What is React.js?

React.js, more commonly known as React, is a free, open-source JavaScript library. It works best to build user interfaces by combining sections of code (components) into full websites. Originally built by Facebook, Meta and the open-source community now maintain it. One of the good things about React is that you can use it as much or as little as you want! For example, you can build your entire site in React or just use one single React component on one page.

React.js is built using JSX – A combination of JavaScript and XML. Elements are created using JSX, then use JavaScript to render them on your site. While React has a steep learning curve for a junior developer, it’s quickly shaping into one of the most popular and in-demand JavaScript libraries.

React is considered a JavaScript library rather than a framework, whereas the other options we’ll consider today are considered frameworks. It helps to think of a library as a tool that developers could use in any project and a framework as a whole design.

There has been a massive rise in the popularity of React.js, as found in the studies by State Of JS. This is partially due to its flexibility and speed of development but also helped by the fact that it is supported by Meta, making developers and companies feel safe in their decision to use React. Therefore, the demand for React developers is very high. As a result, there is a wide range of jobs for developers who know how to use React.

Vue.js vs React.js

So why would you choose React instead of Vue.js, or vice versa? The big bonus to React is that it’s maintained by Meta – a tech giant. Such strong support from a main player in the tech world provides React the stability and long-term support that most libraries just don’t have. This gives developers the confidence that React won’t be deprecated in the near future, and developments will continue to improve it.

On the other hand, Vue was built by one developer, Evan You. Evan is a former Google employee who also worked on AngularJS. He aimed to combine the best approaches found in Angular, Ember, and React with other features to speed up the process of development. While Vue is considered a truly open-source project, it fully relies on the community, contributors, and crowdfunding to progress, so it lacks React’s stability.

The main differentiator between React and Vue.js is syntax. Vue uses HTML templates, with the option to write in JSX, whereas React solely uses JSX, combining the HTML, CSS, and JavaScript together. Due to this, the separation that Vue provides between HTML, CSS, and JavaScript makes Vue a more beginner-friendly library with an easier learning curve than React. Vue is also incredibly well-documented, making it easy to find answers to questions that a developer might have.

Next.js vs React.js

Let’s have a look at our next JavaScript framework – Next.js. Next is created by Vercel, Google, and Facebook, based on Node.js and Babel. This is a slightly strange one, as many React websites are actually built on a Next base to make the server-side rendering easier, as Next.js has all of the functionality that you need to create a ready-to-go website. The documentation is really well detailed, and it’s definitely on the rise in popularity.

Due to React’s library status, it requires you to create your own workflow. That was the main concept behind Next – a workflow that became a framework because it was so useful. Next is built on top of React, with the aim of making development quicker and easier. This is often the main draw of including Next in a React project – the speed at which you can get a site up and running.

Next.js provides an incredible tool for developers who are just getting started with React. It utilises Create React App, which allows a developer to skip the hassle of setting up and customising their development environment. This avoids having to build the entire thing from scratch, you just need to run one command `npx create-react-app your-app-name`. Create React App only creates the front-end side of your site, so you can then pair it with a server of your choice – the most common choice being Node.js.

Another bonus of using Next is the performance of your site. Sites built using Next are incredibly fast due to automatic server-side rendering. This is where React by itself falls, as it only supports client-side rendering, requiring additional support to improve performance.

No Next without React

Whilst there is less support and fewer tutorials for Next, the project members and community are very active in the open-source world. This activity allows Next to be almost as supported as React is. One important thing to note – just like it isn’t possible to use React without JavaScript, it isn’t possible to use Next without React. So, this section is less of a comparison and more to help you decide if you’d want to add Next to your tech stack for your next project.

Backbone.js vs React.js

Backbone.js is probably the most different of the JavaScript frameworks we’re looking at today because it’s based on the MVC (Model View Controller) architecture. This comes with its own challenges, though. While Backbone is very good at what it does, it’s not enough by itself to build single-page apps. To make the most of Backbone, you need to choose a suitable templating language to partner with it – My favourites are Moustache and Handlebars, although using another JavaScript library like Chaplin is also a good choice when using Backbone.

One big plus to using Backbone is that it’s lightweight. It allows you to choose which library components you want to use instead of cluttering up your repository with unused code. However, Backbone doesn’t provide a set structure for your code. This means that there is more a developer needs to write code than if you were using React. This, unfortunately, makes Backbone.js quite difficult to get going with for a junior developer, as Backbone.js requires plenty of libraries and add-ons to provide even basic functionality.

However, due to the decline in popularity of Backbone, the library is no longer being actively updated. While bugs are still being fixed and documentation still gets updated, Backbone is considered to be a legacy library. So although it is still supported, there are no further updates incoming. This leaves Backbone lacking the stability and support that React provides.

Best React Websites

  • I have to recommend the React.js website. Not only is their documentation fantastic, extensive, and detailed, but they also have a tutorials page. Here you can either learn by doing, or you can follow their step-by-step guide.
  • This YouTube React Crash Course for Beginners 2021 by Maximilian Schwarzmüller with Academind is a very up-to-date look into React. It starts from the very basics and working your way up to have a completed project.
  • BestofReactjs is a really useful site once you’ve got the basics of React down. Because React is open-source, this site lets you search for pre-made components from global developers to use in your projects.
  • brillout on GitHub has compiled a list of some really interesting React components and libraries that aren’t well-known. With it, you can explore the latest and greatest that developers have made with React.

Abigail Harrison, Code Institute Student

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