Pros and Cons of Web Development Frameworks
The first step a developer takes in any project is to outline the tools and resources essential to its success. In web development, this often means looking at the most suitable frameworks with features and benefits essential to accelerating and enhancing your efforts.
Reasons for choosing one framework over another can vary from project to project. A rigid and highly prescriptive framework may be the best solution in some cases while an unopinionated, more flexible choice is better suited to others (see our article 10 Best Web Development Frameworks to Use in 2022 for more information).
The question that businesses, project managers, and developers have to come together to solve is just how much time and consideration should be given to choosing one framework over another? How much time should you invest in investigating whether or not you should use any framework at all?
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For some projects, the flexibility and customisation afforded by not using a framework may prove to be a huge advantage. It’s one method developers can use to create services that stand out from the crowd. With experienced and skilled web developers, it can be a highly worthwhile option to take.
In this guide, we take a look at what a framework is and what it can provide to your projects. Here, we answer the critical question of when to use a web application framework and when to free your developers to take another route to the same goal.
What is a Framework?
A framework exists to provide a base from which you can build your next project with great success. Providing an architecture, abstraction, and some initial code towards your goals—it can provide a way to save time and strengthen a project throughout every stage of development.
From this strong base, engineers have an opportunity to extend and develop in a direction that maintains good working practices while keeping close to the structures and patterns prescribed by the framework.
One point of confusion that often exists, even among developers, is the difference between a library and a framework. Often, these are terms used interchangeably to describe the very same thing. In truth, there are rarely clear and well-defined lines that separate the two.
A reasonable working definition we can apply is that a library should provide one or more collections of functionality and helpers to link your project against. A framework, in contrast, should provide a skeleton of code for you to build your application from.
Most frameworks are likely to include one or more libraries, but they will also prescribe or at least suggest some architectural patterns to assist with developing a robust and reliable application. While this working definition also provides lines that are far from rigidly defined, it does provide a rough but useful rule to work with when discussing these technologies.
When it comes to web application frameworks for highly critical sites, project managers should pay careful attention to weighing up their advantages and drawbacks before deciding how and when to apply them to your projects.
Advantages of Using A Framework for Application Development
Simplifies Many Tasks and Challenges
For complex, high-traffic, or exceptionally rich systems and applications, a framework could be considered all but essential. Laying out strong architectural foundations creates a well thought out application that is easy to build on and maintain without losing application performance or control of its structure.
For teams of engineers, a framework lays out a system’s design language in a way that everyone is instantly familiar with and can communicate and work on with ease.
For smaller systems, the right framework makes great strides in the number of lines of code engineers are required to write, test, and maintain by hand. A high-quality framework that comes with a lot of functionality and systems pre-build can save weeks of development time and cut down writing thousands of lines of code.
React.js, for example, is a framework with everything you need pre-packed and ready to deploy. Taking care of the groundwork, a framework should free application developers to focus their time and attention on higher-level problems instead.
Focused Application Development
A framework effectively bootstraps the process of application development. Developers are able to accelerate even the most highly customised web applications from initial idea to working prototype in relatively short order by using the right framework.
Templates, for example, are an ideal tool for reducing the time on task to write boilerplate code. Providing an accelerated start to the early stages of a project, they allow application developers to shift their time towards implementing creative solutions to more pressing problems.
By bootstrapping basic functionality, structure, and architecture—frameworks keep the final application in good shape for future development.
Standardised Coding Practices
One of the largest advantages an effectively chosen framework can bring is its ability to create a well-defined structure to follow throughout the lifetime of a project.
Today, communication both amongst and between teams is one of the most pressing challenges teams of software developers tackle at scale. Onboarding new developers and handing off project work is made much more simple when the structure of a project can be explained simply by the framework it’s written in.
The advantages of standardisation pay rich dividends in design, development, debugging, and deployment.
Testing and Debugging
The advantages of a robust and reliable application framework are particularly notable in the testing phases. Often the most time-consuming and arduous tasks in the development lifecycle, the right framework for the project can support the test phase with tools and resources to match.
Applications built around a more rigid architecture are typically easier to separate out and test individually than those engineered using a custom solution.
Perhaps one of the most under-appreciated advantages of developing an application from a highly capable framework is the community of developers, engineers, and users available to support it.
Strong communities of users create a large knowledge base of articles, documentation, and discussion to address the common issues that developers come across. A framework with a strong community can easily highlight the development paths likely to prove productive and worthwhile.
Frameworks with notably strong developer communities include ReactJS, VueJS, and Django.
When to Lean on the Framework
- You are confident the chosen framework is ideally suited to the task
- Developers are new to the subject matter or field of web development
- Your chosen framework isn’t overloaded with features you can’t use in development
- It will simplify future problem solving, testing, and maintenance
Disadvantages of Using A Framework for Application Development
A framework is typically highly customisable but can’t be changed beyond all recognition. A heavyweight solution, for example, can rarely be adapted to fit in the space intended for a lightweight framework. Developers are forced to respect the limitations and conventions imposed by its design.
While this can be an advantage, ensuring conventions and good practice are rigorously followed, developers must be certain they are choosing a framework that meets their needs and requirements. Being forced to change and skew a project to fit in later stages can cause as many problems as it solves.
Finding a framework that’s ideally suited to your project and future strategy is key to successful web development. If you need help finding the perfect team to implement your vision, just tell us what you need. We can do the work for you and connect you with up to 5 companies within 72h that match your needs—all for free!
Learning the Framework and Not the Language
Because the framework exists to do a lot of the heavy lifting, some of the deeper parts of the application can be left untouched by developers. Even working with the code daily, engineers may not know the ins and outs of a system when interacting with just the higher levels of the framework will do.
The result of over-reliance on the framework is fewer chances for programmers to solve complex problems and gain a detailed grasp on the entire application.
A framework, by necessity, will come with everything required to satisfy a wide range of projects and use cases. In practice, this means your framework will come with features, functionality, and code that won’t be used at all within your project.
In fact, the bulk of the code included within a large framework may well be irrelevant. This is particularly true when building exceptionally simple web apps. The extra files and unnecessary code in your project can adversely impact the speed and performance of a framework and the sites it supports.
A lightweight framework that implements minimal additional features can act as a middle-ground between frameworkless development strategies and heavyweight feature-rich frameworks.
When to Abandon the Framework
- You have a highly skilled team urging a different solution for the long term
- You want your teams to learn the language and its technology in-depth
- You need a solution that is exceptionally lightweight and not bundled with extras
Web Development Strategies
Knowing when to deploy a framework, which one to deploy, and how to use it is a development skill that relies on years of practical experience and many completed projects. Highly skilled engineers are able to take a careful look at the costs and benefits of various options, choose a suitable and productive route forward, and get the most out of a strategy suited to the project.
Whether that’s a framework listed above, one of the dozens available out there, or a customised frameworkless approach, is dependent on the requirements, structure, and demands you impose on your next project. For more forward thinking analysis of the frameworks of the future, take a look at our piece A Glimpse into The Future of Web Engineering.
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