When the boss says it’s time to pour data into the screens of a bazillion visitors to your website, you have dozens of options for getting up and running fast. In the old days, most work was done on the server, but today much of the heavy lifting has been pushed to the client, making for a zippier, more interactive experience, because the client often has cycles to spare.
There are a number of tools for client-side code that shoulder the job of laying out the data and interacting with the user. Two of the latest leading contenders are Angular and React, a pair of open source projects from Google and Facebook, respectively. Angular and React are great tools for delivering complex, data-driven web apps and websites. But they offer distinct approaches, the kind of differences that generate long philosophical debates between coders.
Is Angular the right choice for your team? Or is React the perfect fit for your next project? Here is a breakdown of where each tool wins to help you decide.
Where Angular wins: Being a full framework
When you launch a project with Angular, much of the CRUD work has already been done for you. Most mechanisms for creating, updating, and deleting data objects are baked in. All you have to do is give the objects and their respective fields proper names, then fiddle with the CSS rules for displaying them. The structure is already in place for creating and manipulating data in these fields. In other words, Angular is a full framework, an empty vessel awaiting your brilliance.
Where React wins: Being “just” a library
Where Angular wins: The structure to customize from the top down
Another way of looking at the difference is to understand that Angular already comes with much of the structure already in place. Your job is to dig down and customize it. Angular programmers start with the big picture and fill in the details. If you want the standard Angular structure, you’re in luck because it’s already been built for you.
Where React wins: The flexibility to build from the bottom up
React programmers often consider themselves as building up using React as their support. This metaphor is a bit strained because there are no ups and downs in code space, but it illustrates how one might consider the differences between Angular and React. React programmers add and add until they’ve completed their app. And if you want something out of the ordinary, with React, you can build it up without bumping into the preconceived structure of a framework like Angular.
Where Angular wins: TypeScript
Where Angular wins: Declarative programming
Some programming language experts like to say that a “declarative” language lets the programmer express what needs to happen and the language does the rest. In the case of HTML, that means the programmer specifies the parts of the document (headlines, lists, paragraphs) using tags (<h1>, <ul>, <p>) and the browser does the work of figuring out how to lay them out, so the information looks good on the screen.
Where React wins: Imperative programming
Where Angular wins: HTML extras
HTML is nice in the way that a factory standard Honda Civic is. But if you want a bit more beyond the stock unit, Angular has you covered, adding enhancements to HTML like a Civic owner might add tanks of nitrous oxide or fatter tires. Angular includes extra attributes for HTML tags that are eventually parsed by Angular to define your app. You don’t really write a loop; you add the
ng-repeat directive to a tag and Angular does the rest. You’re building something new, so why not use a few extras?
Where Angular wins: A new path
Where React wins: Tradition
The big picture: Why not both?
Angular and React are both solid choices—so why bother choosing? Yes, they approach the problem of putting together webpages differently, but they aren’t matter and antimatter. They can co-exist without a world-destroying explosion; ng-React is only one example of how a bit of coding can make it possible to use a React component in Angular. If you follow this path, you can pick and choose the best for each corner of your app.
In the end, many of the distinctions between Angular and React are small. The real challenge is in designing your web app, planning the layouts, and deciding what happens to each click. The hard work is imagining your app and finding a good way to communicate with your user. Both Angular and React do a great job of putting components on the screen, collecting input and sending it back to the server. The real job is up to you.
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