Angular vs React—which one to choose in 2021


React and Angular are two prominent web development tools, typically called frameworks, for building user interfaces and web applications. There are significant differences between the two: while React and Angular both involve JavaScript, they have quite different features and uses. In this article, I’ll explain each tool and the differences between them.

Two important definitions first:

A JavaScript library is a set of code snippets, arranged according to function, where web developers can find the best snippets they need for the code they are writing.

In a structural framework, much of the code is already assembled in basic form, ready to be extended according to the customer’s needs.


What is React?

React is a JavaScript library that, because of its intended and common use in web development, is often considered a framework. It was developed at Facebook and first used for its News Feed in 2011. The company open-sourced it in 2013. The latest version, React 17.0, was released in October 2020.

React has historically used JavaScript ES6+. It includes the JSX extension so that it’s easier to understand and find errors because the script looks like HTML, but TypeScript can now also be used as well.


What is Angular?

Angular is a structural framework. It was developed by Google, starting with the first release—AngularJS—in 2010. However, that version is deprecated, replaced by a complete rewrite called Angular2 in September 2016. Even though the current version is version 12, the framework is still often called Angular2+ to ensure distinction from the deprecated version.

Angular2+ uses TypeScript, a programming language which is a JavaScript wrapper. TypeScript allows optional static typing and class-based object-oriented programming.


Angular vs React: similarities

JavaScript, originally created by Netscape (whose proprietary browser—Netscape Navigator—was world leading in much of the 90s), is almost as old as the Web itself. Along with HTML and CSS, JavaScript has been an important tool in online architecture. So it’s no surprise that React and Angular are JavaScript-based tools that can be used to solve similar problems.

Is one more popular than the other? This graph from Stack Overflow shows how React has been gaining popularity fairly steadily as a search term on the site, while Angular has rather leveled off.

Being JavaScript-based does, however, pose a possible security issue. Thus, both tools have XSS (cross-site scripting) protection.

If you do more of your own research on web development tools, you might come across a mention of multiple code editors that can be used to write and edit JavaScript. The truth, however, is that none of the web development tools requires one editor or another—even Notepad can be used for writing code. Your development team might simply have a preference.

Once last similarity to mention is that, being open-source, both frameworks have a large online community backing them and creating additional tools and libraries to add. Your developers will not be limited by tech or community support, only by your specifications.


Angular vs React: differences

All of the many differences between React and Angular are due to the fact that one, React, is not a framework: it is a library that some call a framework, one particularly suited for UI development. The other, Angular, is indeed a full-fledged framework.

Being a library means that React has a light structure—that is, there is relatively little code to know and write. It is smaller (6.4 kB for the minimum library), quicker to learn, and quicker to implement the first time. Its small size also means that there are functions you may want that will require additional libraries… and React allows that. These can include React Router, Redux, and Helmet for optimizing state management, routing, and API interactions; other libraries and modules will be needed for UI elements, data binding, form validation, and others.

Angular, on the other hand, was developed to save time, in the sense that much more of the final design options are pre-determined. Indeed, there are UI elements—buttons, layouts, pop-ups, and more—that are provided in the Angular Materials library. This, plus the many other libraries in the framework, does mean that developers need a lot more time at the beginning in order to learn the code and to learn about the available resources.

Of more concern to you, perhaps, is whether more time is necessary for a first-time build. The smaller size of React effectively means that third-party libraries will need to be found, chosen, and implemented. It’s once that first build is complete that you’ll realize the time and cost savings, since all of the necessary components are already in place for later expansion and refinement… assuming the development team remains the same and is not replaced with an entirely new team with different library preferences. The complete Angular framework would win in this case simply due to its limit of baked-in choice.

Another reason React is small is because it doesn’t deal with a document object model (DOM) directly. Instead, it uses virtual DOM. As a result, a small change in one element’s data doesn’t have to be updated throughout the data structure tree in real time. It might look to the user as if the entire page gets rendered again with each change, but the data flows in the background and only subcomponents are rerendered—a much faster process.

Angular, meanwhile, uses real DOM. That is to say, any change made to data is sent everywhere it is needed within the framework, from parent components to children components. Your users, especially those with older computers and slower Internet connections, will notice the slower runtime performance, especially if the data bounces around to some components multiple times (a likelier occurrence in larger apps). There are “state management” libraries to help with this issue, however, and there is a change detection function built in. This is because Angular uses the model-view-controller (MVC) architecture.

Angular vs React: upgrading and testing

There seem to be differences of opinion when it comes to how easy it is to upgrade Angular and React. Both Google and Facebook put effort into updating and improving their respective frameworks, and you’ll need to be certain your site doesn’t get broken in the process. Is Angular easier because it’s a full framework that will all be updated at once? Even if that is the case, Facebook will not risk releasing an unstable version of React, because of the high-profile clients who use it.

You will also come across information about differences when it comes to testing. You might read, for instance, that React developers do their testing with separate tools for components, for the JavaScript code, and for the units. In comparison, Angular is said to lend itself to full testing with just one tool. If you think about it, though, the number of tools used does not translate into any differences in the time required for testing—everything will be tested, by one tool or many, and there are plenty of tools to choose from.


When to use React

So what do the differences mean when it actually comes to making a choice? Below, I’ve listed some helpful use cases for choosing React or choosing Angular.

Let’s start with React:

The app needs to deal with multiple events—things like an animation, a user’s click, a timer reaching zero, and so on. Since React distributes event handling and doesn’t update the real DOM, your app can handle simultaneous events more easily.

You need a personalized app solution. That is, so far as you and your developer are aware, there are no other websites involving the functions your solution will require. Angular provides everything—or nearly everything—to meet the most common needs, while React allows developers to seek just the right additional libraries for your individually tailored solution.

Your solution will involve shareable components. Whether data will be shared just within the app itself, with other apps, or with subcontractors, React plays more nicely than Angular.

Besides Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, of course, some of the big names using React as a solution are Netflix, Dropbox, Airbnb, Khan Academy, and the BBC.


When to use Angular

Angular’s use cases involve the following:

You want ready-to-use solutions. You are probably not a disruptor in your field, so what works for and already serves other businesses well will serve your needs just as well.

You want to reach your business goals as soon as possible. As mentioned above, the UI elements and other components provided by the Angular framework eliminate the time required to find and choose libraries.

Your requirements are for an app that is large in scale and rich in features. Your users will, you hope, spend a long time using your site, moving through a number of different possible activities.

The UI should not be especially complex. Of course, React can do simple UI’s, but Angular will not be your choice if you have lots of elements in the UI of your single-page application.

Just as React is used within Facebook’s ecosystem, so Angular is used for Gmail, Play Store, and so on. Forbes, JetBlue, Deutsche Bank, AutoDesk, and Rockstar Games are just a few of the prominent companies who have Angular running at least part of their sites.


How to choose tech stack for your project

There are also some factors that go into choosing any tech stack, not just Angular vs React. You’ll want to consider the following:

What are the requirements of the project? Be as clear as you can when it comes to business objectives and project goals. Help your developers help you!

What stage is your business at? Start-ups especially should start with an MVP (minimum viable product). This will help clarify your vision, and of course provide you with something to bring to trade fairs and to show potential investors.

Is time-to-market more important than other considerations? A faster development process may mean lower cost outlay before the profits come in, but of course you’ll need to be sure that you’re not trapping your app in the wrong tech stack.

Finally, consider the costs of maintenance and further development. You’ll want to be sure your funding and, hopefully, revenue can cover those costs.


Final thoughts

Hopefully, this post has given you some useful information to help you with your decision and to find a solution that will suit the needs of your particular business. The most appropriate tool and a professional team of developers will significantly improve the chances of success for your project.

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