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The failed promise of Web Components

Lea has some words:

Perusing the components on webcomponents.org fills me with anxiety, and I’m perfectly comfortable writing JS — I write JS for a living! What hope do those who can’t write JS have? Using a custom element from the directory often needs to be preceded by a ritual of npm flugelhorn, import clownshoes, build quux, all completely unapologetically because “here is my truckload of dependencies, yeah, what”. Many steps are even omitted, likely because they are “obvious”.

When I wrote A Bit on Web Component Libraries, I was told the main thing I got wrong is that:

The idea was to make primitives that libraries could build on top of so they could ship less code. It was always the intention that you would use a library with them.

It was many years ago that HTML imports died. It was Dave’s pet peeve about Web Components for a long time. So I guess after that, it was a all-JavaScript-or-bust approach for Web Components. And I hate to say it, but it feels like it’s a lot closer to a bust than a boon.

I’m still optimistic though. Web Components can do some very cool stuff that only Web Components can do. The Shadow DOM being a big part of that. For example, I remember years ago Twitter experimented with making embedded Tweets into Web Components (instead of iframes) because it was way faster (in every way). That never manifested (🤷‍♂️), but it seemed like a damn fine idea to me.

I think the styling story is a big deal. I bet I’d reach for them at least slightly more if styling them wasn’t so weird. I saw Scott was asking about it just today and 75% of people wish there was a way to just reach into that Shadow DOM and style it from regular CSS. I get why that needs to be protected (that’s a huge point of the Shadow DOM in the first place), but having to very explicitly reach in seems like enough protection to me.

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