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React vs Backbone.js: Which Is Best for Your Project?

If you're looking for the best JavaScript framework for your project, two possible options are React and Backbone.js.

BairesDev Editorial Team

By BairesDev Editorial Team

BairesDev is the leading nearshore technology solutions company with 4,000+ professionals in 50+ countries representing the top 1% of tech talent.

10 min read

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Front-end development is an absolutely crucial aspect of business evolution and growth. If your development team isn’t constantly looking to improve the user interface you offer consumers, clients, and employees, you’re already losing ground to the competition.

Although you might offer some of the greatest services known to humankind, if the front ends for those services aren’t well-developed and easy to use, those services will languish. That’s one of the many reasons why you not only need high-quality front ends for your services but also why you need the best front-end developers your company can afford.

Once you hire the best team of front-end developers, you then need to give them the right tools to get the job done efficiently and effectively.

That means frameworks, and with JavaScript, there are plenty of options. Two of the more popular JavaScript frameworks are React and Backbone.js. Both of these frameworks make it possible to better develop front ends (also known as user interfaces, or UIs) for applications.

With these apps, your developers can build things like:

  • Single-page applications (SPAs)
  • Data visualization tools
  • Messaging apps
  • Social networks
  • Enterprise web apps
  • Cross-platform mobile apps

Both of these frameworks are free to use and can be installed on any platform that supports JavaScript, but of the two, React is used more widely and in more websites. You’ll find React used in such fields as science and education, IT, community and social networks, e-commerce, and healthcare. Conversely, you’ll find Backbone.js leads in arts and entertainment, games, and lifestyle-centric use cases.

Feature React BackboneJS
Created by Facebook Jeremy Ashkenas
Popularity High Moderate
Security Moderate Moderate
Memory Management Good Good
Exception Handling Good Good
Community Support High Moderate
Learning Curve Medium Medium
Strengths Virtual DOM, highly efficient updates, JSX Lightweight, simple structure, easy to understand
Weaknesses Steep learning curve for beginners, JSX may be confusing for some developers Limited built-in features, may require additional libraries for advanced functionality

What Is a Framework?

Before we continue, let’s answer the question, What is a framework? Simply put, a framework is a collection of tools (such as libraries) that make it easier to build applications. Frameworks include reusable code bits so that a developer (or team of developers) doesn’t have to reinvent everything.

For example, a JavaScript framework might include the code to add animated drop-down lists to an app. Instead of having to write the code from scratch, a developer can simply integrate that preprogrammed bit of code into their app, and it’s done.

JavaScript Best Frameworks

Now that you understand what a framework is, what are the best frameworks available for JavaScript? React, of course, is one of the most popular frameworks for the language. Other possible frameworks you could make use of for JavaScript include:

  • Angular: Open source, builds SPAs, offers simplified Document Object Model (DOM) manipulation, includes two-way binding, and is highly testable.
  • Vue.js: Fast and lightweight, offers extensive documentation, and supports reactive, two-way binding.
  • Ember.js: Includes a powerful command line interface (CLI) tool, add-ons, extensive documentation, and plenty of community engagement.
  • Meteor: Includes a number of features to make the framework convenient to use, helps make development more efficient, is easy to learn, and has an active community.
  • Mithril : Lightweight, offers good performance, includes a powerful templating engine, and is easy to learn.
  • Node.js: Offers very high performance, is easy to learn, scalable, and has a very active community.
  • Polymer: Good for SPAs, has plenty of reusable components, and makes outstanding use of storage elements.
  • Aurelia: Focuses on convention over configuration, has a very readable syntax, and offers extensive documentation.

Of course, although we’ve not listed either React or Backbone.js, both are legitimate contenders for inclusion. Let’s now focus on those two frameworks.

Pros and Cons of React

To begin with, React is more widely used than Backbone.js. In fact, React is used in nearly 150 countries across the globe, whereas Backbone.js is concentrated on less than 10. Because of this, you can not only be certain the React community is far more active, but there’ll also be much more support available for the framework.

React Pros

From both the business and developer perspectives, the pros of React include the following:

More Developers Available

Because it’s so widely used, you’ll find plenty of high-quality developers who know React like the back of their hands.

Cross-Platform Applications

With React, you can create cross-platform applications with a single framework, making it more cost-effective, reliable, and portable.

Shorter Time to Market

Frameworks always make the development process more efficient, and React is no stranger to this.

Backward Compatibility

One of the best things about React is that it is always backward compatible. Even when a major update is released, the framework will still work with older versions, so your developers don’t have to worry about rewriting applications to make use of the new version.

Reusable Components

Like with every framework, React includes reusable components, which means your developers can spend less time reinventing the wheel and more time focusing on building what you need to get an app deployed.

Virtual DOM

By using a virtual DOM, applications can sync faster and more reliably, meaning they’ll perform better and have fewer problems.

Declarative

React’s declarative nature makes it easy to create effective, interactive UIs. Because it’s reactive, you can design simple views for each state of an application, and React will automatically update and render the state by way of only the components with changed data. This results in more predictable apps that are easier to debug.

Component-Based

Because React is component-based, your developers can build encapsulated components that manage their own states and then integrate them to make more complex and full-featured UIs. And because logic is written in JavaScript (instead of templates), developers can pass data through an app and keep the app state out of the DOM.

Learn Once, Write Anywhere

Because React does not make any assumptions about your applications, you can develop new features without having to rewrite the existing code.

React Cons

React is, of course not without its drawbacks and whilst every programmer has their own list, most will include:

Component Logic

React does not have separated component logic and views, which does make programming a bit more challenging, as programmers have to jump between lines in a file.

Third-Party Libraries

With React, there are no official libraries that handle common tasks. For that, developers must depend on third-party libraries, which makes a bit more upfront work.

Lack of Conventions

React does not impose any particular conventions onto developers, which means the learning curve is a bit steeper.

Pros and Cons of Backbone.js

To begin with, Backbone.js uses the Model View (MV) framework, which allows for a much more structured approach to JavaScript development. Other pros for Backbone.js include the following:

JavaScript Functions

It enables developers to create an application by making use of JavaScript functions.

Automated Updates

The HTML code for any application developed with Backbone.js is updated automatically.

Open Source

Backbone.js is an open-source framework that includes more than 100 extensions as well as a library that makes it easy to separate business and UI logic.

Data Model

With Backbone.js, the data model that consists of user data can be managed and displayed on the client side, which allows developers to create web and mobile apps in a standard format.

RESTful

Developers can enable communication between the app and server via the RESTful API.

Backbone Collections

Backbone Collections allow developers to not only control overloading but to save new models to the server, which can help notify developers of a change to an event.

Backbone Router

This Backbone.js component routes client sides of a web page and manages it via events. This can be useful for any application that needs features like URL history.

Backbone Sync

Backbone Sync is a function called whenever JavaScript attempts to save or read a model to the server.

Backbone.js also includes other advantages: lightweight, plenty of small libraries for numerous functionality, event-driven communication, conventions for coding style, and it greatly simplifies UX design.

And now, the cons of using Backbone.js:

Small Updates

It’s really easy to make numerous small updates to a DOM when a user interacts with an application. Although this is fine with smaller applications, when applying it to larger data structures, it can mean an inferior user experience.

REST to non-REST

Attempting to use the RESTful API with a non-RESTful API backend can be very challenging for even the best developers.

Unit-Testing Woes

Although Backbone.js models are fairly straightforward when running unit tests, running those same tests on a Backbone.js View is quite challenging.

Empty Div

Backbone.js creates an empty DIV element for every Backbone.js View, which can lead to redundant DIVs in generated HTML.

Less Productive

Because Backbone.js is more like a library than a framework, it doesn’t force much of an opinion onto developers. Because of that, Backbone.js isn’t going to offer much help or write as much code for your developers. Also, because Backbone.js doesn’t offer much in the way of opinion, architecture can be somewhat confusing at times.

Memory Leakage

This is one of the biggest cons of using Backbone.js. Your developers will need to pay very close attention when developing front-end applications, as memory leakage can be a real problem. If an application isn’t carefully written and tested, the performance hit could be dramatic, leading to very unhappy users.

Already Using One Framework? Migration Challenges

Now that you understand the pros and cons of both React and Backbone.js, what are the challenges your developers will face when attempting to migrate between them?

When migrating from Backbone.js to React, you might encounter problems such as:

  • Non-Reusable Views: Unlike React components (which are very easy to reuse), Backbone.js Views are very challenging to reuse. Fortunately, many of the Backbone.js reusability challenges can be overcome with the help of React’s universal components.
  • DOM Difficulty: One of the problems migrating from Backbone.js to React is that Backbone.js Views cannot update DOM pieces without first re-rendering the entire DOM. This functionality can be costly to performance. Fortunately, React overcomes this issue by making use of a virtual DOM, which only re-renders specific bits of the DOM.
  • Scaling: Backbone.js does not scale well. React, on the other hand, does.

Chances are pretty good you’ll be opting to migrate from Backbone.js to React (and not the other way around). Because of this, you should consider the following.

Embed Your Components

With React, you can embed components into Backbone.js Views, which means a view will render as a React component sub-view instead of an HTML template.

Wrap Your App

If you’re developing an SPA but want to extend it with others by way of routing, React makes this very simple. With the help of the React Router library, you can easily route between pages, write new pages as React components, and even wrap a single Backbone.js page with a React component.

Adapt Your Data

With Backbone.js, Views work with Models and Collections, which store data or fetch data from a server.

As Needed

First off, if you have a Backbone.js app that works well, don’t mess with it. Over time you might eventually want to migrate that code from Backbone.js to React, but if it works, don’t try to fix it just yet. Let the process unfold over time in an as-needed process. Until an app no longer works or new functionality is required (that cannot be achieved with Backbone.js), leave it alone.

Build a Prototype

The first thing you’ll want to do is build a prototype or a proof of concept for your app so you can fully understand how React will solve the problems of migrating from Backbone.js to React.

One Step at a Time

Instead of diving headfirst into React and rebuilding your entire Backbone.js app from scratch, consider taking on the task one step at a time. Write the new features in React, and then rewrite the old Backbone.js features without allowing the new code to negatively affect the old code.

Leave the Backend Alone

Remember, you’re working with front-end apps. The less you have to toy with the backend, the better off you’ll be. So, when migrating from one to the other, make sure everything is handled on the front end and rebuild in such a way that the back end does not need to be changed.

Take Your Time

This cannot be stressed enough. When migrating from Backbone.js to React, take your time. This is especially so if the Backbone.js app is functioning properly. Sure, it might not have all the features your new app needs, nor does it scale out as much as you’d like, but if it’s working, you don’t have to make that migration overnight. Take the time necessary to understand the task at hand and place a priority on doing things right instead of quickly.

Integrate When Possible

Another option is to go the integration route instead of full-on migration. Thanks to tools like connect-backbone-to-react (which can be installed via the Node.js package manager, npm), you can easily connect Backbone.js Models and Collections to React. This means you might not have to rewrite that entire Backbone.js app but, instead, get them to work together to form a perfect union of simplicity, usability, and scalability.

React vs. Backbone: Conclusion

Given that far more developers and businesses are using React over Backbone.js, chances are pretty good your project will wind up going with the former over the latter.

That doesn’t mean that Backbone.js doesn’t have its place. If you’re looking to build SPAs that use models, views, controllers, collections, and custom events — and aren’t concerned about the cost of performance or scaling — Backbone.js is a great place to start. However, if you need applications that are highly performant and offer considerable scaling options, you can’t go wrong with React.

In the end, it’s a bit like the “Go Vs Node” question. Looking at your next project as a “React vs. Backbone.js” choice is probably not ideal as ultimately, it depends on the project goals and requirements. Smaller applications that need to be developed and deployed quickly are perfect for Backbone.js. Whilst larger SPAs that must scale out with serious performance needs are better suited to React. Either way you go, both of these frameworks are a great choice to help your development teams create and deploy outstanding applications.

BairesDev Editorial Team

By BairesDev Editorial Team

Founded in 2009, BairesDev is the leading nearshore technology solutions company, with 4,000+ professionals in more than 50 countries, representing the top 1% of tech talent. The company's goal is to create lasting value throughout the entire digital transformation journey.

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