The 5 Rules of Effective Component-Driven Development

In this article, I'll deeply explore component-based development. I’ll demonstrate how this approach can enhance system flexibility, boost teamwork, decrease the stress and time associated with implementation.

tl;dr

Who else loves Lego? This timeless toy has captivated us for generations and continues to grow in popularity. Personally, I often have to restrain myself from buying a new set to save money! So, what’s my solution? Integrating the concept of Lego into my work.

In this article, I'll explore a crucial aspect of the development process that I've applied across numerous projects: component-based development. I’ll demonstrate how this approach can enhance system flexibility, boost teamwork, decrease the stress and time associated with implementation. I'll show how to build websites like with Lego bricks.


Who might benefit from this?

This series addresses junior to mid-level software engineers or agency owners who search for ways to build efficient workflow. It offers foundational insights into developing software that's easier to manage, test, and faster to implement, which should increase efficiency and earnings. It might be precious if you've completed a few projects already and you're searching for your next steps in the more interesting patterns.

Although I came from a WordPress background, this article is technology-agnostic, meaning the concepts can be applied regardless of the used stack. Whether you're developing mobile apps, WordPress plugins, custom themes, or applications with Laravel, Vue, or Nuxt, the principles outlined here will be beneficial. I'll focus on ideologies rather than specific solutions, making the content universally applicable.


What is Component-Driven Development?

Let's consider the simplest analogy. What is a car? It's for sure a tool that simplifies your life, but focusing more on architectural terms, a car is a collection of self-efficient modules, each designed to perform specific tasks. These modules - like the engine, suspension, or gearbox - work together to meet your needs. Each module has a distinct function, but together, they ensure that the car works efficiently and effectively.

Now, let's say the engine breaks down. Does this mean the gearbox might be broken too? In the worst-case scenario, we can simply replace the engine without risking any issues with the gearbox. Sure, the gearbox connects to the engine at some point and bears some risk, but this potential breakpoint is centralized, ensuring that other parts are fine.

What if the gearbox were integrated with the engine? In that case, a problem might need fixing or replacing both, leading to significantly higher costs. This scenario highlights problems with highly-coupled architecture where a failure in one component can impact the entire system and other parts much more than in the previous example.

Component-based architecture is a method of creating systems using reusable bricks, each with well-defined functionalities interacting with others through their interfaces, allowing each brick to contribute to the whole. Each component can be developed, tested, and maintained independently, working together to form a complete system.

Thanks to the component-based architecture, maintenance is much more manageable. When a single component fails, you can focus solely on fixing that part, often without needing to interfere with other ones. This approach not only simplifies repairs but also reduces costs. Instead of searching for multiple specialists, you only need to find one who specializes in engines keeping the expenses and effort more contained.


What are the 5 rules of a good component?

The component is a reusable brick performing a specific task and interacting with others. But what does it mean that the component is good? There are several factors to consider, which can vary depending on your workflow. Here, I’ll share the approach that I truly believe, which saves time, reduces costs, and spares you a lot of frustration.

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#1 Reusable

In the traditional approach, you often copy and paste code from one place to another to reuse specific components. Whenever a change is needed, you have to track down all the instances where the code is used and update each one. Having worked this way many years ago, I realized how inefficient it was, for me and the clients.

A well-designed component should be reusable, meaning that you should write the code once and use it across various parts of the project. When changes are needed, you make them in one place, and they automatically propagate throughout your codebase.

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#2 Specialized

You’re a developer, so you’ve likely experienced back pain at least once. If it persists, would you consult someone who knows a little about everything or a physiotherapist who specializes in treating this specific type of issue? I believe you would choose the second one since there's a higher chance of success. Components like this too.

A well-designed component is specialized in one thing and does it right. Smaller units are simpler to develop, test, and maintain over time, so it’s crucial not to overload your component with multiple, loosely related features. You wouldn’t want the problems you’re solving with components to be reflected by the components themselves, right?

#3 Context-Agnostic

If you buy an iPhone you expect it to work no matter if you're inside or outside house. Of course, it's limited to some external factors like the network provider, but still, it should work fine in such simple scenarios. Those rules can be applied to components as well!

A well-designed component should be context-agnostic, meaning that it should keep its functions, look and behavior no matter where it's used. If the specific component works fine only on the Homepage - that's bad. Similarly, if the component keeps its designed behavior or look only when another not related file or component is prsent on the page, that's wrong too. They should be self-efficient, no matter where they're used.

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#4 Isolated

One major challenge in IT project handling is client micromanagement. Clients hire us to solve problems but often dictate the exact solutions, which rarely works well. They should provide requirements and trust us to handle the implementation. Much like I choose which hand to use with my mouse - a detail the client doesn’t need to know - components should maintain autonomy over their internal operations and give results.

A well-designed component should isolate its internal details and allow modifying its behavior only in controlled ways such as configurable options. The world doesn't need to know how this component achieves its goal. What truly matters is that it effectively achieves its intended purpose.

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#5 Replaceable

Let's get back to your car. If the engine breaks and you need to replace it, you'd expect to swap out just the engine, not the gearbox, suspension, and other parts, right? That's something that components should make simple too.

A well-designed component should be easy to swap out. If you find yourself needing to adjust various other parts of your code just to switch out one component, something isn’t right. Components should be decoupled, and their replacement should be easy.


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How components help your business?

There are several areas where such an approach can be beneficial for the business. It helps us maintain high standards and improve over the long term.

#1 Reducing a Costs

If you’ve built something once, it works well, and you’re proud of it, why not leverage it for the future? Why not reduce your time spent on the development process and keep the high standards that you've set? Optimize your workflow and earn money!

Adopting this strategy can significantly reduce your workload. When handled properly, you can develop a set of components that can be used across many projects, continually refining them and tailoring them to specific needs and reducing costs. You’re essentially building your customized toolkit tailored to your requirements.

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#2 Improving a Teamwork

Imagine you're working at a company with several team members, each with their responsibilities. You've just landed a client, and you're eager to get started, but the deadlines are tight. As is often the case, the project needs to be completed ASAP.

With component-based architecture, you can easily have three different developers work on separate components that will together build the whole layout faster. They won't disturb each other because due to self-sufficiency, they work independently. They won't make many conflicts in the GIT, since they work on separate files. They won't create a lot of work in the CR, since you check only one specific component at a time.

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#3 Improving Estimations

Extracting components from the design is a crucial step in the process of preparing an offer in our workflow for a long time. It's much easier to estimate the time needed for a single component with clearly defined functionalities and sum up the results than to try to estimate the entire project all at once, which is forbidden in our workflow by the way.

You can easily estimate the costs for creating four separate components, sum up the results, and then send out an offer. This method offers much more peace of mind and control over the project. If, in the initial stages, you see that the budget for 2 out of the 4 components has been exceeded, it immediately alerts you that something is wrong.

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#4 Reducing Problems

There's no such thing as a perfect project; issues certainly arise at some point. In a highly coupled architecture where everything is consolidated into one file - take, for example, a WordPress template that implements all components directly within it - when one component fails, fixing it can feel like navigating a battlefield. Even with the best intentions, there's a risk of unintentionally affecting other parts of the code.

In a well-designed component architecture, issues like a broken single block have less impact. Even if it's initialized in the template, it isn't coupled with other elements. You can comment out the initialization, go to the source, and figure out the problems without affecting other parts of the code. If making mistakes costs less because of how your system is structured, why not embrace such an approach?

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How to identify components from the design?

Let's get back to the app design we're working on. Based on the previous point, how many components can you identify? If you're imagining one massive component that handles everything, think about the costs of fixing the car with the gearbox integrated with the engine and try again. I'm sure you can! Try to use the component rules defined earlier and search for elements that match as many rules as it possible.

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After a brief brainstorming, I identified four components to develop: Navigation, Hero, Tile, and List. This collection allows providing minimal values that are important: reusability, specialization, or isolation. Is that enough? Based on the component rules that we discussed earlier, for my purposes, yes, but it's up to you. Remember that the pragmatic approach should work well here too. You're the chief here.

For instance, you might choose to combine the Tile and List into a single component since the design is simple. However, I separated them because, upon closer design inspection, I realized that this component could be used in other areas too. We might also create a few smaller components like button, but we'll handle this in the next parts.


What does the community think?

There are as many approaches to the creation process as there are developers. That’s why I've gathered insights from several great developers about the component-driven approach. They'll share their experiences to help you understand different perspectives and learn from diverse approaches. Thanks to all of them!


What's next? Since we've split up a design into several components, we're ready to handle the next steps! So in the upcoming articles, I'll guide you through setting up a block architecture in a custom WordPress Theme or Plugins and creating functional components that serve your needs. Even though we'll be using WordPress, don't worry. As mentioned earlier, the concepts and strategies we'll discuss are applicable across various technology stacks. So, stay tuned for more!

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