Read on to learn more about Ember.js and its role in the world of front-end web development.
The Ember Way
Ember has come a long way since its initial release in December 2011, when the successor to the popular widget library SproutCore forked off into a separate project to create a full-featured framework for building scalable dynamic single page applications (SPAs). Today Ember.js powers prominent websites like LinkedIn, Groupon, and Twitch TV, and desktop apps like Apple Music. Some of the core themes that Ember embraces include:
- “Convention over Configuration,” a concept popularized by Ruby on Rails, Ember encourages the use of bootstrapping a new project through its CLI to ensure that best practices are being followed and help developers get a head start on their projects
- “Stability without Stagnation,” by making continuous incremental improvements to the framework across 6 week release cycles, preceding major updates with deprecation warnings, and maintaining a rigorous RFC (Request for Comment) process, major upgrades (like the switch to 2.0) go much smoother.
- A proven commitment toward backwards compatibility (Ember 2.0 still supports Internet Explorer 9 at the time of this writing).
- A more robust built-in router system
- A complete solution to solving the problem of creating “ambitious web applications”
With the release of Ember 2.0, Ember made some changes to keep up with the components-based future of web development:
- Glimmer, a blazingly fast rendering engine that evolved into a standalone, lightweight UI components library
- “Data down, actions up” (one way data flow by default)
- Standard lifecycle hooks for components
In true Ember fashion, many “2.0” improvements were actually started in earlier versions, like the powerful Glimmer 1 rendering engine which shipped in 1.13.
Many languages and frameworks have CLIs, but few are as robust or central to a technology stack as the Ember CLI. To keep its promise to favor “convention over configuration,” Ember’s command line utility allows you to generate a new app with a few simple commands to instantly get:
- The latest approved file directory structure
- A complete testing framework
- A development server with live preview
- Dependencies managed via Bower and NPM
- Blueprints (both built-in and custom) for creating models, controllers, components and other parts of an application
- Asset management support for things like minification, version control, and combining
- Add-ons that extend the functionality of the Ember CLI (like LESS, Sass, and CoffeeScript).
When best practices are updated, those updates can easily be flowed down to the community at large via the CLI. Better still, Ember has a dedicated team that tries to make updating existing projects as easy as possible, and automates changes through the CLI where possible.
From its inception, Ember differentiated itself from other frameworks by placing routers front and center:
In Ember, the application state is driven directly from the URL, and much of an Ember app’s structure is centered around how you set a URL in response to user interaction.
Ember Templating Engine
Ember uses the popular Handlebars templating library as its templating engine. Handlebars templates are characterized by the use of static HTML with dynamic content via Handlebars expressions invoked with the double curly braces: Handlebar expressions are backed by a “context,” an object that provides the properties used by the expression. In Ember, this “context” is often a component.
Ember provides its own solution for ORM (Object-Relational Mapping) with Ember Data. In most web applications, models (the objects that represent the underlying data that your application presents to the user) are stored in a database on a server. If a user were to access something like their shopping cart, they might expect the items they put in there to remain, even after they’ve closed their browser or logged out of their account. This expectation for models to remain “persistent” is part of model management that is typically addressed on the server-side. What Ember Data does is give you an adaptive data layer that allows you to swap database technologies without having to rewrite anything on the front-end.
Whether you are using JSON APIs over HTTP, streaming content with WebSockets, or using local IndexedDB storage, your API is agnostic to the persistent data storage solution you choose to use, insulating it from most major changes to the back-end. Configuring Ember Data to work with a large variety of back-ends is as simple as picking the right adapter.
Besides adapters, another important part of Ember Data is the use of a store as a “single source of truth,” a key concept that continues to turn up in frameworks that have embraced component-based web development. To avoid the scenario where two or more components make two or more separate requests for the same information, Ember Data provides a single repository of all the models within an application that components and routes can query. The store handles the actual fetching from the server. In the event that two or more components or routes ask for the same model, the store will only retrieve data from the server once, saving bandwidth and avoiding bugs.
There is a bit of a learning curve to using Ember Data, especially if you’re more used to working with AJAX to retrieve raw JSON data from a server. However, it is worth mentioning that managing application state and maintaining your codebase as your app scales is much easier with something like Ember Data working behind the scenes to ensure your models remain persistent and your code is well encapsulated. You don’t have to use Ember Data, but most Ember applications use it as their go-to data persistence library of choice by default when you create a new app with the Ember CLI.
Looking for a browser add-on to help you read, and debug your Ember apps in real-time? Ember.js already has you covered with Ember Inspector, a browser extension that does just that. Ember Inspector allows you to view and edit your Ember Data models, routes, controllers, templates, and components, with live updates in your browser.
Should you use Ember for your project?
Consider using Ember if…
- You prize “convention over configuration” and want a top-tier CLI that lets you easily bootstrap new projects with the latest best practices
- You’re looking for backward compatibility and long-term stability
- You’re looking for a thriving community with thousands of addons (4,000+)
- You’re looking for a framework that does it all (from MVC to components based web development)
- You embrace the componentized future of web development.
This article barely scratched the surface of the Ember ecosystem—from the ability to use server-side rendering with FastBoot, to the new standalone UI component library Glimmer 2, the Ember community is always cooking up new things for the developer community to enjoy.
6 Things to Love About the Ember.js Framework
From a developer’s perspective, here are a few reasons to love the Ember framework.
- “Convention over configuration.” Ember has well-defined best practices for how it is structured. This means developers can focus more on their apps’ functionality and unique features, and less on reinventing the wheel with tedious code. There’s more building, and less blueprinting. Put simply, Ember.js is built for productivity and its conventions are the core of this. It’s designed with developers in mind, with plenty of awesome APIs to help them get apps built—fast.
- Ember templates. Built into that beautiful UI are Ember’s templates, which are written with the Handlebars templating language. Handlebars is named for its use of double curly brackets and it allows developers to use way less code. Templates make a lot of features possible in Ember, like Components, Outlets, and Expressions.Templates are also automatically updated if anything changes to their underlying data. That’s because within Ember’s MVC architecture, its templates are backed by models (the M of MVC, or the data layer), and they support databinding. Updates to the model are immediately reflected in the template, with no extra work.
- EmberAddons.com. This is Ember’s plugin repository, contributed to by the Ember.js developer community. It’s got everything you need. Need an auth module? Just run “$ember install ember-simple-auth” and you’re 90% done. Other plugins in the addons library include tools for JSON APIs, caching, AJAX requests, and autocomplete functionality.
- Ember-CLI. Ember and Ember-CLI are two different things entirely, but neither would be totally whole without the other. Ember-CLI is a command line utility that comes along with the Ember framework’s software stack. For the non-developer, a CLI, or a command line interface, is a simple visual interface that lets humans interact with a computer’s operating system. Ember-CLI is a productivity rocket ship, with support for tools like CoffeeScript, Handlebars, LESS, and Sass. Ember also comes with the option to use other components of its software stack including Ember Data, a data library, and Ember Inspector, a testing extension for debugging apps.
A lot has changed since the early days of the web when a website would make a single request to the server, which would respond with the entire webpage to be displayed. Back then, the client-side of an application was a paper-thin veneer of HTML, query parameters, cookies, and request headers—and servers did all the heavy lifting.
Read on to learn more about these two competing frameworks.
What is AngularJS
Some of the key technical features that differentiate AngularJS from Ember are:
- DOM-based templating with directives
- Dependency injection
- More flexible opinionation
Angular developers must be wary of the number of bound objects within the view in order to avoid bogging down the application’s digest cycle. This isn’t usually an issue for most SPAs, but it is the major reason the newly released Angular 2.0 added server-side rendering and one-way data binding, among other major rewrites.
What is Ember?
- Avoids “dirty checking” by using accessors
- String-based templating system with Handlebars
- High degree of opinionation
- More powerful routing at the expense of added complexity
Ember emphasizes scalability—it’s meant for apps that plan to scale into much bigger projects, and like a concerned parent, it enforces stricter rules on how you write your code to ensure that your application avoids bottlenecks and is primed for growth.
By opting for a string-based templating system like Handlebars, it’s possible to achieve quicker boot times by pre-compiling templates on the server. Server-side rendering also has the SEO (search engine optimization) advantage of natural indexing by Google crawlers—AngularJS by comparison must boot an entire browser environment called PhantomJS, which can really put a drain on resources. The tradeoff? The code is more complex.
Which framework is right for your needs?
Both AngularJS and Ember serve a similar singular purpose—to make the development of dynamic SPAs with engaging UI/UX faster and easier for the developer. That means both offer perks like two-way data binding, DOM manipulation, easy unit testing, modular code, and the benefits of the MVC architecture. Where they differ is in their design philosophies and goals.
Use AngularJS if…
Even if you’re feeling ambitious, it’s worth noting that with the release of Angular 2.0 it’s now possible to take advantage of server-side rendering and avoid the pitfalls of “dirty checking,” provided you’re willing to tackle the learning curve that comes with a major rewrite.
Use Ember if…
You’ve got big plans for your app and want to make sure you build your SPA right from the bottom up. Frameworks exist to help developers work in accordance with best practices and avoid coding themselves into a bottleneck. Ember was designed with the mindset of “standing on the shoulders of giants” and it really shows within the careful (albeit verbose) syntax of this framework.
Other reasons to consider Ember—even if your application is to remain smaller—is that it offers faster boot times and inherent stability. With the recent release of Ember 2.0, the framework has been modified to bring out the best of Glimmer, Ember’s blazingly fast rendering engine.