What’s the best JavaScript framework? by StuffsEarth

Estimated read time 45 min read

One of the hardest parts of building software is choosing your technology stack. You have to pick a tool or framework to get started, but you can’t know its real capabilities until you’ve worked with it for a while. It’s a Catch-22, and prototyping only helps so much. There is a tendency to stick to the same familiar technologies you’ve used in the past, but this has obvious drawbacks, including missing out on important innovations.

This article is an overview and comparison of the leading front-end JavaScript frameworks at the time of this writing. We’ll start with a look at the field, discuss the reasons you might need a new framework, and then look at each of the 10 frameworks in this list in detail, including a feature-by-feature comparison that you can download for future reference.

10 front-end JavaScript frameworks compared

  1. React
  2. Vue
  3. Angular
  4. Preact
  5. Lit
  6. Svelte
  7. AlpineJS
  8. SolidJS
  9. HTMX
  10. Qwik

The developer’s dilemma

There are a couple of reasons why choosing a front-end web development framework is among the most difficult decisions for developers:

  • Many excellent frameworks to choose from
  • Innovation moves quickly in this area

It’s like arriving at a feast where you can only eat so much, but all the meals look too good to pass up.

JavaScript frameworks by popularity

Let’s get a sense of the field. Table 1 is a list of the most popular reactive frameworks. There are many metrics we could use for ranking their popularity. For this article, I’m using the weekly downloads metric from NPM at the time of this writing. (Click the links for more about each framework or to visit its NPM download page.)

Table 1. Most popular front-end JavaScript frameworks by download

FrameworkNPM weekly downloads
React12,936,453
Vue / Vue 32,513,494
Angular (CLI)1,749,234
Preact1,201,728
Lit865,826
Svelte502,888
AlpineJS192,740
SolidJS115,257
HTMX20,238
Qwik7,527

Note that we are talking about pure front-end frameworks. Many of these projects include a full-stack framework, like Next or SvelteKit, that adds back-end capabilities like server-side rendering. These capabilities can influence your choice, as well. We’ll consider these server-side frameworks along with their front-ends as we go along.

Although popularity is an imperfect indicator of quality, it is a good predictor of the availability of developers who know how to work with the framework. For larger-sized projects and teams, this can be a critical factor.

Do you need a new framework?

There are many ways to approach the decision of which JavaScript front-end framework to use. We’re going to look at each of the leading frameworks here, but one factor I encourage you to keep front and center is familiarity with the framework.

If you and your team are strongly competent with a given technology, you will need to have an important reason to move away from it. Does the tech not meet the needs of the project? Is the framework you are using in danger of being abandoned? Is there some compelling feature that it doesn’t offer? If not, you should think twice about adopting a new framework.

On the other hand, it’s good to keep an open mind toward new frameworks that might offer your project specific advantages in terms of developer experience, performance, or community support. 

An interesting thing about JavaScript and front-end frameworks in particular is how richly they interact and influence each other. Learning about any of them often yields synergistic insights. In other words, exploring a new framework is never a wasted effort.

Explore your options

You’ve had an overview of the field. Now let’s consider each of the leading front-end JavaScript frameworks. These are brief descriptions here. I’ve linked to introductory articles on InfoWorld and other sites where you can learn more about frameworks that interest you.

React

Let’s start with the most popular front-end JavaScript framework: React. It is the flagship of reactive frameworks, and in a sense the one to which all others are compared. React is stewarded by Facebook (Meta) and it was created way back in 2013. 

React is very popular, as you can see by its weekly downloads shown in Table 1. This popularity makes it the default choice among front-end frameworks. If you had to choose a framework to use without further research, React would be it.

Despite its age, Meta has aggressively kept React up to date. It is still the framework used for Facebook.com. 

The biggest argument against React is its heaviness. It can be a lot of framework to take on, especially if you’re working on something that makes most of React’s extra capabilities superfluous. Some of the other frameworks we will discuss are not only more lightweight but offer different approaches.

Vue

Vue is the next most popular reactive framework. It is also mature and well-supported. In comparison to React, Vue is more lightweight up front and scores faster results in performance tests.

The most compelling thing about Vue is its reputation for being easy to learn, with excellent documentation and a welcoming community of enthusiasts. Some developers also appreciate Vue’s attention to developer experience (DX). If you and your team enjoy using Vue, adopting this framework can net a significant long-term benefit in ease and satisfaction.

It’s also worth noting that of the three big frameworks (React, Vue, Angular), Vue is the most grassroots, which has its appeal.

Angular

Of all the frameworks on this list, Angular offers the most one-stop development experience. It is designed up-front as a thoroughgoing solution that includes everything in one cohesive package.

In the past, Angular was considered difficult to approach and master. It also suffered from a touch of over-engineering. This kind of development—born out of design rather than grown in real-world usage—made it easier to recommend other frameworks over Angular.

But that has recently changed. Angular’s developers have made a major effort to simplify the framework and improve developer experience, as well as introducing an effective server-side rendering engine. Angular’s documentation and the overall feel of the support website have also improved.

One big difference between Angular and React and Vue is that it is more opinionated. This could be a pro or a con—it depends on your style. There is a well-defined path for most things in Angular, but it can be harder to customize applications or think out of the box with this framework.

Preact

As the name implies, Preact is a front-end framework inspired by React. It isn’t a complete copy. Rather, it’s intended to be a streamlined version with similar but smaller APIs. The main difference is that Preact does not implement its own eventing system. Instead, it uses the browser’s built-in event listeners.

Preact is like a stripped-down version of React. It gives you faster build times and smaller bundles at the cost of some features. There is, however, an additional layer you can include to achieve almost full React compatibility. Many components from the React ecosystem also work in Preact when using this compatibility layer.

Preact can be a good choice if you want to master a smaller API while staying largely in the realm of React and its robust ecosystem.

Lit

The defining feature of Lit is that it uses web components, a standard API, as its foundation. This means the API and bundle size are very small, and dedicated to empowering the built-in web components. Lit also adheres to a minimalist philosophy, so it gives you maximum flexibility; there are few ordained ways of doing things in Lit.

Lit has a smaller ecosystem than the bigger frameworks, but it’s still fairly extensive.

Svelte

Svelte is notable for using a compiler, which takes the Svelte syntax and transforms it into a small and performant bundle of JavaScript. This lets Svelte do some up-front optimizations and experiment with interesting syntax elements like Runes.

Among the smaller frameworks, Svelte is most akin to Vue in being more open to independent experimentation. It is popular among open-source enthusiasts and has an active community. It also has good documentation.

AlpineJS

Of all the frameworks profiled here, AlpineJS is the most utilitarian. It offers a compact reactive library and leaves it at that—just enough reactivity to bring with you on an Alpine hiking trip. It’s very easy to comprehend everything Alpine gives you, but that small footprint holds quite a bit of power.

There’s an interesting similarity between Alpine and HTMX. They both work to remove complexity while giving you the basics of modern front-end functionality, and they both choose specialized HTML properties to deliver the functionality.

SolidJS

SolidJS is an interesting take on reactivity. It begins with Signals (inspired by Knockout.js), a reactive primitive, and builds from there. Solid is a younger generation of framework when compared with others on this list, but it has seen a lot of excitement and growing adoption. it has a good community around it.

Signals give Solid a flexible foundation. Both the framework and your user code can access the same capabilities to layer on functionality. Signals are similar to ReactiveX, but simpler.  Solid also adopts JSX, the React templating language. Solid does well on performance tests.

HTMX

HTMX is an entirely different take on building web front ends. It tries to eliminate as much complexity as possible, use REST as it was intended, and use straight HTML with some basic improvements to handle modern requirements like AJAX and DOM interactions.

HTMX gives you quite a bit in a small package. It’s a worthwhile option to explore, especially if you don’t require a lot of extra power in the form of elaborate reactivity or server-side rendering. HTMX is a novel idea that is just starting to gain traction, but it’s also very easy to learn about it and keep the whole thing in your head. I’d recommend exploring the project even if only for its ideas, which are instructive no matter how experienced you are.

QWIK

QWIK is a reactive framework like the others on this list, but it’s a fairly exotic implementation under the hood. It starts from the ground up with performance in mind. It decomposes applications into distinct elements along boundaries like eventing and components and aggressively lazy-loads at these boundaries. All of this leads to faster rendering.

Framework highlights

Now that you have a sense of the options, let’s try to break the decision down into something more manageable. In Table 2, I’ve listed the frameworks again, with the learnability and a concise summary of each framework’s highlights. (Note that these are my opinions and very briefly summarized.)

Table 2. Highlights of the leading JavaScript frameworks

Framework Learning  curveWhy choose this framework
ReactModerate to highMost conservative choice. Huge ecosystem and community. Balances innovation and stability. 
VueModerateEasy to learn and adopt. You want a well-established framework that’s a bit less corporate.
AngularHighA robust framework for large projects. Enterprise oriented. You want an all-in-one, integrated approach.
PreactModerateReact-like reactivity in a smaller bundle size and faster load times. Especially prized for mobile development.
LitModerateLightweight and performant with a focus on standards. Easier to combine with other standards like HTML.
SvelteModerateSmaller bundle sizes and memory footprint. Innovative. Focus on developer experience and unique ideas.
AlpineLowYou want a lightweight toolset that is easy to learn and master. Good for adding reactivity to a small- or medium-sized project.
SolidJSModerate to highOffers a Signals-based reactive core to build around. Performance-oriented. 
HTMXLowSimple to learn and integrate. Very easy to integrate with standard HTML/CSS/JavaScript. A unique and simplified REST architecture.
QwikHighVery innovative. Performance-oriented. Built by and integrates with builder.io. 

Feature comparison

Now you’ve got an overhead view of the decision. Next, let’s take a more focused look at each framework’s essential features. The comparisons in this next table will be helpful if you require specific features. Click the table image to enlarge it or see my GitHub repository for a downloadable PDF with clickable links.

Table 3. JavaScript framework feature comparison

JavaScript frameworks feature comparison. Created by Matthew Tyson for IDG.

Note that a cross-platform framework like Tauri can generate native versions for many of the frameworks in Table 3.

Make your choice

You now have a lot of information about the leading front-end JavaScript frameworks and what each one brings to the table. But how to decide which one is right for your team or project?

Although some of these frameworks are more experimental than others, they are all professional-grade tools. React, Vue, and Angular all have significant history and momentum behind them, which makes any of them a safe choice. These frameworks also give you access to developers familiar with using them, which becomes an important factor as your team size grows.

Smaller and newer frameworks carry some risk of fading out if resources or enthusiasm wanes. That said, they’re also often leading in terms of innovation, performance, developer experience, and more. That’s why there are so many newer front-end frameworks in the field!

If I had to choose a framework for a greenfield project, I’d determine which ones had the must-have features I needed, then go with the one that “felt” the best. The ergonomics of using a framework over time exerts an important influence. I also personally value a community that feels welcoming.

Copyright © 2024 IDG Communications, Inc.

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