Exploring NextJS and Python-Flask Web Development: A Secure Modular Approach

As a software developer looking to hone my web development skills, I’ve been working on a NextJS/Python-Flask based website. This project has given me the opportunity to delve deeper into fascinating technologies like NextJS, ReactJS, and REST APIs. One of the main goals of this project has been to implement a modular approach, allowing me to enable or disable “modules” on the web page based on specific use-cases. This design choice increases maintainability and makes the project a suitable framework for various types of web pages.

Prioritizing Core Functionality: Access Control and JWTs

Besides modularity, a crucial feature I wanted to incorporate in my personal website was access control. Implementing access control is important for several reasons:

  1. Privacy: You may want to restrict access to specific content, such as private posts or personal data, to authorized users only.
  2. Security: Providing different permission levels allows you to control who can edit, delete, or modify content on your website, protecting it from unauthorized access or malicious activities.
  3. User Experience: Access control enables you to offer personalized content and experiences to different user groups, based on their roles or preferences.

To achieve this access control, I opted for JSON Web Tokens (JWT) for both authentication and authorization between the client and server. JWTs are a compact, URL-safe means of representing claims to be transferred between two parties. They consist of three parts: a header, a payload, and a signature.

The header typically contains metadata about the token, such as the algorithm used for signing. The payload contains the actual claims or data being transferred, such as the user’s ID and their permission level. Finally, the signature is created by hashing the combined header and payload, along with a secret key, ensuring the token’s integrity.

NextJS made it possible to authenticate on the server-side before serving a web page and enabled the client to verify authentication before making API calls. The backend also double-checked authentication for added security. This approach facilitated client and server-side verification of user authorization to view specific information.

By leveraging JWTs, I was able to create a secure and reliable access control system for my personal website, providing an enhanced user experience and greater flexibility in managing content and user permissions.

Truely Independent Backend and Frontend

A significant advantage of using ReactJS and Python over PHP is the ability to separate the frontend and backend as truly independent components, avoiding the need to maintain the entire application in one monolithic structure. This clear separation of concerns results in improved maintainability and a cleaner architecture.

By designing the Python backend as a standalone REST-style API, I could fully architect and test the backend independently of the frontend code. This allowed me to dive into test-driven development and thoroughly design and test the authentication engine. The separation also enabled me to optimize the backend as a standalone API-driven application before even starting on the frontend display code.

In contrast, PHP often requires mixing backend and frontend code within the same files, leading to a tightly coupled and harder-to-maintain codebase. The modular approach I’ve taken with ReactJS and Python ensures that the frontend and backend can evolve independently, allowing for easier scalability and adaptability to future requirements.

With this truly independent setup, it’s possible to switch frontend frameworks or backend technologies without needing to rewrite the entire application. This flexibility provides a solid foundation for long-term maintainability and adaptability as the project grows and evolves.

A Modular Approach to a ReactJS/NextJS Frontend

In the ReactJS frontend, I experimented with various methods to implement modularity. Initially, I attempted dynamic imports to load JavaScript files at runtime based on config files. However, this approach proved incompatible with NextJS’s server-side precompiled systems.

The current approach I’m exploring involves changing modules during compile time. Although this requires rebuilding the entire application every time a module change is needed, it aligns better with NextJS’s standard method for linking components together into an admin panel or dashboard system. So far, this method has been promising!

Feel free to check out my progress at https://github.com/malcom2073/revfe2. I’ll continue to update the project and share more about the technical decisions and reasoning behind the various approaches I’ve used here in additional posts!

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