Web Front-end11 minute read

How to Choose the Best Front-end Framework

Is there really an ultimate JavaScript front-end framework? Maybe there isn’t, but there is a way to choose the best front-end framework for your web project. In this article, JavaScript developer Giorgi Bakradze takes a look at four of the most popular frameworks from five important aspects to help you determine which one is the best fit for your project’s needs.
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Is there really an ultimate JavaScript front-end framework? Maybe there isn’t, but there is a way to choose the best front-end framework for your web project. In this article, JavaScript developer Giorgi Bakradze takes a look at four of the most popular frameworks from five important aspects to help you determine which one is the best fit for your project’s needs.

Giorgi Bakradze

Giorgi’s obsession is finding better ways of doing things. His full-stack work ranges from landing pages to full e-commerce sites.

Editor’s note: This article was updated on January 23, 2023, by our editorial team. It has been modified to include recent sources and to align with our current editorial standards.

The JavaScript world is a rich environment with dozens of tools, libraries, and frameworks. But with lots of options comes lots of confusion. The situation really is a double-edged sword.While you may have a ton of space for creativity and experimentation, you can often be unsure about the best front-end framework to choose. And the choice of the right front-end framework can make or break your project in the long run.

In this article, we will look at some of the most popular front-end JavaScript frameworks and how they fare against one another. We will examine five different aspects of these frameworks to ease the process of making a decision about your next JavaScript framework.

Whether you are choosing from among one of these popular front-end JavaScript frameworks, or something more esoteric, you should take each of these aspects into consideration.

Key No. 1 to Front-end JS Frameworks: Availability of Learning Resources

This one is obvious but oftentimes overlooked. While the fancy homepage and documentation of some framework might catch your eye, you will still need additional courses, books, tutorials, and articles to get started.

Creating a robust framework is one thing, and communicating the core ideas behind it is another. In fact, there are many professional developers out there who specialize in coaching. A well-crafted learning resource will dramatically cut your learning curve. Look for resources from trustworthy authors you have previous experience with—it will be worth your time in the end. If you are struggling to find something useful, be careful: The framework you are trying to learn might be new, or not well adopted yet by the community.

Although I mentioned that documentation alone is not enough, there are exceptions to this. Ember.js, for example, has great documentation. Core features and use cases are nicely described with generic examples here and there. Unfortunately, besides the documentation, we are left with little else.

On the other hand, there are abundant resources for Angular and React. Almost any front-end-oriented educational website will have several articles about them, if not a full video course or book.

Vue is in the middle: It has good documentation and there are a few helpful courses you can choose from. Aurelia has almost no resources; your only hope is documentation—and luck.

Even if you read a suitable book or follow a helpful course, you will learn something new by exposing yourself to different resources. If you are familiar with the subject, skim and seek out topics that are not quite clear yet.

Unfortunately, this strategy won’t work if you are limited with your options, which leads us to the next point.

Key No. 2 to Front-end JS Frameworks: Popularity

You might take pride in learning something exotic, but if you look at this from a business perspective, it is not always helpful. Your company or client probably prefers the use of a battle-tested tool set and there are several reasons for this. If a framework is not so popular, it means that there are few developers who specialize in it. What happens if you abandon the project or find a new job? Your employer ends up searching for a developer who knows the niche framework you used.

This situation might become a real burden for a company. The same holds true even if you stick with the project and it grows. Now the employer needs more specialized developers to accelerate the development.

There are other reasons why you might opt for a popular, widely used framework. What happens if you find yourself stuck with a problem and there isn’t a community you can ask for help? Since you are on your own with documentation, chances are you will waste a lot of time.

Besides that, you want to think about future, more appealing opportunities in your career. If you specialize in something popular and get really good at it, there will be plenty of projects out there for you.

The obvious leaders in popularity are Angular, React, and Vue. Most front-end-related job listings out there require one or the other. They are backed by Google and Facebook, respectively, and therefore employers feel safe choosing them.

Sometimes, the choice of framework for your company or client is not up to you; maybe it was made by a previous employee or some other person on the team. Chances are it will be Angular or React. Now there are other options out there like Ember.js and Vue but you’ve got to deliberately seek out companies using them.

You can get a rough determination of a framework’s popularity by looking at how well the project is doing on GitHub and other places. Here are some statistics:

 AngularReactEmber.jsVue
Stars on GitHub85,743200,06422,367201,616
Tagged Questions on StackOverflow289,994438,89223,944100,867

Although these frameworks have existed for long enough to prove themselves popular options, if you are trying something really new, similar statistics for them may help you make the choice.

Learning just Angular or React will get you only so far in your career. Of course, you will have plenty of opportunities, but there is a reason other frameworks exist. Try to learn about them in your spare time and do some occasional experiments. Even if you never use them in real projects, you will gain valuable insights that can help you in your day-to-day development work.

Key No. 3 to Front-end JS Frameworks: Core Features

You want to take a brief overview of a framework’s core features to get an adequate expectation before you start coding. Scan through the documentation. You will need to get a general sense of what this framework is about. Is it a view layer only, fully fledged, or something in between?

If you have rich previous experience with other frameworks, this process is easy and quick. Look for the following topics in the documentation: templating, state management, HTTP communication, form processing and validation, and routing. These are everyday things you do as a developer. Not all of these may be presented in the core framework, or there may be some different approach to a particular problem.

Let’s touch on popular options briefly.

We’ll start with React and Vue. They are not really frameworks; they only represent the view layer of your application. This means all the other parts—HTTP communication, form processing and validation, etc.—are up to you.

As I mentioned earlier, the situation might be a double-edged sword. Eventually, you’ll end up building your own custom framework.

Both React and Vue have their ecosystem of libraries to provide solutions for the most common problems, but the overall structure will vary from project to project. React’s JSX has always made me cringe—I had to get used to it. However, Vue’s templating is really nice, especially if you are coming from Angular.

On the other hand, Ember.js has almost everything. Surprisingly enough, the core of Ember.js does not provide advanced form processing; it has some input helpers and that’s it. It is very opinionated and even has its own data layer. If you have a background in other frameworks or JavaScript in general, you might get frustrated because Ember.js uses its own object model. Standard ES6 classes are not widely used, as the documentation states. You might find yourself assigning a value directly to a property and Ember.js complaining about it. Everything has to be done “the Ember.js way.”

Ember Data is another way Ember.js differs significantly from other frameworks. It is a data layer for Ember.js applications. You can think about it like some kind of ORM for the front end. You create models and map the relationships among them.

If your server uses JSON API (a specification for implementing JSON APIs), you are in a good place with Ember.js, but, unfortunately, most servers do not use it. So you have to write custom adapters and serializers. However, if you do things the Ember.js way, it might be really productive despite the steep learning curve.

Angular is a feature-rich framework. It ships with a lot of modules like Ember.js, so you have a ton of tools at your disposal out of the box. However, as Angular is intended for large applications, it promotes TypeScript, which might trigger some resistance before you even try it.

Another notable aspect is the heavy use of observables from the Rx library—a nice feature. You can represent almost anything as an observable and apply high-level operations like map, filter, etc. If you have used Lodash or Underscore, Rx is like a supercharged cousin.

Here is a summary of the core features of the four frameworks discussed in this article:

AngularReactEmber.jsVue
View/Templating
Router
Form processing  
Form validation   
HTTP communication  

However, all the features we have discussed are worthless if you need to work overtime to use them effectively—the next point.

Key No. 4 to Front-end JS Frameworks: Usability

If at this point you still have enthusiasm for your chosen framework, the next step is to get your hands dirty.

Maybe the framework is a good fit for you because of your background. Maybe it is a little bit different and challenges you in some ways. You don’t know yet, and no amount of reading or watching tutorials will help until you try it yourself.

The best way to get a feel for a framework is to use it in some mini project. This gives you an opportunity to solve everyday problems with a given framework.

While working on a project, take your time and reflect on whether or not you are being productive. How easy is it to achieve the desired result? Do you have to look for external libraries? Maybe you need some plugins from the community. Is there any conventional structure or guidelines within the context of the framework? Maybe there is a CLI to accelerate the development process. At this step, you are gathering basic information so you can imagine what it would be like if you used this framework for upcoming projects or even transitioned existing ones.

Ember.js is considered a very productive framework, at least for its core users. It comes with a CLI, which really helps. You can generate routes, controllers, components, and models with their own test suites (doing all of that manually is a tedious task). Generating a new project is also possible. It will create the basic folder structure, install necessary packages, build tools, test the environment, etc. If you have never used a CLI to such an extent, you will be very pleased. But, as I mentioned earlier, Ember.js is very opinionated; despite all of its usefulness, you might find yourself frustrated while trying to accomplish common tasks.

React and Vue have CLIs, create-react-app and vue-cli. But besides generating an initial project with some options, they don’t offer that much compared to Ember.js or Angular. This is understandable as they both represent a view layer. If you like customized workflows, experimentation, or different structures on a project-to-project basis, then you are in a good place with React and Vue. For some developers, flexibility is the key and it’s inherent when using React or Vue.

Angular comes with a CLI just as Ember.js does. You can generate components, directives, services, etc. It also generates the initial structure for an application, so you only need to worry about the product. The testing environment is really organized as, with every generated piece of app, the test suite lives near it (literally). Besides that, TypeScript might provide a real productivity boost. Here’s why:

How many times have you encountered code with lines like this…

function doSomething(someData) {
    // do something
}

…and wondered what on earth someData is, what properties it should have, what functions it should provide, and what their behavior is? With TypeScript, you define the type and expect the appropriate data. You can go further if you use some IDE with TypeScript support. It’s a breeze to explore different parts of the app.

We have not touched on IDEs but, for most of the best front-end frameworks, there are some plugins that make development really easy. WebStorm, for example, ships with built-in support for Angular, React, and Vue.

Key No. 5 to Front-end JS Frameworks: Ease of Integration With Other Libraries

Ease of integration could be considered part of usability, but it’s so important that it merits its own section.

No matter how feature-rich your selected framework is, chances are you will face problems that necessitate additional tools. There are great libraries that focus on one problem (DOM manipulation, data processing, time formatting, rich text editing, etc.), but if you try to integrate one of these and spend hours on it every time, it might not be the optimal choice.

Testing this is very easy. You can quickly come up with an imaginary scenario in which you need a certain library. Look at your past projects: What tools were you using and in what scenarios? Chances are you will run into the same situation again and you want to be prepared for that, or at least have an expectation.

With Vue and React, you are responsible for almost everything, and use of other libraries is no exception. If you are using Webpack or a similar build tool, you can directly refer to libraries installed using NPM. (I have found it to be a little bit of a hassle to use community plugins with Vue, especially when they contain user interface logic as well.)

Ember.js has EmberObserver, a website of community plugins. Each of them has a score on a scale from 0 to 10. It is a really fruitful place to look for something you need. If you type in the name of your favorite libraries, like Lodash, RxJS, or Ramda, you will find the related plugins from simple wrappers to complete rewrites. Of course, there are Awesome React and Awesome Vue, repositories which gather related resources, including libraries, but I have found EmberObserver to be especially useful.

Committing to a Front-end JavaScript Framework

Choosing the right JavaScript framework is one of the most important steps toward making your web project a success. Whether you are working on a small or large project, working solo or on a team, each of these five key points plays a crucial role in determining the best front-end framework for your project.

As for core features and usability, I have listed the points that will affect developers’ productivity to various degrees. Usability is especially tricky because it depends heavily on your experience and background, as well as on your particular company or organization and its needs.

Over time, the frameworks that we have discussed in this article may evolve, their popularities may change, and the projects they are suitable for may change, but this article should give you an overall sense of where and when each of these frameworks may work the best.

Related:

Understanding the basics

  • Which framework is better for front ends?

    Which framework is better for front ends depends on the project. There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to front-end frameworks.

  • How do I choose a front end?

    To choose a front end—i.e., the framework used to develop it—framework feature sets and usability are important, but so are other factors. A particular framework may do more harm than good if it doesn't have solid learning resources, the popularity to make hiring skilled specialists feasible, and easy integration.

  • Do front ends have a future?

    Yes. Front ends have as much of a future as back ends, since, broadly speaking, both are needed to create an app.

  • Why are front ends important?

    Front ends are important because they are the part of an app or site that users interact with directly. A poorly developed or insufficiently maintained front end can result in the rapid loss of users.

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Giorgi Bakradze

Located in Tbilisi, Georgia

Member since May 30, 2017

About the author

Giorgi’s obsession is finding better ways of doing things. His full-stack work ranges from landing pages to full e-commerce sites.

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