A Good Front-End Architecture

Matt Carella

Setting up a good front-end architecture is a fundamental step to start developing a web app or a website. Good practices and coding conventions are essential, but what about the structure? How can we conceive a good architecture that is maintainable in time? But most of all, where should we start from?

When I started thinking about the problem, I realized I needed a couple of things:

  1. I wanted a multi-page project (a web app or website).
  2. I wanted my project to support different screen sizes and resolutions, in other words: I wanted it to be responsive.
  3. I wanted the final product to be maintainable.
  4. I wanted the final product to be performant.
  5. I wanted to reuse the same template for any future project.

The right tools

Nowadays we have a lot of cool tools that can help us in a modern front-end developing workflow. So, in facing points 1 and 2 I told myself I needed a breakpoint-based CSS architecture that could help me support different devices and desktop sizes. On the other hand, I also knew that such huge amount of CSS and files could be a bit messy (and so incompatible with point 3.), that’s why I decided to start using a CSS preprocessor (which was Sass with Compass in my case).

And what about the point 4? The answer was easy: I decided to use Gruntjs. Finally, what about point 5? Even in that case, the answer was there: Yeoman, the best solution in my opinion.

Organizing the workflow

Every front-end project always includes libraries, jQuery plugins, and a lot of JavaScript and CSS files (or SCSS files in this case) for different purposes and aims. Blending all those elements means working with different technologies and putting them together means setting up a good front-end workflow. We would find ourselves having to manage a huge workflow that involves different technologies. That’s why having everything organized in folders, following a pattern or a convention in order to keep things clear and neat, is really important.

We can choose to split all fundamental front-end components in macro-groups, such as the following:

  • SCSS files
  • scripts
  • views

Can we we split them in smaller groups? Of course we can:

  • SCSS
    • variables
    • mixins
    • common parts to every layout
    • single layouts
  • js
    • libraries (such as jquery, angularjs, gAnalytics and so on…)
    • plugins (typically jquery plugins)
    • controllers (I mean controllers such as angularjs controllers)

In a templating based architecture (for example using blade.php or jade with nodejs) we can also split views as follows:

  • views
    • common parts to every view
    • single views

But I am not discussing this case in this article, since I am assuming that there is only one view (an HTML file) for every page or layout in my project.

Starting from all of these preliminary considerations, this is how I decided to organize the architecture, here is my folder tree:




Folders explanations


I decided to put all images files here: .png , .jpg , .jpeg , wallpapers etc.

Examples: icon.png, home-background.jpeg, userAvatar.jpg

js (mainfolder)

I decided to put all .js files here, organized in subfolders as follows:

\ controllers (subfolder)

This is the folder for angular controllers, each one with the same name of the corresponding view. For example, if your home.html needs an angular controller, you should create a file like this: project\js\controllers\home.js.

Examples: home.js, user-registration.js, user-login.js

\ libs (subfolder)

I created this folder for javascript libraries. When I say libraries I don’t mean plugins, that’s why I decided to distinguish between the first ones and the second ones, creating two different folders.

Examples: jquery-latest.js, angular.js, googleAnalytics.js

\ plugins (subfolder)

Plugin need dependencies to work, libraries don’t. So here is why I created a different folder:

Examples: jquery-fancyInput.js, restangular.js, customPlugin.js, jquery-airport.js

\ views (subfolder)

I created this folder for all the presentational stuff. Each file has to have the same name of the corresponding view. For example if your home.html needs some effects, stuff, and plugins initializazion, you should create a file like this: project\js\views\home.js, that has its own document ready.

Examples: home-animations.js, user-registration.js,user-login.js, site-animations.js

css (main folder)

This folder contains all of the generated css from main the scss files. For example home.scss will generate the corresponding home.css file in this folder.

\ libs (subfolder)

Even for the CSS files I am distinguishing between libraries and plugins. Here are some CSS library examples:

Examples: _meyers-reset.scss, _normalize.scss,_animate.scss, _960gridSystem.scss

\ plugins (subfolder)

CSS files contained in this folder are necessary styles to make JavaScript plugins work.

Examples: _jquery-fancyInput.scss, _jqueryTooltip.scss

\ framework (subfolder)

I decided to put scss files shared across all project pages in this directory

The framework subfolder will be organized as follows:

  • _variables.scss (project variables declaration – colors, spacings, etc.)

  • _mixins.scss (project mixin declaration – typography, clearfix, animations, etc.)

  • _forms.scss (custom form styling & reset)

  • _input.scss (custom input styling & reset)

\ layouts (subfolder)

And here is the responsive part. Files in this directory are organized in that way that they cover all screens resolutions, following a mobile first principle. So, you should start declaring your own styles using _all.scss file. Rules declared in this file are valid for all screen sizes and all views. If you want your website to be adaptable, than just rewrite rules and declare them for any other screen resolution.

The folder is organized as follows:

  • phablets (481up) _phablets.scss

  • tablets and small laptops (768up) _tablets.scss

  • desktops (1030up) _desktop.scss

  • desktops with large screens (1204up) _desktop-large.scss

  • retina displays exceptions (@2x) _retina.scss

These files will handle layout exceptions and are called by mediaqueries.

Please note: those files are shared across all views (HTML pages). That’s why you need to create a new folder under scss\layouts to give a specific style to a specific page.

EXAMPLE – if you want to style a responsive home page and a responsive user-login page

  1. Create under scss\layouts a new folder naming it with the same name of the views that you want to make adaptive (ex. home and userLogin) so: scss\layouts\home and scss\layouts\userLogin

  2. Put the same files listed up above into these folders: _all.scss , _phablets.scss , _tablets.scss , _desktops.scss , _desktop-large.scss and _retina.scss.

The final result

The final result is a Yeoman generator to scaffold a responsive multipages web app or website. I also decided to include some Grunt tasks for minification, obfuscation and Sass compiling. You can have a look at it here https://github.com/mcarella/wormhole, or download it directly from NPM: https://www.npmjs.org/package/generator-wormhole.

Where to go from here

I know this is not a universal solution, maybe in your case it looks like it includes some redundancy, and I know that it cannot suit all situations, but I think it is a good starting point. You can add as many grunt tasks as you want or organize your scss in a different way, making it lighter or fatter. No matter what your aim is, I usually advice people to roll their own architecture or framework tailored on their needs, paying particular attention to performance and maintainability without neglecting user experience.