Hand Coding v Visual Editors in Web Development

The method used for web page creation and editing is greatly dependent on four major factors; developer experience, web site objective, budget and time. An important additional consideration is how the site will be maintained as it may be handed over to someone who does not have the same skills and experience of the developer. Gugliuzza (2002) states that “I’m glad I spent the hours I did learning to hand-code, instead of using an editor” in debating the advantages of hand-coding whereas Mark (2007) prefers the standpoint that “database-driven platforms such as WordPress save time and provide the user with an instant way to manage and update”.

Hand coding is certainly cheaper in tools, provides efficient code and allows perfect customisation (assuming a competent developer) whereas the time to achieve competency and speed in hand coding may not be worth the time to all but frequent developers and often other skills are required if a page is completely hand-coded (e.g. ftp, server permissions such as CHMOD, etc.). The ability to hand-code also allows the developer to learn other web page scripts, such as php, more easily than if they have only ever used the other options.

Visual editors are almost as easy to use to anyone who can use a word processor and can handle the publication of the site and can produce efficient code, however not as efficient as hand-coding in my experience, that is extremely simple to maintain, however the cost of editors varies with the top sellers being very expensive (not to mention upgrades) and it can take some time to learn the editor’s tools.

Generators are bringing web page publication to the masses (Mark (2007)) and making management and maintenance extremely simple. They are extremely inexpensive, if not free, and lead the user through what once were laborious processes, especially considering that community support and plug-ins are also widely and freely available. However what we gain in simplicity we lose in individuality (at the basic use level) and the ability for the inexperienced user to customise.

As an old school web developer who first wrote HTML in 1993 when it wasn’t possible to use anything other than hand-coding, to upload the code to a server and view it in a very limited browser (then the now defunct Netscape) to test that it appeared correctly, the process was slow but very little could go wrong, as HTML tags at the time were very limited. As a result of this and being a developer of other non-mark-up languages (e.g. PERL), I have always been a fan of hand coding for the primary reason that I know my code very well and can maintain it easily.  Having said that, over the years I have seen the time benefit of using visual editors (Dreamweaver mainly) to add standardised code to prepare designs and then switch back to hand-coding to remove any superfluous code and tweak things before publication. More recently, for standardised web uses (basic sites) I have switched to site generators such as WordPress, Joomla and Drupal (WordPress has proven most useful) using standardised template designs which I have then, as with visual editing, switched to hand-coding to make changes that would not have been possible otherwise. I conclude therefore that there is a place for all of these types of creation and editing for web pages but it is greatly dependent on the skills of the developer and the time and budgetary constraints of the project, not to mention the objective.

References

Gugliuzza, M. (2002) Debate – Hand Coding: the Ultimate Freedom [Online]. Available at http://articles.sitepoint.com/article/hand-coding-ultimate-freedom (Accessed 6 Mar 2011).

Mark (2007) Hand-Coding vs. WYSIWYG vs. WordPress [Online]. Available at http://makspot.wordpress.com/2007/10/11/hand-coding-vs-wysiwyg-vs-wordpress/ (Accessed 6 Mar 2011).