My call for Kotlin as a major frontend language
I try to push for quite a long time for first class support for WebAssembly in Kotlin because I really believe that frontend development is a domain where Kotlin can be as strong as in mobile, and because this is something that would also help to increase even more the adoption on server-side.
I truly appreciate all the work already done by Kotlin/JS and Kotlin/Native teams. The dead code elimination tool and the initial WebAssembly support in Kotlin/Native are important steps in the right direction. But I believe that Kotlin needs now to make frontend a real priority to take it to the next level.
Need for a consistent and unified web frontend strategy
Taking inspiration from Rust community
These articles show IMO that the first key step if we want to make Kotlin a real frontend language is to provide a real statically typed Web and DOM API to Kotlin/Native WebAssembly backend, and the good news for Kotlin is that it could be also reused in Kotlin/JS thanks to Kotlin multiplatform capabilties. Kotlin has been successful on the JVM because it provides an awesome standard library that leverages the platform APIs perfectly. I deeply respect all the work done on Kotlin/JS, but the quality of the API generated from the Web IDL is bad (mostly because the source Web IDL is bad), and is a blocking point that prevents a healthy Kotlin frontend to arise. See KT-20743 and KT-22635 for a concrete example of what I mean. Watch also Building a Browser Extension with Kotlin amazing talk at Kotlinconf 2018 by Kirill Rakhman on that topic.
Building a multiplatform Web API
Here again, I think we should just follow what Rust team is doing: leverage a high quality Web IDL (in their case, the one from Firefox source code I think) to build a high quality Web API for Kotlin. And since frontend concerns both Kotlin/JS and Kotlin/Native, I think this is a very nice opportunity to leverage Kotlin unique multiplatform capabilities to build a multipatform Web API that could be used by both Kotlin/JS and Kotlin/Native.
For Kotlin/Native, the same API could work underneath in 2 ways:
- A native mode using reference types (already available in Firefox via
The message I would like to share is that we don't have to wait the final version of WASM Web API to begin building this first class Web multiplatform API, we can move forward right now, by providing the right API to the Kotlin frontend ecosystem and adapt gradually when these pure WebAssembly Web API will be widely available.
In that world:
- Frontend frameworks natively developed in Kotlin would arise from the community, like Vue, React or Angular style developed in Kotlin
- Wrapping JS frameworks with Kotlin would not be the main way to implement a Kotlin frontend
- Multiplatform Web API can even be used on Kotlin/JVM and Kotlin/Native servers to build isomorphic applications when renering can be done on server or client side.
Kotlin is the perfect language for the WebAssembly revolution. Rust is well suited for building high peformance WebAssembly libraries, but Kotlin is the only modern language (with Swift maybe) that is high-level and compatible with the native world.
Kotlin/JS as it is now has been built before multiplatform support, before WebAssembly, using a bad Web IDL. Putting more effort with the current approach will not make Kotlin successful on frontend. There is a need for major shift in Kotlin strategy about frontend that would make it ready for this new context, and multiplatform support gives the opportunity to leverage that in both Kotlin/JS and Kotlin/native worlds.
The key challenge in WebAssembly world is that it requires both native and web skills, and that's usually different people and/or different teams. The technologies successful in this WebAssembly revolution will be those where native and web teams work together or even better, are working in the same team. That's why Mozilla work with Rust and Firefox is visionary and something to take as a source of inspiration. If Kotlin is ambitious enough to adapt to this new context, I am truly convinced it could become a major frontend language.