.NET Model Generator with Mithril

Mithril.js is a JavaScript framework for creating client-side frontend apps or SPAs, and it’s incredible for its size. I always wanted to try it out because what I read about it was very appealing. The time has come.

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I starred Mithril on GitHub years ago but didn't have the time and project to try it out. In my previous blog post I mentioned that I could have used a JavaScript tool for the .NET model generator, and that was triggering Mithril in my mind. I looked up its documentation, how the project has evolved through the years, and I got more and more enthusiastic. I thought it was a perfect project to learn Mithril, and it turned out I was right.

The application

As I already mentioned this is a rewrite of the Eleventy version of the model generator to provide a UI (and to learn Mithril). I ended up with three columns, off which the first one is where you can input model properties. Each column's header has an input for global variables like namespace, model and custom DB entity classnames. New properties (rows) can be added via a button, or just by hitting Enter. In the top-right corner there are Export and Import buttons. You can also remove, reorder and even undelete properties.

Demo and source code

Small framework, small learning curve

After all it took me about a week to rebuild the model generator, working on the project 2-4 hours a day (after work, so not with a fresh mind). That was about the third day when my application started to work, though it took some additional iterations to complete it. Actually it could have been take smaller amount of time but I decided to do things in a "modern" way, so first I had to fill the gaps in my JavaScript/CSS knowledge as well.

I started off with this tutorial:

https://gilbert.ghost.io/mithril-js-tutorial-1/

It was really helpful, but I needed to combine it with the official tutorial from here as well:

https://mithril.js.org/simple-application.html

Both were very useful and enlightening, definitely recommended if you just begin learning the framework.

Modules, npm, require()

I have used npm here and there but for nothing serious. Because of this, I'm a rookie in it. I made a shallow attempt to write the application in a traditional way using global variables, but fortunately I switched to modules and Webpack. This has made things easier and the code more organized, since each component, model, etc could go to a separate file.

ES6

I forced myself in this project to use arrow functions, map(), forEach(), etc. In fact it was easier then I thought since many things were familiar to me from C#. It was nice to see how the new syntax produced more compact code, often reducing things to one or only a few lines. The two final output uses template literals, and it would have been a large PiTA if I couldn't use that.

CSS grid and variables

CSS grid was completely unknown to me, I just read some headlines about it but since I was always had to support older browser, there was no need to learn it. Here I didn't have t worry about it, so I could use grids, and even CSS variables as well.

I used this online tool, which is really amazing:

https://css-grid-layout-generator.pw/

It helped me grasping the basic concepts of CSS grids, although I needed to tweak the final result a bit to fit my needs.

CSS variables always appealed to me becaus they allow writing more consistent CSS, just like using variables in CSS preprocessors. I wish this feature will become much more supported soon, it's a very handy thing.

Extra features

After having the application up and running more or less the way I wanted, I started to add some extra features. That was the fun part; I did this out of curiousity and I learned a lot of new stuff. In some cases I had to rewrite parts of the application as the implementation were less than optimal.

Animation

When adding or removing a property there's a quick animation. I added this out of curiousity, which was easy by following the documentation. I like that Mithril doesn't try to reinvent the wheel, they suggest using CSS animation which is definitely the way to go.

Checking for duplicate properties

In the Eleventy version you can add properties with the same name but here I wanted to eliminate this. If you try to type a name that already exists, the application warns you. I had to rewrite the implementation two times because at first I only checked the current input, but since each row's name could be modified anytime, all inputs should be checked all the time. That gave me a headache at first, but actually it was really easy to implement. They say Mithril is "less magic", so you have better knowledge of what's going on, and it's kinda true. But in other POV Mithril is "more magic" as it allows you to do things with a few lines of code.

Compact view mode

When there are many properties, it's useful having a toggle button that collapses them to a single row, showing the property name only. I made this feature the Mithril way, though I could use a simple CSS checkbox-hack to achieve the same.

Drag-and-drop reorder

I was not sure whether to add this feature, but after I did it turned out that it was a must. I used the library Dragula and after some fiddling around I could tweak it to my needs. First the outputs were reacting only when the user dropped a property at the end of the drag. Later I changed this to be "real-time", so as you drag a property to a new position, the outputs react immediately. Pure magic.

Export and import

I didn't plan to add import and export features but I soon realized that it's a must if I was to create a usable tool. The core of these features were easy to implement (just save data as JSON to a file, and replace the application's main data object with the new one). But I had trouble re-populating the input fields. Finally I managed to achieve this by modifying things a bit. By the time I implemented this I had a better knowledge of how Mithril works so it was easy to refactor. That's one beauty of Mithril: by being small and having just one way to do things you can easily add new features easily.

Icons

Lastly I replaced the unicode icon characters with real SVG icons, using the Feather open source icons. Character icons looked less professional since I couldn't always find the right one, and they may look different in different browsers or operating systems. I created a JavaScript object for the icons I needed (values being the SVG files' contents) so I could add them to Mithril components like m.trust(Icons["plus-circle]). This way I got inlined SVGs that I could easily style with CSS.

Input transformations

For consistency reasons I added input transformations like not allowing spaces in certain fields, or making values uppercase first or full uppercase. That was partly available in the Eleventy version as well but here I moved it to a next level.

Save current working set to localStorage

This was one of the last things I added, and it was ridiculously easy because I had all the methods already at hand (actually it's exactly the same as the "Import" feature). When you reload the page, either intentionally or by mistake, your data won't be lost but re-set from localStorage. I also added a "Remove All" button so you can clear everything if you feel so. In fact I should have added this feature earlier so I could develop more easily.

Sort by name

Another tiny but useful feature that was easy to add. It just sorts properties by name ascending, since I can't think of other kind of sorting is every needed here.

Syntax highlight

The need of this feature emerged when I first got the rendered output and it was just pure text, which wasn't too readable and pretty. I added Prism which does the job very well.

Undelete

Another convenience feature that was easy to add. When deleting a property and it had a non-empty property name, the application puts it to an array. When clicking on the undelete button the last item is re-added to the list of properties.

Drawbacks

It's not Mithril's fault but if you're stuck, it's often hard to find answers. Fortunately I was able to figure things out or find solution, but often my searches ended up finding examples written to older versions that were not applicable to my version (v2.0.4).

Conclusion

I'm really happy how things came together and that I have learned many new things. In the past I could leverage Mithril a few times where I often have used messy code to do things (sometimes with jQuery). Now I have a very powerful tool under my belt for such applications and I can't wait the next one to come :)

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