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Cloudflare Workers and micro-frontends: made for one another

Cloudflare Workers and micro-frontends: made for one another

To help developers build better web applications we researched and devised a fragments architecture to build component using Qwik. This component is rendered in a Cloudflare Worker via a fetch() handler:

export default {
  fetch(request: Request, env: Record<string, unknown>): Promise<Response> {
    return renderResponse(request, env, <Header />, manifest, "header");
  },
};

cloud-gallery/header/src/entry.ssr.tsx

The renderResponse() function is a helper we wrote that server-side renders the fragment and streams it into the body of a Response that we return from the fetch() handler.

The header fragment serves its own JavaScript and image assets from its Cloudflare Worker. We configure Wrangler to upload these assets to Cloudflare and serve them from our network.

Implementing fragment composition

Fragments that contain child fragments have additional responsibilities:

  • Request and inject child fragments when rendering their own HTML.
  • Proxy requests for child fragment assets through to the appropriate fragment.

Injecting child fragments

The position of a child fragment inside its parent can be specified by a FragmentPlaceholder helper component that we have developed. For example, the “body” fragment has the “filter” and “gallery” fragments.

<div class="content">
  <FragmentPlaceholder name="filter" />
  <FragmentPlaceholder name="gallery" />
</div>

cloud-gallery/body/src/root.tsx

The FragmentPlaceholder component is responsible for making a request for the fragment and piping the fragment stream into the output stream.

Proxying asset requests

As mentioned earlier, fragments can host their own assets, especially client-side JavaScript files. When a request for an asset arrives at the parent fragment, it needs to know which child fragment should receive the request.

In our demo we use a convention that such asset paths will be prefixed with /_fragment/. For example, the header logo image path is /_fragment/header/cf-logo.png. We developed a tryGetFragmentAsset() helper which can be added to the parent fragment’s fetch() handler to deal with this:

export default {
  async fetch(
    request: Request,
    env: Record<string, unknown>
  ): Promise<Response> {
    // Proxy requests for assets hosted by a fragment.
    const asset = await tryGetFragmentAsset(env, request);
    if (asset !== null) {
      return asset;
    }
    // Otherwise server-side render the template injecting child fragments.
    return renderResponse(request, env, <Root />, manifest, "div");
  },
};

cloud-gallery/body/src/entry.ssr.tsx

Fragment asset paths

If a fragment hosts its own assets, then we need to ensure that any HTML it renders uses the special _fragment/ path prefix mentioned above when referring to these assets. We have implemented a strategy for this in the helpers we developed.

The FragmentPlaceholder component adds a base searchParam to the fragment request to tell it what this prefix should be. The renderResponse() helper extracts this prefix and provides it to the Qwik server-side renderer. This ensures that any request for client-side JavaScript has the correct prefix. Fragments can apply a hook that we developed called useFragmentRoot(). This allows components to gather the prefix from a FragmentContext context.

For example, since the “header” fragment hosts the Cloudflare and GitHub logos as assets, it must call the useFragmentRoot() hook:

export const Header = component$(() => {
  useStylesScoped$(HeaderCSS);
  useFragmentRoot();

  return (...);
});

cloud-gallery/header/src/root.tsx

The FragmentContext value can then be accessed in components that need to apply the prefix. For example, the Image component:

export const Image = component$((props: Record<string, string | number>) => {
  const { base } = useContext(FragmentContext);
  return <img {...props} src={base + props.src} />;
});

cloud-gallery/helpers/src/image/image.tsx

Service-binding fragments

Cloudflare Workers provide a mechanism called service bindings to make requests between Cloudflare Workers efficiently that avoids network requests. In the demo we use this mechanism to make the requests from parent fragments to their child fragments with almost no performance overhead, while still allowing the fragments to be independently deployed.

Comparison to current solutions

This fragments architecture has three properties that distinguish it from other current solutions.

Unlike monoliths, or client-side micro-frontends, fragments are developed and deployed as independent server-side rendered applications that are composed together on the server-side. This significantly improves rendering speed, and lowers interaction latency in the browser.

Unlike server-side rendered micro-frontends with Node.js or cloud functions, Cloudflare Workers is a globally distributed compute platform with a region-less deployment model. It has incredibly low latency, and a near-zero communication overhead between fragments.

Unlike solutions based on module federation, a fragment’s client-side JavaScript is very specific to the fragment it is supporting. This means that it is small enough that we don’t need to have shared library code, eliminating the version skew issues and coordination problems when updating shared libraries.

Future possibilities

This demo is just a proof of concept, so there are still areas to investigate. Here are some of the features we’d like to explore in the future.

Caching

Each micro-frontend fragment can be cached independently of the others based on how static its content is. When requesting the full page, the fragments only need to run server-side rendering for micro-frontends that have changed.

An application where the output of some fragments are cached

With per-fragment caching you can return the HTML response to the browser faster, and avoid incurring compute costs in re-rendering content unnecessarily.

Fragment routing and client-side navigation

Our demo application used micro-frontend fragments to compose a single page. We could however use this approach to implement page routing as well. When server-side rendering, the main fragment could insert the appropriate “page” fragment based on the visited URL. When navigating, client-side, within the app, the main fragment would remain the same while the displayed “page” fragment would change.

An application where each route is delegated to a different fragment

This approach combines the best of server-side and client-side routing with the power of fragments.

Using other frontend frameworks

Although the Cloud Gallery application uses Qwik to implement all fragments, it is possible to use other frameworks as well. If really necessary, it’s even possible to mix and match frameworks.

To achieve good results, the framework of choice should be capable of server-side rendering, and should have a small client-side JavaScript footprint. HTML streaming capabilities, while not required, can significantly improve performance of large applications.

An application using different frontend frameworks

Incremental migration strategies

Adopting a new architecture, compute platform, and deployment model is a lot to take in all at once, and for existing large applications is prohibitively risky and expensive. To make this  fragment-based architecture available to legacy projects, an incremental adoption strategy is a key.

Developers could test the waters by migrating just a single piece of the user-interface within their legacy application to a fragment, integrating with minimal changes to the legacy application. Over time, more of the application could then be moved over, one fragment at a time.

Convention over configuration

As you can see in the Cloud Gallery demo application, setting up a fragment-based micro-frontend requires quite a bit of configuration. A lot of this configuration is very mechanical and could be abstracted away via conventions and better tooling. Following productivity-focused precedence found in Ruby on Rails, and filesystem based routing meta-frameworks, we could make a lot of this configuration disappear.

Try it yourself!

There is still so much to dig into! Web applications have come a long way in recent years and their growth is hard to overstate. Traditional implementations of micro-frontends have had only mixed success in helping developers scale development and deployment of large applications. Cloudflare Workers, however, unlock new possibilities which can help us tackle many of the existing challenges and help us build better web applications.

Thanks to the generous free plan offered by Cloudflare Workers, you can check out the Gallery Demo code and deploy it yourself.

If all of these sounds interesting to you, and you would like to work with us on improving the developer experience for Cloudflare Workers, we are also happy to share that we are hiring!

Source:: CloudFlare