Why Salesforce decided to open source its Lightning Web Components framework

At TrailheaDX 2019, Salesforce's Ryan Schellack spoke with TechRepublic about the company's announcement to open source its Lightning Web Components framework and build a community of developers around its platforms. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.

Ryan Schellack:So today we're announcing that the Lightning Web Components framework is open source. Specifically what that means is that the same framework that Salesforce uses, and Salesforce customers use, to build web components on the Salesforce platform for their applications and their services is now open source for anyone to use to build on any platform, using those same web standards, and the same beta web components that we provide for theoretically any application that they may want to build.

That's what we're announcing today, and the reason it's significant for us is that this allows us to now build, for the first time, a community around our front-end framework, and around these JavaScript standards, and these web standards that we've innovated around.

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Over the past really two years, largely unknown to anyone, we've been working on this, but now we're able to bring these innovations to a broader community of trailblazers and developers that we work with on a daily basis, who want to take this and customize it, they want to iterate upon it and bring to it their experience. So what we've basically provided is a JavaScript framework that is open source, and really built around the enterprise developer experience, which is a voice that is near and dear to us, but one that we didn't feel was really well reflected within the array of frameworks currently provided today.

There are two big goals around this thing-there's a lot of things that we'd love to choose, but two things are really important to us. One is that we wanted to build a JavaScript framework that the enterprise could rely on, not just for Salesforce-specific applications, but for any applications, and really that's because we felt that that's a very important segment that's underserved. They have specific requirements, such as the ability to run across many different browsers and to do so reliably. So we've introduced capabilities within this Lightning Web Components framework that's now open source that allow you to do that, not just create a really great application for something like Chrome, but also for Internet Explorer 11 (IE 11), which is a reality that many enterprise developers have to deal with, and that not every framework reflects and understands. That was a huge goal.

The second goal is that, as we're building these capabilities, as we're bringing to market these new web standards-based features, we wanted a community that could help us evolve them. We knew that for this to really stick, we needed a community of developers with us to co-own the roadmap, and show us where to go. So we've historically done a great job of interfacing with our community and sourcing feedback from them on shaping a roadmap, but we really wanted them to actively participate, and by being open source, they can not only explore our source code and customize what we have, they can contribute the changes back to this underlying LWC source code, and actually drive the framework forward. Since this is something that's represented in web standards bodies like W3C, they're also indirectly affecting web standards themselves, which is, we think, an unparalleled opportunity, and so really accelerating our ability to do that by bringing a broader open source community, and in turn, giving them capabilities that they can't find anywhere else, we think that's really the opportunity that we have in play right now.

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It's going to have tremendous reach, and there's a couple of reasons why, and I'm just going to hit two that are really important to me. One is that JavaScript frameworks are really important to the day-to-day of almost every front-end software engineer. They have to make a lot of decisions around what framework they rely upon, and they get very opinionated around which ones they like and which ones they don't. To be a part of that conversation is really important to us because we think we have a really important story to tell there, again, one that reflects more of the enterprise web developer experience.

The other thing that's really important too, and why we think that this is big and has a big reach, is that because we're introducing a web components framework that's very thin by design and based on web standards, we're introducing a new level of performance that organizations want to rely upon, and now can be trustfully relied upon.

And the way I explain it is by having less abstractions and boilerplate code, you're running the web components you build with Lightning Web Components closer to the bare metal, closer to the browser engine itself, and that's just going to result in a better web for everyone because things will be faster, and that's going to make business applications in particular much more reliable, again across browsers, across platforms, and we think that that's a really great place to be in, and something that's somewhat unexpected at Salesforce. We're an application company, people think of our data model, but this is something that's been in the works for years now, and we're really happy to see this come to the surface now at TrailheaDX.

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