After years of struggling with competitors and sometimes unflattering PR, JavaScript settled down as the primary language for web development but… the race keeps going. New JS frameworks and libraries – tools that make JavaScript more accessible and easier to use – pop up so often that choosing the one best suited to the job at hand can be a challenge. What are the most popular JS frameworks in 2019, and what factors should you take into account when trying to choose the right one?

What is JavaScript (JS)?

First, it has nothing to do with Java. JavaScript is a scripting programming language created by Netscape at the end of the 90s, which, after defeating some obstacles, became a modern web development standard. Nowadays, almost every single website uses HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

But what is it about JavaScript, a language written in 10 days by one person, that makes it so massively popular…? In the Stack Overflow Developer Survey, JavaScript has been voted the most commonly used programming language for the seventh year in a row. According to W3Techs, it is used in the development of 95.1% of all active websites, and a good knowledge of it is considered a sure-fire way to get a highly-paid job in a relatively short time.

 

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TOP 10 Most Popular Technologies

Programming, Scripting, and Markup Languages

  1. JavaScrip 67.8%
  2. HTML/CSS 63.5%
  3. SQL 54.4%
  4. Python 41.7%
  5. Java 41.1%
  6. Bash/Shell/PowerShell 36.6%
  7. C# 31.0%
  8. PHP 26.4%
  9. C++ 23.5%
  10. TypeScript 21.2%
  11. C 20.6%

source: StackOverflow Survey

JavaScript’s rebirth

JavaScript’s dominance on the world wide web is clear and unquestioned but its path was bumpy and the growth quite unexpected. At some point in its history, JS was considered a language for so-called “script kiddies”, and blamed for annoying pop-ups and crashing websites. Also, it had some serious rivals. Flash, now officially discontinued by Adobe, seemed like a reasonable choice for web developers between 2005 and 2010. Today, it is buried and forgotten while JavaScript is still vital and promising like never before.

One of the main causes of this is the general trend of moving backend developers into frontend and the shift from server-side to client-side web applications.

JavaScript is a jack of all trades… and master of many at that. It is able to run on both the client and the server (with NodeJS) which opens up a new way of sharing code between the frontend and backend. Also, it is fast, scalable, relatively easy to learn and has a huge community.

JavaScript is everywhere, so what’s the fuss about choosing “the right technology”? That’s because using vanilla JS now is a little bit old-fashioned and often counterproductive. It is still basic and definitely needs to be understood, but with its worldwide adoption came an eruption of tools – libraries and frameworks – that help make JS developers’ jobs faster and easier, even though picking the right one is neither fast nor easy.

Framework vs library

A framework is the skeleton of an application. It provides both particular, ready-to-use elements (like libraries and scripts) and a general pattern of how one should use them.

A library is a set of functions that an application can call to perform a particular task.

What are the most popular JS frameworks in 2019?

Google has a direct answer for this question but it does not help much, because the list of the most popular frameworks is constantly changing. Stack Overflow Trends analyzes how often each of these technologies is asked about over time, and the results are confusing.

JavaScript Frameworks, May 2019

Smaller JavaScript Frameworks, May 2019

 

Although jQuery is commonly considered a library, the data strongly shows that the interests of programmers are not written in stone and – to keep up with them – it is necessary to track trends from their very beginnings.

“The Holy Trinity” in JavaScript frameworks is currently React, Angular and Vue, but there is something lurking around the corner that is even easier and more convenient than Vue (the easiest and most convenient of the three) called Svelte. There is no agreement on whether it can even be called a framework since it is more of a compiler, which means its value is based on reducing the amount of code. Svelte allows writing components using just HTML, CSS, JavaScript and during a build, it compiles them into small JavaScript modules.

For now, Svelte might be rarely used but as it makes building apps noticeably easier, it might eventually gain popularity and one day defeat React, Angular or Vue.

Vue.js

Counter component example in Vue.js framework

But does that mean Vue is the current throne-holder? Certainly yes, when it comes to accessibility. This relatively new framework was developed in 2014 but in just a year and half, it has become a standard. It is used by tech giants like Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent which proved Vue to be stable and reliable. In addition, Vue is commonly seen as the easiest to learn and most convenient to use because of going back to its JS roots.

It allows web developers to separate HTML, CSS and JavaScript, and for many of them, it is a more natural way of building web apps than using JSX, although it also allows using JSX thanks to internal plugins.

JavaScript eXtension – JSX – was created by Facebook. In React it allows developers to write JavaScript that looks like HTML. It is possible to use React without JSX but JSX allows React to show more useful error and warning messages.

Furthermore, it has very detailed documentation and a community happy to share its knowledge. This considerably flattens the learning curve for developers new to Vue, making the technology a great fit for projects of basically any kind.

Vue – which is tiny by itself – is perfect for building single-page applications but it suits more complex implementations just as well. Internal elements can be integrated into the infrastructure without harming performance.

Angular

Counter component example in Angular framework

Counter component example in Angular framework

Angular is the most demanding and difficult JS framework but it is also great for enterprise projects. It gives you a whole ecosystem of tools, features, and possibilities. Its architecture (especially TypeScript) enforces good code quality which is useful for large teams because you omit a lot of typical developers’ errors. But since you get a lot out of the box from Angular, some developers complain about limited flexibility.

With Angular, there is no need to rely on third-party libraries to build complex, dynamic applications – it provides almost everything you need and most likely more but the implementation needs to be done in an Angular-specific way.

The main technical difference between Angular and React or Vue is that Angular forces us to use TypeScript (a superset of Javascript) which may be challenging for those developers who are not familiar with concepts like types, classes and interfaces.

The Angular community is broad but because of the nature of Angular projects (mostly enterprise projects which require NDAs), it is not so open to sharing its know-how. With limited sources of knowledge, Angular can be quite challenging for beginners.

React

Counter component example in React framework

Counter component example in React framework

React itself is technically more of a library but the robust ecosystem built around it makes it work like a full-blown framework. React was developed by Facebook in 2013 and back then was huge since, compared to Angular, it seemed very easy, fast and flexible. React immediately became JavaScript developers’ darling because it enabled them to spend more time writing JS code than framework-specific code.

The main advantage of React was, however, its virtual DOM implementation. It is React’s local copy of HTML DOM that, by locally comparing elements, allows React libraries to render only actually changed components and save time by avoiding many unnecessary operations.

Nowadays React is the most popular JS framework around, used by Facebook, Netflix, Yahoo, Codecademy, Dropbox, Airbnb, Asana, Microsoft, Slack and many more. Thanks to the extremely vivid community gathered around React, its learning curve is quite gentle. However, mixing visual elements with logic (JSX) may be confusing and the (unquestionable) flexibility of React is sometimes a challenge – when there are many solutions to one problem it is difficult to choose the best one.

Ember.js

Counter component example in Ember.js framework

Counter component example in Ember.js framework

Ember.js, “a framework for ambitious developers”, was introduced in 2015 and quickly gained popularity. It is a full-featured framework often compared with Angular. It is used to develop dynamic single-page web applications, desktop, and mobile apps.

One of its advantages is comprehensible best practices that allow developers to focus more on creating unique functionality, rather than writing tedious code. That was the main goal for Ember’s founders who were looking for a way to boost developers’ productivity.

Node.js

Counter module example in Node.js

Counter module example in Node.js 

Calling Node.js a framework may seem inappropriate since it is more like a whole server-side JavaScript run-time environment. Node.js represents a “JavaScript everywhere” paradigm, which means it allows developers to use a single programming language for server-side and client-side scripts.

Node.js is used by GoDaddy, Groupon, IBM, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Netflix, PayPal and many more.

Polymer

Counter component example in Polymer framework

Counter component example in Polymer framework

Polymer is more a JavaScript library than a full-stack JS framework. It is developed by Google and used to create the elements of the website without working on a very complex level.

Polymer is used by YouTube, YouTube Gaming, Google Earth, Google Play Music, Electronics Arts, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and General Electric.

Aurelia

Counter component example in Aurelia framework

Counter component example in Aurelia framework

Aurelia is a modern JS framework that allows building components using vanilla JavaScript or TypeScript. It situates application code at the center of interest, does not enforce framework-specific rules and, in general, tries to be as invisible as possible.

It is considered one of the faster rendering frameworks and its architecture ensures that it can be used for client-side and server-side at the same time.

Backbone.js

Counter component example in Backbone framework

Counter component example in Backbone framework

Backbone.js was created by Jeremy Ashkenas (who is also known for CoffeeScript) and today is one of the most well-known JavaScript frameworks. It can be used to create single page applications; it is easy to use and quick to learn.

Backbone.js was built using the RESTful JSON interface and is based on the Model-View-Presenter (MVP) pattern.

Mithril

Counter component example in Mithril framework

Mithril is a UI JS framework that is mainly used for developing single page applications. It is small (< 8kb gzip), easy to implement, fast, and provides routing and XHR utilities out of the box. This framework might be a good option for those who like working with React since it has a few similar features.

Mithril is used by Vimeo, Nike, Fitbit, and other open-source platforms like Lichess or Flarum.

Meteor

A few years ago, Meteor was considered a game-changer. Today, its fame seems to have faded away but this framework still has a lot to offer. It is easy to learn, flexible, and quick to build with. It is a good choice for those developers who are looking for a JS framework to build real-time applications.

 

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