Is React JS Good for the Web … Right Now?

By Joshua Kemmerling

New technologies for web developers are introduced all the time. Especially in the world JavaScript, it seems like there is something new every week, although recently very few things have been as popular as React. For anyone who doesn’t keep up with web technologies, ever since React was publicly released, there has been a large number of plugins, blog posts and other projects created using the framework, such as (or most famously…) example. Plus, at the time of this writing, React has over 21,000 stars and over 2,900 forks on the Github repo. But just because a new technology is popular doesn’t always mean it is the right choice for client projects.

To determine whether React is a good choice for projekt202, I needed a baseline to compare it against. That baseline is AngularJS. AngularJS is one of the most popular JavaScript frameworks out right now and we have grown fond of it here at projekt202 and have leveraged it to successfully deliver numerous projects for our clients. It packs a lot of features into a small space and allows us to make a high performance front-end app without needing to bring in extra files or frameworks.

Before we go too far, I want to point out one thing about React. We usually build front-end apps in following the MVC (Model-View-Controller) pattern. Most people use React as the V of MVC but I feel like it can be used as the VC of MVC. AngularJS is a MV* framework so it has functionality for all parts of a MVC app. React is missing the Model (M) of MVC, though a developer should be able to create their own solution or leverage an existing framework like Cortex to give them the Modeling functionality they need.

Routing – This is the very first thing that jumps out at me when I was looking at how useful React could be. React does not come with supported routing functionality out of the box. AngularJS on the other hand, comes with built-in routing that is supported by the AngularJS team. This isn’t that huge of a problem because a router is something that could be easily created or we could use a pre-created option like Director that already exist and works well.

AJAX – This was the second thing that initially jumped out at me when I started reading articles about React. There is not a built-in AJAX library of any kind. This isn’t totally a deal breaker since most front-end developers are familiar with jQuery , which offers robust AJAX support. But without built-in AJAX functionality, this also leaves the developer to choose how he/she wants to include AJAX features. AngularJS utilizes jQuery Lite so it has AJAX functionality built in requiring no additional effort to get connected to services.

Templating – Templating is a hard thing to compare because most developers have a preference when it comes to HTML templating so I am not going to go too deep into templating in this article. The reason I bring templating up is because AngularJS provides “filters” which extend the functionality of their templating engine to allow the developer to format the value in the template any way they would like. React takes a different approach to templating that is best understood by getting hands on with it. React templating will be a future article.

Size – We look at size all the time in front-end development from a performance standpoint because we don’t want it to take too long for files to load up when it isn’t necessary. AngularJS minified is downloaded at 126 Kb and React minified is downloaded at 121 Kb. Not a huge difference, but with a lack of features in React we tend to lean towards AngularJS as our framework of choice.

That’s it for now. There are some other features that differentiate the 2 frameworks such as two-way binding, localization, and dependency management that allow developers to build powerful, dynamic web apps. But those are topics for the next post about React. In my opinion, React has made some big strides with their approach to front-end development but I don’t think it is fully ready for us to use on client projects as of right now. We need features like routing and AJAX in a small package to be able to build robust applications. And because we hand the code base off to the client, we need well-documented frameworks that have a lot of support from the community. Neither of which we get from React. I do expect it to get better and more useful in the future. To read more about React and to get to know it better, visit their website and follow the React blog.