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  AngularJS vs. Backbone.js: Comparing Two JavaScript Frameworks

If you’ve been paying attention to the world of front-end web development over the last few years, you’ll have undoubtedly noticed the rise in popularity of JavaScript frameworks. They greatly streamline the building of dynamic and responsive web apps by providing well-defined programming architectures, libraries, and features that make life easier for the programmer.
Two of the more popular frameworks are AngularJS and Backbone.js. Both are open-source, place an emphasis on simplified code, and are made for building dynamic single-page web applications. Read on to explore some of the key differences between the two frameworks and learn which framework might be better suited for your next web project.

What is AngularJS?

AngularJS is a powerful, standalone framework designed to support the development of data intensive web applications with an emphasis on modular code and test-driven development. Backed by Google, AngularJS has quickly become the gold standard of modern JavaScript frameworks. Some of the key technical features that make AngularJS stand out among the rest are:

  • The ability to extend the functionality of HTML attributes with Directives
  • Dependency injection
  • Two-way data binding
  • The ability to manipulate data directly within the template using expressions
  • On-board form validation

AngularJS forms the “A” in the MEAN stack (MongoDB, ExpressJS, AngularJS, and Node.js)—a powerful all-inclusive suite of technologies that allows a development team to build everything from the front-end to the back-end of a website entirely in JavaScript. It also integrates well with a Ruby on Rails back end, due to their similar test-driven design methodologies.

What is Backbone.js?

Backbone.js is a lightweight, JavaScript framework created by Jeremy Ashkenas in 2010. It ships with only one dependency—Underscore.js, which provides the basic templates that Backbone.js builds off of. Backbone.js is more of a compact MVC JavaScript library than a full fledged framework as it exists primarily as a set of tools that provide the bare bones of a structure—leaving it up to the developer to flesh out the rest of the application. The six components of Backbone.js are as follows:

  • Model: Used to store data
  • View: Presents data within the Model
  • Collections: Group Models together like a JavaScript array
  • Events: Bind events like user clicks or mouse-overs to the code
  • Routers: Set up the navigational structure of an application
  • Sync: Governs communication between Backbone.js and the back-end of the application

Backbone.js is extremely lightweight, and its small memory footprint makes it great for developing fast, high-performance single page web applications. While it lacks more advanced features like two-way data binding, it is often used as a basis to build up other frameworks and add-ons like Backbone UI, Marionette, or Thorax.

Which Framework Is Right for My Needs?

In one corner, we have the all-inclusive front-end development framework AngularJS. It ships with useful features like two-way data binding and dependency injection that make test-driven development of complex, dynamic single page web applications a snap. In the other corner, we have the minimalist Backbone.js—what it lacks in advanced features it makes up for in speed and simple code. Which you use really depends on the developers on your project and the unique demands of your application.
Here are some general guidelines to help you choose.

Use AngularJS if…

You plan on performing a lot of unit tests during development, you want a comprehensive client-side solution of your application, or you want to take advantage of one of the many features we listed earlier that make AngularJS a leader in front-end web development. AngularJS provides prescribed solutions to many of the tasks involved with setting up the front-end of a website. However, there are some cases where you can have too much of a good thing. For example, two-way data binding is an often touted advantage of using AngularJS, but because it is implemented through the digest cycle, adding too much complexity to certain functions and expressions can lead to degradation’s in performance in high-traffic applications.

Use Backbone.js if…

Your single page application is simple (requires few dependencies), your back-end does most of the heavy lifting, and/or you require speed above all else. Since Backbone.js takes up significantly less space than AngularJS, it tends to scale better in terms of performance. There is one major caveat to this however, and that’s when the application also scales in complexity. Backbone.js has no built-in support for data bindings, and must rely on add-ons like Backbone. StickIt to relieve the burden of model-view synchronization. The more complex your app becomes, the more third-party plugins and custom coded script will need to be created to make the app work. That said, in the hands of the right developer, Backbone.js can offer greater flexibility in terms of which features you actually want incorporated within your app.

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