With the alpha release of Bootstrap 4 upon us, I got to thinking about Bootstrap as a tool and why I use it and recommend others to do so too. If you’re reading this post, you probably know what Bootstrap is, but if you don’t, it’s simply one of the most powerful tools in a web designer/developers back pocket. In its own words, Bootstrap is a “front-end framework for faster and easier web development”. This enables basic templates for things an average user would take for granted, like grid systems, button styles, forms and text rendering to name but a few and, lest I forget, completely responsive mobile-first design as well. This empowers the designer or, more commonly, the developer to spend their time on the trickier problems and hurdles each project faces.
However, there’s quite a lot of bad press about front-end frameworks for some reason. A lot of that, I think, stems from either the platform being used inappropriately or attitudes by larger agencies to “have their own framework”. Both of those seem crazy to me! Frameworks exist for two reasons; to specify a code-of-practice and to ease workflow.
I’ve been lucky enough to attend a few conferences over the years and remember a fantastic talk by Vitaly Friedman, co-founder or Smashing Magazine, at the Turing technology festival, but I had to disagree with him when he was asked about front-end frameworks, where he urged us all to not be restricted and create our own framework. You could create your own, but in my opinion, it would be wasting time and effort. The notion of everything looking too alike is narrow-sighted, and Bootstrap’s own Expo highlights some of the awesome work that can be achieved when you use the framework correctly.
However, I didn’t want to write this article about Bootstrap, nor try to convince you to use front-end frameworks; I want to tell you why I’m so impressed with Bootstrap. This comes more from its concept and creators, than from the final product. @mdo and @fat, a designer and developer respectively, (at the time working at Twitter) created the then-called ‘Twitter Blueprint’ out of internal requirements, to build a set of standards for web design. Quite simply, they wanted a code-of-practice to follow when creating their own products and web apps, utilising the most up-to-date techniques and setting a general standard of user interface / experience. These were just two guys that got together after a day at work and wanted to make something over some beer and pizza. According to @fat, he just wants to “write code with your homies”.
Bootstrap is (and has always been) maintained by two nerds who like to write code together. Just two nerds.
Since the success of Bootstrap after it was released as open source, the two have moved on to bigger better things (@mdo now designer at GitHub and @fat now at Obvious and making more tools than anyone under the sun — most notably Bower) and expanded their not-so-little Bootstrap side-project with the help of some, now familiar, dev faces.
To put Bootstraps popularity it into context, GitHub is one of the most widely used version control (and source code management) systems in the world, and Bootstrap is the most-starred project on it, with over 85,000 stars and more than 34,000 forks.
And what’s great about Bootstrap for me is the standards that it’s set in place, making the web just a little bit nicer. I remember the days in the not-to-distant past, where you either had to start from scratch and encounter the same problems time and time again (like PNG transparency fixes for IE6), or reuse projects, where you’d inevitable end up leaving in old code from a different client. Front-end frameworks allow you to start from scratch and still hit the ground running, creating front-end dev in a few hours rather than a few weeks.
Inspiration can be a tricky thing, you can end up motivated to start a new project for a few hours, but after a few days, you’re out of petrol. Guys like @mdo and @fat inspire someone like me, because they’re not in it for the money, they just want to make cool stuff that benefit the open source community. They could have gotten away with having a premium Bootstrap that’s subscription based — but not only have they kept the product completely open, they continually strive to make it better with every version.