If you've ever played the popular word game Mad Libs, then you're familiar with the concept of frameworks. Instead of writing the story from scratch, you're given the structure of the story with different areas to customize. This saves you time because you’re taking a template and repurposing it for your needs — or for your entertainment, in the case of Mad Libs.
Frameworks, on the other hand, are built to fulfill multiple functions and form the backbone of a web application. Many frameworks, like Angular, architect the entire site tree. Meaning, they are used for the entire front end of the application. Others, like Vue.js, support incremental use, meaning your application can use the framework in limited amounts.
You will likely use libraries within your application for specialized use cases your framework doesn't cover. Think back to those pesky dates with Day.js. You don't need to use this library in views that don't include dates.
On the other hand, if your application is built with Angular, then the page template is written in Angular's syntax regardless of what functions you leverage. In contrast, you can call Day.js in files where you need it and leave it out of files where you don't.
The key is selecting the right framework to meet the needs of your project. Let’s examine the five most popular frameworks to inform your decision.
Introduced in 2013, React has accrued more than 179,000 stars on GitHub, cementing its place as the second-most popular framework in this list. React is a fast, scalable, and reusable framework for building interactive user interfaces (UIs). Like Vue, React supports incremental use and uses the virtual DOM model for expedited updates of web page content. Naturally, it mainly supports the View piece of the Model-View-Controller (MVC) paradigm.
Unlike Vue, React is capable of supporting enterprise applications with ease. React introduced the idea of components, which are self-contained modules of code that are packaged for reuse. Components save developers time by writing code once and then using it across the application. Then, you only need to change the code in one location for updates.
Vue.js was released in 2014 and has accumulated more than 191,000 stars on GitHub, making it the most followed framework in this list. This growth is even more impressive considering it is the newest framework of the five.
The framework combines the template strategy of Angular with the componentization of React, allowing developers to write page templates in standard HTML and package these templates and other code into components for easy reuse and streamlined updates. Vue's reactivity system automatically updates the view to reflect new data as it's introduced. By supporting HTML and JSX, Vue is easy to learn for teams familiar with front-end languages.
Angular uses data binding, which automatically synchronizes data between the database and the client, saving developers from having to define requests and responses when a user interacts with the UI. The framework also supports dynamic rendering with its JSON-based processor. Another key feature of Angular is its use of HTML templates so the browser can directly parse the file. Finally, Angular supports if conditions, loops, and local variables inside its templates to program how the web page's content renders.
One of the main benefits of Angular is that the framework relies on the browser to build the page, lightening the load on the application's server and leading to faster load times.
Ember.js was released in 2011 and has earned more than 22,000 stars on GitHub. Its focus is on building rich, interactive UIs no matter the size of the website, from SPAs up to enterprise applications.
Ember's development model is built around HTML and CSS, lowering the learning curve. The framework takes a component-based approach built off the Handlebars templating engine. One advantage of using Handlebars is that the templates update automatically with relevant data changes. It also offers the Ember Inspector tool for debugging and additional add-ons through its user-friendly API.
One advantage of the Ember framework is its focus on convention over configuration, meaning it prioritizes out-of-the-box functionality. This reduces the number of decisions the developer needs to make — which reduces the number of possible errors — but this comes at the price of customization.
Choose the Right Framework for Your Website
1. Existing Toolstack
If you're looking at implementing a framework in an existing site, then the list of considerations is longer. For example, if your site was built on another framework, then you need to weigh the time and money required to refactor the existing code versus the benefits the new framework offers. As an alternative, you can implement a second framework that can be used incrementally alongside your existing framework.
Some frameworks are built to support SPAs, and some are built to support large applications. Knowing the scope of your project will help you identify which camp your application falls into and which framework will better support your requirements.
3. Performance Requirements
Another tradeoff with frameworks is the speed of your website. Some are built to prioritize quick responses and updates, like React and Vue with their focus on the virtual DOM. However, if you need more built-in functionality and control, then a more robust framework like Angular would be a better approach.
4. Technical Competence
Some frameworks, like Vue and Ember, are designed to be easy to learn and implement. Others, like Angular, are more complicated but offer more features.
Frame the Problem to Find the Solution
The first step is understanding your needs to better frame your requirements. With that awareness and the knowledge of the frameworks' unique attributes in hand, you'll be able to select the best one to supercharge your website's performance and user experience.