“Angular or React?” has been one of the most important questions in software development for the last decade. As a developer who had worked in full-stack fashion for a long time myself, my story of frontend started with Angular but had slightly moved towards React. Since I have actively participated projects in both, I wanted to write a comprehensive comparison between these two. Let’s explore the key aspects of each framework to help you make a decision, if you need to.
Developed and maintained by Facebook, React is a component-based library that deals mainly with the view layer of an application. React’s core principle is the creation of reusable, as independend as possible UI components. These components manage their own state and compose together to constitute a more complex user interface. React introduced the concept of the virtual DOM. It is simply in-memory representation of the actual DOM elements. It optimizes rendering and causes measurable improvements in the application performance. The simplicity of React makes it a go-to choice for developers looking to build interactive web applications.
Angular, has first been launched in 2010 open-source web application framework led by Google and it had a big breakthrough with Angular 2 which released in 2016. Angular 2+ is a TypeScript based framework. Because TypeScript is backed by Microsoft, we can consider it being backed by two tech giants at the same time, which is a very rare occasion. Unlike React, Angular is a full framework and has a complete solution for building web applications. It provides a standard structure for developers to solve their problems in a certain pattern. Angular also has a powerful feature set including two-way binding, dependency injection, templates, animations, and end-to-end tooling, which make it a comprehensive solution for complex enterprise-level applications.
Architecture and Design Principles:
Angular’s architecture is based on a strict and a well-defined structure as mentioned above. It follows the Model-View-Controller (MVC) pattern which allows a clear separation of concerns in web development. This structure helps in organizing code more efficiently, especially for large-scale applications. Angular’s design also emphasizes the use of TypeScript. It brings object-oriented programming features to frontend development, which is a quite-new idea. It improves the overall development experience and code maintainability.
React, in contrast, uses a more flexible approach. It primarily focuses on the View element of MVC and leaves the Model and Controller aspects to be handled by other libraries or the developers’ own solutions. This flexibility allows React to be more adaptable and integrates easily with various architectures, but it also means that developers have more decisions to make regarding the overall structure of their applications. However with the recent improvements in NextJS shows React’s intention to grow towards the backend which is a rare occasion happens in the software industry.
Community and Ecosystem:
React has maintained a popularity over the years. Thanks to its simple learning curve and versatility, many startups and large-scale enterprises have been using it. The vast number of resources, tutorials, and plugins make React one of the most preferred frameworks in the developer community.
Although the initial versions of Angular faced criticism for their complexity, Angular has significant changes. With the backing of Google and a large community, Angular boasts extensive documentation and a wealth of resources.
Angular’s steep learning curve is often pointed out, especially for beginners. The integration of TypeScript and the comprehensive nature of the framework can be overwhelming for newcomers. However, once mastered, it provides a robust toolset.
Angular, on the other hand, was built with TypeScript since version 2. TypeScript is a “first-class citizen” in the Angular ecosystem and it provides developers strong typing and object-oriented programming features out of the box. This integration offers a more structured development process, which can be a significant advantage for projects requiring strict type-checking and complex architectures.
Flexibility and Structure:
React, developed by Facebook, is not a full framework but a library focused on building user interfaces. Its component-based architecture and the use of the virtual DOM made it a powerful tool for creating dynamic and responsive UIs. React’s library-based approach grants developers the freedom to choose the additional libraries they need, such as for state management or routing. This flexibility allows for a more customized development environment but can sometimes lead to inconsistencies in larger applications.
In contrast, Angular, developed by Google, is a fully feature framework known for its two-way data binding, dependency injection, and TypeScript integration. As a complete framework, it offers a more structured and opinionated development approach. Angular provides developers with a cohesive set of tools and practices, ensuring consistency throughout the application development process. However, this can sometimes limit flexibility compared to React’s more open ecosystem.
When it comes to state management, Angular adopts a unique approach. By integrating services and RxJS, it offers developers a robust system for managing application states. This setup is particularly beneficial in complex, large-scale applications where consistent state management practices are immportant. However, this approach can be overwhelming for beginners, mainly due to Angular’s steep learning curve and the complexity of RxJS.
React, on the other hand, provides a more flexible approach to state management. Developers have the freedom to choose from popular state management libraries like Context API, Redux, or MobX. This flexibility allows for tailoring the state management system to fit the specific needs of the application. However, this can lead to problems due to inconsistency in larger applications like different parts of the app use different methods for managing state.
Angular has a unique and a strong solution called two-way data binding (see my blog post about this topic specifically here). The model state automatically reflects in the view and vice-versa. This feature can be extremely useful for certain types of applications, but it also requires careful management to avoid performance bottlenecks.
React, by default, uses one-way data binding, where the UI is updated based on the model state. This approach aligns with React’s philosophy of having more predictable and easier-to-debug code. For situations where two-way data binding is necessary, React requires additional coding or the use of state management libraries.
Updates and Upgrades:
Angular follows a regular schedule for updates, ensuring the framework stays modern and secure. However, these updates sometimes include major changes that can require significant effort from developers to refactor existing code. This regular change can be a challenge for maintaining large-scale Angular applications, but it also means the framework is consistently improving and evolving.
React, while also regularly updated, typically features fewer breaking changes. This approach makes upgrading React applications a smoother process, reducing the amount of refactoring required when a new version is released. The slower evolution of React ensures that it remains up-to-date with the latest web development trends without causing major disruptions to existing projects. However, still upgrades between major versions can easily turn into a nightmare due to components supporting different versions of React.
Angular uses a template syntax that extends HTML with Angular-specific elements and attributes. This approach is powerful, allowing for various dynamic functionalities to be embedded directly within the HTML. However, this can lead to a steeper learning curve for developers who are new to Angular since they need to familiarize themselves with Angular’s specific template syntax on top of HTML.
Angular has a built-in dependency injection (DI) system which is ready to use our of the box. You simply pass as a parameter to the constructor and keep using it.
React does not have a built-in dependency injection system like Angular. Instead, dependencies in React are typically managed through component props or state management libraries. This approach aligns with React’s very basic design philosophy of keeping the core library focused and being minimalistic. However it still requires developers to handle dependencies more manually or adopt additional libraries.
Directives and Components:
Angular’s use of directives provide a way to attach behaviour to elements in the DOM. These directives can be used to manipulate DOM elements and attributes in sophisticated ways, adding to the framework’s versatility. Angular also has a strong component model, which is used for building reusable UI elements.
React’s primary building block is components. It does not have a concept of directives like Angular. Instead, all UI and behaviour are encapsulated within components. React’s component model is highly intuitive and promotes the development of reusable, composable UI elements.
Testing and Debugging:
Angular comes with a comprehensive box of testing tools and is designed to be testable. It has tools like Jasmine for unit testing and Protractor for end-to-end testing.
React does not having a default or an integrated testing facility, but it is compatible with a variety of testing tools. Libraries like Jest for unit testing and Enzyme for component testing are commonly used in React applications. React’s component-based architecture also makes it relatively straightforward to test individual components.
Official and Unofficial Component Bases:
Another important aspect to consider when comparing React and Angular is the ecosystem of components available, both official and unofficial, including popular UI libraries like Material Design.
Angular has a strong advantage in this area due to its close integration with Material Design, an official component library developed by Google. Angular Material provides a set of reusable UI components following Material Design guidelines, which ensures consistency and high-quality UI components out of the box. This close integration simplifies the development process, as developers can easily implement and customize these components to fit the needs of their application. Angular Material is not only well-documented but also maintained by Google, ensuring stability and regular updates in line with Angular’s core updates.
React interestingly doesn’t have an official component library like Angular Material. However, the React ecosystem is rich with third-party UI libraries and component kits. The most famous of them is known as Material-UI or MUI. It is an independent project that provides React components for faster and easier web development using Material Design. Although it’s not officially part of the React library, we can call it as the unofficial React Material-UI since it is widely used within the React community.
This difference highlights a key distinction between the two ecosystems. Angular offers a more unified and consistent experience with official support for a comprehensive UI toolkit, which can be especially beneficial for enterprise-level applications. React, with its vast ecosystem, offers greater diversity and choice in terms of UI components, catering to a wide range of design needs and preferences. This flexibility allows developers to choose the most suitable UI toolkit for their project but also requires them to ensure compatibility and support on their own.
First thing first, there is no winner or loser. Choosing between React and Angular in 2024 still largely depends on project requirements and team preferences. It depends on what does your people know, what are their skills. Remember, both React and Angular have their advantages and disadvantages and have powered some of the most dynamic and popular web applications. Whichever you choose, staying updated with the latest trends and best practices is key to maximizing the potential of your chosen framework.
Suleyman Cabir Ataman, PhD