AngularJS vs Backbone.js vs Ember.js―Choosing a JavaScript Framework [Part 1]

AngularJS Backbone and Ember JavaScript Frameworks

A software framework is used to make the process of application development faster since it contains considerable housekeeping and utility code in order to help bootstrap your application. Frameworks also make it easier to produce cross-browser compatible JavaScript code. For eg: if you are building a web application targeting multiple form-factors, you can use a framework to manage the presentation on different screen sizes instead of writing the code from scratch for doing this.

However, critics point out two major disadvantages of using frameworks. One, they bloat up your code thereby adding to the size of your application. And two, there is a learning curve involved. So the expected reduction in development time may not be achieved if your developers are not familiar with the chosen framework.

Once a framework is learned, its benefits however outshine the weaknesses. Mostly open source (there are some exceptions though), these frameworks have a thriving community behind them who have used, tested, reviewed and contributed to them. So you get more done in less time and you benefit from the expertise of others. [Related read: 6 Reasons To Use JavaScript Libraries & Frameworks]

The choice of the right JavaScript framework is a tricky affair and it depends on the kind of application you are building. In the first part of this article, we help you figure out the questions you need to ask before you zero in on a framework for your application. In the second part of this article, we will provide a comparison of the 3 most popular JS frameworks― AngularJS, Backbone.js and Ember.js.

Questions to ask before choosing a JavaScript Framework:

  1. Do I really need a JavaScript framework for my applications?

  2. What features do I want in the framework?

  3. How difficult is it to learn the framework?

  4. Does it have external dependencies?

  5. What level of support (community or documentation) does the framework have?

Do I really need a JavaScript framework for my applications?

Frameworks provide the basic functionality on which you can build and extend to make more complex applications. They make your code more maintainable and support code reusability. So unless you are building an application that is really simple and using a little JavaScript to make things a bit more interactive, it is advisable to use a framework. It saves time, saves effort, helps you write better code and improves efficiency. [Related read: When does it make sense to use an MVC framework for Javascript?]

However, frameworks should not be used to cover up your lack of JS knowledge. Instead, they should be used to enhance it. Using frameworks without knowing JS will hurt you sooner or later. Ensure you are thorough with JS as a language before you start shopping for a framework.

What features do I look for in the framework?

First and foremost understand the basic logic and style behind the framework. Ensure that it is in sync with your own style. If how you solve the problem varies greatly from how the framework solves the problem, you may soon give up on using it.

The required features-list in a framework depends on the kind of apps you are trying to build. Are your applications data-centered (reading and writing to a database backend) or are they primarily content-centered (displaying image/text content)? How big are your apps (the number of separate pages/screens)? Will your app leverage single page app (SPA) behavior? Does your app need complex widgets? What is the payload size of your app? The answers to these questions will help you figure out what features you need in your framework.

How difficult is it to learn the framework?

First you need to understand the core competencies of your technical team. Are they comfortable with JavaScript or do they have a history of PHP software development?

Some frameworks have fewer concepts to grasp, are easier to get started with but you have to write code for implementing certain features. There are some other frameworks which have many of these features built into them which makes the implementation process faster but is more difficult to get started with as they require you to structure your code in a particular way.

The trick to learn JavaScript frameworks quickly is to break them down into a series of features. The main features center on routing, data binding, templates/views, models, and data storage. Then understand what the framework is trying to do for each of these features.

Does it have external dependencies?

Some JavaScript frameworks depend on external libraries for their functioning. So if there is some issue in the external library, the framework may suffer and consequently your app may suffer too. Check if your framework has some external dependencies and if they do, ensure they are reliable.

What level of support (community or documentation) does the framework have?

Before you choose a framework ensure it has an active community around it, has good tutorials and is well-documented. After all, these will be your fallback options if you get stuck.

In part 2 of this article, we will compare the 3 most popular JS frameworks namely AngularJS, Backbone.js and Ember.js. Keep watching this space!

What other factors do you think one should keep in mind while choosing a JavaScript framework? Add your thoughts in the comment section below.

Acknowledgement: Thanks Kaustav, our in-house JS enthusiast, for providing some valuable inputs for this post!

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