Web development is a complex business and it’s only getting more so. These days the pressure is on to develop fully functional web apps and services quickly, which means that developers are always under pressure and bumping up against deadlines is not ideal. That’s where web development frameworks come in. They help to ease the developers burden by automating some of the more common activities that crop up as they work. These frameworks often provide libraries for things like database access and session management, and some promote code reuse too.
Without their web frameworks to help them, development teams would face an uphill struggle, equivalent to an auto manufacturer needing to re-invent the wheel every time it built a new car. Frameworks help both back-end and front-end developers to burn through the whole process much more quickly and efficiently, which is as good at preserving sanity as it is at preserving profits.
So let’s take a brief look at some of the most popular web frameworks, both server side and client side.
Angular is a Typescript-based web framework that’s led by the Angular team at Google. Angular benefits from detailed documentation, the support of a genuine web giant company, and a constantly expanding ecosystem of third-party components that number in the thousands, each of them dedicated to increasing functionality.
It may seem slightly odd to include React among the most popular web frameworks because it’s actually a front-end library rather than a web framework, but a lot of developers will tell you it’s a web framework, so we won’t disagree with them! React adopted component-based architecture way before Angular, Vue and numerous others climbed on that bandwagon, and React’s virtual dom offers quicker dom manipulation and is easy to learn thanks to its highly accessible JSX syntax. Facebook developed React to be equally at home with back-end and front-end uses and the company still uses and maintains it.
Vue.js is the new kid on the block. It began life as a stand-alone project and then really began to cane traction as one of the most popular up-and-coming JS frameworks. Vue is a progressive web framework, which is to say that you can put it to work on just one part of an existing project and it will do its thing without any issues. It features component architecture and an ecosystem that are comprehensive enough to help you create entire frontend applications, and while it isn’t currently supported by one of the web giants like Google, that’s starting to change now as big investors are taking an interest.
Backbone is an uber-light web framework that’s well-suited to building Single-Page applications, but it can stretch to complete some front-end applications. It follows an MV* pattern and partly implements the MVC design. Backbone’s only core dependency is Underscore.js, and it boasts a rich ecosystem that will help with usage, support and learning.
Express is turning into a highly popular web framework, due to the soaring popularity of Node.js. It’s used by Accenture, IBM and Uber, amongst others, which gives it a great pedigree, and it’s also powering other frameworks such as Kraken, Sails, and Loopback.
Express offers minimal, fast and unopinionated web frameworks. It provides some core framework functionalities without getting in the way of Node’s features and makes use of asynchronous Node.js’s powerful performance. It also offers the flexibility to handle full applications as well as REST API. On the downside,it doesn’t offer a prescribed way of doing things, and this can be a downside for beginners who may have to muddle through more slowly than necessary.
Django uses Python for web development and is a Model-View-Template web framework. Some of the online titans like Google, Youtube, and Instagram use it. Django comes with many bundled features like authentication and messaging. It follows the Convention Over Configuration pattern along with the DRY pattern. Django can provide security for websites with its own tools and techniques, or by preventing code execution in the template layer.
Rails is one of the most popular web frameworks amongst developers. It’s a Model-View-Controller framework that uses Ruby, and it powers the likes of Airbnb, GitHub, Hulu, and Shopify. Rails is not all that difficult, so it’s web framework that beginners can pick up quite easily. It benefits from library-like dependencies which help to improve application functionalities and boost development speed. Another benefit is the Rails community which provides a lot of enthusiastic support to help beginners get up to speed quickly.
On the downside, Rails is tricky to deploy and run in a production environment, and it demands a lot of patient study before users can unlock its considerable benefits.
Laravel is a free, open-source PHP-based web framework, designed for the development of web applications following the model–view–controller architectural pattern. Some of the features of Laravel are a modular packaging system with a dedicated dependency manager, different ways for accessing relational databases, utilities that aid in application deployment and maintenance, and its orientation toward syntactic sugar.
Spring is a Model-View-Controller web framework that uses the ever-popular Java. Websites like Wix, TicketMaster, and BillGuard depend on it. Spring benefits from the results of numerous parallel projects that increase its performance, so you can easily scale your business if this becomes your web development framework of choice. The fact that it uses Java, which is easier to write, compile, debug and learn than many other programming languages is very appealing to a lot of web developers (although that only includes the ones who already know Java.)
Symfony has been around since 2005 and it has had plenty of time to gain the trust of many developers. This web framework is an extensive PHP framework, and is the only one that fully follows PHP standards. Its components can be found working their magic in content management systems like Drupal, OroCRM, and PHP Bulletin Board (PHPBB).
Symphony users benefit from many reusable libraries and components, which make things like authentication, templating, and object configuration easier to produce. Symfony edges ahead of other PHP web frameworks when it comes to large-scale enterprise assignments. On top of that, the Symfony ecosystem is enormous. Its programming community is very supportive and very active, offering a great deal of Symfony tutorials and advice.
Zend Framework / Laminas Project
Zend Framework / Laminas Project is an entirely object-oriented web framework built on agile methodology and intended for enterprise-level applications. It’s fast, secure, and extendable, which means that Zend lends itself to customisation. It adheres to PHP best practices, and that’s a blessing for developers looking to include project-specific functions with the minimum of fuss.
As its focus is enterprise applications, there are lots of components geared towards enterprise features, so things like authentication, services, and forms. But despite these time-saving tools, Zend doesn’t quite lend itself to rapid application development as it’s not the easiest web framework to learn. Even with a drag and drop editor to help them, coding tools, online debugging tools and a scalable interface that’s great for complicated websites, it presents developers with a steep hill to climb.
CodeIgniter is a powerful but simple lightweight web application framework. It’s easy to install and configure and has a remarkably small footprint at only 2MB (and that includes documentation!) CodeIgniter is simple yet powerful and lends itself to creating dynamic websites, thanks to numerous prebuilt modules that help in the creation of robust, reusable components.
It performs well on both dedicated and shared hosting platforms and is much faster than other frameworks, so it’s one of the most popular web frameworks for developing lightweight applications that run on simple servers.
CodeIgniter has many more features including simple security, encryption steps, easy error handling, and negligible PHP adoption struggle. It’s a very well documented web framework and its lively community has produced many tutorials, which means that developers find it easy to get started. But one caveat: it’s worth noting that application security is left to the developer to understand and build into their application, so it might not be the best choice in high security applications if developers are not well-versed in application security.
FuelPHP is a flexible and extendable PHP framework that uses the Model-View-Controller (MVC) pattern but can also use the Hierarchical-Model-View-Controller (HMVC) pattern at the framework architecture level. It also adds a voluntary class called the Presenter class (previously called ViewModel) between the Controller and View layers to hold the logic required for generating views.
The FuelPHP framework has a focus on security with features such as input and URI filtering as well as output encoding. Other standard features of this web development framework include HMVC implementation, URL routing system, caching system, and vulnerability protection. FuelPHP is well-suited to delivering end-to-end web solutions of various sizes and levels of complexity.
Phalcon is a full-stack PHP framework that was originally written in the C and C++ programming languages. It’s essentially a C-extension, but don’t think you have to learn C to understand it. Phalcon web framework is impressively fast because it only uses a few resources, unlike some of its competitors. This speed is very useful for developers who work on systems with low overhead expense.
Phalcon has been updated continuously since 2012 and recent releases have featured quite a lot of upgrades. The latest support release features components like ORM, MVC and caching; and there’s also support for PHP 7 as well.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this brief overview of some popular web frameworks. We’ve tried to give you a flavour of what each one entails, but the best way to understand them is to dive in and start playing with them. If you do, you’ll discover all sorts of similarities between some of them and you’ll learn plenty along the way. Whichever ones you choose to explore, there’s a wide range of user-generated advice and tutorials to guide you. It seems as if every language and every web framework has its own vocal army of supporters who will be happy to welcome you on board and share information. So, don’t be shy! Somewhere out there is an ideal web framework with your name on it, waiting to be discovered.