Angular vs React: Battle for the future of front-end web development?
By Mark Wilcox
Google and Facebook are two of the world’s most powerful companies and each has created a framework for building web apps. Angular and React respectively appear to be in a battle for the future of the web, with the active online debate and adoption for large consumer-facing apps seeming to lean quite strongly in React’s favour at present. Are they collectively taking over the front-end? Is React really leading? Our data from a broad cross-section of nearly 6,000 web developers may surprise you.
Historically jQuery was the first library to get really popular, enabling easier manipulation of the DOM on the client side. It’s still the most popular today, as the primary front-end library for 34% of web developers. However, manually manipulating the DOM turns out to be extremely complex and error-prone when it’s happening extensively, so frameworks that provide a better abstraction are increasingly important. Overall just 12% of web developers don’t use any kind of framework and another 6% have written their own. That leaves 48% of web developers currently using a third-party framework other than jQuery as their primary way of doing front-end web development. Of those, Angular and React account for 30% of all usage, leaving all the others far behind. Indeed front-end web development is such a fragmented space that no other single library or framework accounts for more than 2% of primary usage. So React and Angular certainly lead other frameworks, although only around half of all web developers have fully embraced any single page application framework so far.
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Angular is still king despite the React hype.
AngularJS (Angular 1.x) was the first single page app framework to get the stamp of approval from an internet giant, when Google started to back the open-source side project of one of their employees publicly. Google’s backing gave many large enterprises the confidence to adopt, and with broader adoption came a flourishing ecosystem of components and tools. As this was happening, React was built internally at Facebook and deployed on the Facebook newsfeed in 2011 and then Instagram’s web app in 2012. Yet React wasn’t released as open source until 2013, by which time Angular had an enormous lead in both adoption and ecosystem. Then in late 2014 Google appeared to stumble previewing Angular 2.0, which was going to be incompatible with Angular 1.x and use a new language. Reaction from the developer community was not good. By mid-2015 Google had agreed to work with Microsoft so that TypeScript became the official language for Angular 2.0, while the 1.x series had a promise of continued support, and a migration path between versions was created. This discontinuity for the Angular community seemed like a gift to the already rapidly growing React.
React is favoured by front-end specialists.
Backend web developers prefer Angular on the front-end.
What happens next?
There’s probably some truth in this, but it’s too focused on the front-end developers. Server-side developers who aren’t using Node.js are less likely to find React attractive without a much simpler learning curve for the ecosystem. Then again, the most popular PHP framework is still WordPress, and the company behind WordPress has chosen React as the new front-end framework for WordPress.com — many PHP developers may follow them. Facebook has significant momentum with React, but Angular is likely to remain the most popular for smaller projects and internal apps. What we can predict is that despite the inevitable churn on the front-end, both frameworks have successfully built a critical mass of developers creating valuable ecosystems, and both are set for significant growth in the years ahead. We’d be surprised if the 30% of web developers using either Angular or React didn’t become 40% in the next 2 years.
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