The Top Small Frameworks for Frontend and Backend Development

Hermione at Pangea.ai
Michelle Newblom
Published: 18.11.2022

Web frameworks are essential to the creation of web applications. Both backend and frontend frameworks assist developers by providing them with a standardized set of tools to design, support, manage, and build web applications.

Choosing the right web framework can make or break your project. But, with so many different frameworks out there, it can be difficult to decide on the one for you. Sometimes one of the more popular options has everything you need, but other times a smaller, more lightweight framework is suitable.

Smaller frameworks can result in faster, lightweight builds. We’ve compiled some of the best, smallest frontend and backend frameworks to help you create responsive web applications in a shorter period of time.

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Differences Between Frontend and Backend Web Frameworks

Backend frameworks and frontend frameworks work together to create functional web applications. While the backend is server-facing and responsible for how everything works, the frontend is client-facing and responsible for managing the user interactions.

Both are built in different languages and make use of frameworks that enhance web application development.

Frontend Development

The frontend consists of all the items that users or clients can physically see on the web application — from colors to images to navigation menus. The frontend needs to be user-friendly to provide clients with the best experience possible when interacting with your web application.

The frontend can be built in a number of different languages, but the most common are the following:

  • HTML: HyperText Markup Language (HTML) is a markup language and the most commonly used frontend language to create both apps and websites.
  • JavaScript: Games and mobile apps often rely on JavaScript, but it’s also well-used for its interactivity.
  • CSS: Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) is popular for its ability to easily make web pages presentable.

Backend Development

You won’t visibly see the backend of a website, but it is key for arranging data and ensuring that everything on the frontend operates smoothly. Operating systems, software, databases, and servers are all part of the backend.

Just like the frontend, there are a variety of languages that can build your backend:

  • Java: Java’s scalability makes it one of the more popular choices, and it’s often used with larger applications.
  • Python: Known for its accessibility, Python is compatible with many frameworks and easy enough to learn.
  • PHP: PHP is one of the older languages — created in 1994 — but it’s extremely flexible and can be learned in a short period of time.

The Best, Smallest Web Frameworks

Not everyone needs the all-encompassing frameworks when it comes to frontend or backend development. Sometimes, a minimalist framework is all you need. While they may be harder to get the hang of initially, you can expect faster, more lightweight builds.

You won’t always need the features available in larger, more expansive web frameworks. When you have a simple project, a smaller framework may be the optimal choice.

Small CSS Frameworks

If you have a straightforward project on your plate, you likely don’t need to use Bootstrap and all the features it comes with. Instead, try out a simplistic CSS framework for your frontend.

  • Pure: If you’re looking for a framework that takes into account mobile design, Pure might be your perfect match. It’s only 3.7KB, making it one of the smallest CSS frameworks.
  • Milligram: Clocking in at 2KB, Milligram has everything you need to build a personal website. This lightweight framework offers cleaner code and better performance.
  • Pico: With Pico, you can create great styles just using CSS. This framework is 7.7KB and makes use of native HTML tags.

Small JavaScript Frameworks

JavaScript remains one of the most popular choices for frontend development. Alongside well-known frameworks such as Angular, ReactJS, and jQuery, JavaScript boasts a number of lightweight frameworks.

  • Backbone: Backbone is by no means a new framework, but it has continuously been updated. At just 7.9KB, Backbone uses Models to represent your data and lets you enjoy freedom and customization when designing web applications.
  • Chibi: A reliable microframework, Chibi offers you all the necessary elements and is compatible with most web browsers. It is only 3KB gzipped, but still has all you need for your less complex projects.
  • Mithril: If you’re looking for speedy rendering and smaller files sizes — with comprehensive documentation to get you started — Mithril might be for you. Plus, it’s only 9.5KB.

Small Python Frameworks

Many times, speed and flexibility are preferred over a catalog of features. Though Python has impressive and large frameworks, their collection of smaller frameworks are just as impressive.

  • CherryPy: Easy enough to learn, CherryPy has been around for 20 years now and is even used by Hulu and Netflix. Not everything is provided natively, but you can use third-party libraries to support necessary features.
  • Pyramid: It does not matter which templating language you choose to use with Pyramid. Its flexibility is a huge positive, as it promises that “It won’t hold you back when your application is small, and it won’t get in your way when your application becomes large.”
  • Falcon: If your personal project focuses on REST-based APIs, Falcon could be your go-to framework. It’s free of dependencies outside of a standard library and gives you everything you’d require for REST APIs.

Small PHP Frameworks

For many developers, PHP was the first language they learned. It only makes sense that it’s the leading server-side programming language, with 77% of all known sites using PHP. It has frameworks small and large, but let’s take a look at some of the best minimalist PHP frameworks.

  • Slim: If you’re building a smaller web application and don’t need all the features that a fuller PHP web framework offers, Slim is one of the best options you can go with. You can create simple and powerful applications with Slim without worrying about third-party dependencies.
  • Micro-MVC: Micro-MVC runs on almost any platform and provides you with security and fast response times. It focuses on using the least amount of resources possible, while still allowing developers to quickly write AJAX-based or MVC-based code.
  • Laravel Zero: Built on top of the most popular PHP framework Laravel, Laravel Zero is a powerful micro framework designed for building command-line applications. It’s also completely open-source.
A woman developer helps another developer with software creation. They are sitting at a desk and she is pointing at the computer.

Conclusion

Web frameworks have become an indispensable tool for developers. Selecting the right one, for both backend and frontend, can be a difficult choice since there are so many to choose from.

With a bit of research, you might find that a micro framework has everything you need, and a full-stack framework has resources you’ll never use. Every project and web application has different needs, so there’s no right or wrong answer when making your decision.

FAQs:

Q1. What framework should I learn first?

The first framework you should learn will depend on the language you know the basics of — and because JavaScript is one of the more popular ones, a framework such as ReactJS might be good to begin with since it’s popular and beginner-friendly.

If you’re a beginner, it’s important to learn the basics before moving into more complex territory. Master the core principles of a language before trying to rely on frameworks and libraries.

Q2. Which is the easiest Python framework?

Django has been one of the easiest, most popular Python frameworks for many years. It’s open-source, free, and a full-stack framework. If you’re working on a larger project and need more features, it is likely one of the easiest, best Python frameworks to use.

Django is secure, scalable, and fast. You don’t need in-depth configuration to work with Django. Since it is a larger framework, it might not be your best option if your project is smaller, but otherwise it is a top choice when looking at Python frameworks.

Q3. What is the current trending framework?

jQuery used to be the most popular framework, but ReactJS has overtaken it, making it the current trending framework. This is due to its accessibility. Over 40% of developers opt to use ReactJS.

Some of the other most popular frameworks are Express, Angular, and VueJS.

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