Bootstrap 3: The Leading Responsive, Mobile-First Framework

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HAT IS Mobile-friendly, responsive websites are no longer good-to-haves—they’re must-haves. With more people than ever before opening email, browsing the web, and shopping on their mobile devices, it’s imperative to have a mobile-first mindset. If your site isn’t responsive and optimized for mobile browsing, your bounce rates will rise and your site ranking will drop. Case in point: Google’s recent algorithmic shift to favor mobile-friendly sites.

The most popular way to build responsive sites right now is with the Bootstrap framework. It’s lightweight, fast, and easy to use, but beyond that—what is Bootstrap, and why should you choose it as your front-end framework? In this article, we’ll look at responsive design and some of Bootstrap’s key features.


Responsive design creates websites that automatically adjust to look good and function well on any size screen. From navigation and the way content is organized, to buttons and image scalability, responsive sites are not only designed to optimize the way people see a site, but also to prioritize what information mobile users are there to get. For example, for a large retailer, prioritizing information about finding nearby stores makes sense for mobile users vs. desktop users. Learn more in our article What Is Responsive Design & Why Do You Need It?


So, you know you need a responsive mobile site. If your site wasn’t designed to be responsive, you’ll need to redesign or retrofit it. But if you’re planning to build a responsive mobile website or application from scratch, the Bootstrap framework is an excellent choice for a few reasons.

  • Just enough customization. Not all Bootstrap sites look like Bootstrap sites—meaning, how customized your site gets is up to you. On the spectrum of front-end design, with completely coded-from-scratch sites on one end and CMS-powered sites with dropped-in templates on the other end, Bootstrap falls right in the middle. It’s the best of both worlds: A lot of the work is already done in advance, with the grid system and lots of helpful components. And with JavaScript effects and customizable Bootstrap CSS, it’s as unique as you want it to be.
  • A mobile-first, ground-up grid approach. Bootstrap gets designers to start small. If a site looks good on a small screen, it’s easy to scale it up from there, without things getting cluttered. A top-down approach in mobile design is counterintuitive; Bootstrap reinforces that, so sites stay clean and logical on the smallest screens. Bootstrap forces designers to build sites with small screens in mind, then go from there. Bootstrap’s grid-based layout approach is the key: you can use up to 12 columns in a layout, combining them for wider columns, which are organized in layout classes—extra small, small, medium, and large for phone, tablet, and desktop-sized screens.
  • It’s fast and easy to use. Bootstrap lets developers (even back-end developers) build front ends without a ton of HTML or CSS knowledge. Whether you’re applying Bootstrap to a static HTML site, a custom PHP-coded site, or a content management system (CMS), it’s flexible. Plus, it’s downloadable right from GitHub and lets developers get a lot of work done quickly.

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Bootstrap is a front-end framework that builds responsive, mobile-first websites. With a mobile-first approach at its core, its grid system forces designers to create sites for small screens, then scale designs up from there.

It uses a mix of HTML5 markup, compiled and minified CSS styling, fonts, and JavaScript. Bootstrap CSS is customizable, and even supports Less and Sass pre-compiled CSS, in addition to plain CSS files. Other highlights:

  • What you can do with Bootstrap: create transition effects, image galleries, image carousels, alert messages, tooltips, dashboards, sticky footers, buttons, progress bars, popovers, pagination, drop-down menus, cover pages, and the ScrollSpy plug-in, which automatically updates a nav bar for the user, depending on where they are on the page.
  • A variety of templates: Bootstrap design templates include features like typography, forms, buttons, tables, different navigation styles, modals, and more.
  • Convenient layout classes: These consist of Large (desktops), Medium (smaller desktops or laptops), Small (tablets), and Extra Small (mobile phones), which include containers, rows, and up to 12 columns that can be combined to make larger columns. Bootstrap lets you start out with stacked layouts (for mobile devices) that migrate to horizontal, for desktop versions.
  • The convenience of Grunt: Grunt is a JavaScript task runner that’s all about automation. It handles repetitive tasks like compiling, “magnification,” and unit testing, so your team doesn’t have to.
  • Browser compatibility: It’s compatible with Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer 8 and up, Safari, and Opera. Note: Bootstrap will degrade some of its features by default to work on older browsers.
  • The Bootstrap Markup API: Bootstrap’s all-around best API that lets you use every JavaScript plugin without writing a single line of JS code.
  • Open source: Download Bootstrap from GitHub and link it right into a site’s HTML file.
  • CSS pre-processors: Bootstrap lets you use both the Sass and Less CSS pre-compilers.
  • Easy JavaScript extensions: JavaScript plugins can be downloaded in just one file. To use Bootstrap with JavaScript add-ons, just reference the jQuery library in the HTML. It’s also got custom jQuery plugins that can be used individually, or compiled and minified.
  • Compatible with Bower: Bootstrap can be installed with Bower, a powerful package manager that helps you manage all the parts of your website like libraries, frameworks, utilities, and more.
  • Have a WordPress site? You can download BoostrapWP, a version of the framework just for WordPress sites.
  • It’s the default framework for the Joomla3 CMS.

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Carey Wodehouse

by - Freelance Content Marketer and Writer

Carey Wodehouse is a freelance content marketer and writer based in Richmond, VA who’s worked for clients ranging from online retailers and global market research… more