It goes without saying that web development isn’t easy. Even when a developer becomes proficient in their programming language of choice, the lightning-fast pace of web technology can make it a challenge to keep up.

Not only is development difficult it’s time-consuming. The sheer amount of code behind the latest dynamic websites and applications is mind-boggling, and the time and effort required to write, maintain and update it is a huge undertaking. Ever look at a page of code and wonder how a human could possibly handle it?

Fortunately, they don’t have to. In the decade or so since dynamic content became the norm, a range of tools have developed and matured. These are known as web frameworks or web application frameworks, and they make managing all that code so much easier.

What is a web framework?

At a very basic level, web frameworks offer building blocks of pre-written code to make development faster and more efficient.

But a web framework is far more than a package of code snippets. As well as implementations of common functionality, a good web framework provides a set of best practices, design patterns and coding styles.

All this allows unfamiliar parts of code to be understood quickly, and for skills learnt on one part of the project to be applied universally. By making knowledge transferable and reusable, mistakes are made less common and bugs are reduced. Additionally, anyone following the best practices recommended by a web framework benefits from the collective experience of the framework development team.

By structuring and organising code more effectively, web application frameworks make it easier to maintain and update. In practice this can save vast sums of time and energy, especially when it comes to new devs or teams taking over projects they might not be familiar with.

Most web frameworks use the model-view-controller or MVC architectural pattern. The ‘model’ is where data is updated, the ‘view’ is the user interface, and the ‘controller’ processes user input. For web frameworks, MVC is beneficial because it separates the data model from the UI, making code more modular and easier to reuse.

Choosing a web application framework

Obviously, your first consideration is the language you want to use. Frameworks are available for all the major server-side and client-side scripting languages, and often you’ll have a wide range to choose from for any one language. Your final choice will depend on the specific needs of your project. Some of the most popular frameworks include:

  • Common Language Infrastructure (a technical standard developed by Microsoft based on a range of existing languages): ASP.NET
  • JavaScript: AngularJS, React, Vue.js
  • PHP: Laravel, Symfony, Zend Framework
  • Python: Flask, Django
  • Ruby: Ruby on Rails, Sinatra

The above frameworks all apply to client-side web development languages – a popular server-side framework would be Express in the Node.js runtime environment.

Web framework vs CMS

There are some similarities between web application frameworks and content management systems. Similarly to frameworks, CMS software like WordPress, Joomla and Drupal can simplify the creation of dynamic web content.

However, while a relatively non-technical user can use a CMS to build a website, web frameworks are designed for developers building highly customised applications. Short of custom templates and plugins, all the code is already written for the CMS, while users of frameworks are expected to regularly write their own. Most CMS platforms are themselves built on frameworks, with additional CMS-specific features layered on top to provide an intuitive interface for less technical users.

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