To say that Bootstrap is the market leader in CSS frameworks would be selling it short. The most conservative estimates put Bootstrap at a whopping 52% market share. And why wouldn’t that be the case? It’s a solid open-source framework that can turn any project into a professional-looking product in a matter of minutes.
Having said that, Bootstrap is far from perfect and, in many cases, its drawbacks can outweigh the gains of implementing it in your projects.
For one, Bootstrap is highly opinionated. In other words, it has one way of doing things and the more you move away from it, the more you have to tinker and bend it to your needs.
That might be acceptable for smaller projects, where a couple of hours of tinkering should suffice, but for big scale projects that might mean spending days on end customizing the look of the project.
So, if all frameworks are opinionated, why not just build the frontend from the ground up? Well, pretty much for the same reason: time. Frontend and backend frameworks are huge timesavers and can save you a few headaches, especially if you are running against a deadline.
That’s not all – most frameworks have years of development behind them, so they tend to be less prone to bugs and security liabilities than proprietary solutions.
The Case for Frameworks but Against Bootstrap
So, if Bootstrap is such a loved framework, and the results are nothing short of stunning, why not stick with it then? Well, this is one of those cases where popularity is detrimental to the framework.
There are simply too many web pages and apps that share the Bootstrap flavor – over 18% of the top million websites if BuiltWith is to be believed. In a saturated market that strives for the user’s attention, if you want your webpage to leave a long-lasting impression, you can’t have it looking like every other website in existence.
The extra work we have to put into Bootstrap to make it look like something unique is time better spent in other areas of your development process, so much so that in some cases it might be preferable to just use Sass and compile your CSS.
Another point is that Bootstrap can get verbose to the point where it can lead to a lot of unneeded HTML output. Unless you know the framework inside out, finding the right option to adjust can be an exercise in frustration.
Fortunately, the market is huge and there are dozens of alternatives out there waiting to be discovered and to help your projects stand out in today’s market.
Let’s start with the obvious alternative: Foundation. Their tagline is “A Framework for any device, medium, and accessibility” and, boy, do they deliver. Just like Bootstrap, Foundation has every perk expected from an advanced framework.
It’s robust, complex, and it powers some of the most prominent websites, including Adobe, Amazon, and eBay. It has all the necessary components for web applications like a responsive grid, buttons, basic typography, and many other UI elements.
In many ways, Skeleton is the polar opposite of Bootstrap, and that’s a good thing. Lightweight, simple, minimalistic are the perfect adjectives to describe it. If you want a framework that can do anything, then you will be better served looking elsewhere, but if you want something to power a small-scale project, then this is the one for you.
Skeleton is simple and right to the point, but if you are willing to put in the extra work, you can scale up the framework and customize it to your project’s requirements.
One of Skeleton’s biggest assets is “The Grid”, a 12-column fluid grid, which consists of rows and columns similar to other CSS frameworks, but with the plus that it’s extremely simple to customize.
No front-end list would be complete without mentioning Materialize, a responsive front-end framework based on Material Design.
Material Design is a visual and styling language created by Google, expanding on the technology implemented in Google Now. The company presents it as a new language that merges principles of good design with technical and scientific innovations.
If you are in for a challenge, Mueller might be the framework for you. Mueller is a modular grid system for responsive/adaptive and non–responsive layouts based on Compass. The authors tell you outright that this is a framework that doesn’t work right out of the box, and that you should learn Sass before trying out Mueller.
So, what do you get in exchange?, for the extra effort, Mueller offers a new way to work with CSS, instead of using presentational classes in your HTML, you can create and add templates instead.
Last but not least there’s Cardinal. This alternative presents itself as a “mobile-first” CSS framework built with performance and scalability in mind, and that’s what lies at its core.
Instead of focusing on aesthetics and utilities that bog down frontend development, Cardinal aims for speed and customization. The authors want this framework to be the one-stop solution for front-end developers so that they can prototype, build, and scale web pages without having to rely on different tools.
To put it in their own words, more powerful and robust tools like Bootstrap are UI toolkits, not frameworks, as they do almost all of the heavy-lifting leaving very little room for a developer to inject their creativity into the project.
Cardinal aims to be what a toolkit should be: something that you can use as a foundation to speed up the process without sacrificing flexibility.
There Is an Ocean of Choices Out There
Bootstrap is still growing, and its popularity is unrivaled, but in the last few years, we’ve seen an increasing amount of frameworks alternatives that are giving this juggernaut a run for its money.
In this day and age, your projects need to be able to catch the eye and keep the attention of the users, and one way to achieve it is to stop being a trend chaser and start experimenting to become a trendsetter. Picking a Bootstrap alternative is one way of doing so and using one of these alternatives is your best bet.