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React vs Angular: The Ultimate Side-by-Side Review

Angular and React have plenty in common. However, it is the differences between the two products that define their suitability. In this article, we highlight some of those to help you decide whether to create your next web app with the Angular framework or the React library.

Angular and React have plenty in common. Both are products of web technology giants. Both are immensely popular JavaScript-based tools for web application developers. Each is a mature technology with a wealth of useful features, and has a vast community of advocates.

While these commonalities might make Angular and React prime candidates for your company’s next development project, they don't make the choice any less of a challenging endeavor though.

Indeed, it is the differences between the two products that will likely define their suitability, so in this article, we highlight some of those to help you decide whether to create your next web app with the Angular framework or the React library.

Angular vs React, or Framework vs Library

Speaking of frameworks and libraries, this is the most fundamental difference that a React vs Angular comparison must consider.

To elaborate on the point, Angular, developed by Google, is a front-end development framework written in the TypeScript coding language, and has all the key features and components you need for web application development. React, on the other hand, is a product from the Facebook stable, is used extensively for Facebook projects, and is a library rather than a framework. To build an app using React, you will need to integrate a range of supporting tools such as containers, routers, code bundlers, transcompilers, state-management software, and app-testing utilities.

Tradeoffs: Completeness vs Flexibility

Angular and React are so different that you will need to accept some tradeoffs resulting from the choice you make. For example, Angular will give you the ability to start developing an app in its out-of-the-box state, but your project team will have to work within the constraints imposed by the tool.

With React, you enjoy a way more flexibility but have to also contend with the workload of choosing and integrating supporting tools and libraries.

For a single app development project, this may not present much of an issue. Yet if you are choosing a tool for multiple projects, keep in mind that you might use different libraries for each and therefore need to manage an array of resources, along with the associated migrations and updates.

What’s In the Box?

Given that the ReactJS vs. Angular decision must consider the differing nature of the two products, it might be helpful to know what you do get straight out-of-the-box with each of them.

Angular comes complete with the following tools and components:

  • A form builder (@angular/forms)
  • Unit testing utilities
  • Component CSS encapsulation
  • Routing library (@angular/router)
  • Ajax requests (@angular/HTTP)
  • Dependency injection
  • XSS protection
  • Templates

Meanwhile, with React you get a more basic package of standard features. This includes XSS protection, Ajax requests, and some unit testing utilities, but excludes templates (although as a substitute for handlebars or EJS, React has a built-in language called JSX) and dependency injection.

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Maturity and Adoption Level

Another point to consider when you weigh up the merits of Angular and React is the maturity of each technology. In general, it’s fair to say that the more mature a development tool is, the fewer bugs and issues you are likely to experience both with the solution itself and with the apps you build. Newer technologies tend to be replete with more risk, so unless the culture in your enterprise is risk-tolerant, you might favor the more mature option.

To some extent, the same can be said for adoption levels. While we don't recommend that you choose a web application development tool purely for its popularity, there are typically good reasons why the developer community leans toward one product over another.  

React: A Narrow Lead in Maturity and Download Activity

In the case of Angular vs React, the latter is the more mature platform, but not by much. Facebook launched React as an open-source product in 2013, after successfully using it for powerful internal applications like Instagram, WhatsApp, and Facebook Newsfeed. The fact that the social media superpower uses React internally should inspire confidence in any enterprise or organization considering its deployment.

However, if that's not persuasive enough, you can always consult data relating to popular opinion. That’s an area in which React excels, as revealed by the annual StackOverflow Developer Survey of 2018. In the survey, React is ranked as the third most popular development technology—with around 28% of professional developers naming it as their preferred tool.

To further illustrate the popularity of Facebook’s homegrown development tool, the result in the chart below tells its own story, with React boasting a vastly greater number of developer downloads than Angular.

React vs Angular downloads

Angular: The Professional Developer’s Choice?

React might boast more downloads than Angular, but Google’s offering is apparently more popular with professional developers, coming in second in the StackOverflow poll. As already mentioned, it is not far behind its Facebook competitor in the maturity stakes either.

Widely used for Google’s homegrown projects, Angular is the basis for such universally renowned applications as AdWords, Google Analytics, and Google Cloud Platform, as well as apps from other notable entities like Forbes, HBO, and Sony.

To sum up, there is not too much to choose between React and Angular when it comes to maturity and popularity, so unless the library vs full framework decision overrides all other factors in your evaluation, you’ll need to consider some further criteria before deciding which tool to deploy. In short, the discussion needs to become a little more technical.

React vs Angular: The Technical Comparison

In deciding on a technical basis whether to use React or Angular for your web app development project, consultation with your developers will be essential. If you haven’t yet put a team together, you perhaps have more freedom to choose the tool and build the development team accordingly.

Incidentally, this approach will not introduce much of a variation in labor costs, as according to career website ZipRecruiter, salaries for React and Angular developers are almost the same, standing at around $105,000 to $110,000 per year.

In any case, it will be a good idea to investigate the human resources at your disposal and try to determine which of the two development tools will support the most harmonious blend of technology and expertise.

Of course, before you can do that, you need to have some idea of how the two products compare from a functional perspective. The following sections should help you understand the technical differences that matter most.

The Coding Differences

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, Angular and React are both based on the JavaScript coding language. Yet this is a very general statement, belying the significant differences in the coding approach required for each platform. For instance, in Angular the use of JavaScript is an option but your team is more likely to work with TypeScript, an improved version of JavaScript suited to enterprise projects.

One key advantage of TypeScript is the possibility to detect errors during the coding process, and in the 2018 State of JavaScript Survey of more than 20,000 developers, some 7,000 said this was the primary factor driving their choice to work with it. Other TypeScript benefits include a cleaner, more compact structure than JavaScript and fast code refactoring.

React also has enhanced JavaScript coding capabilities in the form of JSX, a JavaScript extension that simplifies UI programming. While JSX performs a similar function to TypeScript, keep in mind that it is not as well-known among developers and can be a little awkward to work with for the uninitiated.

React and Angular Document Object Models

A document object model (DOM) determines the way an app performs data updates. React and Angular have different types of DOM which, under cursory observation, might seem to suggest a distinction between how the two tools perform.

DOM Angular

Angular uses a real DOM, which updates an entire data tree every time a single element changes. React uses a virtual DOM, which enables elements to be updated without affecting the whole tree. In effect, the virtual DOM should ensure that React is a much faster tool than Angular.

Virtual DOM React

In practice though, the reality does not conform to those expectations. That’s because Angular uses a solution called change detection, which essentially allows a real DOM to work in the same way as its virtual counterpart. Consequently, data-update performance is of a similar standard in both development tools.

State Management

State, if you're not familiar with this term in app development, is data that can change. Keeping an app updated requires the UI of a component to be re-rendered whenever data changes. However, there are numerous ways to approach front-end state management, and for any app development team choosing the most appropriate method can be challenging.

With Angular being a complete framework, it is possible to execute state management without any external tools, but in reality many developers will use a library such as Redux. If you choose to work with React, you will have no choice but to integrate Redux or another state management tool.

If your planned web app is going to be a single page, Angular with its built-in state management might be your best option. For more complex apps though, it becomes harder to separate React and Angular when it comes to state management performance.

Data-Binding Differences

Data binding is another capability that React and Angular approach in different ways. Again, if you are not a developer, data binding might mean little to you but it will mean a lot to your development team. It is the process used to synchronize an app's core logic with the user interface.

Data binding

Angular employs two-way data binding, which is the conventional approach and for many developers is considered more manageable than React's one-way process. However, one-way data binding offers the advantages of improved code stability and ease of debugging.

ReactJS vs Angular: The App Development Process

Let’s step back a little from the technical exploration and focus on how differences in the two development tools might affect your project. If you have the luxury of choosing between React and Angular and then hiring developers that specialize in your tool of choice, this section of our article might not apply.

However, it’s as likely that you already have a development team in place, and will need to choose the tool most appropriate for the existing skill and experience mix. If that is the case, you might be interested to know what challenges and advantages your team could encounter on a project with each of these two development solutions.

Getting Up to Speed

To draw a fair comparison in considering React vs Angular, let’s assume that your project team comprises a mix of different skill sets, including at least one developer familiar with either (or both) of the two solutions, and the rest not greatly experienced with either.

A team of this makeup would highlight the difference in the learning curve between Angular and React. For example, if you have plenty of JavaScript developers on the project, they will not have too much trouble getting up to speed with React. That’s because it’s an easy tool to use for JavaScript coding, and resources for React newbies are plentiful.

On the other hand, Angular might prove more challenging to developers who aren’t used to it. The solution’s component management system is complicated, and the framework presents multiple paths to solve a given problem. That means developers require a detailed understanding of the platform to select appropriate courses of action, especially during app performance optimization and deployment.

React vs angular learning curve

Development Efficiency and Speed

If an array of choices can present a challenge for developers new to Angular, the same issue presents itself—but differently—when trying to get into a productive stride with React. As shallow as the learning curve may be, productivity depends on more than the tool itself.

Your React project team will need to design the right architectural combination and be familiar with all the tools and libraries that will form the integrated solution. Besides, as mentioned earlier in this article, requirements for the technology stack may need to be reconsidered for each project—an issue that could hamper efficiency and speed in the early project stages. Naturally, that is part of the price for a flexible solution.

Because Angular is a full development framework, it should facilitate a faster, smoother start to your projects—assuming your team includes engineers familiar with its use. This is because there are few, if any, integrations to implement.

App Testing with Angular and React

As we’ve said many times in our articles, nothing is more important than thorough testing before unleashing a new app on the user community. That’s why it’s worth mentioning how React and Angular fare when it comes to supporting app tests in the development cycle.

The difference between the two products is in the amount of technological resource you will need for app testing. If you use Angular, you will be able to conduct end-to-end testing and debugging of your app with a single tool, such as Protractor, Karma, or Jasmine.

The same is not true of React, which demands the use of multiple testing utilities. To be specific, you will need discrete solutions for all of the following test scenarios:

  • Component testing: suggested tools are Enzyme and Unexpected-react
  • JavaScript code testing: you could use Jest for this
  • DOM testing: try react-testing-library
  • Unit testing: React-unit might be the obvious choice for this task
  • Render testing: Skin-deep is a good render-testing utility

Naturally, with more utilities to contend with, testing in React can be a more involved process than with Angular, somewhat offsetting the benefits of React’s simplicity.

Match Your Choice to Your Needs

When all the factors, from software maturity and popularity through technological elements and practicalities of working with Angular or React are considered, our verdict is that there is no clear victor.

Each of the two solutions has qualities lending it to specific project needs and environments. So rather than taking a position on the best choice in every case, it’s probably more realistic to outline the circumstances in which each one might be most appropriate, given its merits.

Angular: For a Fast Start and High Productivity

As Angular is a full framework solution, it will be a great choice if you need to hit the ground running with your project. Angular has the capabilities required for medium-complexity projects and the development of feature-rich web applications. As a ready-to-use development tool, Angular will facilitate high productivity and short time-to-market for your app, but your project will fare best if the team includes experienced Angular developers.

React: For High Customization and Complexity

React requires much integration with other utilities but offers a ton of flexibility, making it a valuable tool for building high-complexity apps. Your project budget will need to allow for plenty of pre-development, as your team needs to design and build a technology stack with React as the centerpiece.

React will be an excellent choice if your project team includes plenty of JavaScript and HTML expertise, and if speed-to-market is a lower priority than a highly polished app that offers a top-class user experience.

Let Objectivity (and This Comparison) Be Your Guide

Of course, there are no hard and fast rules in web application development, and your evaluation of React vs Angular might not coincide with the views expressed in this article.

The important thing is to be objective in choosing a development tool, and therefore to take this overview merely as guidance for your considerations, not as an influencing factor in the outcome.

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