From Legacy to Modern: The Backbone to React Migration Success
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From Legacy to Modern: The Backbone to React Migration Success

This case study delves into the successful transformation of a finance platform, focusing on its migration from the outdated Backbone framework to the modern React ecosystem. The project, spanning over two years, showcases the challenges, strategies, and outcomes of the transition, highlighting the collaborative efforts that led to an efficient, secure, and performant application.


An overview:

Project duration2 Years
Team size3 Front-end Engineers
TechnologyWeb development
Project goal
  • Upgrade application from Backbone to React.
  • Ensure the application’s stability and continuous operation.
  • Complex system architecture
  • Conversion planning
  • Limited access to third-party libraries
  • Legacy React
  • Migration documentation
  • Efficient and maintainable codebase
  • Enhanced stability and performance
Technologies and tools used on the project
  • Backbone
  • jQuery
  • JavaScript
  • TypeScript
  • GraphQL
  • React.js
  • React Router
  • Ruby
  • Ruby on Rails
  • Buildkite


About the Client

Headquartered in San Francisco, the company specializes in offering a payroll platform, providing efficient payroll solutions tailored to meet the unique business needs.


Project Goals

The client’s primary goal was to transition from outdated technologies to more contemporary solutions. This involved transforming existing jQuery-supported pages and Backbone views into component-based React pages to foster the development of reusable UI components.

When we joined, their web application encompassed an array of languages including CoffeeScript, JavaScript, and TypeScript, while the user interface was constructed using technologies from varying eras such as jQuery, BackboneJS, and React.

While doing this transition our goal was to ensure the application’s stability and continuous operation. This meant adding incremental modifications to existing components.


Challenges and Approach

Complex System Architecture

Given the organization’s substantial size and the complexity of the application, we recognized that a complete rewrite of their entire system wasn’t feasible without a plan on how to keep the application running during the refactoring phase. Moreover, the client’s team was adding new pages utilizing outdated technologies.

Conversion Planning

We’ve come up with a couple of strategies for a successful conversions:

  • We created a step-by-step guide that showcased other developers how they can do the conversion themselves.
  • Documented different scenarios that could occur during the conversion.
  • Established a dedicated Slack channel for migration assistance.


The team included three full-time Front-end engineers who worked closely with the client’s team and attended weekly sync meetings. The developers were responsible for coming up with solutions for each unique conversion scenario, documenting them, and creating appropriate tests (unit tests or integration tests, depending on the scenario).

Legacy React

Most of the components in the codebase were coupled. They were interconnected or interdependent in a way that changes made to one component can directly affect or require changes in another. Coupling can lead to a lack of modularity and flexibility in the codebase, potentially making it harder to maintain, test, and scale the application.

We wrote components with a commitment to reducing coupling, fostering code reusability, and simplifying maintenance.

Conversion Workflow

The conversion was executed in several stages, each meticulously aligned with the client’s requirements. We started by shifting the Backbone router to React Router, then updated our data stores to use an internal store with GraphQL and in some cases REST API calls, and removed Backbone models completely. We integrated these changes into React components with TypeScript and shifted our state management to GraphQL and React hooks, all while rigorously testing to maintain application stability and performance. This structured approach ensured a seamless transition while upholding the project’s objectives.

Limited Access to Third-party Libraries

Our restricted access to third-party libraries, along with the absence of mock options, created limitations for our development and testing processes. To overcome these challenges, we gave preference to in-house solutions and simulated application behavior during testing.



Migration Documentation

As we embarked on this conversion journey, one of our key priorities was to maintain a comprehensive and up-to-date documentation trail. By transparently detailing the conversion process step by step, we provided a roadmap for other teams to follow as they undertook their migrations. This comprehensive documentation approach not only facilitated the immediate migration but also laid the groundwork for future optimizations and refinements.


“This project showcased the power of knowledge sharing, synergy, and forward-thinking strategies in achieving successful technology transitions within a complex and dynamic environment.“


Efficient and Maintainable Codebase

Reducing component coupling played a key role in creating an efficient and easy-to-maintain codebase. This approach made it simpler to manage changes, resulting in a more reliable and adaptable application.

Enhanced Stability and Performance

Our team’s collaborative effort in modernizing the application architecture proved instrumental in achieving enhanced stability and performance. By converting a significant portion of the Backbone pages to React and meticulously documenting the process, we contributed to the organization’s larger goal of embracing modern technologies.

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