travis vachon

solid at ground level

If the web is urgently in need of a revolution then it's important to understand what we can do today to work toward a better world. Let's get the bad news out of the way first: in February 2020, Solid isn't ready for prime time. The specification isn't finished, the tools are a minefield of footguns, and the community - while active, smart, and kind - is still fairly small.

The good news is that what's there is already very powerful, and for simple use cases, already a delight:

import React from 'react';
import { Value } from '@solid/react';

export default () => (
  <Value src="[https://tvachon.inrupt.net/profile/card#me].name"/>
)
a lazy component will slouch into place here at runtime

This tiny component uses the @solid/react library to execute a query against my pod using the LDflex DSL. It's really running live above, which is why you may have seen a brief flicker before my name popped up. LDflex was designed to make it easy for JavaScript developers to start building Solid applications. If you think of a Solid Pod as an entrypoint to the worldwide graph of data that is the Semantic Web, you can think of LDflex as a way to navigate that graph. You can also render lists of things - here's a list of Ruben Verborgh's friends:

<List src="[https://ruben.verborgh.org/profile/#me].friends.firstName"/>
a lazy component will slouch into place here at runtime

In theory, you should be able to point LDflex at any Linked Data server but at the moment most Linked Data servers in the wild do not use CORS in a way that makes this possible.

a graph navigation dsl

At a conceptual level, the Semantic Web is a graph where both the nodes and edges are identified by globally unique URIs. My profile page https://tvachon.inrupt.net/profile/card#me is a node that represents me, which when resolved results in a Turtle file that describes a graph of information about me:

<https://tvachon.inrupt.net/profile/card#me> <http://xmlns.com/foaf/0.1/knows> <https://tobytoberson.inrupt.net/profile/card#me>;
<https://tvachon.inrupt.net/profile/card#me> <http://www.w3.org/2006/vcard/ns#fn> "Travis";

The first of these two sets of "triples" can be read as "the entity represented by the URI https://tvachon.inrupt.net/profile/card#me has a relationship described by the URI http://xmlns.com/foaf/0.1/knows with the entity represented by the URI https://tobytoberson.inrupt.net/profile/card#me" - in other words, "Travis knows Toby."

The second set of triples says "the entity represented by https://tvachon.inrupt.net/profile/card#me has a relationship described by http://www.w3.org/2006/vcard/ns#fn with the string 'Travis'" - in other words, "https://tvachon.inrupt.net/profile/card#me's 'formatted name' is Travis."

In its most basic form, LDflex just lets you follow the links in this graph. Taking a modified version of the expression used by the react component above:

<Value src="[https://tvachon.inrupt.net/profile/card#me][http://www.w3.org/2006/vcard/ns#fn]"/>

we can now see that this can be read "display the value that has a http://www.w3.org/2006/vcard/ns#fn relationship with the entity https://tvachon.inrupt.net/profile/card#me." An LDflex interpreter can be given a set of mappings from short strings to full URIs - in the example above, http://www.w3.org/2006/vcard/ns#fn has been mapped to name so we can shorten this to:

<Value src="[https://tvachon.inrupt.net/profile/card#me].name"/>

In the second example above, the LDflex interpreter will assume that friends is mapped to http://xmlns.com/foaf/0.1/knows and firstName is mapped to http://xmlns.com/foaf/0.1/firstName, so

<List src="[https://ruben.verborgh.org/profile/#me].friends.firstName"/>

will render a list of the http://xmlns.com/foaf/0.1/firstName values of each of the entities that has a http://xmlns.com/foaf/0.1/knows relationship with https://ruben.verborgh.org/profile/#me.

For a full list of the mappings that ship with the @solid/react library, check out the @solid/context project on GitHub.

the future today

One of the most exciting things about @solid/react is that it's ready for use within the React-centric frameworks you're already using. I'm writing this post using Gatsby and the examples in the first section are live examples, embedded within this post thanks to the magic of MDX. @solid/react (and, I've found, most existing Solid JavaScript libraries) doesn't currently behave well in a Server Side Rendering (SSR) context, so to get it working in SSR-forward frameworks like Gatsby and next.js you'll need to leverage React's lazy and Suspense tools to ensure they only render on the client side:

// components/LazyLoad.js
import React, {lazy, Suspense} from 'react';

export default ({path, ...args}) => {
  if (typeof window === "undefined") {
    return (<div>a lazy component will slouch into place here at runtime</div>)
  } else {
    const LazyComponent = lazy(() => import(`./${path}`))
    return (
      <Suspense fallback={<div>Loading..</div>}>
        <LazyComponent {...args}/>
      </Suspense>
    )
  }
}

With this in place, however, you'll be able to write MDX that puts code examples and their instantiations right next to each other in a fluid manner:

simple use cases, already a delight:

```jsx
import React from 'react';
import { Value } from '@solid/react';

export default () => (
  <Value src="[https://tvachon.inrupt.net/profile/card#me].name"/>
)
```
<LazyLoad path="solid-ground/Travis"/>

This tiny component uses the

I can tell you with certainty that this is a very satisfying writing experience.

In future posts I'll be writing more about the Solid frontend web development experience as it exists in early 2020 and what I'm hoping to see in the coming year. If you'd like to hear more, follow me on GitHub, Mastodon, or Twitter. If you're in the Bay Area, join me at the inaugural meetup of the Bay Area Solid Interest Club on February 20th, 2020 in downtown San Francisco.