For web developers who want to program more efficiently in JavaScript, the choice of front-end technologies to learn often comes down to Angular vs. React. These in-demand tools — Angular, a TypeScript framework which is a superset of JavaScript and React.js, a JavaScript library — can help developers and technology teams take their projects and apps to the next level. Development is made faster, code is written cleaner, and user experience is more intuitive with Angular and React in a software programmer’s toolkit. 

In Stack Overflow’s 2020 Developer Survey, React.js and Angular were named the second and third most used web frameworks, respectively. Though both tools can be helpful for web development, which should you prioritize for your next application? This article outlines the key strengths and weaknesses of Angular and React and how to know which option is best for your project and team needs.

What is React?

Maintained by Facebook, React.js (which we’ll call React in the rest of the article) is an open-source JavaScript library for developing desktop, web, and mobile app user interfaces. Unlike most websites, those built with React don’t have server-side rendering, they are rendered in the browser. This means users don’t have to wait for a server response to render a new page. It’s a much faster experience, which is especially important for mobile applications. 

React’s tool library allows developers to build components that are dropped onto a webpage. These components, which are like custom HTML elements, are what the users see on the site. Components can be reused across apps and are much easier to update than searching through lines of code. Companies that use React include Facebook (and Instagram), Uber, and Netflix, among others. 

What is Angular?

Angular is an all-in-one open-source JavaScript framework maintained by Google, to build highly reactive single-page applications. Like React, an Angular-based website will see all site changes made in the browser. Rather than communicating with a server to load data, a browser-side experience allows the page to render quickly with a more mobile-like experience. Angular, which recently saw the release of its newest version of Angular 9, is built on TypeScript, a superset of JavaScript.

Because React is a JavaScript library as opposed to the full JavaScript framework of Angular, many developers will add more libraries when using React to give it the functionality of a complete framework. Companies that use Angular include Nike, HBO, and Google, among others.  

Now, let’s get into more comparisons of React vs. Angular to build a greater understanding of which is the best choice for your next project. 

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Learning curve

React is considered fairly simple for proficient JavaScript developers to learn since it is a library. However, that can also be a challenge for using React. Teams will likely need to use additional libraries to address certain needs of the project they’re building. Knowing which library to use requires some research into the React ecosystem. Additionally, React uses JSX, a hybrid of HTML and JavaScript code, which requires some ramp-up time, but not enough to make React a challenging tool for building dynamic web pages. 

As Angular and React instructor Maximilian Schwarzmüller notes, Angular has a steep learning curve, especially in comparison to React. Angular uses TypeScript, a subset of JavaScript, which looks very different from the JavaScript syntax many developers are accustomed to. Another reason Angular can be challenging is that it’s a full framework, unlike the library that is React. While the framework takes more time to learn, developers and teams that choose Angular are rewarded with many powerful, built-in features to help build web applications.

Virtual DOM vs. real DOM

The Document Object Model (DOM) is a type of API that acts as a web browser’s programming interface. Web pages are documents and the DOM represents these documents as nodes and objects so that programming languages can connect to and modify these pages. 

React uses a virtual DOM while Angular uses a real DOM. Why does that matter? The actual DOM is very slow and made even slower when re-rendering a page. The React team implemented a virtual DOM by rewriting the DOM in JavaScript. This virtual DOM re-renders only parts of an application that have been changed by a user’s actions. A full reload of the page is not required with the virtual DOM, making performance much faster.

Testing

Whichever framework your team uses, testing the code is imperative before deploying any program or application. Full testing in an Angular app is made simple with a single tool — either Protractor, Jasmine, or Karma. Testing in React, though, requires multiple tools for different types of testing — Enzyme might be used for component testing while a tool like Jest is used for code testing.

Performance

Most important for the future users of your application is the performance of the page itself. Load time and runtime impact how long customers will happily interact with your web page. 

While Angular is typically a fast framework, its bundle size, meaning the code generated and uploaded for deployment, tends to be large. With Angular now using the Ivy compiler, bundle size is shrinking. It’s also built with enough optimizations that users likely won’t encounter major performance issues on a larger Angular website. React tends to shine on smaller-sized apps as it’s built to prioritize certain page tasks over others so that it feels faster to the end-user. 

Ask any software developer whether you should opt for Angular or React and you’ll likely get a different response from each. Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to web frameworks and libraries, or how they’ll best benefit your project or company needs. Before opting for one tool over the other, begin experimenting with each by exploring Angular and React courses.

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