React vs Angular: How to Choose the Right Frontend Framework

React vs angular

The React vs Angular question is one that we get asked frequently.

It’s also one that’s relatively difficult to answer. Both are popular, powerful frontend tools that can save valuable development time and get you to market significantly quicker than coding from scratch.

Our team are huge fans of both React and Angular. We’ve used both to create attractive and highly usable frontends for a range of clients – we don’t have skin in the game either way, so we’re in a great position to weigh up the pros and cons.

As with many discussions comparing development options, it’s not so much a case of asking “Is React better than Angular?” outright. Instead, it’s much more useful to frame the discussion around what works best for your project – do you place more value on some advantages over others, for example? Would a fully-featured framework be more useful to your project than a flexible JavaScript library?

Below, we’ve provided a head to head comparison of Angular and React to help you identify which your project needs more. We’ll cover:

  • What React and Angular are
  • Development time
  • Performance
  • Popularity

Back to Basics: What Are React and Angular?

React and Angular are both open source frontend development tools based around JavaScript – or in Angular’s case, TypeScript, a JavaScript superset that adds optional static typing to the language.

Angular is a frontend development framework based on JavaScript. Think of it as a “scaffold for building your frontend” as Stack Overflow so neatly put it. It helps you structure your files, reduce coding via reusable components and associate data with DOM elements.

React is commonly included as a ‘framework’, but if we’re being pedantic it’s actually a JavaScript library for building user interfaces. This means that you use it to build your views, whilst being given free reign over the rest of your frontend architecture.

That said, there’s a strong ecosystem of libraries around it, which you can use to build a complete, React-based framework if needed. We’ll refer to React as a ‘framework’ throughout, based on the assumption that this is how you’ll want to use it.

This throws up the first consideration for the React vs Angular debate: do you need a framework that’s ready to go instantly, or do you have the time for customization? There will be other factors besides that influence your decision, but this is a good place to start considering the differences in each.

React vs Angular: Development Time

Following on from the above – it’s quicker to get up and running with Angular as a fully-featured framework – it’s important to understand what other factors speed up or slow down development time when using different tools.

A good place to start is the learning curve. If you’re a first-timer to either Angular or React, you’ll need time to adjust to how each of them works and how they assist the development process. This will be an initial slowdown, but will save you time in the long run versus coding from scratch.

Assuming you’re familiar with basic coding concepts and can write in JavaScript already (if you can’t, it’s very much ‘do not pass go’ at this point), both frameworks are 100% achievable with a moderate learning curve.

Angular offers more functionality outright than React and requires TypeScript, which you may not be familiar with. On the other hand, TypeScript’s static typing options will make Java and C# users feel right at home, so it all depends on the skills your team currently has.

If you want to use React, you’ll need to be familiar with JSX, and may need to teach yourself about any other third-party libraries you use alongside it. This may add more time to the learning curve when compared to Angular, depending on your current familiarity.

Beyond the Learning Curve

Say you’re already familiar with Angular and React – what then? Which of these front end frameworks will help you complete your project quicker?

This is where Angular edges forward, in our opinion. Having everything ready to go from the offset really streamlines the experience for developers, and its use of two-way binding will make some coding much easier for developers .

React by no means offers a slow development speed. Equally, you may need a different set of third-party libraries for different projects, or need to expand the number of libraries used for later updates. This means that building a React framework that works for current needs is a constant process – and combined with one-way binding this does slow things down comparatively.

On the other hand, React’s one-way binding makes debugging easier – so you may save some maintenance time in the long term if you opt for React.

React vs Angular: Performance

App or site performance is an area where there is one clear winner. Overall, React offers better performance. This means your project will be able to support more users concurrently, and update more regularly without slowdowns.

Why? To answer the question, we have to get technical and delve into the DOMs (Document Object Models) of each framework.

Think of a DOM as like an API for HTML and XML documents – essential for frontend development. It defines both the logical structure of documents and how those documents are accessed and manipulated.

Angular uses a real DOM, which refreshes everything behind the framework every time there is a change. This slows things down considerably, and becomes unworkable for apps or websites that need to refresh regularly (think social media sites with news feeds, for example).

On the other hand, React uses a virtual DOM, which tracks changes more specifically and only updates the elements affected by those changes. The result is that your app or product can update itself quicker, which is why you’ll find React powering the frontend of many content-heavy social media sites – in fact, React was originally created by Facebook as a way to display their news feed better!

There’s also the simple fact that React is a smaller, more lightweight library to run than Angular’s fully featured framework. Angular’s library is very large, which slows down performance significantly when compared to React.

React vs Angular: Popularity

It’s not a case of simply following the latest trends – it’s a case of knowing there will be developers that can work with either React or Angular and sufficient support to resolve any problems.

The good news is that both React and Angular are very popular frontend development tools. Whilst hiring developers of any sort is competitive right now due to demand, you won’t need to find anyone super niche, which will help your project along nicely.

If we’re looking at React vs Angular adoption specifically, React looks slightly more popular at the moment. According to Stack Overflow’s 2021 developer survey, React is the most commonly used framework or library with Angular as the fourth, with React picking up more users than Angular since 2018.

React vs Angular: Updates

You won’t struggle with either Angular or React when it comes to ease and frequency of updates.

Angular releases updates more regularly, with updates every six months, with an easy update process and bundled offerings for ease of installation. React doesn’t ‘update’ in the same way because it’s not technically a framework, but it’s very easy to move React-based scripts to newer APIs – and their major releases do pack a punch in terms of upgrades, fixes and new features.

React vs Angular: Mobile

If you want to move away from web development entirely and focus exclusively on mobile development, both React and Angular offer options to do so.

Angular can be combined with NativeScript to create native iOS and Android apps – though if you want to create two versions of the app from one singular codebase, you’ll need to incorporate the Ionic framework too.

React allows you to build native-performing iOS and Android apps from a singular codebase via React Native – React’s mobile development framework. Performance-wise, you’ll always sacrifice a little by going hybrid, but React Native gets you as close as possible to a native looking/feeling app without having to code twice.

This is because React Native uses native controllers to wrap code rather than other engines – one of the main reasons why it’s the most popular mobile development framework around today. Generally, React Native creates apps that feel more authentically ‘native’ than Ionic, which is worth bearing in mind in such a competitive digital environment.

React vs Angular: The Conclusion

This article is all about finding the right framework for your project. So, to summarize a few key points:

  • Both React and Angular are popular frameworks widely used by developers. Neither risk becoming niche or outdated any time soon.
  • Both are established frameworks with large developer communities, which help significantly with documentation, troubleshooting and defining best practice.
  • Assuming you or your developer knows Angular already, you’ll likely get to market quicker than using React because Angular is a fully featured framework.
  • React offers significant performance advantages over Angular due to its virtual DOM and lightweight library.

All in all, Angular might get you where you need to be slightly quicker, if your project can handle a corresponding drop in performance. Angular’s structure also makes it ideal for developing large-scale, stable apps with multiple features – so long as those features don’t require any particularly heavy processes or frequent updates.

On the other hand, React offers a nimble and dynamic way of creating content-heavy apps that update frequently – there’s a reason it’s a staple in so many social media giants’ stacks. When combined with React Native, it offers a second-to-none hybrid mobile development tool ideal for cross-platform apps. You might have to spend longer customizing it with third-party libraries, but if you need the space to play around that might not necessarily be a downside.

Whilst We’re on the Topic…

At Tivix, we’re both Angular and React enthusiasts, and believe that both can be super effective options for building the frontend of your product. We should know – we’ve been around for over 10 years and have been using these technologies from the very start.

If you have further questions about either Angular or React – or want to take that next step and start exploring development options – we’d love to hear from you.

To talk all things tech, simply get in touch here for a no-pressure conversation.