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Don't Reinvent the Wheel

 ·  ☕ 4 min read

In the dynamic world of software development, the inclination to “reinvent the wheel” represents a common challenge. Developers, driven by a desire for customization and control, often venture into creating bespoke solutions for problems that have already been addressed.

This approach, while showcasing technical prowess, can lead to inefficiencies, consuming precious time and resources that could be better allocated to enhancing the core value of the project. Recognizing this, the strategic use of third-party component libraries emerges as a compelling alternative.

Using Third-Party Libraries

Incorporating third-party component libraries into development projects offers a clear path to accelerate the building process. Consider the development of a web application that requires a rich text editor. Instead of allocating weeks to develop this feature from scratch, developers can integrate a library like Quill or CKEditor, which not only meets the immediate need but also includes a suite of advanced functionalities that would require significant effort to replicate.

This approach not only saves time but also allows the team to direct their focus toward refining the unique aspects of their application, such as customizing the user interface or enhancing user experience with innovative features.

Library Selection Concerns

Choosing the right third-party library involves a careful evaluation of its size, performance, and compatibility with the project’s goals. For instance, when selecting a UI library for a responsive web application, options like Bootstrap or Tailwind CSS might come under consideration.

If the project aims to provide a highly customized user experience with minimal load times, Tailwind, with its utility-first approach, might be preferred for its flexibility and efficiency, despite Bootstrap’s extensive components. This decision-making process should be guided by the principle of “just enough” - selecting libraries that provide the necessary functionality without overloading the application’s footprint.

Immediate and Long-Term Goals

Adopting third-party libraries should be seen as a strategic step that aligns with both the immediate project requirements and its long-term vision. For example, using Firebase for rapid backend development can significantly speed up the MVP phase, offering authentication, database, and hosting solutions right out of the box.

However, as the project scales, specific needs might necessitate a transition to a more customizable backend solution. Planning for this transition from the outset allows teams to leverage the immediate benefits of Firebase while laying the groundwork for a smooth migration to a custom backend, ensuring that the project remains agile and adaptable to changing requirements.

Leveraging Vendor Support

When integrating paid component libraries like DevExpress or Telerik into your projects, the initial period of vendor support becomes a strategic asset. These vendors often offer comprehensive support services that can significantly streamline the integration process. For instance, suppose your project requires a sophisticated reporting tool. By choosing a paid library such as DevExpress, you gain access to their dedicated support team during the initial evaluation and integration phases.

This direct line to expert advice and troubleshooting can help you quickly overcome any technical hurdles, ensuring that your project remains on schedule. Moreover, the support often extends beyond mere troubleshooting, offering best practices and optimization tips that can enhance your application’s performance and user experience.

True Cost of Libraries

The upfront cost of paid component libraries, which can range from $500 to $1000 per developer, might initially seem prohibitive to some companies. However, a deeper analysis reveals that this investment is cost-effective in the long run. Take, for example, the development of a fully-featured data grid. The in-house development of such a component not only requires extensive developer time but also diverts resources from focusing on the core functionalities that differentiate your application in the market.

If we conservatively estimate the cost of development time at $100 per hour and consider the hundreds of hours needed to design, develop, and test a feature-rich grid, the total cost easily exceeds the initial investment in a ready-made solution like those offered by Telerik or DevExpress. For a team of 100 developers, a $1000 investment per developer amounts to $100,000—a fraction of the potential million-dollar cost required to develop a comparable component from scratch. Additionally, these libraries come with the assurance of ongoing support and updates, mitigating the risk of future technical debt and compatibility issues.

A Balanced Approach

In conclusion, while the instinct to create custom solutions is driven by a commendable desire for innovation and perfection, recognizing when to leverage existing solutions is a skill in itself.

Third-party component libraries offer a practical means to accelerate development, especially in the early stages of a project. By carefully selecting these libraries and balancing their use with the project’s long-term objectives, teams can achieve faster iteration, efficient use of resources, and ultimately, a more refined and focused product.

Remember, the goal isn’t just to reach the destination but to do so efficiently, allowing for greater innovation along the way. In the journey of software development, knowing when not to reinvent the wheel is as crucial as knowing when to forge a new path.

Victor Zakharov
Victor Zakharov
Web Developer (Angular/.NET)