To framework or not to framework


Recently I had a discussion with an agency designer over the preferred work process and, more precisely, the use of front end framework such as Bootstrap or Foundation. Personally, I am a huge fan of Bootstrap and I have used it on all my recent projects. My companion, on the other hand, advocated custom solutions, optimized for top performance. In her opinion, a framework only adds unnecessary clutter.

So, who is right?

Actually we both are. And that’s because we work on totally different types of project. She builds media sensations – small, flashy websites that have only a handful of pages. All my recent projects have been in the corporate and web application sector. We’re talking about websites with tens of pages, repetitive components and modules. To make an analogy with the auto industry, she is building hand-made custom sports cars, while I build Volvos and long haul trucks.

Let’s see, then, when it pays to use a framework.

First advantage of a framework like Bootstrap is standardized code. This allows a team of developers to maintain their code as uniform as possible. There is a large community that contributes with solutions and modules, thus you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every single time. A few years ago, when I was working in Spain, we unified a large educational portal around Bootstrap, giving a common base and an unified coding style for all developers in the team.

Second, a wide spread use of such frameworks, loaded from code distribution CDNs, means the base code could be already cached in your browser, speeding up the loading times for all other websites that use the same framework.¬†Even smaller corporate sites can be very well built upon a standard framework. Especially if they are part of a network who uses the same framework. This is the case of the latest large project I worked on: a start-up with an entire “ecosystem” of websites: corporate, web application, developer portal, and back-end admin application. Sharing the framework code from the same CDN, once an user has loaded one site of the system, it will load the other ones faster.

Third, we return to the type of websites. Large ones, with many complex pages, are the best candidates for using a framework. Blogs are another one. Portals. Knowledge bases. The list can go on and on. It’s trucks and Volvos vs McLaren F1s.

What are your thoughts on the use of frameworks?