Some of my favorite web app tools

We use pre-built tools and libraries because they’re supposed to make the tedious parts of our projects easy to put into action. A well-designed web app helper can make the project less stressful and more interesting and organized. Here are a few tools that have made steps of the web development process more enjoyable.

Payment Gateway
My first payment gateway was Authorize.NET. While Authorize.NET is a powerful, customizable payment gateway solution with lots of possibilities – I found the library complicated and hard to implement for the projects I used it for. This happens because the majority of the projects I work with are not large applications for large corporations. Usually these are smaller business that only need a relatively small, customizable payment gateway.

Then I found Stripe – a service that is based on APIs so you can use any language you’d like to use. There is a developer community that provides Stripe libraries in languages that Stripe doesn’t cover. They provide comprehensive documentation and examples. I’ve never used an easier payment gateway or API. Here are some of the high points:

  • Credit card information is stored on Stripe’s servers so your site doesn’t have to be PCI compliant
  • Pricing is competitive with other payment gateways at 2.9%+30c per charge
  • Additional features you can provide to your customers include subscriptions, coupons, and trials
  • Currently, over a hundred currency types are covered and Stripe automatically handles conversions with a 2% charge in addition to market rates
  • Stripe can only be used in certain countries like the United States, Canada, Australia and parts of Europe but they are expanding to other countries
  • Stripe has pre-built forms you can use, or you can create your own
  • You can do one time payments, or store credit cards and customers on Stripe so your customers don’t need to re-enter credit card information

If you decide to use Stripe, you would be in good company. Stripe is continuously adding new countries and features, so check out their site for the latest!

Web API Testing

So you’ve written your APIs and you want to test them. But let’s say you have complicated steps you need to follow in your web application in order to get to each API and to test them properly. It’s tiresome and frustrating. Enter Postman, a Chrome browser plug-in. Here are the some of the high points:

  • Ability to save past Posts in collections so you can easily go back, modify HTTP request data and retest
  • Ability to upload files in posts
  • Saves your post history
  • Ability to save environment variables that are sent with requests. Change the environment between local, staging and production to use the environment-specific values
  • Supports Basic Auth, Digest Auth, OAuth 1.0 and they’re currently working on OAuth 2.0

If you insist on using Firefox or IE for debugging/testing, Firefox also has similar plug-ins like RESTClient or Poster. You’re on your own with IE.

Creating Fast Mockups

If you use hand-drawn layouts or MS Paint to give your clients a rough idea of what you’ll be creating, then Balsamiq may be worth investing in. It’s inexpensive, easy and fun to create professional web mockups. Here are some of the high points:

  • They have lots of pre-built controls like radio buttons, text fields, a google map-like picture, buttons, etc
  • I like the sketch-style design, but if you want a mockup that looks more like a web page they have a ‘clean wireframe’ option
  • It’s easy to add controls to the page, and they provide guide lines that can snap your controls in place so they align
  • Different containers include web sites, dialog windows, and mobile apps
  • Comes as a desktop or web app. Check out the web demo

The desktop app for a single user starts at a $79 one-time payment and the web app at $12/month. Balsamiq can help round out your web app tool arsenal and requires no photoshop skills! You’ll find yourself asking your clients if you can create mockups for them.

When not searching for weeds to pull in his non-existent New Mexico lawn, Robert can be found reading requirements documents and translating geekspeak for humans.

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