites-available

There is already a file for the server demo page, but you’re going to use that to create one for our Jekyll site:

$ mv ./default ./your_site.com
$ sudo nano your_site.com

Once in the file, make it look something like the following, replacing user_name with your non-root user’s name and 00.00.00.00 with your server’s IP address or hostname if you’ve already configured it. Uncomment the lines listen 443 ssl; and listen [::]:80; if you have set up SSL certificates for your domain:

I’ve left a lot in here that is not absolutely necessary but is helpful to learn from. Once the file is configured, save it, and you’ll need to use a symlink in your sites-enabled directory so Nginx can find it:

$ sudo ln -s /etc/nginx/sites-available/your_site.com /etc/nginx/sites-enabled/your_site.com

Using a symlink (symbolic link) basically places a file that references back to another file, so the same information can be used in two places (sites-available and sites-enabled) but only needs to be updated in one (sites-available). It’s a great way to save time and reduce errors.

Now you need to make sure your Nginx server can access and the files it needs to run, as well as all parent folders involved. To do this, you’re going to make the Nginx user the owner of the directory you’re going to deploy to, and then give it read and write access to all the directories it will need:

$ sudo chown -R -www-data:www-data /home/user_name/www/current
$ sudo chmod 755 -R /home

Finally go ahead and check to make sure your setup of Nginx doesn’t create any errors, and then restart the Nginx worker:

$ sudo nginx -t
$ sudo kill -HUP `cat /var/run/nginx.pid`

Now that your server is configured properly, you can move on to setting up your deployment tool, Capistrano.

Capistrano

Back on your local machine, in the directory your blog is going in (say, /user_name/blog), go ahead and edit what’s called a Gemfile, which is basically just a file that lists what and what versions of Ruby and gems you’ll need:

$ nano Gemfile

Make it look something like this, keeping any versions, plugins or themes already listed in the file:

source "https://rubygems.org"
ruby "2.3.3"

# Hello! This is where you manage which Jekyll version is used to run.
# When you want to use a different version, change it below, save the
# file and run `bundle install`. Run Jekyll with `bundle exec`, like so:
#
#   bundle exec jekyll serve
#
# This will help ensure the proper Jekyll version is running.
# Happy Jekylling!
gem "jekyll", "3.3.1"
gem "capistrano"
gem "capistrano-rvm"
gem "capistrano-bundler"
gem "rvm1-capistrano3", require: false

# This is the default theme for new Jekyll sites. You may change this to anything you like.
gem "minima", "~> 2.0"

# If you want to use GitHub Pages, remove the "gem "jekyll"" above and
# uncomment the line below. To upgrade, run `bundle update github-pages`.
# gem "github-pages", group: :jekyll_plugins

# If you have any plugins, put them here!
group :jekyll_plugins do
  gem "jekyll-feed", "~> 0.6"
end

Once that’s in place, in your terminal, run the following to create some files Capistrano will need to deploy the site:

$ cap install

Here, you’ll have a bit more editing to do. In your terminal, type:

$ nano Capfile

Like the Gemfile, the Capfile will need to list some pieces required for Capistrano to work. Make it look kind of like this:

Making these changes will tell Capistrano that you’re using RVM to manage ruby versions and bundler to manage gems, as well as which version of Capistrano to expect.

To make sure all the necessary gems are properly set up for use, in your terminal type:

$ bundle update

Then the next file to edit:

$ nano config/deploy/production.rb

Edit it so it looks like this, replacing 00.00.00.00 with your server’s address and user_name with your non-root user:

set :stage, :production

# Extended Server Syntax
# ======================
# This can be used to drop a more detailed server definition into the
# server list. The second argument is a, or duck-types, Hash and is
# used to set extended properties on the server.

server "00.00.00.00", user: "user_name", port: 22, roles: %w{web app}

set :bundle_binstubs, nil

set :bundle_flags, "--deployment --quiet"
set :rvm_type, :user

SSHKit.config.command_map[:rake] = "bundle exec rake"
SSHKit.config.command_map[:rails] = "bundle exec rails"

namespace :deploy do

  desc "Restart application"
  task :restart do
    on roles(:app), in: :sequence, wait: 5 do
      # execute :touch, release_path.join("tmp/restart.txt")
    end
  end

  after :finishing, "deploy:cleanup"
end

# server-based syntax
# ======================
# Defines a single server with a list of roles and multiple properties.
# You can define all roles on a single server, or split them:

# server "example.com", user: "deploy", roles: %w{app db web}, my_property: :my_value
# server "example.com", user: "deploy", roles: %w{app web}, other_property: :other_value
# server "db.example.com", user: "deploy", roles: %w{db}



# role-based syntax
# ==================

# Defines a role with one or multiple servers. The primary server in each
# group is considered to be the first unless any hosts have the primary
# property set. Specify the username and a domain or IP for the server.
# Don't use `:all`, it's a meta role.

# role :app, %w{[email protected]}, my_property: :my_value
# role :web, %w{[email protected] [email protected]}, other_property: :other_value
# role :db,  %w{[email protected]}



# Configuration
# =============
# You can set any configuration variable like in config/deploy.rb
# These variables are then only loaded and set in this stage.
# For available Capistrano configuration variables see the documentation page.
# http://capistranorb.com/documentation/getting-started/configuration/
# Feel free to add new variables to customise your setup.



# Custom SSH Options
# ==================
# You may pass any option but keep in mind that net/ssh understands a
# limited set of options, consult the Net::SSH documentation.
# http://net-ssh.github.io/net-ssh/classes/Net/SSH.html#method-c-start
#
# Global options
# --------------
#  set :ssh_options, {
#    keys: %w(/home/rlisowski/.ssh/id_rsa),
#    forward_agent: false,
#    auth_methods: %w(password)
#  }
#
# The server-based syntax can be used to override options:
# ------------------------------------
# server "example.com",
#   user: "user_name",
#   roles: %w{web app},
#   ssh_options: {
#     user: "user_name", # overrides user setting above
#     keys: %w(/home/user_name/.ssh/id_rsa),
#     forward_agent: false,
#     auth_methods: %w(publickey password)
#     # password: "please use keys"
#   }

And last but not least, you’ll edit:

$ nano config/deploy.rb

Make sure it looks like the following. You’re going to replace user_name with your local username, ruby-2.3.3 with whichever version you are using, the application name of "blog" with your choice if you want to change it, and the address listed next to repo_url to the address of your own repository if you use git (otherwise leave those quotes empty):

# config valid only for current version of Capistrano
lock "3.7.1"

set :rvm1_ruby_version, "ruby-2.3.3"

set :application, "blog"
set :repo_url, "https://github.com/user_name/blog.git"

# Default branch is :master
# ask :branch, `git rev-parse --abbrev-ref HEAD`.chomp

# Default deploy_to directory is /var/www/my_app_name
set :deploy_to, "/home/user_name/www"

# Default value for :format is :airbrussh.
# set :format, :airbrussh

# You can configure the Airbrussh format using :format_options.
# These are the defaults.
# set :format_options, command_output: true, log_file: "log/capistrano.log", color: :auto, truncate: :auto

# Default value for :pty is false
# set :pty, true

# Default value for :linked_files is []
# append :linked_files, "config/database.yml", "config/secrets.yml"

# Default value for linked_dirs is []
# append :linked_dirs, "log", "tmp/pids", "tmp/cache", "tmp/sockets", "public/system"

# Default value for default_env is {}
# set :default_env, { path: "/opt/ruby/bin:$PATH" }

# Set stages
set :stages, ["staging", "production"]
set :default_stage, "production"

# Default value for :log_level is :debug
set :log_level, :debug

# Default value for keep_releases is 5
set :keep_releases, 5

namespace :deploy do

  desc "Restart application"
  task :restart do
    on roles(:app), in: :sequence, wait: 5 do
      # Your restart mechanism here, for example:
      # execute :touch, release_path.join("tmp/restart.txt")
    end
  end

  before :restart, :build_public do
    on roles(:app) do
      within release_path do
        execute "/home/user_name/.rvm/gems/ruby-2.3.3/wrappers/jekyll", "build --destination public"
      end
    end
  end

  after :publishing, :restart

end

Finally, go ahead and tell Capistrano to deploy your current site by typing:

$ cap production deploy

Open your browser window and type your server’s address. You should see this:

Jekyll Blog Demo Site

If you did, great! You set up your Jekyll site to push your local content to your server!

You’re finished for today. Want something to do in the meantime? If you set up your domain name last time, here’s a useful guide by Mitchell Anicas on securing your server with a free Lets Encypt SSL certificate.

Questions, comments or concerns? Continue the conversation in the comments!

Getting Started with Jekyll - Part 1: Servers and SSH

Jekyll Ruby Code

If you’re a developer, there’s a good chance you may have heard of static site generators like Jekyll or Ghost. They claim to cut down on a lot of the bloat you find in behemoths like WordPress and simultaneously give you greater control over your site’s structure and design.

For those very reasons, I have recently migrated my existing WordPress blog over to Jekyll. While WordPress is a massively useful tool for sites that require a lot of features, it’s simply unnecessary for a simple blog.

For those who have never managed their blog in this way, though, it can be pretty intimidating. Thankfully, there are a couple of ways to go about installing Jekyll, and both are manageable.

The easiest way to install Jekyll is to use GitHub Pages. I won’t go over that method here; instead, to have more control over the installation and site itself, we’re going to walk through hosting Jekyll on your own server, an always-connected computer for serving content, or Virtual Private Server/VPS, a piece of a server blocked off from the rest that acts like its own server. If you have never managed your own server before, this is a great project to learn from!

By the end of Part 1, you’re going to have a functioning server you can add a domain name to. In Part 2, we’ll get to the dependencies needed to make Jekyll and our deployments work. Ready for some fun?

Requirements

To follow along with this tutorial, you will need a server or VPS with root access. Basically this means you need administrator access to view and change things like system files on your server. Not sure who to use? My recommendation is Digital Ocean; for $5 a month, you will have more server than you need, full root access, as well as great documentation and support. This tutorial assumes you are able to use a command-line terminal, text editor like Sublime Text or Atom, and a web browser. It also assumes Linux, though folks using other systems are welcome to go through and let me know where you get stuck so we can work through it. You do not need to already know any particular language (though comfort with Ruby and Bash help), so if anything doesn’t make sense, please bring it to my attention.

Set Up Your VPS

To start with, you’re going to need to do some basic setup of your server. In this tutorial, we’re using Ubuntu 16.04, which Digital Ocean and others VPS providers make easy to install while creating your server. Once you receive your root login information (likely by email), log into your VPS using SSH on your console. Grab your server’s IP address, a series of four or six numbers separated by periods that tells your browser where to find your server. For Digital Ocean, this can be found on the Droplets page like this:

Droplets: Name, IP Address, Created, Tags

You should type something like the following, filling in your server’s IP address in place of the zeros:

You’ll likely see something like the following:

Type yes and enter your root password:

$ root_password

Your terminal should require you to immediately change your password. Enter your original password and then the new one twice. The prompt should then change to reflect your using the droplet like so: [email protected] ~$.

Now, this root user can easily get you in a lot of trouble because it has access to everything on your server and can do anything to it. You don’t want to be the person who accidentally deletes everything on your server by hitting just a few keystrokes.

So what we’re going to do instead is create a new user that can access administrator privileges, but only deliberately so accidents are less likely to be catastrophic. Choose a username, and in your terminal, type:

$ adduser user_name

You will be prompted for a password, and then you’ll see additional information requested:

Enter what you like; it’s okay to leave them blank if you prefer. Then we can get to adding privileges. In your terminal, type:

$ usermod -aG sudo user_name

This will add user_name to the user group sudo which by default has superuser or administrator privileges. To access those privileges, when you’re issuing a command you’ll type sudo in front of it, like this:

$ sudo command

The first time you use this in each session, you will have to enter your user’s account password. The prompt will look like:

Before we log out of the root user and into the one you’ve created, it’s a good idea to connect an SSH key pair to the server. These are a set of codes in which one is stored locally (the private key) and one is stored on the server (the public key). In order to log in with them, the user must have the right private key that matches up with the server’s public key. These codes are much harder to crack than passwords, so they make your server more secure against brute-force attacks.

If you don’t already have a key pair, you’ll need to go ahead and create one. In a separate local terminal window (not connected to your server), type the following:

$ ssh-keygen -t rsa

You will see a couple of prompts:

For the first prompt, just hit enter. The second is largely up to you. A passphrase could potentially provide more security, say if your local computer was hacked or stolen, but you would need to enter it every time you use the key pair.

When the keys have been created, the public key will be stored at /home/user_name/.ssh/id_rsa.pub and the private key will be at /home/user_name/.ssh/id_rsa. These can be stored in a password manager vault as a backup. Now that you have them, you’ll need to copy the public key to your server under each of your accounts. While still in your local terminal window, type the following, replacing 00.00.00.00 with your server’s IP address:

$ ssh-copy-id [email protected]

You should see something like this:

Type yes. Then you’ll see:

Enter the password for user_name. You’ll see:

At this point, in your server terminal window, you can go ahead and log out of the root account and try to log back in:

$ exit
$ ssh [email protected]

You should not be prompted for a password, though you will for a passphrase if you created one. Go ahead and do these same steps again starting with copying the public key to your non-root user, so that both accounts can be accessed without a password.

Important: Only complete this next step if you were **successfully* able to log in without the password on your accounts. Otherwise you can lock yourself out of your own server.*

The next thing you can do, which is optional but generally a good idea, is to disable password-logins for your root account. This ensures that someone won’t be able to gain administrator access to your server just because they cracked your password. If you do this step, using your server terminal window, open the config file for SSH:

$ sudo nano /etc/ssh/sshd_config

Look for PermitRootLogin and modify it so it says:

Then to make the changes effective, type this into your terminal to reload SSH:

$ sudo service ssh reload

Now that we have this out of the way, there isn’t much need for you to log in to the root account, so get out of there and log into your non-root account.

Configure Your Server with Nginx

At this point, you should be logged into your server as your non-root user. Now, we’re going to install the Nginx web server, which will be pretty easy. In your terminal, type:

$ sudo apt-get update
$ sudo apt-get install nginx

apt-get is a package manager that will help us install things; as long as the name of the program we need is in its listings, it should be able to install it for us. By updating it first, we’re making sure we have the most up-to-date listings to pull from. The second command handles the actual installation, including any needed dependencies. Note: If you get a dependency error installing anything in this tutorial, you may need to look at the error and install the dependency prior to installing the program you want. Just be prepared.

Now’s a pretty good time to make sure we have a firewall set up, since we’ll need to make sure Nginx can get through it. A firewall keeps track of traffic in and out of your server and makes sure that only traffic that meets certain rules can get through. The tool we’re going to use to manage our firewall is ufw, which comes built-in.

First, go ahead and check the status of your firewall by typing:

$ sudo ufw status verbose

You should get a message stating it is inactive. We’re going to deliberately enable it. First, we need to make sure that traffic can get in from the ports we need. Ports are specific endpoints for traffic in and out of the server; for example, emails are generally handled from a different port than your published content will be.

First, since we are accessing our server remotely through SSH, a secure shell within our terminal, we need to make sure we can keep accessing that way:

$ sudo ufw allow ssh

Since SSH requires port 22, that command will allow connections from that port. We’ll also make sure that http connections (the kind you usually make in your browser) are allowed. Like with SSH, ufw knows what port to listen to for http connections (80), so you can type:

$ sudo ufw allow 'Nginx HTTP'

If you have or get a SSL security certificate for your site, which will connect users by https instead and is generally a best practice these days, you will also need to keep its port open:

$ sudo ufw allow 'Nginx HTTPS'

We’re not going to worry about File Tranfer Protocol/FTP connections, used for transferring files back and forth with your server with no encryption (not a great idea anyway), or other ports because we’re going to deploy our site’s files right from SSH.

Now that we have our needed ports open, go ahead and enable the firewall:

$ sudo ufw enable

If you go back and check the firewall status again, you should get output like this:

Now we should be able to check with our system to see that Nginx is running. Type:

$ systemctl status nginx

You’ll get a detailed output, but the piece you want to look for is Active: active (running) since. Just to be sure, go ahead and see if you get Nginx’s default landing page. In your browser window’s navigation bar, type your server’s IP address (should look like 00.00.00.00) and hit enter. You should see something that looks like this:

Welcome to nginx!

If you did, great! Your server is working correctly.

We’re finished for today, in Part 2 we’ll get all the dependencies needed and install Jekyll, and Monday we’ll get the blog posts and changes deployed! Want something to do in the meantime? If you have Digital Ocean, here’s a useful guide by Etel Sverdlov on setting up your domain/hostname on your server.

Questions, comments or concerns? Continue the conversation in the comments!

The JavaScript Boilerplate to Use if You're New to Full Stack

ClementineJS Screenshot

Novice JavaScript developers and those just getting started handling the server side can easily fall into the trap of JavaScript fatigue. With the numerous components that make up a full-stack JavaScript application, aggressive fan-bases, and new tools constantly being hailed as the new “must use” thing, it can be difficult for someone starting out to weed through the hype and figure out exactly what they should learn and use for their first applications. When they come across frameworks and boilerplates that are supposed to make things easier, new developers often find that they need to conquer a mountain of new information before they can even attempt them.

Enter Clementine.js: a relatively recent addition, developed by Blake Johnston in 2015. This boilerplate takes simplicity to the extreme, and is easily one of the lightest of its kind.

For example, while it has three versions to choose from, the default is built with Node.js, MongoDB, and Express. There are no preferred front-end frameworks to commit to, and no extraneous technologies to bulk up the project and get in your way, although you can select an Angular version if you favor the MEAN stack.

Students learning full-stack JavaScript through the free (as in speech and beer) program Free Code Camp, who are used to being told to learn by doing, will be delighted to see that there is a version hand-crafted for them. In it, the standard version is paired with Passport for secure authentication through GitHub and Mongoose for modeling data in MongoDB. Clementine.js and Free Code Camp are great for each other.

Each version lays out clear installation instructions and strong documentaion. There are tutorials for incorporating Angular, authentication, deploying successfully to Heroku, and for the absolute beginner to walk themselves through putting together what Clementine.js installs for them. Watch that space in the future, as tutorials on testing in Mocha and incorporating React.js for MERN stack projects are soon to come.

Will this be the framework you use for every project you ever make? Absolutely not; there are good reasons why many of these other boilerplates and projects become so bloated, and not every tool works well for every project. But if you’re a beginner and you’re not utilizing Clementine.js, you are making more work for yourself.

Like what Blake has done with Clementine.js? Consider contributing to the project. As with other open-source projects, it can only survive with the help of meaningful contributions.

What are you building today? Continue the conversation in the comments!

5 Ways to Involve Young Kids When Coding

Girl and mother in front of laptop

Motherhood is a nonstop guilt trip, and few things cut as deep as not seeming to spend enough time with your kids. Combine that with the time-consuming nature of coding, debugging, and research, and you have a recipe for a stressed-out mom.

What’s a mom to do? Here are some ways I keep my own kids engaged while I work at home.

Let Them Code, Too

I don’t know about your kids, but my four-year-old absolutely loves puzzles. So when I’m working on code, I break out a tablet for him to play ScratchJr.

Kid Using Tablet

Scratch and ScratchJr are free programs created by MIT that allow children and newcomers to code to write logic using puzzle pieces. Kids and adults alike can utilize things like loops, conditional statements, and functions to create a vast variety of programs and games. The individual puzzle pieces only fit where the logic makes sense from a coding standpoint.

Scratch can be played with in a web browser, or you can download the software to use it offline. ScratchJr is designed for tablets and works on iPad, Android, and Kindle Fire. Each one organizes pieces into various color coded categories to make it easier for kids to pick it up quickly. And the best part for a kid learning to code: no semicolons!

Since the Jr version doesn’t require reading comprehension, my son likes it for controlling the avatars and making his own mini games. And he loves feeling like he’s doing his “work” while Mommy’s doing hers.

Usability Testing

Almost everyone who builds products for some user to eventually, well, use knows that they’re not always all that good at figuring out how they’re supposed to do it. Even by having others try out your site or software, it’s almost impossible to know how your genuine users may try to do things differently.

User Touches Tablet

One way to at least check that a user’s wrong clicks won’t break your site or program is to simply click around randomly and see what happens. Do you know who are really good at randomly clicking things?

Kids, of course. Let them tool around with your front end and watch from behind them to see if anything breaks. My sons are always trying to snag my laptop so they can press as many keys as they can, so giving them the opportunity to click and tap away with no consequences is a really special treat.

Engage Little Builders

When kids are going to be underfoot, it helps to get them completely absorbed in what they’re doing so they’re less likely to try to wander off. This makes Legos and other building toys great choices for when Mommy needs to get work done at home. Once they start constructing something, it usually hold my kids’ concentration for an extended period of time.

Lego Family Waves at Bus

Plus, not only do they have something to focus on for a while, but as long as they get a chance to show me their finished projects and get my smile of approval, they’re as proud and happy as if I had been beside them the whole time. Keeping a camera (or camera phone) by the computer also helps, because then I can take a picture of whatever they’ve built when they present it to me; kids tend to love when their creations are special enough that Mommy wants to take a picture of them.

Let the Little Artist Out

Doing some whiteboarding or wireframing or need to create some flowcharts to get the hang of your algorithm? Young kids often don’t realize exactly what Mommy’s doing when she starts drawing out what she’s working on, but it can definitely inspire them to draw their own little masterpieces.

Crayons with Child Coloring

When I break out my drawing tools, I also take out some crayons for my sons. They get to draw anything they can think of while Mommy puts some flowcharts together. Most importantly, they feel like they’re doing something just like Mommy, so they don’t feel left out when I’m working.

A Little Quiet Time

Of course, not all of code work is active. A lot of time is spent reading books and documentation and doing research. As soon as I appear not to be doing anything, my kids decide that I need them to spice things up a bit.

How do I keep them still? When I do my reading, I try to sit my boys down to do their reading.

Stack of Books Under Cup

My oldest is starting to read words and my youngest likes to look at pictures, so if I give them a good stack of books based on their interests, I can usually get them to enjoy the quiet time long enough for me to make progress.

None of this is to dismiss the fact that working at home while simultaneously taking care of kids is hard work. These options help to make it possible, but I still stay up several hours after my kids go to bed so that I can concentrate for a bit.

Let me know on in the comments if these helped you or what you’ve tried, or even work from home horror stories.