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Vercel boss Guillermo Rauch on Next.js 12 • The Register

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Interview Next.js 12 is out with a range of new features including built-in middleware and support for ECMAScript (ES) modules.

“Next.js 12 reimagines the infrastructure of how we build for the web,” says Guillermo Rauch, CEO of Vercel, the company maintaining the Next.js MIT-licensed open-source project, and owner of the copyright. Rauch is not one to understate his case, but there is plenty new in this update, launched at the virtual Next.js Conf yesterday.

“It’s on two levels,” Rauch tells The Register. “One is developer experience, and the other is the global execution model for compute.”

The basis for these claims is, first, improvements to the Next.js tools including a new Rust compiler, and second, the addition of middleware to the framework, which Vercel hopes developers will run on the company’s Edge Functions (now in beta), a content delivery network.

Next.js is based on React with the addition of options for both server-side rendering with Node.js and static site generation. Here is what is new in version 12 – though much is still in preview:

  • Middleware (now in beta) which runs between the user’s request and the main application code.
  • Rust compiler which replaces Babel for compiling Next.js application, and improves build time by 5 times according to Vercel.
  • Support for React 18 (even though React 18 is still in alpha), including the Suspense feature, which delays component state transitions until requested data has resolved. This is under an Experimental flag.
  • Support for React server components (also in alpha). “There’s zero client-side JavaScript needed, making page rendering faster,” says the team.
  • Support for AVIF images which have 20 per cent better compression than WebP.
  • Native support for ES modules as the default, though old-style CommonJS modules are still supported. This also means that Node.js 12.22 or higher is required.
  • Experimental support for importing ES modules directly through an URL, rather than via a build process.
  • Removal of webpack 4 in favour of webpack 5 (a breaking change).

Why the new compiler? “It’s primarily motivated by the pace at which the size of front-end codebases have been growing,” says Rauch. “It’s not unusual to hear of companies with hundreds of Next.js developers with codebases with tens of thousands of components, if not hundreds of thousands of components.”

Guillermo Rauch, CEO of Vercel, introduces Next.js 12

Guillermo Rauch, CEO of Vercel, introduces Next.js 12

When Next.js was first developed, “the syntax of JavaScript was changing rapidly, TypeScript wasn’t the de-facto standard that it is today. So a lot of the tools were written in JavaScript itself. Now things are becoming more stable, the React JSX syntax is also a de-facto standard, so we’re at the point where it makes sense to take advantage of native code. It makes some of the processes developers rely on every day 100 times faster.”

Node has served us well until now, but it’s starting to show its age when it comes to the performance needs of today

Next.js Middleware does not run on Node but more directly on the V8 JavaScript engine itself (which is also used by Node). “Node as the primitive for the cloud is too bulky. In the context of serverless it’s created the cold start problem, so by simplifying the code that developers can use, both on the edge side and on the dev side, we can get a lot of performance and security wins, by constraining the API surface.”

Rauch is referring to the Edge Runtime used by Middleware, which does not support Node.js APIs. Node modules can be used “as long as they implement ES Modules and do not use any native Node.js APIs,” the docs say.

According to Rauch, developers can “eliminate entire categories of issues” by not using Node.js for these serverless functions. “Node has served us well until now, but it’s starting to show its age when it comes to the performance needs of today.”

The potential uses for Middleware are extensive, including authentication, bot protection, feature flags and A/B testing, server side analytics, logging, and any case where redirects and rewrites are required. At Next.js Conf an example showed how using a region-specific database server could improve latency.

Rauch observes that JAMStack, using static websites with dynamic data from microservices, has pros and cons. “The good part was the focus on pre-rendering. The bad part is that it was so static that sometimes we couldn’t pre-render anything.

“What we’re seeing now, especially with the introduction of React server components that we’re announcing in beta form, we can move the vast majority of the code back to the server, but instead of that server being monolithic at a particular place in the world, we’re making the code globally distributed. With that comes greater performance, and no single point of failure.”

How is this different from just using a CDN with a conventional web application? “When CDNs looked at speeding up, their hammer was the cache,” Rauch tells us. “They go to the origin, take the page, cache it. At that point they’ve already made it too static, especially for what we’re seeing in media, ecommerce… we’re seeing that you want to personalize everything, from the language to the currency to variations of components. In that world, the top-level cache of the legacy CDN vendors doesn’t work any more.”

Rauch also believes that the web-centric development model of Next.js is a benefit. “There’s nothing about Next.js that is not native to a web browser,” he says. “When you look at designers, how they work today, they just open the web browser and point it to Figma. We asked ourselves, can we do the same, open the browser, point it to a Next.js project, and run the entire compiler and machinery inside the browser?”

This idea ended up as Next.js Live, a web-based development platform. “In our private beta we’ve been able to load production-grade applications directly in the web browser,” Rauch says. The concept is similar to GitHub Codespaces or Gitpod, except that with Next.js Live everything is in the browser, there is no container back-end.

“Next.js is fundamentally a front-end framework,” says Rauch. “The Next.js runtime is fundamentally serverless, so we don’t need all that additional machinery to run and render a project. The web was designed from the outset to allow both reading and editing. We want to bring more people into the world of contributing to the web.”

The editor in Next.js Live is based on Monaco, as in Microsoft’s Visual Studio Code project.

Next.js Live uses WebAssembly in the browser for the compiler. “WebAssembly is now the new universal way of distributing applications,” Rauch says. “We can take code written in Rust and make it entirely universal.” However, he believes that it is “early days for WebAssembly in production” so this is currently only used for development – though it is something the team is looking at for the future.

Next.js 12 also improves the performance and stability of Hot Module Reload (HMR), Rauch tells us. This is where “you type, you save your file, and you see your change instantly without refreshing the web browser… It used to be the case that developers had to second guess and sometimes just hit refresh out of muscle memory as they wouldn’t fully trust the technology. We’ve refined it a lot… we’re seeing up to five times faster repaints on the screen, from what you’re typing.”

The technology behind the faster refresh is in part a benefit of ES modules because “we can become smart about only giving the web browser the specific change. We only load the part of the page that you are working on.”

Why not just use React rather than Next.js? “I like to think of [React] as the engine,” says Rauch. “What this engine does is on the one hand power rendering, and on the other hand supply the primitive abstractions that the developers are going to use. The component model is provided by React and the rendering engine is provided by React. But with Next.js folks are building websites and applications, and that’s the layer of abstraction that Next.js introduced on top. We’ve raised the abstraction from component to page.”

Is TypeScript taking over from JavaScript? “The ecosystem is maturing. The everyday developer wants fewer bugs, a higher level of correctness, more and better documentation, types and not just code. That has driven TypeScript to be the default for Next.js projects, especially for teams in companies.” ®

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New EU law may force big messaging vendors to open up • The Register

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The European Parliament’s new Digital Markets Act, adopted as a draft law this week, could compel big platforms owned by large firms including Apple, Google, and Facebook to make their tech interoperable.

Among other things, this might mean forcing the tech vendors’ messaging apps to allow communication with other services.

If the EU deems a company to be what it calls a “gatekeeper”, it could impose “structural or behavioural remedies” – compelling the largest outfits to allow interoperability, or imposing fines. The Act would also restrict what companies could do with personal data – not the first time it’s tried.

While the legislation carefully phrases the characteristics that make a company a gatekeeper in terms of its operations inside the EU, the fines are assessed against global revenue. It applies to companies that provide a “core platform service” in at least three EU nations, with more than 45 million monthly users and 10,000 business users. In money terms, it’s talking about €8bn a month inside the union, and a market cap of 10 times that.

A potential get-out is that it applies to “number-independent interpersonal communication services” – so services that identify you by your phone number rather than an account, such as Whatsapp, Telegram, Signal, and the like, might be able to dodge the new rules, which won’t come into force for a year or two.

As we pointed out a week ago, services already exist that can talk to most vendors’ proprietary offerings. Nothing technical prevents this and many of the services talked to one another in the past.

For example, Apple’s iMessage originally used AOL’s OSCAR protocol, and AOL allowed authentication using Gmail credentials. Google’s Chat, Talk, and Hangouts, and Facebook Messenger, all used the Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol or XMPP – to and from which Skype offered a gateway.

As far as the phone number-based systems go, there’s also an existing standard for internet-based SMS – not that anybody cares. ®

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What happens when we ‘power through’ burnout?

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Employers know that burnout levels are increasing, but it’s important to step in and tackle it head on before it’s too late.

A recent survey from HRLocker found that more than half (52pc) of respondents are experiencing burnout.

The company surveyed 1,000 full-time employees across Ireland to assess their stress levels and the primary causes of stress.

Click here to check out the top sci-tech employers hiring right now.

This is common thread with many other surveys and reports from around the world suggesting a significant increase in stress, exhaustion and burnout among the global workforce.

Another recent survey, this one of US workers, found that 89pc of respondents reported experiencing burnout over the past year.

While it’s easy to acknowledge that this increase in burnout is a problem, it’s a very different thing to take steps to actually address it, whether you’re an employee on the verge of crashing or a manager starting to notice the signs among your team.

Burnout is classified by the World Health Organization as a “occupational phenomenon”. While this can seem problematically vague for those who are experiencing it, Prof John Gallagher, chief medical officer at Cork-based Cognate Health, sees it from a different perspective.

He said that because burnout is considered a workplace phenomenon, it is not so much about the individual as much as it is about the impact that the workplace environment has on them.

“We can support the individual, but the real question is how do we fix the workplace and the impact it is having on the employee?”

‘The blurring of the lines between work and life has had an impact’
– DR SARAH O’NEILL

Many people will be familiar with the symptoms of burnout, which include profound exhaustion, cynicism about work, decreased productivity and extreme emotions.

However, it’s also worth noting that some people are more prone to burnout than others. “More often than not these are the more idealistic, committed and dedicated employees,” said Gallagher.

Dr Sarah O’Neill, chartered psychologist and chief clinical officer at Spectrum Life, agrees that it can often affect the most high-achieving employees. However, she said there are other people who can be prone to burnout too.

“People can also experience ‘bore-out’ when they are in a role that is dull, repetitive and there is a distinct lack of stimulation. The third common iteration is when people become worn down over a period of time,” she said.

“While the first example may be much more aligned with what we think of when we imagine burnout, the end result is the same.”

When the elastic band snaps

Burnout occurs when there are unusual levels of pressure or stress over a prolonged period of time. Those who start to suffer the symptoms will most likely have been ‘on’ for a long time with no opportunity to rest and recover.

“Think about an elastic band,” said O’Neill. “They stretch and bounce back. If the band is stressed, stretched out without the opportunity to bounce back and reset, overtime it loses its stretch. You can think about stress this way. Then burnout is when the band eventually snaps.”

Often, employees don’t mean to ignore their own health. Even the overachievers would rather reap the rewards that come with rest and recovery, which are higher energy levels, more productivity and better focus.

But sometimes an ongoing stressful period seems never-ending, like during a pandemic for example, and it can feel impossible to find the time to actually stop and take a break. You might just feel like you have to power through your stress in the hope that you’ll make it to the end of the tunnel.

However, it is this ‘powering through’ that will directly result in burnout. While it’s important for employees to be aware of this, Gallagher said it’s vital that employers and managers know when to step in.

“What employers and managers will see if an issue isn’t addressed is that the person will pull back and distance themselves from their work, become more cynical and ultimately disengage from the workplace completely. The physical symptoms are similar to those seen across other mental health issues such as feelings of exhaustion and weariness, as well as bowel and stomach problems,” he said.

“It’s important that managers engage with employees early once they see any of these warning signs and that they check in to see if the person is OK. Often the people that are most likely of experiencing burnout are those who take on more and more work without raising any red flags about their mental health and ability to cope.”

O’Neill agreed that early intervention is key but that it’s also important that managers understand how each member of the team responds to stress and pressure within the workplace.

“It’s critical for managers to know their teams well enough to recognise when something is off. That makes it possible to mitigate issues before they progress too far by managing an employee’s workload and having open conversations with them about the mental wellbeing,” she said.

The pandemic effect

Burnout has been a concern for employers and employees for several years now but, as we have seen from recent surveys and reports, the pandemic has likely compounded the stressors that can bring about burnout.

O’Neill said there has been a 30pc increase in people presenting with burnout compared to pre-pandemic trends.

“The blurring of the lines between work and life has had an impact and we’re seeing pretty consistent results from research where employees are identifying blurring of boundaries impacting their mental health.”

Gallagher has seen a similar increase, including increased incidences of anxiety and depression.

“It would seem that mental health concerns will be at the core of our work in occupational health for the foreseeable future. There are the more obvious reasons for this – increased feelings of isolation, loneliness, disconnection from people, as well as the general stress and anxiety of living during a global health crisis,” he said.

“But this is all compounded by the fact that it is easier to hide any issues from your colleagues and employers while working remotely and being less connected in real life.”

However, it’s not all bad news. O’Neill also said there are some positives to be gleaned from the pandemic when it comes to mental health. “We have collectively lived through a traumatic time which has, at its best, given us a new perspective on our lives. The theory of post-traumatic growth shows how a difficult experience can shift your values and your perspective on different situations in life, allowing you to move through them and grow as a result.”

Employers’ duty of care

While it’s important for employees to watch out for signs of burnout in themselves, both O’Neill and Gallagher agree that managers have a duty of care when it comes to workplace risks for their employees and these risks must include psychosocial risks.

“What I always say is that managers and employers need to ‘ask, don’t assume’ when it comes to discussing mental health concerns. We can’t assume a person is dealing with an issue and we can’t leave them to handle it by themselves. Managers need to reach out to employees and ask them how they are doing, especially if there have been any warning signs,” said Gallagher.

“Sometimes employers and managers prefer to pull back when an employee appears to be dealing with a mental health issue but that is when we need to lean in and address it openly and directly.”

‘We need to ask ourselves why employees are more comfortable saying that they are having issues with their physical health as opposed to their mental health’
– JOHN GALLAGHER

O’Neill said it’s also important to look at the supports in place for teams, such as an employee assistance programme, and examine whether or not they are sufficient.

“We know people are increasingly experiencing mental health distress, that impacts them in the workplace and the mental healthcare system is, like many parts of the health service, overwhelmed by demand,” she said.

“Even if mental health distress is not a work-related issue, it can be in the interests of companies to provide support to employees from both a cultural and business perspective.”

While having support systems in place are vital, Gallagher highlighted the fact that the area of mental health can still be highly stigmatised. “While we have seen great developments to date, there needs to be an increased effort made to eradicate any stigma around mental health in the workplace,” he said.

“We need to ask ourselves why employees are more comfortable saying that they are having issues with their physical health as opposed to their mental health – we still see employees asking for their medical certs to say they are suffering from back pain rather than stress, anxiety or depression. We need to cultivate an environment where employees are as comfortable saying they need time to care for their mental health as they are saying they need time to prioritise their physical health.”

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Best podcasts of the week: the life and death of Diego Maradona | Podcasts

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Picks of the week

The Last Days of Maradona
“Everyone – fans and non-fans alike – must have asked themselves: how did Maradona’s life end the way it did?” Thierry Henry narrates this podcast about the football legend’s death at the age of 60 in 2020 – part forensic investigation, part homage to his greatness. In a novel twist – and perhaps a sign of things to come for podcasting – the series is also available in French, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian, via a series of hosts. Hannah J Davies

I’m Not a Monster
Listeners were captivated by the case of Indiana mother Sam Sally and how she ended up at the heart of the Islamic State caliphate. Now, host Josh Baker is back for two new follow-up episodes. He answers listeners’ questions – and heads back to Iraq. Hannah Verdier

Twenty Thousand Hertz
More offbeat sonic discoveries in a miniseries from the long-running audio show. It’s Not TV, it’s HBO, tells the story of the network’s bombastic 80s theme song as well as its iconic – if more understated – “static angel” sound, as heard before everything from The Sopranos to Sex and the City. HJD

Behind the Wand
More than 20 years after Harry Potter’s first film adaptation, Potterheads are still looking to learn something new about the wizarding world. Here, Emma
Watson’s body double Flick Miles takes us behind the scenes with crew members. It’s not as exciting as, say, the upcoming TV reunion, but fans might enjoy the nitty gritty details about how the story came to life on the big screen. Hollie Richardson

Even the Rich: Murder in the House of Gucci
With Lady Gaga and Adam Driver ’s new film throwing the spotlight on to the Gucci dynasty, this podcast tells the story of the family’s humble beginnings. Brooke Siffrinn and Aricia Skidmore-Williams bring their gloriously salacious tone to the tale, from observing Guccio Gucci’s knowledge of luggage to analysing Patrizia Reggiani’s controversial white fur school coat. HV

Sunny delight ... Rob McElhenney, Glenn Howerton, Kaitlin Olson, Danny DeVito and Charlie Day on the set of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.
Sunny delight … Rob McElhenney, Glenn Howerton, Kaitlin Olson, Danny DeVito and Charlie Day on the set of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. Photograph: Michael Buckner/Getty Images

Chosen by Danielle Stephens

There is always a risk in learning how something you adore is made. That’s why I was slightly apprehensive to listen to The Always Sunny podcast, which launched earlier this month. The premise is simple: each week, the geniuses behind the hit show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia sit down to bring us insider knowledge on how every episode came to be, starting all the way back in 2005.

The worry is that your favourite (terrible) characters are somehow played by an unfunny trio, but Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day and Glenn Howerton allay any fears early on, making one another laugh as much as you might imagine. The scoring is the same as the show, and sound design is nonexistent, so the content needs to carry – which it does. For true fans, it’s a must listen, as we hear how they developed ideas; the stumbling blocks they encountered; and, most interestingly, some of the things they regret with hindsight.

Talking points

  • As podcasts evolve, expect to see even more boundary-blurring with other creative mediums. A case in point: US culture show How Long Gone will release a double-CD album via Jagjaguwar on 17 December, featuring about releases from the record label’s other acts, including Moses Sumney, Dinosaur Jr and Angel Olsen.

  • Why not try: Close to Death | Is This Working? | Sh***hole Country

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