April 29, 2020 - Solving the Mystery of Lightning

Many Salesforce users have heard about the Lightning platform, and are possibly using it, however, they don’t understand exactly what it is. For most people, there is a mystery surrounding Lightning. Is Lightning a new User Interface? Is it a new way to build applications? Does it work with Salesforce Classic? The short answer to all of these is “Yes”, although the details behind each of these questions is what causes most of the confusion. In 2014, Salesforce launched the new Lightning Experience. Since that time, there has been a slow adoption of companies to shift their Salesforce Org from Classic to Lightning. This has been due in part to three main reasons. First, most users are unclear about exactly what Lightning is. Second, in order to make the transition it requires the refactoring of Visualforce pages and Apex classes to Lightning Web Components. And lastly, some Classic features have not been readily available in Lightning. To help demystify the Salesforce Lightning platform I will address the three main questions most of our customers are asking:

  1. What is Lightning?
  2. How is Lightning different from Classic?
  3. Should I upgrade to Lightning?
Solving the Mystery of Lightning

What is Lightning?
First and foremost, Lightning is a new visual user experience. Salesforce has made many well-designed improvements to their interface, which are immediately noticeable as soon as Lightning is enabled. In addition, the organization of the layout and setup is much better. Lightning is not an upgrade that needs to be purchased and installed on your Salesforce Org. It is already present, just waiting to be enabled. In order to begin using Lightning you will need to enable it for the Org as well as individual users. So, Lightning looks better, and is organized better than Classic, but at this point, people usually begin to question if it’s worth the effort for just a visual upgrade. To answer that, we need to go a little deeper into understanding the structure of Lightning. The Lightning platform is a Client-Side Technology. What this means is that code primarily runs on the user’s computer rather than on a server. Think of it this way; when you visit a website, the page you are viewing is downloaded onto your computer via a web browser. That code has two parts to it; first there is the code that represents the visual layout you are seeing, which is what is downloaded onto your computer, and then there is the code that interacts with the server in order to send and get information, which remains on the server and is not downloaded to your web browser. This means every time a button is clicked, the web browser sends a command to the server, then you have to wait for the code to go out to the server, get a response and comeback to your web browser. That is called Server-Side Technology, in that the code behind the firing of that button sits on the server not on your computer. However, Lightning uses Client-Side Technology, where the primary code for the button, as well as the server are both stored in your web browser and eliminates the long trip over the internet and to the server. This is a much faster response for the user as the change on the page is instantaneous, and that is the power of the Lightning Experience.

How is Lightning different from Classic?
The primary difference between Lightning and Classic, is the fact that Salesforce Classic is a Server-Side Technology, where Lightning is a Client-Side Technology. This also means, if you are viewing your Salesforce Org remotely and loose WIFI signal, you can still interact with that page and when you return to the signal, Lightning will update the server when available. In the Classic mode this was not possible, and you would receive a “Page Not Found” error. But there is more to Lightning than just client-side speed and agility. Remember that visual user experience we talked about earlier? Lighting is more than just a pretty face; it is also mobile responsive. This means the page layouts will adjust from the desktop, to the tablet, to the phone in a much more fluid way than Salesforce Classic. If you’ve ever tried to view your Salesforce Org from your phone’s web browser, you know what I mean. Additionally, Lightning is built on W3C Standards and Salesforce has committed to leveraging those standards for all future development. This means, that instead of relying on proprietary coding languages like Visualforce and Apex, Salesforce Lightning Web Components are built using industry standards like HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript. In addition, this opens a whole new family of standardized development options like jQuery, Bootstrap, and more, all waiting to deliver a much better desktop and mobile application experience, and all within the Lightning platform. It is important to mention, that Salesforce is committed to maintaining the Apex language for the future and Apex is still necessary for all server-side code that Lightning initiates. Apex is not going anywhere, and Lightning is not replacing it. The objective is to isolate the code to run in the best environment for efficiency. If we can perform many functions on the client-side, then that code should run locally via Lightning, but when a transaction must occur on the server, Apex will still be the best code for that job.

Should I upgrade to Lightning?
Yes, all companies should enable the Lightning Experience on their Salesforce Org and begin making the transition. It is not only the future of a more robust Salesforce platform but delivers a better user experience. The process involves converting all Page Layouts to Lighting Pages, and all Visualforce Pages to Lightning Web Components. While, this can be a large and daunting task, there are small steps that can be taken before pursuing the larger commitment. Salesforce has developed the Lightning Design System (LDS) that gives your Visualforce pages the look and feel of Lightning without the need to refactor all the code. This option is a great way to slowly evolve your site into Lightning without investing heavily upfront on redevelopment costs. While the code foundation will still remain server-side, LDS will give the mobile responsive benefit to your Visualforce pages and that great Lightning style. Apps Associates offers a full Lightning Readiness Assessment to roadmap your Lightning migration and detail the full impact on your Salesforce Org. This includes a full review of all objects, processes, layouts, and code to have a complete understanding of what it will take to make your Org Lightning Compatible.

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