The most popular JavaScript frameworks and libraries

JavaScript (or JS for short) is a scripting language used to make HTML content interactive in the web browser. This language can be used for both object-orientated programming as well as procedural and functional programming. JavaScript contains predefined objects (i.e. data elements with special properties, methods, or functions) for accessing a web page, but they are sometimes cumbersome to use. To help users in writing JS, collected information has been made public. These instructions and tools come in the form of various JavaScript libraries and frameworks, with the aim to make programming easier. We will go through the best and most well-known tools below.

Library vs. framework

It’s important to keep the two terms separate. Often 'library' and 'framework' are used as synonyms even though this is wrong, strictly speaking. Even though the transition is seamless in many ways, there are basic differences between the two of them.

Library

A JavaScript library is a library of pre-written JavaScript that enables an easier development of JavaScript-based applications. Libraries always accommodate subprograms which, along with support functions, help with the programming process. In contrast to a framework, a library is more developed to one particular use, meaning it has functions that are coordinated to each other. For example, the JavaScript library D3.js is used for data visualization – with this library you can implement small tables, diagrams, and statistics, as well as more complex graphs (including animations and interactions). Libraries are always integrated by a software program: the program accesses the corresponding functions of a program library when they need a specific function. As a result, libraries can only work within a program and can’t run independently.

Framework

A framework is also not an autonomous program, but rather a special form of class library. A framework provides the software architecture (i.e. the basic structure) of an application and essentially determines the development process. Frameworks have certain design patterns with different functions (often in the form of many libraries) and are used to develop new, independent applications. An example is the Zend framework for PHP, which is used in Magento’s online store software and web analytics tool Piwik.

Inversion of Control (IoC)

Another difference between a framework and a library is how they are managed. With libraries, the code is accessed by programmers through a software program’s programming interface. Frameworks, however, carry out an inversion of control: The code is embedded in fixed structures and called up when needed. To summarize, you can say that libraries are called up by programs, whereas frameworks make specifications to the program.

JavaScript libraries and frameworks

The core of JavaScript is a rather simple programming language that lends itself particularly well for use within a browser. Many programmers face problems with their website interface, or DOM (Document Object Model). Here JavaScript frameworks and libraries come into play, making work a little bit easier for developers, regardless of their programming field. The JavaScript extensions introduced in the next section can all be downloaded for free.

Popular JavaScript libraries

JavaScript libraries are reusable codes through which certain features and functions for a website are assigned. jQuery is the most well-known JavaScript library and offers many useful features, although other libraries can be just as helpful.

jQuery

The very extensive jQuery library is the most-used JavaScript library. This is due to the fact that you can write simple cross-browser jQuery code, with lots of plugins available for use. jQuery’s open source library is part of many content management systems like WordPress, Drupal, or Joomla!. jQuery also functions as an interface for DOM, offering some of the following functions: CSS3 selectors make it easy to select and manipulate website elements. jQuery is also particularly valued for its ability to integrate Ajax requests (HTTP requests without reloading the website).

Advantages Disadvantages
Ajax support Can be slow compared to CSS
Very popular Leans toward spaghetti code
Extensive library Is quite superfluous due to new JavaScript features
Easy to use  
Numerous plugins  

jQuery UI

jQuery UI is a free extension for jQuery. Its purpose is to define and implement a user interface (UI) from sources like websites or web apps. The focus here is on simple design and interactions. The functions jQuery has to offer include the possibility to implement interactive elements (e.g. drag and drop, zooming in and out), animations, effects, and widgets (like autocomplete, sliders, date picker, etc.). The graphic editor, ThemeRoller, can be used to create original themes, or existing themes can be used to adapt for your own purposes. True to its simple design configuration, the modular structure of ThemeRoller allows only the necessary components to be implemented.

Advantages Disadvantages
Easy operation due to widgets Slow development
ThemeRoller Requires jQuery

Dojo Toolkit

The Dojo Toolkit is good for implementating web applications and dynamic web content. As one of the oldest JavaScript libraries that is still relevant on the market, it offers a wide range of functions – the most important components of the toolkit are the main program (Dojo), and Dijit, a toolkit for graphical user interfaces. In addition, you can use pre-defined widgets to integrate elements into the website you are creating. Dojo can also handle both DOM and Ajax.

Advantages Disadvantages
Easy operation due to widgets Not so easy to learn
Ajax support Slow development
Extensive, modular library  

React

React was first used in 2011 in Facebook’s newsfeed. It was then released on an open source basis in 2013. It is another JavaScript library with which you can create user interfaces. What sets this library apart from the rest is that the website elements (views) aren’t solely rendered on the client, but also on the server – which makes a more powerful rendering possible. This is due to the use of virtual DOMs, which also makes the testing of web applications easier. In addition, the JavaScript library scores with many developers because of its one direction data flow: This technology ensures stable code since changes in lower-level code cannot influence the higher-level code. Changes can only have an impact in the other direction.

Advantages Disadvantages
Virtual DOM Hard to learn
One-way data flow  
Server-side rendering  
Applicable for mobile apps  

Zepto

Zepto is a real lightweight: While jQuery is impressive for its size, it is also a factor that deters many developers. The best-known JavaScript library is too bulky for some users. The minimalistic Zepto is much slimmer, should load faster and take up less space, which is why it is mainly used for mobile apps. In order to keep the file size small, Zepto saves on compatibility with older browsers. To make Ajax and animations possible, you also have to use additional modules.

Advantages Disadvantages
Very slimline Doesn’t support older browsers
Easy to learn Ajax and animations only possible using additional modules
  No extra advantages compared to jQuery

CreateJS

Not just one, but several libraries: CreateJS is a suite consisting of four different libraries: EaselJS (graphics & interactivity), TweenJS (animations), SoundJS (audio), and PreloadJS (preloading). These are not interdependent. This means that you don’t have to implement all four libraries in one project if you happen to only need one library, for example. There are also some tools to make it easier to work with JavaScript libraries. The focus is on the development of HTML5 and Flash applications. In general, the CreateJS team works closely with Adobe, which is why there are tools to ensure that the suite works seamlessly with Adobe products.

Advantages Disadvantages
Independent libraries Small community
Additional tools  
Integration in Adobe Animate  

JavaScript libraries at a glance

  jQuery jQuery UI Dojo Toolkit React Zepto CreateJS
Year of release 2006 2007 2005 2013 2010 2012
Operator JS Foundation JS Foundation Dojo Foundation Facebook Thomas Fuchs gskinner.com
License MIT MIT BSD/AFL MIT MIT MIT
GitHub contributors approx. 270 approx. 300 approx. 100 approx. 1,100 approx. 180 approx. 40
Special features Best-known library Focus on GUI Focus on web apps Virtual DOM Minimalistic Integration in Adobe Animate

Popular JavaScript frameworks

There are considerably more JavaScript libraries than frameworks. The latter are especially suitable for complex web applications. If developers embrace the concepts and specifications of respective frameworks, they will be able to work very efficiently with them.

AngularJS

This Google-maintained framework has by far the largest community among the JavaScript frameworks. AngularJS is used (like its main competitor: Facebook’s library, React) to create single page web applications (web apps, which consist only of HTML documents). Due to the MVVM concept (model-view-viewmodel) of this framework, web applications can be developed that are highly adaptable to user interaction. (The manufacturers of the JS framework, however, prefer to categorize AngularJS as MVW: model-view-whatever). Here AngularJS renders the web application on the client side. The framework is based on jQuery Lite – a slimmed-down version of the well-known JavaScript library, jQuery.

Advantages Disadvantages
Very large community Has been replaced by Angular
Part of the MEAN software stack Complicated initial hurdles

Angular

Angular – sometimes also called Angular 2 – is the successor of AngularJS. The JS framework is still primarily intended for the developments of single-page web applications. However, Google has made some very big changes in the second version. The biggest difference is probably that JavaScript is no longer used for programming, but rather TypeScript is. However, since Microsoft’s programming language is based on JavaScript, it doesn’t result in a direct restriction when it comes to JS development. In addition, Angular has now been adapted so that the development of applications across multiple platforms (desktop, mobile, tablet) is no problem.

Advantages Disadvantages
More possibilities thanks to TypeScript Not easy migrating from AngularJS to Angular
Cross-platform development Initial hurdles more complicated than with the predecessor

Ember.js

Ember.js is also a client-side framework that is used for implementing single page web applications, with which you can also create desktop applications. A further distinguishing feature is that the creators of Ember.js intensively involve the community in the framework’s development process; for instance, discussing significant framework changes with them before they are implemented. Ember.js is marketed as a framework for creating ambitious web applications – so it is primarily aimed at developers who already have experience with designing web applications.

Advantages Disadvantages
Developed by the open source community Very demanding, especially for beginners
Can also be used for desktop applications  

Vue.js

Vue.js is also a JavaScript framework for developing single-page web applications reminiscent of Angular and React. The developers of this relatively young and ambitious project deliberately designed Vue.js in such a way that beginners find it relatively easy to get started. For example, it’s possible to integrate templates into HTML. In addition, Vue.js is also said to be much more flexible than many other frameworks, which usually strictly dictate the way the framework is handled.

Advantages Disadvantages
Quick to learn Less complex
Supports HTML & CSS Comparatively small community
Flexible development possibilities  

Meteor

Meteor – sometimes called MeteorJS – is a JS framework that is particularly well suited for cross-platform development. It enables developers to create both web applications and mobile apps with the same code. Another advantage is that changes in the code can be forwarded directly to clients thanks to the specially developed Distributed Data Protocol (DDP). In addition to the free framework, the manufacturers of Meteor also offer Galaxy, which is a paid platform. Developers can use the cloud service to publish and host their projects. The JavaScript framework runs on a Node.js basis so it makes sense to know a bit about the development environment when developing with Meteor. Meteor enables you to create both backend and frontend at the same time without changing the language – a revolutionary concept that has not yet become established.

Advantages Disadvantages
Cross-platform development Works only with MongoDB and not with other database types
Hosting platform Galaxy Backend migration required
Can be combined with Angular, React, and other frameworks/libraries Problems with search engine and performance

JavaScript frameworks at a glance

  AngularJS Angular Ember.js Vue.js Meteor
Year of release 2009 2016 2011 2014 2012
Operator Google Google Ember Core Team Evan You Meteor Development Group
License MIT MIT MIT MIT MIT
GitHub contributors Approx. 1.600 Approx. 570 Approx. 700 Approx. 700 Approx. 370
Architecture MVVM/MVW MVC MVVM MVVM MVVM
Special features Can also be used for mobile and desktop apps Can also be used for mobile and desktop apps Can also be used for desktop apps Easy integration Combined backend and frontend

Useful tools for many areas

Frameworks and libraries can considerably smooth the JavaScript programming process. Those mentioned above are only a small portion of the tools that are available. Additional resources for JavaScript frameworks, libraries, and plugins include GitHub and JavaScripting. Here you can find suitable JavaScript extensions for various purposes.