Front-end frameworks let you hit the ground running when developing a new website. Due to their popularity, a wide array of front-end frameworks are available, and new ones emerge on a regular basis.
Because there are so many to choose from, pinpointing the right front-end framework can be tricky. Like many developers, you may be drawn to wildly popular, tried-and-true options like Bootstrap and Foundation. Then again, a newer but less widely known framework may more effectively suit your needs, so it’s worth it to get up to speed about today’s most popular options.
Things to Look for in a Front-End Framework
Before starting your search for a front-end framework for your next project, it’s important to educate yourself about the top things to look for in one. By keeping these considerations in mind, you will have an easier time weighing the pros and cons of the most popular front-end frameworks:
- Skill Level – Consider your skills when choosing a front-end framework. If you’re a beginner, a more robust framework like Bootstrap may be in order, as it comes prepackaged with many useful widgets and requires minimal coding skills. If you’re more experienced, you may be better off with a simpler framework that gives you lots of wiggle room for customization. These frameworks are typically leaner and less bloated too, which is a plus.
- Responsive Design – Any site that you develop should render properly across all devices, as more and more people access the internet via mobile devices. According to Similar Web’s State of Mobile Web US 2015 report, an estimated 56 percent of consumer traffic to the leading US websites is now from mobile devices. Therefore, stick with front-end frameworks that support responsive web design, so that you have one less thing to worry about.
- CSS Preprocessors – If you use CSS preprocessors and prefer one or another in particular, typically Sass vs LESS, make sure that the framework that you use supports it.
- Appearance – Choose a framework that allows you to achieve the appearance that you want with as little effort as possible.
- Prototypes – The ideal front-end framework allows you to quickly produce wireframes and prototypes to speed up the overall design and development process.
More than anything, the right front-end framework simplifies, streamlines and speeds up the website design and development process while still giving you the flexibility and features that you need to produce exceptional results.
Top 10 Front-End Frameworks in 2016
Without further ado, here are the eight most popular front-end frameworks for 2016.
This list would be woefully incomplete without the inclusion of the wildly popular front-end framework, Bootstrap. Created by Twitter developers and initially released in 2011, it’s the most used open-source framework in the world.
Because it is updated continually, Bootstrap typically includes the latest and best features. For example, it added themes that met Google’s material design guidelines shortly after they were published, and it was also upgraded to use Sass as a CSS preprocessor.
- Responsive web design support (can also be disabled if required)
- Extensive documentation
- Out-of-the-box file size of 276kB due to excessive number of rarely used styles
- Excessive number of HTML classes and DOM elements can be messy and confusing
Ideal for: Beginners and those who prefer a robust front-end framework.
A relative newcomer on the scene, Semantic-UI stands out in a number of ways and is poised to become one of the most popular front-end frameworks out there.
This framework’s main claim to fame is its simplicity. Because it uses natural language, the code is self-explanatory. Even those with very little coding experience will feel fairly at home working with this framework.
Another notable feature of Semantic-UI is that it is integrated with a dizzying array of third-party libraries. So much so, in fact, that you probably won’t need to use any others. Therefore, the development process is a bit easier and more streamlined.
- Semantic class names make for a low barrier of entry, so even beginners can hit the ground running
- Small file sizes and minimal load times because you can load only the components that you need; each has its own JS file and stylesheet
- Versatile elements make for easy customization
- Very large packages when compared to Foundation and Bootstrap
- Those with more complex design and development needs may find this framework lacking
Ideal for: Beginners and those who want a lightweight, nimble framework.
Created by web design company Zurb, Foundation is a highly advanced, enterprise-grade front-end framework that is ideal for developing nimble, responsive websites. Used on sites like Facebook, eBay, and Mozilla, it is also fairly complex and may not be suitable for newbies.
This features-rich framework supports GPU acceleration for smooth, lightning-fast animations and Fastclick.js for fast rendering on mobile devices. It runs on the Sass preprocessor and includes the Foundation-developed data interchange attribute, which lets you load lightweight HTML sections for mobile and “heavier” HTML sections for larger screens. For a comparison between Foundation and Bootstrap, read our complete article, Bootstrap vs Foundation.
- No style lock-in, so you have greater flexibility
- Uses REMS instead of pixels, eliminating the need to explicitly state width, height and other attributes for each device
- Fairly large file size out of the box
- A bit too complex for beginners
Ideal for: Developers who have decent amounts of experience and who are primarily concerned with developing fast, attractive, responsive websites.
The Materialize responsive front-end development framework also implements Google’s material design specifications and is loaded with ready-to-use buttons, icons, cards, forms and other components. It is offered in both a standard version and in one that runs on SASS.
Materialize includes a convenient IZ column grid feature that can be used for website layouts. It is also loaded with CSS that’s ready to use out of the box for material design shadows, typography, colors and other features.
Additional features include ripple-effect animation, drag-out mobile menus, SASS mixins and more.
- Huge selection of components
- Responsive support ensures that websites are supported across all devices
- Large file size makes this a bulky framework to work with
- No support for Flexbox model
Ideal for: Less experienced developers who need guidance regarding Google’s material design specifications.
5. Material UI
If you’re looking for a front-end framework that makes it easy to adhere to Google’s material design guidelines, you can’t go wrong with Material UI. It is by far the most elaborate framework to implement these guidelines thus far, but there is one caveat: It isn’t meant to be a starting point for a brand-new web design project.
Loaded with ready-to-use CSS and material design-compliant components, Material UI is built on top of the LESS preprocessor. Because it uses React components, however, a decent grasp of React is a plus.
Highly customizable, Material UI includes styles that are separated into individual files, so you can override LESS CSS variables without affecting framework components.
- Easiest way to meet Google’s material design guidelines when using a framework
- Highly customizable
- Not intended to serve as a starting point for from-scratch web design projects
- Need a decent understanding of React to use effectively
Ideal for: Developers who understand and have experience with React and who need an easy way to adhere to material design guidelines.
When minified and compressed with Gzip, Pure clocks in at just 4.5kB, making it one of the lightest and nimblest front end development frameworks out there. As a result, it is terrific for mobile website development, and many developers rely on it for precisely that.
- Extremely lightweight, ensuring fast loading times even on mobile devices
- Flexible array of CSS modules can be used on just about any web design and development project
- CSS only – does not include JQuery or JS plugins
Ideal for: Developers who are focusing on creating responsive, fast mobile websites.
Skeleton is a lightweight responsive boilerplate that contains only 400 lines of code. This framework is meant to include only the minimum requirements to get you started on the development of a web project. It is not meant to be all-inclusive such as other frameworks as mentioned above.
Skeleton is also responsive, based on a 12-column grid system, and includes the bare essentials such as buttons, lists, tables, forms, etc.
- Extremely lightweight
- Greater simplicity and useful for smaller projects
- Does not include a wide selection of utility / styling components such as larger frameworks do.
Ideal for: Someone who is creating a smaller project that doesn’t require all of the style components of a larger framework.
UIKit is a highly modular front-end framework stands out among most front end development frameworks for many reasons. Chief among them is the fact that it includes both LESS and Sass CSS preprocessors.
Loaded with an array of nimble, responsive components with consistent naming conventions, UIKit has become one of the most popular front-end frameworks out there.
- Highly customizable
- Exceptionally modular, so you can add components to the stylesheet without negatively impacting overall style
- Create advanced user interfaces using components like nestables
- Very few resources out there due to relative newness
Ideal for: Fairly experienced developers due to the current lack of available resources. Otherwise, it is great for simple and complex projects alike.
Milligram is another extremely lightweight framework similar to Skeleton. When Gzipped, it comes out to just 2kB in size and is used to provide developers with a simplistic and convenient starting point.
Milligram’s grid system is different than most because of its use of the CSS Flexible Box Layout Module standard. It also includes a few key components for getting you started including typography, buttons, forms, lists, tables, blockquotes, etc.
- Very lightweight, only 2kB when Gzipped
- Uses CSS Flexbox as the grid system
- Few resources available due to relative newness
- Minimal styling components available compared to other larger frameworks
Ideal for: Developers who are creating a small project that doesn’t require many styling components and want to use a CSS Flexbox grid system.
Some would argue that Susy isn’t a front-end framework in the truest sense of the term because it is focused on solving complex layout needs. In fact, many classify Susy as a grid maker more than anything, but it can be an indispensable tool for those who have specialized layout needs.
Susy arms you with mixins that can be used to create grids. The framework does all of the calculations for you, saving a lot of time and effort.
With Susy, you can create any kind of grid layout imaginable. If you have been looking for a way to do this, Susy may be the answer.
- Superior flexibility, so you can create any kind of grid layout that you need
- Automatically performs all calculations
- Does not cover all aspects of website design, so you still need another framework solution
- No pre-built grids
Ideal for: Anyone who has unique or specialized layout requirements.
Front-End Frameworks Statistics
The decision for which framework to use should not be based on their popularity but rather on which one suits your development needs best. Having said that, it may still be of some interest to know how each framework in this list stacks up against one another in terms of stars / trends. The following list shows the amount of Github stars each project had at the time of writing this article (listed from most-starred to least-starred).
- Bootstrap: 101,433 Stars
- Semantic-UI: 28,170 Stars
- Foundation: 24,127 Stars
- Materialize: 21,515 Stars
- Material UI: 19,631 Stars
- Pure: 14,967 Stars
- Skeleton: 12,622 Stars
- UIKit: 7,433 Stars
- Milligram: 4,195 Stars
- Susy: 3,506 Stars
Additionally, through comparing the top 5 most starred front-end frameworks on Google Trends, we can see that Bootstrap is still quite ahead in terms of mentions.
As you can see, different front end development frameworks bring different benefits to the table. What works for one developer or project may not work for another, so it is imperative to research a wide selection of solutions before committing yourself to one.
Therefore, before selecting a front-end framework, consider your skill level as well as the basic requirements of the project that you are tackling. Chances are that one or more of the solutions on this list will fit the bill nicely.