Tuesday, 4 February 2014

AngularJS vs Ember vs Backbone: Which Javascript Framework to choose for Front-end Web Development?

AngularJS vs Ember vs Backbone: Which Javascript Framework to choose for Front-end Web Development?

I have tried to compare three most widely used Javascript frameworks like AngularJS, Ember and Backbone in terms of their performance, model mutation, template engine, testability, easy to learn and implement etc. Which javascript framework to choose for front-end web development is mainly decided by the nature of your application, what functionalities do you want to achieve in your application and your hold on the Javascript framework. Let's try to understand the difference between the various features of AngularJS, Ember and Backbone.

1. Templates

Backbone: In backbone, you can choose your own template engine, no matter whether it’s String or DOM based. Usually people prefer handlebars.js, a string-based template library.

Ember: It uses built-in string-based templates (mandatory). Arguments in favor of string-based templates include “it’s faster” (debatable) and “theoretically, the server can render them too” (also debatable, as that’s only true if you can actually run all of your model code on the server, and nobody generally does that in practice).

AngularJS: Angular uses built-in DOM-based templates (mandatory). DOM-based templates means doing control flow (each, if, etc.) purely via bindings in your actual markup and not relying on any external library. Argument include “it’s faster” (debatable) and “the code is easier to read and write”

In AngularJS, the DOM structure is created on pageload. Suppose you have multiple templates in your page and you don’t want to show them at a time. In that case also you have to define those at page load lavel, if you use angular, which will unnecessary create few extra DOM elements. But in Ember you can insert dynamic templates as it uses string based templating method. So in this perspective Ember and Backbone’s string-based templating may go handy, but if you talk about data binding, DOM-based templates provides you better performance. According to the Angular developers’ team, in near future DOM-based templating will be natively supported on browsers and when this happens, Angular apps will run way too faster, so we should best prepare ourselves for the future by adopting it now. AngularJS is from Google, so they are already working on this with Chromium and standards bodies.

2. Model Mutation

Backbone & Ember: In model mutation both Backbone and Ember follows almost the same structure and flow. They use getters and setters to get or set a value and this is also an efficient way to learn the model change and accordingly reflect it to view. But while rendering the data elements, ember adds observers to each element. As the observers are heavy, so it makes the rendering process slower.

AngularJS:  Angular doesn’t use the traditional getters and setters like backbone and ember, rather it uses Dirty Checking to learn the model change, which is way too faster (according to the angular team).

AngularJS uses Dirty Checking, which is based on the lexical scoping in js and helps in garbage collection too. Not only that, angular lets all the model mutation to happen first and then inform all the listeners in a consistent state. This helps to prevent wrong data operations.

3. Performance

Performance is something, which you just can’t judge only basing on the pros and cons of the framework. Rather, it completely depends on your needs and the type of app you are developing. The key performance judging factors are given in the examples below.

Eg 1: Suppose, in your app, you are using huge number of data. So if you use ember, you will find the app is taking too much time to get loaded; and that’s because ember adds observers to each element. So this thing makes the rendering very slow in comparison with backbone and angular. But once the app is loaded, and you expecting your view to reflect the model change immediately; well angular will make you sad. Because, as it don’t have an observer attached with each element, so to learn the data change, the angular controller has to traverse the whole data model (dirty checking). But if your app doesn’t depend on fast data binding; rather you want your app to load faster, angular is the best option.

Eg 2: AngularJS is sort of a HTML compiler. It has the power to manipulate the normal behaviour of your HTML. Suppose, you are printing the data of your model one by one using {{#each}} helper in ember (actually in handlebars), or using the ‘For’ loop of backbone. In this case ember will run a loop to print them; and as you know, loops are always heavy and time consuming operations. But in a similar situation, angular’s ‘ng-repeat’ will fetch the data as a whole and will put it directly on your html. This is a much faster process.

Eg 3: Suppose your app is a continious animation based app, where you have to perform some animation to each element in your model (let your model has the instances of few html elements or something similar to that). So here, ember’s observers will be of no use; cause no matter what, you have to change the model and view continuously. So angular’s continuous checking or dirty checking may play a role for you here.

So, this is how, performance is a variable thing, which varies from projects to projects, scenarios to scenarios, environments, dependencies and many more. So only that framework can give you best performance which is the most compatible one to your app.

4. Learning & Development

Backbone: Basic backbone is very easy to learn, but while developing, you will find it was not enough. Because only using backbone you can’t structure your code much. It needs more libraries and templates to make a proper project.

Ember: Ember has more structured documents and it’s also not that tough to learn. Its implementation (with handlebars) is much similar to the other process and object oriented programming.

AngularJS: Angular is a little tricky, because it’s somewhat an extension of HTML. But once you get this html processing, it will become the simplest framework to learn.

AngularJSis comparatively simple to learn, and more simple to develop. A friend of mine made a widget on backbone, which was of more than 3800 lines. It has come down to 725 lines when rewritten in Angular. And the code was more structured and clean. Simplicity is one of the best plus points of Angular.

5. Testability

Testing is possible on all the frameworks, if you learn the right pattern to develop your project. Your modularity and ability of dependency injection are the key parts to have a testable code. And modularity and dependency injection are two of the major features of angular. Angular itself was built keeping the testing facility in mind. So I think, in testability angular is ahead of Backbone and Ember.

6. Projects point of view

While developing, or before starting the development of a project you need to keep in minds many points; and these really plays the role behind the selection of the framework.

There was a time when the codes of backbone seemed to be very clean and structured. But ember and angular showed the codes can be more cleaner and structured. Let’s watch these three frameworks as project developers point of view.

Backbone: Maximum people has worked with backbone; so it’s much easier to found an experienced backbone developer. There are lot of help available there in the net about backbone. It won’t cost you much to train your people. So in this point of view, backbone is good.

Ember: The best thing about ember is, if forces you to follow the ember way; and if you don’t, the app will never run. Though for beginners it will be a headache; but the best thing is; as everyone will follow the same way to develop the app, so it will be well structured and very very easy to maintain in future. Everyone is not a good coder; and humans always like shortcuts. So, if you are developing a huge project with lots of developers, they can’t code any logic wherever they want. They have to strictly follow the MVC structure and ember’s way of coding.

AngularJS: What if you don’t have much time to develop your project? Not much time to learn frameworks? Then you must go with the angular way. Angular also makes the code much more cleaner, structured and maintainable if the developer has knowledge of MVC development. It reduces the lines of codes like anything.


It’s not like a single framework will be always the best one. I’ve also given examples for that in this article. There are lot of factors you need to take care of before selecting the javascript framework for your application. I’m working in a travel service company right now and we selected Ember over Angular for our development, because it was more suitable to our previous architecture and widget based development. Similarly lot other environmental factors will come.

Every framework has its pros and cons. But what we need to consider is, the requirement list of our project and the adaptability of the framework on those requirements. But as an overall view, I’ve found out angular is very easy to learn (even a guy who didn’t work much with MVC and just knows simple HTML and javascript, can learn it very easily); it reduces the number of lines in your code more than backbone and ember; if your data model is not huge, it provides you fast rendering and execution; manipulates the DOM directly; makes your code testable and lot more. That is why I’m considering Angular a better option than Ember and Backbone generally.

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