Phoenix: The difference between web and lib

January 14, 2016

In Phoenix we have 2 distinct places to put our code: the web directory and the lib directory. If you’re coming from another framework like Rails then it might be tempting to think of web as your app directory and lib as a junk drawer of miscellaneous modules and tasks.

But remember that Phoenix is just OTP!

In fact the biggest difference between web and lib is that everything in the web directory is hot reloaded. This means that when you change a file in web the next time a web request is made that file will be recompiled.

What this means in practice is that we can organize our code based on its state management.

Since everything in web is reloaded for each request the web directory is the perfect place to put anything that needs to manage state only for the duration of that request. Conversely, lib is the perfect place to put anything that needs to manage state outside of the lifecycle of a request. For instance other Supervisors, Agents, or GenServers.

I think that this distinction is great because it emphasizes the fact that Phoenix is just an OTP application. We aren’t bound to the same request/response cycle present in other frameworks. We can build Phoenix applications the same way that we would build any other elixir or erlang application. The web components are just a piece of that application. Not the application itself.