Should I use Angular or React to build my web or mobile app? It’s a question both novices and veterans alike will eventually have to tackle if they’re to keep up with the ever-evolving world of front-end web development.
In one corner, you have Angular—a comprehensive application design framework and development platform developed and maintained by Google. Gmail, YouTube TV, and Udacity all use Angular in their technology stacks.
In the other corner, you have React—a performant UI (user interface) library developed and maintained by Facebook. Instagram, Facebook, and Netflix are some examples of apps built with React.
While there is indeed some overlap in function, the two technologies are as different as Google and Facebook themselves. Angular is a framework, while React is a library. Angular developers prefer two-way data binding while React developers prefer unidirectional data flow. Read on to explore some of the key differences between the two technologies and determine which one is right for your project.
Angular vs. React: What’s the difference?
Standard features of Angular include:
- Angular CLI
- Dependency injection
- Two-way data binding
- Routing with @angular/router
- Forms with @angular/forms
- XSS protection
- HTML templates
- Component CSS encapsulation
Standard features of React include:
- Virtual DOM (Document Object Model)
- JSX files
- XSS protection
- Functional components
- Basic state management with setState and Context API
Here’s a summary of the main differences between Angular and React:
The main idea behind componentization in web development is to isolate front-end features into encapsulated components that are easier to reuse, test, secure, deploy, and modify without breaking the rest of the app. Not only does componentization help with separation of concerns for splitting projects across multiple developers, it also makes the application easier to scale with changing user demands and markets.
React started the components-based web development revolution in 2013 when it demonstrated you could apply a components-based architecture at scale to websites and mobile apps. Components gave the library a competitive advantage over AngularJS, which was still following the traditional MVC (model, view, controller) approach to web development. The difference between performance was hard to overlook, which prompted Google to perform a complete rework of AngularJS into Angular 2.
Today, both React and Angular are components-based. Logic is encapsulated within UI components for common front-end features such as sign-in forms, text inputs, and buttons. These UI components can be easily repurposed with different data and styles for other pages and apps.
Where they differ is in how they achieve componentization. In the Angular world, components are decorators (@component), functions that allow a service, directive, or filter to be modified prior to usage. They allow us to tell if a class is a module or component and pull the necessary metadata together to determine how a view should be rendered.
Data binding is the mechanism connecting the data model to the view or UI. Much has been written on the debate between the merits of two-way data binding (Angular) and one-way data binding (React).
In reality, you can do both with Angular and React. The key differentiator is that two-way data binding is included within Angular by default, whereas with React it’s about selecting the right state management library.
In one-way data binding, data flows in one direction from the model to the view. The advantage of unidirectional data flow is that it becomes easier to manage state across your application. You know that any changes made by the state in a particular component can only affect the components below it. Siblings and parent components will remain isolated from any changes to the state of that component.
In two-way data binding, data flows in both directions between the model and the view. Any change that updates the view will also update the model and vice versa. The primary advantage to two-way data binding is that the updates are instantaneous and make data management easier for the developer (you know your view and model are in sync). This convenience comes at a performance cost however—the number of watchers and watched elements needed to support two-way data binding will naturally scale as applications grow in complexity and size.
While React was the clear winner over AngularJS, with the release of Angular 2 in 2016, the two front-end technologies have been neck and neck in terms of performance benchmarks. Performance is comparable for most general metrics. Depending on the version or test, sometimes either React or Angular will come out ahead. Angular tends to perform better overall for task-based benchmark tests.
React does seem to show an advantage when you look at overall site load times. This makes sense because React uses a virtual DOM to efficiently load specific parts of a webpage while Angular manipulates the DOM directly (which is resource intensive). This performance edge is most visible when a page has to update many views at once such as image and video galleries found in social media apps like Facebook and Instagram.
Learning curve and development experience
On the other hand, some would argue that the “batteries included” approach of a full framework like Angular, coupled with the excellent Angular CLI, uniform documentation, and less fragmented ecosystem means Angular is easier to learn.
React vs. Angular: Mobile development
Developers looking to build apps for mobile with Angular or React have two options:
- Create a hybrid app via integration with a framework such as Ionic. You create an Angular or React app that’s hosted in a native WebView Component (wrapper).
- Create a compiled app via integration with a framework such as React Native or NativeScript (for Angular). You create an app with UI components that compile code into native device language.
The trade-off between hybrid apps and compiled apps is programmer productivity and performance. The hybrid app is easier to build because you are essentially creating a web app and porting it to mobile.
The compiled app boasts near native performance, but requires you to modify your web app code to fit the compiled app framework. Compiled app frameworks like NativeScript and React Native do provide large libraries of pre-built components you can use to assemble your mobile apps which can streamline this process.
When it comes to performance, both React Native and Angular with NativeScript can achieve 60 fps animation rates on iOS and Android devices. You should pick the mobile development framework that matches your existing workflow.
Recap: Pros and cons of Angular vs. React
Let’s recap the pros and cons of using Angular and React.
Benefits of Angular
- Functionality out of the box: You get all the bells and whistles of a full-fledged MVVM framework including dependency injection, two-way data binding, routing, forms, templating, and security.
- Dependency Injection: DI makes testing individual components in isolation easier. Managing dependencies with DI is much easier and can save you a lot of time when building larger applications. This makes Angular popular for large enterprise apps.
- Consistency: Angular developers like doing things “the Angular way.” The framework is more opinionated than React which means app development approaches are consistent across projects and developers.
- Productivity: Angular gives you everything you need out of the box to build SPAs (single page applications). No need to search for libraries if you just want to hit the ground running.
- Angular-language-service: Adds programming productivity features to your IDE (integrated development environment) including autocompletion, error checking, and AOT diagnostic messages.
- MVVM (Model-View-ViewModel): Angular supports MVVM, which basically allows you to place view logic on the client-side of your application in the ViewModel. This separation of concerns allows easier maintenance in certain scenarios.
Disadvantages of Angular
- Steep learning curve: Not only do you need to learn TypeScript, you must also learn how to build applications the Angular way: using scopes, DI, factories, services, and modules.
- Difficulty scaling: Two-way data binding is nice for small to medium-sized apps, but it starts getting trickier to manage your state as your app scales and unintended side effects start piling up.
- Debugging scopes: Scopes are easy to implement but hard to debug. As your app scales, it gets harder to keep track of all the different scopes throughout your application. This is further complicated by bidirectional data flow.
- Larger file sizes: Being a full front-end framework, it’s worth considering whether those features are necessary and Angular are only adding to the complexity of your app.
- Potential disadvantages with SEO: It’s a popular misconception that Angular is worse for SEO. In reality, it depends less on the framework and more on how you choose to render your website. Server-side rendering solves this problem. Google also recommends dynamic rendering for client-side heavy web apps where search engine crawlers receive their own server-side rendered content when they visit a website.
Benefits of React
- Flexibility: React gives you the view layer and leaves it up to you to decide what router and state management system you want to use.
- Virtual DOM: Make changes to a data representation of the DOM to efficiently change only the parts of the DOM that need to change (instead of updating the entire page).
- Functional components: Isolate state management from the component to create pure functions (often called stateless components).
- Component reuse: React’s mix of class and functional components gives you more flexibility with the degree to which you can reuse components.
- Downward data flow: Simplify state management in applications that require heavy DOM manipulation with one-way data binding.
- Thriving community: Ecstatic community of open-source developers and projects to choose libraries and tools for all your web development or mobile development needs.
- React Developer Tools: A handy Chrome DevTools extension that makes inspecting React component hierarchies of a webpage.
Disadvantages of React
- Fragmented documentation: Because React developers use an ecosystem of libraries rather than a framework, documentation is decentralized and harder to master.
- Rapid development pace: This can be an advantage or disadvantage depending on how you look at it. Because React is modular it’s possible to use multiple versions of React components in the same application. New updates to certain libraries won’t necessarily require updating your whole application which can keep uptime high. On the flip side it’s tempting to accrue technical debt and fall behind in updates leading to bugs down the road.
- Lack of conventions: React isn’t very opinionated and leaves a lot of flexibility to the developer. As a result there are many ways to do the same thing within the React ecosystem depending on which libraries you choose to use. This lack of conventions can be a problem for new developers.
- Potential disadvantages with SEO: As with Angular, React also gets flagged with SEO problems that can be addressed through server-side rendering or dynamic rendering. In truth it’s not about the framework but how you design your website to be indexed by search engine crawlers.
So which is better—Angular or React?
At a surface level, Angular and React are both component based, support both types of data binding and rendering, have similar performance, and their own unique learning curves.
Angular features that require an external library to perform in React
At the same time one can’t deny that the two technologies’ approaches to these features are very different. That’s because the heart of the difference between the Angular and React approaches to application development lies in how they prefer to handle state management.
The real difference between Angular and React is state management philosophy
State is an abstraction referring to the configuration of an app at a given moment. When it comes to front-end development and the design of graphical user interfaces (GUIs), we’re especially concerned with state as it pertains to a user’s inputs and history of inputs.
Angular chooses to manage state through dependency management and variable scope. Mutations are okay, and even encouraged. Angular uses two-way data binding for programmer productivity and relies on TypeScript to keep your code safe. Components may consist of multiple files, but their encapsulation is handled via the @component decorator. Because two-way data binding is available by default, dependency injection is almost a necessity to keep track of all those dependencies.
Keeping philosophical differences in mind:
You should use React if…
Your views are heavy on visuals (DOM manipulation), you prize creativity and flexibility, or you prefer functional programming and unidirectional data flow. Using React with a library like Redux is especially useful for those who want to take advantage of the immutable state of pure functions. Pure functions always return the same output when given the same input. This immutability eliminates side effects by design, which can be a big help when testing or debugging complex DOM trees.
You should use Angular if…
Consistency, reactivity, a stable release cycle, and a uniform way of doing things are top of mind. This is why enterprise app development projects are often based on Angular. Not only does Angular have all the bells and whistles needed to build a full functioning web app, best practices are understood across developers making it easier to onboard new talent or collaborate remotely. Angular’s dependency injection also makes it easier to decouple components for mocking and testing.
At the end of the day, both frameworks are great for building modern mobile and web applications with components-based architectures. Choose the framework that best suits your preferred programming paradigm and project workflow.
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