Airbnb’s Ghost Platform (GP) is making waves in the world of user interface (UI) design. It introduces a server-driven approach that has the potential to reshape interactions with applications across various platforms. The complexities of GP and its implications for the future of UI development are worth exploring.

Server-driven UI benefits

Traditionally, UI development relied on client-side logic. In this setup, the backend provided data, and individual clients (web, iOS, Android) handled the UI. However, this sometimes resulted in complex and inflexible UI logic, leading to inconsistencies in user experiences across different platforms.

The server-driven UI (SDUI) approach takes a different path. It combines both UI and data, sending them together to clients, which then display the UI agnostically. This paradigm shift eliminates the need for extensive client-side UI logic, streamlining the development process and ensuring a more consistent and adaptable user interface.

Airbnb’s Ghost Platform

Airbnb’s Ghost Platform (GP) is a unified system that embraces the server-driven UI model, with a laser focus on rapid iteration and safe feature launches across various platforms. What sets GP apart is its utilization of frameworks in native languages for each platform. This means Typescript for web, Swift for iOS, and Kotlin for Android, providing developers with the tools they are most comfortable with.

GP simplifies the creation of server-driven features with minimal setup, helping developers focus on innovation rather than wrestling with complex UI logic. This approach improves development efficiency and means the user experience is consistently exceptional, regardless of the platform.

The standardized schema

The backbone of GP is a standardized GraphQL schema that is employed consistently across all platforms. This schema is the key to rendering all features on Airbnb’s platform. It’s a versatile foundation capable of accommodating reusable sections, dynamic layouts, and more. By adhering to this standardized schema, GP achieves a remarkable level of consistency and flexibility in UI design.

Sections and screens in GP

UI development depends on two fundamental concepts: sections and screens. Sections serve as the basic building blocks, describing UI components. They are independent of one another, which means they can be reused throughout the application, providing both efficiency and flexibility in design.

Screens, on the other hand, are responsible for describing the layout and organization of sections. This hierarchical structure allows for the creation of complex and dynamic user interfaces that can adapt to different use cases. By breaking down the UI into these modular components, GP makes it easier to manage and maintain the UI elements.

The future of GP

GP has already made significant strides in enhancing Airbnb’s core features. But there’s more to come. One key focus is on creating composable UIs. The idea is to make it simpler for developers to piece together UI elements like building blocks, which will speed up development and allow for quicker improvements. Composable UIs are what make GP so adaptable.

GP is dedicated to enhancing the discoverability of elements. This means users can effortlessly locate and navigate through the features and content they’re looking for, ultimately leading to a smoother and more enjoyable user experience.

In a bid to make UI changes more accessible to everyone, GP is also working on facilitating no-code feature adjustments. This means even those without extensive coding knowledge will be able to tweak the UI, making the platform more user-friendly and accessible to a wider audience.

Alexander Procter

January 4, 2024

3 Min read