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The web application industry has been gaining massive momentum ever since Google and Facebook launched their web apps. If you are dreaming of launching your own web app but are stuck at the decision of whether your web application needs a front-end framework, this blog will help you see things more clearly. To arrive at the final conclusion, we will take you through all the relevant parts of the web development process that have a bearing on this decision.
What is a web application, exactly?
A web application is a software application that performs tasks on the internet using a web browser. Unlike native apps, you don’t have to download web apps to use on your device. Web apps form a major part of the internet as we know it today. Netflix, Facebook, Gmail are all web applications that transformed the world we live in.
Technology Stack For Web Application Development - What Does A Web App Need?
Tech stack for web app development is a set of software and technologies that make the web application functional. The entire stack can be divided into two parts - front end, which is also called client-side and back end, also called server-side.
Since our main focus is on front end development here, we will give you a quick summary of the back end and then dive deeper into front-end development for web applications.
Back end (server-side) development for web applications
Responsible for providing the logic to a web application, back end development involves coding for facilitating communication between database and browser. Thus, it determines how the application will function. Back end development includes working with programming languages, databases, and servers.
Front End Development For Web Application - What Does It Do?
The front end of a web application is everything you see and interact with while using the application. It is responsible for creating user interfaces and delivering seamless user experience by organizing and styling the components on a web page.
How The Front End Serves Its Purpose: Core Technologies
Basically, the front end should present the information to the user in the desired way. How does it do it?
The core technologies involved in front end development for web apps are:
HTML - The Organizer
HTML (HyperText Markup Language) is used to organize the structure of the content on a web page.
CSS - The Stylist
CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) is used to add styling and effects to the content of the web page.
Can you make a web app with these 3 core front end technologies?
To put it more clearly, can you build a web app without front end frameworks?
Absolutely. Not all web applications need front-end frameworks.
Thus, even without front end frameworks, your web application can work fine. However, its interactivity, functionality, and maintainability will be very limited.
Technically, using a front end framework for web application development is more of a choice and less a necessity.
What Happens When You Build A Web Application Without A Front-End Framework
Let’s say you want to build a web application called Gamers Battleground to showcase the profiles of top PUB-G teams in the world. The homepage of the application will be structured like a leaderboard with the list of top team names along with the total points they have made in international tournaments.
It will have a simple ‘create profile’ form for the users to sign up. The list on the leader board will be clickable, leading to the profile page of the team.
Now the profile page will have more details about the team, like player names, the total number of tournaments they have played, and the number of wins.
Over time, as your app gets more popular, you might want to categorize the teams on the basis of their nationalities and have separate country-wise leader boards. The existing teams will keep updating their information and the new teams will keep adding new information.
To this point, you won’t feel that your web application needs a front-end framework.
As the front end of the web application expands and the number of users increases, you will face the following challenges while updating and maintaining the web app:
- You will constantly need to keep appending the data and reading from DOM.
- A huge number of JS and CSS files will need to be created as more and more users sign up and update their records. Moreover, there will be a lot of repeated data amongst these JS and CSS files.
- Manually writing functions to update the changing values in UI elements requires a lot of time.
- Making even a small change will affect the entire application code and you might require to rewrite a huge chunk of code.
- When you want to onboard another developer to help you with the code, it’s going to be a herculean task to explain to them how your code works.
At this point, you might wonder if you made a mistake by not building an easily maintainable UI in the earlier phase of web application development.
What Makes The Front End of A Web Application Efficient?
If you don’t want to reinvent the wheel later when your app grows, it is essential to keep certain guidelines in mind when you begin to develop the front end for a web application.
- Ensure that your application code is clean, easy to understand, and maintainable.
- You should build the front end in a way that enables you to reuse components for creating new pages.
- The UI of the app should be able to update itself with the updates in the data.
- Your code should be written in a language that helps you communicate the details with other front end developers easily.
Front-End Frameworks: One Solution For Multiple Problems
In the previous sections, we saw the challenges a growing front end could pose and how a proactive approach can minimize the risk of these issues.
The easiest way to ensure all the salient features of an efficient front end is to use one or multiple front end web development frameworks.
Before explaining how a front end framework is useful in web application development, here’s a quick definition.
What is a front end framework?
A front end framework is a pre-written bundle of code that acts as a scaffolding for your front end structure. You can make use of these ready-made components and add your own files and directories to build your desired front end faster, in a more maintainable way.
Not every web application needs a front-end framework but most web apps do need it for robust performance.
How A Front-End Framework Makes Web Development More Efficient
Let’s go back to the example of the Gamers Battleground web app that we discussed earlier. We have already listed a few of the challenges this app would face if it wasn’t built with a front end framework.
Now let’s take a look at the other side. How different the scenario would be if we used a popular front end framework like Angular or ReactJS to build the app? This might give you an idea about why web applications need a front-end framework.
Here’s how a front end framework would make your job easy if you used it to build Gamers Battleground app:
- The components in your code will be reusable, so you wouldn’t have to create so many different HTML and CSS files for adding new features like country-wise leaderboards.
- Component-based architecture would make it easy for you to implement changes in certain elements without affecting the rest of the directories.
- Data binding features of the framework would ease the hassle of DOM management. The app would re-render the relevant components automatically whenever the data changes.
- If you need another front end developer to join the development process, they would already be quite familiar with the code structure. This is because most frameworks have similar design patterns.
- Even if you are stuck with a bug and want to resolve it without onboarding anyone else, you can take help from a huge web development community working with those very frameworks.
Advantages of Using A Front-End Framework For Web Development
We have seen how front end frameworks can eliminate or address the issues a growing web app can encounter. However, the points we mentioned were in relation to the web example we came up with.
So to give you a clearer idea, here is a more clear explanation of why most web applications need a front end framework. These are the advantages of front end frameworks:
1. Faster development
Front end frameworks give you a pre-written base code for various UI components. With the help of this foundation and its reusable components, you can develop the rest of the front end much faster.
2. Great UI and UX
Front end frameworks provide you with aesthetic base styles and a solid foundation for responsive design. These make it easier for you to keep the typography and other visual elements consistent across the entire application.
3. Reliable and Maintainable Code
The codebase of popular front end frameworks is widely-used and extensively tested. For most front end frameworks, the code is open-source, easy to maintain, and comes with cross-browser compatibility.
4. Easier Collaboration
Front end frameworks follow the similar architecture and design principles. Front end developers are familiar with these design patterns. So it’s easy for others to understand and work on your web application code.
5. Community Support
Being a part of a community always makes life easier, both in the real world and in the software development industry.
When you face issues while working with front end frameworks, it’s likely that someone else has already found a solution. In addition to resolving issues, these communities also help you with detailed documentation and easy to implement themes for many kinds of web applications.
Even though many developers don’t agree that web applications need a front-end framework, the front end framework ecosystem is quite volatile. Many frameworks made an entry to the industry and couldn’t survive for long. On the other hand, there are frameworks like Ember.js and Svelte that continue to be used for various web applications but haven’t risen to fame.
Angular, a full-fledged framework developed by Google, is an ideal solution for medium to enterprise-scale web applications. Its advanced features like CLI and component-based architecture make web development with Angular extremely easy and profitable.
Many famous brands like Forbes, Xbox, and Google have used Angular web design frameworks for their web applications.
Reactjs is not a framework, it is essentially a front end library that is a good choice for building web applications with huge traffic. Developed and maintained by Facebook, Reactjs is flexible enough to be easily integrated with third-party libraries or frameworks.
Popular web applications built with Reactjs include Facebook, Netflix, and Airbnb.
Vuejs is relatively younger than the two and is not backed by any corporate giant. It can either be used as a comprehensive yet light UI library or as a complete framework. Owing to this flexibility and scalability, Vuejs has emerged as a popular front end framework in recent years.
Nintendo and GitLab are among the famous brands that rely on Vuejs for the optimum performance of their web applications.
Are There Any Disadvantages of Using Front-End Frameworks?
Definitely. That is why there is always an ongoing debate on whether or not web applications need a front-end framework.
There are very few tools that are an ideal solution for all kinds of web applications. Front end frameworks are certainly not one of them. A framework does come with its own set of limitations and you must consider those factors before adopting it.
Following are some of the disadvantages of using a front end framework for web development:
1. Technical debt
It is not easy for all developers to be completely familiar with the framework codebase. As a result, it can be very time consuming to figure out how much of it will be useful for your app. You may end up adding unnecessary technical debt to your web application.
2. Updates in the framework can affect your web app
Front end frameworks are constantly evolving so you can expect updates in the codebase once in a while. Sometimes, these updates can mess with your application functionality or require extra efforts to resolve newly encountered issues.
3. They can be too opinionated
Many a time, front end frameworks can come across as too rigid and opinionated about their design principles. This takes away the flexibility you need for crafting the desired user experience for your web application.
4. Learning curve
The reason why web developers are reluctant to use frameworks is the need to learn a new technology from scratch. Some front end frameworks may have very steep learning curves. So it’s not worth investing so much time for apps that can function well without front end frameworks.
So Finally, Does Your Web Application Need A Front-End Framework?
Neither a yes nor a no can be the correct answer for all kinds of web applications. Whether your web application needs a front-end framework or not depends on the kind of application you are building, your target user base, and your development budget.
While building a small web app with limited dynamic features, it’s wise to not get into additional technologies. HTML, CSS, and JS will be sufficient.
For medium-size web applications that require complex features but a seamless UX, you should at least use basic HTML and CSS frameworks like Bootstrap or Foundation.
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