Angular vs. React: Choosing the Right Framework

The tech industry is all about buzzwords, two of which are AngularJS and ReactJS. But do you really know what these buzzwords mean? This article will dispel the confusion and explain when and why you should use them.

Angular and React are both tools for building mobile or web applications that can make your launch feel like a fresh Lamborghini taking to the road for the first time. Digital is in a constant state of evolution and its tools are no different. Angular and React — today’s cutting edge digital tools — were both launched to enhance the performance and simplicity of building modern web applications.

The first thing that we need to acknowledge about these two tools is that they are not a fair comparison. Putting them head to head is like comparing a brand new car (Angular) to a brand new engine (React). The car comes with an engine, wheels, a body and everything else you need to begin driving. The engine is a brand new top of the line V8 turbo ready to be installed. So, while our digital “car,” Angular, already has its own engine, it can be swapped out with React’s state of the art engine. In this example the engine represents the management of user interface (UI) components or, more accurately, the DOM. While Angular is very good at managing and updating the DOM — i.e., updating large tables or social media feeds — Angular can get sluggish, like a four-cylinder SUV driving up the mountain. When Angular starts to slow, React can save the day and put a V8 turbo behind the car to get it up the hill. React specializes in extremely fast and frequent updates to elements that are often times very data heavy.

History

Angular is an open-source JavaScript web application framework built and maintained by Google. Since Angular’s release in 2009, it has become widely adopted and supported. Angular has over 40,000 stars on its Github page and over 100,000 questions on StackOverflow, a leading question and answer forum. Angular started as the software behind an online JSON storage service used to reduce costs for applications that are charged for each megabyte downloaded from a server. It reduced download sizes by only updating content that needed updating instead of requesting an entire page’s worth of data. Competitors to Angular include Backbone, Ember, Knockout and countless others. All of them have their own specialties but achieve very similar goals.

React, an open-source JavaScript Library released in 2013, is maintained by Facebook, Instagram and the open source community. Built as a component for Facebook to quickly update dynamic content, React has around 25,000 stars on its Github page and also has a version specifically for iOS development called React Native.

Strengths / Weaknesses

Angular’s primary goal is to address the many challenges of creating single-page applications (SPA’s) or applications that are able to load new content without leaving the page. This is most commonly recognized in social media sites like Facebook or Instagram where your feed updates as you scroll down or as new content comes in. Angular aids in the development of these SPA’s by providing a client side framework in a model-view-controller (MVC) architecture. This helps with creating high quality brand experiences within an app that features dynamic content.

Angular’s most notable feature is how it creates two-way data binding. Two-way data binding refers to event listeners attaching to data changes in an application; whether it is by the user or by the database, Angular knows to update all relational content. Two-way data binding also reduces the amount of code needed to develop sleek interaction and content transitions.

Angular, being a larger framework, offers a lot of functionality out of the box that aids in development speed. Due to Angular’s recent surge in popularity, there is a growing Angular community that has helped decrease the costs of building SPA’s and ramp-up time of training new developers.

A common downfall among front-end frameworks, including Angular, is their performance when rendering, updating and manipulating large blocks of content. Imagine your email was built using Angular. If you were to run a few common interactions on your inbox such as quickly toggling through pages, deleting unread emails or filtering by a keyword lookup, there would be a delay. The delay might be a matter of seconds or milliseconds. But in a world where performance is a feature and user drop off decreases ROI, that small delay matters. This fraction of a second is Angular’s weakest point.

Luckily there is a solution to Angular’s minor latencies when handling large chunks of data in the DOM and updating user-facing content. Angular is composed of an MVC framework. The “M,” or Model, handles the data of an application, and the “C,” or Controller, acts as a traffic controller telling your application where to send data. Your “V,” or View, manages your templates or content changing on the screen; it is also where rendering of content in the template occurs. Luckily Angular is modular enough where we can easily swap out the View or the “V” of the MVC framework. Enter React, a faster way to render content directly to the screen to increase performance.

ReactJS is the most performant way to manage your DOM, specifically when using large sets of data. React implements one-way reactive data flow which reduces boilerplate and is easier to reason about than traditional data binding. Further, it makes no assumptions as to which framework the application leverages for the Model and Controller. React works by creating a virtual DOM in pure JavaScript that acts as an intermediate representation of the DOM. This way, React is able to create a diff of your active DOM and your virtual DOM to decide which elements to change.

ReactJS and AngularJS are in no way competitors but instead can be leveraged together. If we go back to our car example, we can add a souped-up high performance engine which eats up long stretches of road — like cookie monster devours cookies — to our already fast Lamborghini.

Which to Use

Now that we know that Angular and React are not equal comparisons, we can look into why you would choose one or both. Both can be complementary to each other. If you are choosing to build a web application, it is important that you leverage new tooling, which can increase the quality of your brand interactions and decrease development time by leveraging existing libraries or frameworks. Angular is a great option for quickly improving your app’s quality, an activity that EffectiveUI specializes in. If your application has a lot of large data operations and dynamic content, React is an excellent addition to the stack. The downside to using both of these is that it can increase complexity within the application, so it is important to have proficient developers handling its development.

About EffectiveUI

This article first appeared on the EffectiveUI blog.

EffectiveUI is the go-to UX partner for high-technology companies, including industry leaders within aerospace and aviation, biotech and healthcare, consumer and industrial electronics, defense, energy, financial services, software and telecom. In making technology more useful, useable and desirable, we help our clients reinvent significant aspects of their business — from the experience they provide to customers, to the tools used to streamline operations, to the products brought to market. We work collaboratively with clients to solve complex business problems and drive transformation through four tightly integrated areas of expertise: user research and insight, digital strategy, UX design and UI development and integration. Learn more at effectiveui.com.