5 of the Best JavaScript Frameworks to Learn in 2018

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We’ve written elsewhere about what the JavaScript (JS) programming language is, how hard JavaScript is to learn, what kind of jobs developers can get with JavaScript skills, and about JavaScript tools like jQuery and JavaScript Frameworks, but here’s a quick refresher in case you need it: JavaScript is a scripting language used in front-end web development to create and control dynamic content on websites and web applications. Whenever you visit sites or use web apps that have animated graphics, an autocomplete text feature, interactive forms, or photo slideshows, those things were likely built with JavaScript. Meanwhile, a JS framework is a tool that provides front-end developers with structural website templates and pre-written JS code for routine programming tasks.

Something you’ll notice about JS frameworks is that there are a lot of them, so it can be hard to know which one to learn first—or which ones to learn in general. While the consensus from web developers is to just pick one and start learning (which will then make it easy to learn others down the road), that still leaves you with a wide field to choose from. In order to give a sense of what frameworks are currently popular with programmers and prized by employers, we’ve rounded up a list of the hottest and most established JS frameworks to learn in 2018.

1. Vue JS

Vue comes highly recommended as a rising star in the world of JS frameworks, and usage statistics back up that enthusiasm. Coding repository site GitHub tracks the popularity of programming tools like front-end development languages and web frameworks by allowing users to “star” the tools they’ve been using for coding projects, and the Vue JS framework was “starred” 40,000 times in 2017 (a rise from 26,000 in 2016). This lands Vue in first place among popular frameworks in GitHub’s JavaScript project category, above second place React at 28,000 stars. Vue has been around since 2014, so why the sudden spike in popularity?

Vue’s popularity can be attributed to its combination of simplicity and flexibility. In terms of its learning curve, Vue uses an HTML-based syntax, which means developers can use HTML to work with Vue’s templates instead of having to learn a framework-specific language like TypeScript (a requirement for some frameworks that adds to the learning time). However, Vue’s beginner-friendly learning curve doesn’t mean it isn’t a feature-rich framework.

In addition to being easy to learn, part of Vue’s calling card is the fact that it’s an incrementally progressive framework—in other words, using Vue doesn’t mean the framework has to live underneath your entire website or application. The Vue JS framework can be implemented on part of a webpage, throughout an entire site or application, or anywhere in between (depending on the needs of your project), making it a framework that can be tailored to your exact specifications. Vue has an active peer community that you can learn more about from the official Vue website, and you can browse the gallery at Made With Vuejs to get an idea of what’s possible using the Vue framework.

2. React JS

As mentioned above, React came in second to Vue in 2017’s GitHub polling, but it’s important to note that React has been at our around the top of GitHub’s polls for years (while Vue’s rise has been more recent). Because of this, React has a large industry footprint, the support and backing of big tech companies (including Facebook—the company that maintains the framework), and a huge presence in the JavaScript job market. Programming Q&A forum and jobs site Stack Overflow reports that developer jobs asking for React skills grew over 150 percent on their job boards from 2015 to 2016, meaning if you’re interested in JavaScript development work, you can’t go wrong familiarizing yourself with React.

On the technical side of things, React and Vue have a lot of similarities. React is another framework designed for incremental implementation, so—like Vue—React can be applied to as much or as little of your project as you see fit. The React JS framework is added directly to HTML pages, and from there it can either be expanded across the entire page or contained to individual JavaScript widgets. Also like Vue, React is an open-source framework (meaning it’s free to use and the source code is open the public for editing and modifying) and it has a strong support community. You can search the Made with React website for examples of projects built with React.

3. Angular JS

Angular was one of the original JavaScript frameworks, developed by Google and first released in 2010. While tech has a tendency to gravitate toward newer tools and platforms over time, Angular has managed to stay in the top three of GitHub’s framework popularity, which speaks to how entrenched Angular is in the web development scene. Further, Angular’s job-related stats are still healthy with Indeed listing nearly 7,000 Angular-related developer jobs as of this writing.

Based on these stats, Angular won’t be disappearing anytime soon, but it’s true that its popularity is being surpassed by younger counterparts like Vue and React. Flexibility (or lack of it) is a big part of this industry shift—one of the benefits of Vue and React’s incremental approach is that both of those frameworks are “extensible,” meaning they are designed to be used alongside other programming tools. On the other hand, once the Angular framework is applied to a project the entire website or app needs to be built on top of Angular and conform to its syntax and rules. Angular also requires use of a JavaScript variant language called TypeScript—not the end of the world, but it adds to the overall learning curve for Angular. Despite some of its flexibility shortcomings, Angular is still enough of a fixture in the tech industry that it remains a solid choice for learning in 2018. Hop on over to the Made With Angular website to see what you can build using this framework.

4. Ember JS

If you’ve ever used the Apple Music feature through Apple’s iTunes program, then you’ve used an app built with Ember. Ember was first released in 2011 and has carved out a niche as a framework for building large scale web and mobile applications. While Ember-specific job listings are far fewer than jobs asking for knowledge of Vue, React, or Angular (a little over 600 on Indeed as of this writing), Ember is used by major companies like Microsoft, Netflix, and LinkedIn.

One of Ember’s defining characteristics is the fact that it comes with a built-in developer toolchain. When you use the Ember framework, you also have access to Broccoli.js (a tool for translating source code from one language into another), JSHint (a code analysis tool that determines if your JS code complies with coding rules), and LiveReload (a tool that monitors changes in a project’s file system and automatically updates the content on your web browser as these changes are saved). While Ember might not be as widely used as some of the alternatives above, it’s still a powerful framework to learn in 2018 if you’re interested in working on large scale app development for big tech companies. Check out the Built With Ember gallery for a look at what’s possible with the Ember framework.

5. Node JS

Like Ember, Node is a JS framework that tends to be used on large scale web applications. How large? Companies like PayPal, Netflix, Ebay, and WalMart are among those using Node for their online presence. Unlike Ember, however, Node’s job footprint is more in line with frameworks like Vue, React, and Angular (with an Indeed search fetching over 6,000 current listings).

What makes Node suited for larger web apps (versus smaller scale websites) is that Node’s engine allows JavaScript to operate on computers in addition to web browsers (where JS is normally confined). This lets Node perform functions that not only run on the “client side” of an application (in the web browser, visible to users), but on the “server side” (under the hood of the website), too. Node’s server side capabilities means that developers who use Node can use JavaScript for both front end and back end functions (as opposed to coordinating two different scripting languages), and it’s this flexible dynamic that makes Node a familiar presences in large scale, server-heavy application programming.

Bonus JS Tool: jQuery

While not a framework per se, it’s hard to talk about crucial JavaScript tools without giving a nod to jQuery. But if jQuery isn’t a framework, what is it?

jQuery is a JavaScript library that predates full-fledged JS frameworks. While all of the frameworks listed above provide a structural template for web pages using JS code, jQuery is intended for instances of individual problem solving in a JavaScript project. In other words, jQuery doesn’t establish a scaffolding for your project, it provides patches that can be applied when needed. These patches include jQuery plugins that can be executed through a few lines of jQuery library code (versus the many lines of code it would take to perform the same function if you were coding it from scratch), and simplification of JS tasks like AJAX calls (using JS to call a server and update individual parts of a website without requiring users to reload an entire page).

Since not every project will be complicated enough to require the full framework treatment, and since extensible frameworks like Vue allow themselves to be used alongside other tools like jQuery, jQuery remains a key JavaScript tool to learn and use even in 2018. Need proof? Indeed lists over 13,000 jQuery-related jobs as of this writing. A look at the Awwwards website’s jQuery category will give you an idea of what jQuery can still do.

If you’ve already begun getting up to speed with the JavaScript language and you’re ready to start experimenting with frameworks, any of the ones listed here are worth a try. Consider which frameworks sound most in line with your programming goals, head over to their site, and start digging in to their documentation. And if you haven’t started with JavaScript yet, good news! Learning JavaScript is as easy as trying out JS basics through free tutorials on sites like Codecademy, and then taking the next step with paid, instructor-led classes from a coding school like Skillcrush.

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