Blogs
Freddy Montes
Senior Frontend Developer

JavaScript Frameworks: The Complete Guide

Dec 15, 2020

By: Freddy Montes

Javascript is at the heart of web development. The programming language has boomed over the past years, and Javascript frameworks have gained popularity as ways of building fast, versatile websites and apps.

For developers, Javascript also has many advantages as it can be learned in a relatively short time. Also, a quick search on LinkedIn and Indeed reveals thousands of job openings around the world.

While there are many different Javascript frameworks and libraries, according to npm Trends, the Angular framework and React and Vue libraries are, by far, the most widely used.

In this article, we will give you a complete overview of JavaScript frameworks, explain how frameworks and libraries differ, breakdown some of the top frameworks in use, and highlight how Javascript powers the Jamstack.

What is a JavaScript Framework?

Let’s start by dissecting the word framework.

An application framework is an abstraction layer based on a programming language where developers can build application-specific software by adding user-written code.

Frameworks work as the schematics and blueprints of the software product you plan to build. They tell you what you need to use to assemble a product that fits your needs.

Frameworks give developers a standardized way to build applications; they also provide a universal software environment where they can reuse components, accelerating and improving the building time.

Software frameworks don’t usually do all the work on their own. They include support programs, libraries, toolsets, and APIs that enable developers to build software in a specific way.

Javascript frameworks are collections of code libraries full of pre-written Javascript code for standard features and tasks.

In essence, JavaScript frameworks:

  • Give you everything you need to create a web app
  • Provide users with templates to build common parts of your web apps
  • Represent a way to create components including routing, data fetching, forms, and static pages

For instance, with a JavaScript framework you can build your web app reusing components such as product carousels, payment gateways and product pages so developers can use their time better, focusing on the underlying logic while the framework handles the UI elements.

JavaScript Frameworks vs JavaScript Libraries

Frameworks and libraries are routinely confused, but they’re not the same. A framework offers a structure that organizes the parts of your digital experience.

Javascript libraries are prewritten code snippets that can be used to perform JavaScript-related functions and plugged independently into software projects and frameworks to extend their functionalities on an ad hoc basis.

For example, you can insert a JQuery snippet into your code and have that part of your website or app perform a function; such as autocomplete a text box or animate a part of the website.

JavaScript libraries are reusable code that solves problems and simplifies development. Still, at their core, libraries are elements you add to existing projects when you don’t want to build something from scratch. Frameworks are reusable too, but they are the blueprints you use to build the development project, not the components, If frameworks are the scaffolding you use to build, the libraries are the bricks you use to build digital experiences.

These are some of the main differences between frameworks and libraries:

  • Frameworks, unlike libraries, have inversion control, which means that the flow of control, or the way the program follows the instructions, isn’t dictated by the developer but by the framework.
  • Users can extend frameworks by developing or integrating specialized user code that provides that specific functionality. Libraries can be integrated with, but not extended.
  • Frameworks can’t be modified. They can be extended, but you can’t change the code, whereas libraries can be modified to suit the needs of the developers.

However, these two concepts often get confused because frameworks implement part of their functionalities with libraries. But as a rule of thumb, frameworks are usually more complex and give users rules on how to do things whereas libraries provide standard functionalities and UI components to build digital experiences.

Top Three Javascript Frameworks

Software development is all about composition. You have instructions, you build parts, and you combine them to create something. There are dozens of frameworks available for developers to test and try. In fact, frameworks rise and fall in popularity every year. That’s a good thing because it means that JavaScript is alive and it’s still full of possibilities.

Since we can’t talk thoroughly about each framework in this guide, we will focus on the three we mentioned at the beginning because they are the most common and used frameworks today. Let’s take a look:

Next.js

Created by Vercel in 2016, Next.js is an open-source JavaScript framework that enables developers to build server-side rendered, static websites and applications based on React. Next.js is one of the most popular JavaScript frameworks and its user community is thriving.

Next.js Benefits

  • Great for SEO
  • Automatic code splitting
  • Simplified data fetching
  • Page-based, client-side routing
  • Webpack-based developer environment

Nuxt.js

Created in 2016, Nuxt.js is advertised as a meta-framework for universal applications. Nuxt.js is based on Vue and abstracts client-side code distribution, simplifying and flexibilizing application development. Also, Nuxt.js is extremely lightweight and developers get plenty of features without bloating the app’s files.

Nuxt.js Benefits

  • Create universal, server o client-side rendered apps
  • Easy to use stater templates
  • Robust project structure by default
  • Simplified server auto-updated
  • Big user ecosystem

    Angular

    Introduced by Google in 2016 (don't get confused with AngularJS). Angular focuses on helping developers build mobile and desktop web apps; however, the tool has changed from its inception.

    Angular Benefits

    • Ready to be used as an out-of-the-box, standalone solution
    • Built using Typescript, it keeps code clear and accessible
    • Simplified debugging
    • Enables the creation of components, services, and modules
    • Users can use Angular Material, a collection of templates to build UI components

      Read More: Build a Comments Component with AngularJS and dotCMS

      However, that doesn’t mean that the big three are the only players in the JavaScript field. Here are seven other frameworks that are also widely used and that you can test if you feel like Angular, React, and Vue might not work for you.

      Javascript Frameworks and Jamstack

      Jamstack has become a nascent trend in the web development scene. In simple terms, it’s a web development architecture based on Javascript, reusable APIS, and Markup.

      The core principle of Jamstack are:

      1. Pre-rendering: The whole frontend is build into static HTML pages during build time
      2. Decoupling: Clear separation between content API and presentation layer

      The thing that makes Jamstack unique is that it represents a new ecosystem of tools created and put together to streamline and democratize web development.

      How to Choose the Right JavaScript Framework for You

      With the increase of JavaScript for websites, apps, and digital experiences in general, comes the need for developers to understand and use the different frameworks or at least one of them.

      Since there are many players in the field, choosing the right one can be time-consuming. That’s why you need to analyze and get your technical expectations and documentation ready before implementing a new framework. Without this due diligence, chances are you might not understand your requirements and end up using a framework that simply won’t work for the idea you have in mind.

      Here are a few questions to ask yourself and your team that will guide you through your decision:

      What are the features you have in mind?

      • Are you going for open-source or proprietary frameworks?
      • Do you require community support?
      • How reusable is the code you create with your framework?
      • Can you switch to a different one if the one you pick doesn’t work?
      • What kind of digital experiences are you looking to build?

      We have isolated some specific use cases for each of the frameworks we’ve covered.

      • Use Angular if you are developing a large app and need a stable platform to support it.
      • Use Next.js if you are building websites where SEO is a priority
      • Use Nuxt.js if you are developing single page applications

      However, in the end, like most things in life, choosing the right JavaScript framework depends on both your preferences and the skillsets you have at your disposal. Keep in mind that it’s always better to use a framework that was created to fulfil a specific purpose than to adapt one to your particular needs.

      Do you want to learn more about Jamstack and JavaScript frameworks? If so, read this whitepaper to find out how a headless CMS can be the piece of software you need to integrate them all into a single, centralized place: Headless dotCMS | Product Brief.

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