Top 8 Best Backend Frameworks
There are a myriad of options available when choosing which backend framework you want to work with. Although each backend framework comes with its own set of pros and cons, there are also a few other factors you'll want to take into consideration before making a final decision. In this guide, we'll take a closer look at both tried and true as well as newer frameworks to help you decide which is the best backend framework for you.
Backend vs frontend
Before getting started, let's first dive into what the differences are between backend vs frontend. If you're new to the world of web development, the difference between backend and frontend development might not be so clear. However, knowing the distinctions between both is important. The following is a quick primer on what a frontend developer is responsible for versus a backend developer:
- Backend development: A backend developer on the other hand works on the nuts and bolts of what goes on behind the scenes. Backend developers work with a wide range of libraries, APIs, web services, etc. They are responsible for the implementation of database systems, ensuring proper communication between various web services, generating backend functionality, and more.
To learn more about the differences between backend and frontend, check out our complete Backend vs Frontend Web Development guide.
List of best backend frameworks
In this list of best backend framework we didn't want to stick to 1 single programming language. Instead, we wanted to showcase the best backend frameworks from various languages. Now, of course, the list below doesn't provide a backend framework suggestion for every language out there, however it does offer some great suggestions whether you're starting out and not sure which one to go with, or just want to try something new. The frameworks listed below are in no particular order.
Laravel is a PHP based backend framework which prides itself on its beautiful syntax, ability to accommodate large teams, and the functionality of its modern toolkit. Laravel follows the MVC architectural pattern and was built to facilitate extensive backend development. Laravel also offers its own database migration system and has a robust ecosystem.
- Simple and fast routing engine
- Comes with its own CLI
- Powerful template system (Blade)
- Good documentation
CakePHP is one of the first PHP frameworks to be released back in 2005. Since then, it has come a long way and is now known as a modern PHP framework made to allow developers to build quickly. CakePHP uses clean MVC conventions and is highly extensible making it a great choice for building both large and small applications.
- Allows you to build rapidly
- Comes with "batteries included"
- Built with security in mind
- No complicated configuration required to get started
Django is a high-level Python framework that is built with the idea of "batteries included". Meaning almost everything a developer would want is included out of the box. Therefore there is less a need for third party plugins and everything in Django works together. Django however, is built for larger applications. Therefore, if you're planning on building something small, Django may not be the best option as it can make a small project bloated with unnecessary features.
A few examples of large websites built on Django include: Disqus, Mozilla, National Geographic, Pinterest.
- Highly customizable
- No need to reinvent the wheel, encourages rapid development
- Very scalable
- Extensive community and documentation
Ruby on Rails
Ruby on Rails is a server side web framework written in the Ruby programming language. If offers a similar design and philosophy to Django however offers a much more familiar setting to Ruby programmers. Ruby encourages the use of design patterns such as MVC (model view controller) and DRY (don't repeat yourself).
A few examples of large websites built on Ruby on Rails include: Shopify, SoundCloud, Basecamp, GitHub.
- Large library of plugins available
- Ruby offers very clear syntax
- Massive community
- Small projects are easy to develop and manage
Flask is another Python-based backend framework. However, unlike Django, it is lightweight and more suited for the development of smaller projects. Flask offers support for things like for Jinja2 templating, secure cookies, unit testing, and RESTful request dispatching. It also provides extensive documentation and is a great solution for Python programmers who don't need all the bells and whistles that Django ships with.
- Very flexible
- More lightweight than Django, great for smaller projects
- Great documentation
- Offers the ability to built prototypes quickly
Phoenix is a backend framework which works with Erlang's Virtual Machine and is written in Elixir. Given the fact that Elixir is a functional language, it may not be as popular as other object-oriented languages however it was designed for building scalable and maintainable applications. Phoenix uses a combination of tried and true technologies with the fresh ideas of functional programming.
- Very fast
- Fault tolerant
- Built in database options
- Well designed
- Great documentation and active community
Express is a fast, minimalist framework for Node.js. It provides a thin layer of fundamental web application features, without obscuring Node.js features. Furthermore, it's easy to build a robust API with the help of various HTTP utility methods and middleware available. Many popular server side and full stack frameworks use Express such as Feathers, KeystoneJS, MEAN, Sails, and more. Check out how to perform an Express CDN integration with KeyCDN.
A few examples of large websites using Express include: Uber, Accenture, IBM.
- Great routing API
- Minimalistic and unopinionated
- Setup is easy and it's straightforward to learn
- Large number of plugins available for use
Spring Boot is a development framework based on Java. It was created by Spring with the intention of being easy to use, and offer a production-grade Spring based applications that you can "just run". Spring Boot takes an opinionated view of the Spring platform and third party libraries so you can get started with minimum fuss.
- Create stand-alone Spring applications
- Highly scalable
- Great documentation
- Built for large scale applications that use a cloud approach
- Extensive ecosystem
What to consider when selecting a backend framework?
There are a few important factors you should consider before selecting the best backend framework for your use case. Below are a few things to keep in mind.
- Learning curve: Each framework has its differences in terms of naming conventions, directory structures, etc. If you've never used a framework before this part of the learning curve is inevitable. However, if you're familiar with a particular programming language already, you may want to stick to a framework which utilizes that language for time's sake. On the other hand if you aren't yet familiar with a specific language, the Django framework which uses Python is a good place to start as it is fairly straightforward.
- Documentation/community: If you don't have any previous experience with a backend framework it may be favorable to opt for a framework which has extensive documentation and/or a large community. Therefore, if you ever get stuck you can search for the proper documentation or ask someone in the community for help.
- Libraries: Some frameworks offer more flexibility and choice in terms of the libraries offered. This allows developers to implement or configure a library in order to perform a certain task that would otherwise be time consuming or not possible.
- Security: Security is very broad topic and depending on the application you're building, you may require certain security features which some backend frameworks perform better than others. It's also important that the framework you choose is regularly updated to ensure that it is equipped to protect itself against common and new attacks.
- Scalability: If you're building an app for the masses, you'll want to ensure that your framework provides the ability to scale with you. Its caching capabilities will play a big part in this and will determine how easy it is to scale your application.
There are a variety of backend frameworks to choose from, each with their own set of pros and cons. Determining which backend framework is the best is rather subjective as it depends on what you're trying to achieve, the learning curve you must overcome, etc. That being said, hopefully this list of best backend frameworks gives you some direction as to which one you might want to choose whether you're starting a new project or just learning the basics.