npm has become the world’s largest module system with 700,000 usable packages on npmjs.com and billions of downloads every month.
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A library is an organized collection of useful functionality. A typical library could include functions to handle strings, dates, HTML DOM elements, events, cookies, animations, network requests, and more. Each function returns values to the calling application which can be implemented however you choose. Think of it like a selection of car components: you’re free to use any to help construct a working vehicle but you must build the engine yourself.
Libraries normally provide a higher level of abstraction which smooths over implementation details and inconsistencies. For example, Ajax can be implemented using the XMLHttpRequest API but this requires several lines of code and there are subtle differences across browsers. A library may provide a simpler
ajax() function so you’re free to concentrate on higher-level business logic.
A library could cut development time by 20% because you don’t have to worry about the finer details. The downsides:
A framework is an application skeleton. It requires you to approach software design in a specific way and insert your own logic at certain points. Functionality such as events, storage, and data binding are normally provided for you. Using the car analogy, a framework provides a working chassis, body, and engine. You can add, remove or tinker with some components presuming the vehicle remains operational.
A framework normally provides a higher level of abstraction than a library and can help you rapidly build the first 80% of your project. The downsides:
A tool aids development but is not an integral part of your project. Tools include build systems, compilers, transpilers, code minifiers, image compressors, deployment mechanisms and more.
Tools should provide an easier development process. For example, many coders prefer Sass to CSS because it provides code separation, nesting, render-time variables, loops, and functions. Browsers do not understand Sass/SCSS syntax so the code must be compiled to CSS using an appropriate tool before testing and deployment.
The distinction between libraries, frameworks, and tools is rarely clear. A framework could include a library. A library may implement framework-like methods. Tools could be essential for either. I’ve attempted to label each project but the scope can vary.
Projects in approximate order of usage/popularity/hype…jQuery
React usage appears low in statistics perhaps because it’s used in applications rather than websites. Almost 70% of developers claim to have some experience using the library.
Angular is the first framework – or MVC application framework – to appear on this list. The most popular edition remains version 1.x which extended HTML with two-way data-binding while decoupling DOM manipulation from application logic.
Angular 1.x is still in development despite the release of version 2 (which is now version 4!) Confused? See below…
Angular 2+ is radically different to v1. Neither is compatible with the other – perhaps Google should have given the project a different name?!
Vue.js is a lightweight progressive framework for building user interfaces. The core offers a React-like virtual DOM-powered view layer which can be integrated with other libraries but it is also capable of powering single-page applications. The framework was created by Evan You who previously worked on AngularJS but wanted to extract the parts he liked.
Ext JS evolved from YUI-Ext and has one of the longest histories on this list. Although best known for its wide range of configurable, accessible, cross-browser UI components and data visualisation tools, Ext JS also provides a framework for building full applications. Alternatively, you can use the component library with React or Angular.
Ext JS is the only framework here to offer commercial training and support. There are also options to have the Sencha team help review your code, automate testing, and migrate to other platforms.
Client-side usage is low but either library can be adopted for server-side Node.js applications.
Backbone.js was one of the earliest client-side options to provide an MVC structure commonly found in server-side frameworks. Its only dependency is Underscore.js which was created by the same developer.
Backbone.js claims to be a library because it can be integrated with other projects. I suspect most developers consider it to be a framework, albeit less opinionated than some others.
Ember.js is one of the larger opinionated frameworks which is based on a Model-View-ViewModel (MVVM) pattern. It implements templating, data-binding, and libraries in a single package. The convention-over-configuration concepts will be immediately familiar to those with Ruby on Rails experience.
One of the older MVVM frameworks, Knockout.js uses observers to ensure the UI stays synchronized with underlying data. It features templating and dependency tracking.
Hungry for more? The following projects are less popular but worth
Build tools automate a variety of web development tasks such as pre-processing, compilation, module bundling, image optimization, code minification, linting, and running tests. Tasks are usually managed together in a single executable package. The most popular options:Webpack
npm is the Node.js package manager but its scripts facility can be used for general-purpose task running. It’s an attractive option for simpler projects with few dependencies. However, more complex tasks can rapidly become impractical.Grunt
Browserify supports CommonJS modules as used by Node.js to compile all modules into a single browser-compatible file.RequireJS
Linting analyses your code for potential errors or deviation from syntactical standards. You’ll never miss a closing bracket or undeclared variable again!ESLint
ESLint is the most popular linting tool supported by the majority of IDEs, editors, bundlers, and task runners. Every rule is a plugin so it can be configured to your liking.JSHint
Test-Driven-Development requires you to write code to test your code before you start writing it. You’re welcome to write code to test your test code too!
A testing framework from Facebook which has risen in popularity because of its close connections with React and Webpack.Mocha
Mocha can run tests in Node.js and a browser. It supports asynchronous testing and is often paired with Chai to enable test code to be expressed in a readable style. It was the most popular option for several years.Jasmine
If you follow the wisdom of crowds, momentum is currently behind React and other libraries are moving in a similar technical direction. It’s a safe career choice but you should also consider Vue.js or the React-compatible-but-smaller Preact.
Monolithic frameworks have fallen from favor but, should you require a strict structure for larger projects, AngularJS remains a popular option. The majority of developers have stuck with version 1.0 but that’s possibly out of necessity than choice. Longer term, version 2+ could be a safer bet but you will need to learn TypeScript.
Sencha’s Ext JS is a great option for companies (small businesses to enterprises) looking for an option that includes both a framework and pre-built, integrated components and tools, including access to commercial support. Ext JS also easily integrates its robust component library with React and Angular, for developers looking to implement pre-built components as opposed to building them on their own.
Do not discount jQuery. It’s not trendy and is rarely mentioned in the technical press, but it’s actively developed and more than capable for websites and applications. jQuery has a shallow learning curve and is understood by many developers worldwide.
Tools choice is less critical and can vary from project to project. Most WebPack, Gulp or npm scripts. You can’t go far wrong with ESLint and Jest for testing but there are plenty of alternatives to try.
That said, every project, team and skill set is different. You have limited time to make an assessment so it’s tempting to use what you know. This article will receive comments recommending FrameworkX but everything looks like a nail when you have a hammer.
Like most things in life, a variety of choices informs a toxic culture of mine is better than yours and you’re wrong and I’m right.
Since technology advancements have got us in this mess, is there any chance it could get us out of it as well?
Enter Microfrontends…Introduction to Microfrontends
Modern UI development regardless of your framework has became all about component composition: You adapt to a framework’s way of doing things by following their patterns and conventions to create components usually underpinned by some sort of data model usually in the form of a service or state object.
For example: Angular has a strong opinion on how everything should be architected in the frontend. React although it only deals with components has a huge ecosystem backing it driven by a community of React-centric developers.
**Microfrontends **have gathered huge momentum recently as away of allowing multiple teams to work on a single UI using multiple frameworks, but could it really change the landscape of UI development?
In this article, I am going to spend some time looking at the SDLC (software development lifecycle) and the advantages of adopting such an architecture.Where’s the problem?
The current trend in UI development, is to build a feature-rich and powerful browser application (single page application) using a chosen framework.
Development results in building lots of little components which are then bundled together in some sort of build process using something like webpack or rollup.
Over time the UI layer often developed by separate or multiple teams, grows and gets more difficult to maintain creating a huge monolithic frontend.
Monolithic frontend SDLC
Monolithic frontends deployment architectureReversing the microservice anti-pattern:
Microfrontends looks at removing that monolithic build step, and results in completely decoupled services that can be independently built and deployed:
Microfrontend deployment architecture
Now our UI architecture has all the qualities of traditional microservices:
Since we have decoupled our UI components into many microfrontends, we no longer have to dictate which framework each component uses.
The below illustration shows how we could potentially have different application teams using different technologies to create their independently built and released microfrontend:
SDLC using multiple frameworks
There are **several ways **to solve this using technologies but let me illustrate one example:
Once we have released our microfrontends, we should compose them together in a single UI layer. The communication between the microfrontends should be handled by the composition layer which should have a well defined contract.
Deployment architecture using multiple frameworks
From a user perspective they access a single application, but the developer’s ability to solve a problem is no longer limited by what single framework the application uses.
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