Nerd Out on 10 of Our Favorite Posts From 2021

Shopify engineers not only work on challenging and impactful projects, but they also take the time to share their craft expertise at events and on the blog. As we close out the year, here are ten of our favorite posts of 2021, a curated selection spanning technologies and engineering disciplines, as well as a few from previous years that many of you still love, read, and share. 

While pulling this list together, the song My Favorite Things kept repeating in my mind. And with that, I apologize in advance for my cringeworthy poetic interpretation. It isn’t easy to rhyme with CRuby.

Building apps with and without Rails libraries
GraphQL how-tos not one but a series
Upgrading MySQL makes your heart sing
These are a few of your favorite things

Building a JIT compiler for CRuby
Making apps faster with caching is groovy
Hydrogen-powered storefronts give you wings
These are a few of your favorite things

1. How to Build a Web App With and Without Rails Libraries

An illustrated factory producing Ruby Gems

Maple Ong, Senior Developer, wrote our most-read post of 2021, an in-depth tutorial that asks you to forget that Rails exists for a minute (whaaaat?!) and takes you on a journey to build a web application only using the standard Ruby libraries.

“With just a little bit of familiarity with the Rails framework, you’re able to build a web application—that’s the magic of Rails. Building your own Ruby web application from scratch, however, isn’t only educational—I’d argue that it’s also a rite of passage in a Ruby and Rails developer’s career!”

Want to learn more about Maple? Follow her on Twitter.

2. Building Blocks of High Performance Hydrogen-powered Storefronts

A structure built with different shapes and colors

Shopify Unite created a lot of buzz around Hydrogen, a React-based framework for building custom and creative storefronts. Ilya Grigorik, Principal Engineer at Shopify, takes us behind the scenes and shares how Hydrogen is built and optimized to power personalized, contextual, and dynamic commerce.

Fun fact: Hydrogen is in developer preview in case you want to take it out for a spin.

3. YJIT: Building a New JIT Compiler for CRuby

A cartoon Ruby Gem levelling up, jumping to higher pipes

Shopify engineers worked on many cool and impactful projects in 2021. Exhibit A: YJIT. Created by a small team led by Staff Engineer Maxime Chevalier-Boisvert, YJIT is a new JIT (just-in-time) compiler built inside CRuby that has now been merged upstream and is part of the Ruby 3.1.0 release. In this post, Maxime writes about the importance of the project to Shopify and Ruby developers worldwide.

For extra credit and additional reading, check out Noah Gibbs’ YJIT posts:

4. A Five-Step Guide for Conducting Exploratory Data Analysis

A person working on graphs at their desk

Cody Mazza-Anthony, Shopify Data Scientist, explains how to use exploratory data analysis (EDA) for answering important business questions and walks through five tips for performing an effective EDA. Here are the key takeaways:

  • Missing values can plague your data
  • Provide a basic description of your features and categorize them
  • Understand your data by visualizing its distribution
  • Your features have relationships! Make note of them
  • Outliers can dampen your fun only if you don’t know about them

5. Upgrading MySQL at Shopify

A cartoon server working out at the gym

Yi Qing Sim, Senior Production Engineer, shares how the Database Platform team performed the most recent MySQL upgrade at Shopify. She also discusses the roadblocks they encountered during rollback testing, the internal tooling built to aid in upgrading and scaling our fleet in general, and guidelines for approaching upgrades going forward.

6. Apache Beam for Search: Getting Started by Hacking Time

A image of a wristwatch

You might know Doug Turnbull, Senior Staff Engineer, for writing the book “Relevant Search”, contributing to “AI-Powered Search”, and creating relevance tooling for Solr and Elasticsearch like Splainer, Quepid, and the Elasticsearch Learning to Rank plugin. We also know him as the author of this excellent post about using Apache Beam for search at Shopify.

7. Understanding GraphQL for Beginners

An illustration of three hamburgers, varying in sizes and toppings

OK, I might be cheating here because this is a three-part series, but it’s been a top read in 2021, prompting our team to refer to these tutorials as the “Everybody Loves Raymond” series. In this hands-on tutorial, Raymond Chung, Technical Educator on the Dev Degree team, teaches you all about GraphQL and digs into the difference between REST and GraphQL.

8. Keeping Developers Happy with a Fast CI

A car races, blurred by the speed

Christian Bruckmayer, Senior Production Engineer, is part of the Test Infrastructure team responsible for ensuring Shopify’s CI systems are scalable, robust, and usable. In this post, Christian shares how the team reduced the p95 of Shopify’s core monolith from 45 minutes to 18, allowing developers to spend less time waiting and ship faster.

9. Rate Limiting GraphQL APIs by Calculating Query Complexity

Illustrated cereal boxes with various GraphQL references

Guilherme Vieira, Senior Developer on the API Patterns team, explores Shopify’s rate-limiting system for the GraphQL Admin API and how it addresses some limitations of methods commonly used in REST APIs. He also describes how we calculate query costs that adapt to the data that clients need while providing a more predictable load on servers.

10. Building an App Clip with React Native

A cartoon phone genie with the Shop App opened on the screen emitting from a lamp

Sebastian Ekström, Senior Developer on the Shop team, recounts what it was like being the first to build an App Clip in React Native that would be surfaced to millions of users each day. 

“We approached this project with a lot of unknowns—the technology was new and new to us. We were trying to build an App Clip with React Native, which isn’t typical! Our approach (to fail fast and iterate) worked well. Having a developer with native iOS development was very helpful because App Clips—even ones written in React Native—involve a lot of Apple’s tooling.”

Bonus: Older Posts You Still Love

The following posts are still very popular on the blog, so it felt wrong to leave them off the list just because they are a couple of years old. Considering the number of people who have read Building a Data Table Component in React, I’m assuming there are thousands of data table components built with React out there, thanks to this post.

  1. Building a Data Table Component in React
  2. Under Deconstruction: The State of Shopify’s Monolith
  3. How to Write Fast Code in Ruby on Rails

Jennie Lundrigan is a Senior Engineering Writer at Shopify. When she's not writing nerd words, she's probably saying hi to your dog.

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