The Story of Hyvä, an interview with Willem Wigman

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At Hypernode staying up to date with the latest trends and developments in the world of e-commerce is of utmost importance to us. Not long ago, we were introduced to Hyvä, an alternative to Progressive Web Apps (PWA). Wanting to know more, we contacted the developer of Hÿva themes Willem Wigman, from integer_net, for an in-depth conversation. We hope you are as excited by the Hyvä story as we are!

The Hyvä Story

Hyvä is a new front-end for Magento that, unlike most front-ends, is not headless, PWA and not built entirely on JavaScript. The creator, Willem Wigman, has been making Magento shops for almost 10 years. In 2020 he started a small “side project” that has since been publicly released, with a license for sale. According to Willem, it has developed into a real community project. Seasoned developers are enthusiastically helping with the testing and development phase of the product. It was only natural that developers were eager to work on a new solution.

“Building Magento shops was the most fun just before Magento 2 released. Once Magento 2 came out, we got a front-end that didn’t work very well. There were a lot of problems with it and it was hard to build a theme. It’s just a disproportionate amount of work. We hoped for a very long time that it would get better, because there was a promise from the beginning that these problems would be fixed.”

With no improvement of note the front-end became more and more of a hindrance. Unmanageable UI components created hours of extra work, motivating several years of experimentation and investment in PWA solutions. Given the complexity of PWA solutions, however, this too was for them not viable.

“We noticed that at integer_net internally, nobody was really happy about working with PWAs. Current PWA solutions are all JavaScript based frameworks, built entirely as an application. You’re not building websites anymore, but applications with Javascript. That’s something that front-end developers generally find quite difficult, because Javascript is much more complex than front-end techniques we’re used to working with.”

Like many other inventions, the idea for Hyvä started at home. In 2020, Willem wanted to build a simple webshop in Magento for his wife. Of course, he wanted to make this as fun as possible. Seeing as PWA’s had already caused a lot of havoc at integer_net, he decided to build the shop from scratch.

“I thought: I’ll make it a simple catalog, with just a few products. It must not be too difficult to write it myself. And that’s where it started. I never had the idea to build an entirely new Magento front-end. I wanted to build a simple shop with Magento. That got a little out of hand.”

After about a month of work, Willem introduced his project to integer_net. It was a webshop with a very simple design and basic functionality, with the added advantage that everything was custom. Thanks to the front-end he had developed, it was a lot less work to change elements of the shop. This was very appealing to integer_net, and the reactions were accordingly positive. It was time to take the next step. Hyvä was rolled out and the company invested more in its continued development.

“The number of techniques you have to learn has been greatly reduced. You create a custom webshop in far less time.”

Hyvä: the advantages

Hyvä also has many advantages for developers. Most of the stack remains the same for the time being. The main focus is on making some of the already existing features more easy to use. Developers will also find that by using Hyvä they can work with techniques that are familiar to them – such as layout xml, blocks and html files. Essentially you are working with what you already know from Magento 1 and 2, but with all of the unnecessary complexity removed from the front-end. While JavaScript is still used, it acts more as a supporting element. Practically speaking, it turns out that user-friendliness is much better than PWA solutions. Though comparisons are tircky, as the term PWA has become quite vague.

“A PWA is purely that one can save a website with an icon on your phone and it has an additional file that allows you to send notifications to your users, for example. That’s what’s a little tricky about the whole thing, because the Magento community has made PWA synonymous with a React or Vue application.”

Solutions available as PWA’s are driven by JavaScript. They are decoupled from Magento and work through GraphQL and APIs. But a website built with React headless is not necessarily a PWA.

“The terms are used incorrectly. PWA studio, Vue Storefront and deity PWA are PWA’s built with JavaScript frameworks. However, Hyvä could also easily be converted to a PWA. Even the current Magento front-end could in theory be converted to a PWA within an hour.”

Despite the lack of clarity on terms, there is no doubt that Hyvä meets a great need for many people. Many developers who work with PHP and Magento want to continue doing so. PHP continues to be an important and beloved tool and many don’t want to see a change in that either. The current front-end was a sticking point, too complex and too slow. A headless PWA was always seen as the only way to solve this.

“We’ ve proved them wrong, though. It can be done and is great fun to work with. It saves a lot of time spent building, a lot of money…. It saves on all fronts! There are a very large number of developers worldwide who can work with Hyvä far more easily than with a headless PWA. The feedback we received from front-enders during the beta period was laudatory…”

Hyvä: Features and Extensions

Hyvä is also becoming increasingly comprehensive, with many integrations and extensions. While no extensions yet exist for headless PWAs you can, in fact, make many extensions compatible with Hyvä. There is currently an inventory of the most used modules, to ensure that they are online in a shorter period of time. As a Magento developer, it is also quite easy to do this yourself, as very few modifications are needed. For now then, extensions are a WIP, with a healthy future.

“Those who are not technical enough or do not have the budget to make modules compatible themselves, can choose from existing modules which have already been made compatible. A list of these will be posted on our website in the near future.”

With 75 agencies working with Hyvä a month after its launch, many projects are already underway. As a result, many modules are compatible. With a license you get access to all of them. The possibilities are considerable, including for larger webshops.

“If a shop is built with Luma, for example, there is no limit. You could say that as Hyvä uses far fewer resources on a server, you can actually run larger shops more easily than with Luma. […] If it concerns the amount of customization you have to apply for a shop to be ready in half the time, it means that the bigger your project is, the more you save on development hours.”

The future of Hyvä

With time, the benefits of Hyvä will intensify. Large online stores can save time and money with a simplified solution, while also improving their shop’s performance and rankability. 

“On top of that, as of May 1, Google will be determining rankings based on these core vital metrics, and sites built with Hyvä will be better ranked as a result.”

As was mentioned at the beginning of this article, the fuzzy terminology used do describe PWA’s makes it difficult to make comparisons to Hyvä. This will become more difficult as [they] begin to look more alike. Consequently, the line between Hyvä and PWAs will become progressively thinner over time.

“Then it becomes a bit weird if we keep calling it PWA, because we are not talking about Javascript applications anymore. It would mean a PWA is just a website with some mobile application functionality.”

Hyvä now contains almost all functionalities of the Open Source Magento 2 version. It is now being further expanded with third party compatibility modules, so that extensions can work with Hyvä. There is also good news for users of the paid version of Magento. The pagebuilder is nearly fully compatible, in collaboration with Fisheye. All B2B functionalities will eventually be implemented. Enterprise customers will soon find Hyvä to be a suitable platform. 

“The next version will just be a 1.1 with more features. We are not going to work towards 2.0 yet. With these features you have to think of colored swatches, for example. This version will be more feature complete. A list of these will appear on the site so people can see what is and isn’t currently in Hyvä.”

“We also recently published a list of ‘suppliers’ where merchants can easily find an experienced Hyvä agency.”

Curious about hosting Hyvä on a Hypernode? Take a look at our product page or contact us directly.

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