In this article, we delve into the intricacies of Angular, cover its main benefits and drawbacks, and list the most common use cases for which Angular is a good fit.
Angular doesn’t quite have a clear definition. Documentation sometimes refers to Angular as a front-end framework, and at other times even as a full-stack platform. And though it’s often mentioned alongside frameworks like React or Vue.js, Angular's native capabilities exceed those of its peers.
Its rich functionality includes a large set of UI component libraries, a dedicated command line, and a wide variety of app execution environments. In fact, as well as web apps, you can also use Angular to develop native mobile and desktop apps. Its comprehensive feature set means it's more akin to a development platform than to a framework.
The name “Angular” is attributed to Miško Hevery, one of the framework’s creators. Hevery chose this name due to the angles in the <> characters in HTML.
An Angular application consists of components, which are independently functioning UI elements. Each component contains data and logic written in TypeScript, and links to a corresponding template in HTML. Together, they define how that particular UI element should look and behave. Here are some Material Design examples of Angular components. The component architecture is an efficient way to create a reactive and multi-layered user interface. So it comes as no surprise that Angular, React, and Vue.js all structure their projects using components.
Complimenting this is Angular's use of two-way data binding. In effect, a change in component state (data) automatically changes its template (how it's rendered) and vice versa. Angular achieves this through directives that link component state data to their templates.
React and Vue.js have popularized the ‘virtual DOM’ to great effect. This approach sidesteps the ballooning resource cost of querying and modifying the real DOM that many websites previously faced, by instead operating on an in-memory copy of the DOM. While using the virtual DOM is more efficient than using the live DOM, it's extremely memory-intensive as you’re creating an entire copy of the DOM in memory. Minuscule component state changes require re-rendering an entire virtual DOM tree along with any child components that may or may not have changed.
In contrast, Angular’s change detection occurs earlier and doesn't consume as much memory as React’s JSX-style render function. When building templates in Angular, the compiler generates a new function to handle updating the DOM and data-binding. This function stores DOM node references and their values so that Angular never actually has to read them from the DOM itself.
Additionally, the direct DOM rendering approach can have two threads of execution: the main browser thread and the background web worker thread. The web worker thread is available to take any processor-intensive task from the main thread. The main thread can thus focus on rendering component state changes to the DOM, once the background thread processes the changes. Multi-threading in this fashion offers a significant speed improvement over a virtual DOM approach.
Angular’s component-based philosophy doesn’t fit neatly into the typical MVC design pattern. It’s much more at home with an MVVM (Model-View-ViewModel) architecture, due to MVVM’s support for two-way data binding between the View and the ViewModel. Instead of a Controller, a ViewModel is an abstraction of the View, and represents the current state of the data in the Model.
Having explored Angular’s philosophy and how it works, let’s go over the advantages of adopting Angular as a framework for your project.
In comparison to React and Vue.js’ minimalism, Angular provides an impressive set of out-of-the-box features. It’s able to not only control the UI, but also validate user input forms, manage routing, transform your app into a progressive web app, build your application, and send Ajax requests, among having many other features.
React and other lightweight frameworks need developers to install functionality as needed. On the other hand, Angular comes with high-level APIs built in that abstract low-level functionality, making it highly suitable for large and complex projects. Acclimating to Angular’s complete development environment means your skillset can expand smoothly in line with the scope and complexity of your websites.
Angular’s use of the direct DOM is memory-efficient compared to virtual DOM frameworks. Interactions with the DOM are slow and costly; so in Angular, when data changes, it’s only the relevant components that update and render to the DOM. In contrast, rendering a React component involves re-rendering all its sub-components by default. With Angular, there is none of the cost of re-rendering a virtual DOM since the change detection system only runs when a component’s state changes.
In applications with large numbers of nested components, Angular’s approach is superior. A single component changing need not result in its child elements needing to change and re-render.
Further, the concept of separating views from their behavior ensures a scalable design. Decoupling templates from logic facilitates scalability in the long run, as opposed to packing everything into a single JSX file. While other frameworks allow for this option, Angular forces you to do it from the outset.
Angular is notably popular among enterprise customers. Apart from all of Google’s large applications, Angular is the go-to for high-traffic sites such as GitHub, Delta Airlines, Deutsche Bank, Adobe, and Forbes, among many others. Angular hasn’t got React’s runaway popularity, but is under active development and receives major updates about every six months.
While it packs a lot of benefits, Angular’s approach is not without drawback. Next, we explore the costs of using Angular, which are inseparable from its benefits.
Angular’s larger feature set also comes with a steeper learning curve, as compared to Vue.js or React. Building projects with Angular requires advanced developer tooling, although it comes with ways to expedite that process (like Angular’s CLI).
Angular’s enterprise-scale design lends itself to premature scaling, as it includes features before they’re necessarily required. Inevitably, this leads to excessively large package sizes. Though it’s expected in projects of significant size and complexity, a heavy Angular package may weigh you down for smaller scopes.
As a result, the performance gap between Angular and more minimal frameworks widens with increases in application size and complexity. And while using TypeScript ensures maintainable code, its heaviness hampers productivity and discourages developers with less processing power and memory.
Whereas alternatives like Vue.js offer no concrete guidelines on usage, Angular has clearly-defined default procedures on the best uses of all its tools. Generally, workarounds or alternatives to the default do not work as cleanly as with Angular.
More specifically, Angular has a set group of design patterns, and it expects you to use them at all times. While this satisfies separation of concerns, and facilitates an understanding of the design choices of other Angular developers, it also leaves the onus on the Angular Team to test and develop best practices.
There’s no home-brewing your own solutions or creating your own personalized toolset: it’s the Angular way or otherwise a lot of experimentation and potentially reduced functionality.
Angular is best suited to creating web applications, particularly single-page and progressive web apps. You can also tool Angular to make desktop applications using Electron, a Github-developed software framework for making desktop apps with web technology. Angular’s forte lies in its scalability: any Angular project scales extremely well for larger projects and teams.
Additionally, making JAMstack (i.e., statically generated) websites is possible with Angular using Scully. Static websites pre-render the webpages served to users and remove the need for a web server entirely, making them satisfyingly fast and cost-effective.
React is a much smaller package overall seeing as it’s a view library, whereas Angular serves as both a framework and an entire platform. However, the two have approach-based differences that can make their relative difficulty depend on your development background and skills. Some developers favor a highly structured approach, and are willing to wade through the large number of new concepts Angular asks you to learn. Conversely, React encourages you to experiment and find solutions by yourself or through its community.
Syntax and workflow also play a major role in learning difficulty. Both React and Angular differ from traditional web development in that they use JSX and TypeScript syntax for the majority of their workflow. Both may be considered difficult, yet using TypeScript combined with HTML templates in Angular may be an easier migration from a traditional web development background.
In some key areas like memory allocation and DOM manipulation, Angular is decidedly faster than both React and Vue.js, owing to its direct DOM rendering. However, its heavier structure does make it slower on startup.
Angular (initially named AngularJS) was created by engineers Miško Hevery and Adam Abrons. The framework (or platform) sought to facilitate the building of enterprise applications. Angular is now maintained by a dedicated team at Google.
Yet Angular’s scope does not hinder its evolution. It’s backed by Google and supported by a very active community, and when it comes to robustness and scalability, the sky’s the limit. Its design choices are consistent and become increasingly rewarding the more complex you go. And if you are looking to build a project of any size with as much help as you can get, Angular will happily assist.