Front end frameworks for ecommerce in 2021

Have you tried to create a web front end interface using only HTML5, CSS3 and JavaScript? Well, it is not that difficult right now. Some small projects can be easily completed. For large projects such as those typical for ecommerce, you need at least one framework to solve the complexities of user requirements.

Which JavaScript frameworks and libraries are the most promising for 2021? Every developer who reads this article will name at least a few more. However, the article’s volume is finite, and as an author, I can only express my point of view. For my part, I will not mention instruments that are over 15 years old, although some veterans are still in the ranks. And if so, let's go.

Walking along the timeline

Just like CSS, JavaScript has come a long way since there was a browser compatibility issue. Many efforts were required to get JavaScript run correctly in all supported browsers.

One of the very first libraries that made working with JavaScript fun was jQuery. It was released in August 2006 and helped developers write JavaScript code without worrying about browser compatibility. The history of jQuery continues today as the library is still very popular. It contains many useful features to make any website interactive.

While jQuery has been and continues to be a popular JavaScript library for web interfaces, it lacks the means to process data consistently. Several frameworks were created to solve this problem. Backbone and Knockout are some of the earliest JavaScript frameworks that got their share of popularity.

Angular hit the market in October 2010. It quickly became the most popular JavaScript MVC framework. It offers two-way data binding, dependency injection, routing, and more. Angular helped developers solve many of the problems they faced when creating projects. However, as the complexity of the Angular project increased, web developers were no longer charmed with it.

The Angular team decided to redesign the entire framework and named it Angular 2. It just so happened that this new version of Angular 2 was completely incompatible with Angular 1.x. There was no migration path either. Many Angular 1.x developers were frustrated with this approach, forcing them to reject the framework entirely. Angular 1.x is still in use, but can no longer achieve the success it did.

In May 2013, a new JavaScript library called React was presented in the US. It was created by Jordan Walker, a software engineer, working at Facebook. The audience was amazed by the many innovative features such as virtual DOM, one-way data flow and Flux pattern. After the first version of React was announced, this framework began to gain popularity rapidly.

To date, a rich ecosystem of libraries and tools has been built for React.js. Even existing CSS frameworks like Bootstrap have created their version for React. React.js is the contender for the most popular JavaScript technology in 2021. It's hard not to find a library that fits your project's requirements if you are using React.js.

During the decline in popularity of Angular.js, a new framework similar to Angular 2+ and React began to gain ground. Vue.JS, a progressive framework released in February 2014 by a developer named Evan You. Previously, he worked at Google. Unlike React, which is very flexible, or Angular, which is very complex, Vue tries to find a middle ground. Vue.js provides a lightweight framework surrounded by an ecosystem with official support from the Vue team.

This is how the last 10 years of JavaScript framework development look like:

  • 2010 - 2015: JavaScript frameworks appear, i.e. Backbone, Ember, AngularJS, React, Angular, Vue. HTML5 announced.

  • 2016 - 2018: GraphQL appears. Native HTML, CSS and JavaScript are becoming increasingly powerful. New platforms are emerging, built on existing JavaScript frameworks.

  • 2019-2020: Progressive Web Applications (PWA) erases the boundaries between mobile and web applications. You can install PWA on a mobile phone, open the page in offline mode and access Geolocations, Notifications, Camera, etc. services from a web page.

Angular, React and Vue are very popular for creating a single page application in ecommerce. These are applications that only run in the browser and access the server for data. They do not download the page from the server, but only gather some data such as the product’s price.

jQuery.js

Figuratively speaking, is jQuery the Godfather of all modern frameworks. jQuery is a JavaScript library designed to simplify HTML DOM tree traversal and manipulation, as well as event handling, CSS animation, and Ajax.  Being free, this open source software uses the permissive MIT License.

Because of jQuery’s great popularity in the first years after its release, it could be found by about 70% of the 10 million most popular websites in 2020/2021. Web analysis indicates it is the most widely deployed JavaScript library by a large margin, having at least 3 to 4 times more usage than any other JavaScript library.

For ecommerce, JavaScript plugins are frequently developed using jQuery. You often see many of these plugins on the pages of online stores. Examples include a plugin that changes the color of the same product on a page (clothes, shoes, wallpaper, even a car) or a magnifying glass that helps to examine individual parts of a product in more detail.

Timeline: jQuery 1.0 – 2006, 3.5.х – 2020. 

Backbone.js

Backbone.js is a JavaScript framework for building flexible web applications that run in a web browser. It is useful for developing single page web applications, and for keeping various parts of web applications (e.g. multiple clients and the server) synchronized.

In terms of classification, Backbone.js is a tool in the JavaScript MVC Frameworks category of a tech stack, intended for developing web applications with RESTful JSON interface support. A very light library of Backbone.js needs the Underscore.js library to work. Moreover, it is recommended to connect the jQuery library to support the REST API and DOM.

Currently, Backbone.js is declining in popularity, perhaps due to its age and minimalism. The finest hour for Backbone was around 2013, and that is quite a long time ago.

Timeline: Backbone.js 1.0 – 2010, 1.4.х – 2020. 

Knockout.js

Knockout.js is an open source framework that works with the MVVM model. It is developed in pure JavaScript without external dependencies. Knockout is lightweight, easy to use and particularly efficient at data binding. Perfect for creating single page applications (SPA).

Knockout works very well within traditional business scenarios. Forms, data output, tables — if this is precisely what your application does, then it will suit you. Consider cases where you need some kind of interactive user interaction. For example, an admin panel or a simple shopping cart from an online store.

Knockout.js has been forgotten by now because all new projects use "fashionable" frameworks like Vue or React. In 2021, few people will want to work with framework for which there is little low-demand.

Timeline: Knockout.js 1.0 – 2010, 3.5.х – 2020.

Angular / AngularJS / Angular2+

AngularJS is a life-changing product for front end developers. Although it is mostly outdated and developers have moved to the forked version called Angular (X), it remains popular as a skills base. Modern Angular 10+ is an advanced modular front end development framework. To connect Angular to a page, a developer can import the Angular modules he needs into his project.

Angular architecture has been known for its flexibility since the early days. This is why the AngularJS version is still relevant. However, many developers these days use Angular 2+ because of the MVC architecture of the framework, which has changed significantly towards a component-based architecture.

Angular 10+ is a complete JS framework that gives modern web programmers everything they need to be productive. The developer has a wide range of standard tools at his disposal and can minimize the use of third-party libraries.

Timeline: AngularJS 1.0 – 20103, 1.8.x – 2020, Angular 2.0 – 2016,  10.х.x – 2020.

React.Js

Now we move on to the leaders of JavaScript frameworks in terms of popularity. Many developers vote for React, which is not surprising. Those who use React get a combination of important features, including reusable components, application and interface state synchronization, and routing and templating systems. React's ability to create logic in front end projects is powerful, and at the same time, quite easy to use.

A whole ecosystem was developed around the React library, represented by various auxiliary tools and libraries. You can name some of this ecosystem’s components - the React library and React Router itself, the react-DOM package, React tools for the Chrome browser, the JSX markup language for describing HTML elements in JavaScript code, the create-react-app command-line tool. React is rich in various helper libraries, including Redux and Axios.

About React, this library might probably be the best choice when you are planning to create an advanced web project in ecommerce. 

Timeline: React.js 1.0 – 2013, 16.0 – 2020. React 17 release has not been confirmed by the team yet, but it is generally expected by the end of 2020.

Vue.js

The ideas behind Vue have found a lot of inspiration at Angular and React but have been critically rethought. Vue is, in many ways, better than these two front end development tools. The number of downloads has exceeded 50 million and is growing rapidly.

When working with Vue, a component's logic, layout, and styles are stored in a single file. Also, with the exception of styles, project materials are stored in React. Vue, which is similar to Angular, allows you to mix HTML markup and JavaScript code.

Vue is a great framework that surpasses others in terms of usability. This framework is not as complex as React and Angular, but also well suited for developing applications of all sizes. Suffice it to say that Vue is used by Alibaba, one of the global ecommerce leaders. By 2021, building front end in Vue will be by far the mainstream of ecommerce software development. 

Timeline: Vue.js 1.0 – 2014, 2.0 – 2016. The Vue 3 core has officially been released as of 18 September 2020.

Conclusion

In general, it is up to the developers to decide which framework is suitable for solving a specific front end problem in their ecommerce project. In real life, developers usually don't have much time to retrain a very new tool, so they tend to stick to a framework they know better. As a result, they miss out on the potential benefits of new framework technologies. The team leads and CIO’s task is to see the perspective of new tools, because a framework familiar to the team's developers may not be the fastest or most functional compared with something else.

These graphs from npmtrends website show that React is significantly ahead of Angular and Vue. However, the number of current downloads is not yet the ultimate truth about the tool’s prospects and popularity in the future. Visit this page to update the framework's popularity comparison at the time you read this article.

And for junior and middle developers, it is better to actively develop their skills by limiting the options to the top three JavaScript frameworks - Angular, React and Vue. These are front end frameworks and libraries worth paying attention to those who will do web development in ecommerce in 2021.

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About the author of this article

Oleg Zhuk
Technical Product Owner

Oleg is a leading technologist and has grown professionally from being senior C++ and C# developer to solution architect. He joined Virto Commerce as a Solution Architect was promoted to lead Technical Product Owner. Oleg has leadership and communication skills and has had the opportunity to coach solution architects and share best practices of building great architecture. He holds a degree in mathematics from the Emmanuel Kant State University.