JavaScript holds a firm ground today as one of the most popular programming languages. It is also highly dynamic, constantly evolving and expanding with more and more tools (about 0.5 million packages in public access as of October 2017). It seems that no matter what frameworks and libraries JavaScript developers use, the trend is always one step ahead.

Those various tools in JS ecosystem are aimed at making development simpler and helping in debugging. Nowadays, every developer uses a certain set of Javascript tools, and in reality, there are no best tools in regard to efficiency – it all depends on the task at hand.

And before we present the list, it is also worth distinguishing between terms ‘frameworks’, ‘libraries’ and ‘tools’ in the context of software development:

  • Framework – an abstraction that provides a standard way to make applications, a large portion of functionality like events, data binding, storage. JS examples: Node, Electron, Angular, Backbone.
  • Library – usually a collection of certain functionality, including events, cookies, network requests; in form of a file with functions that perform some tasks. JS examples: jQuery, React, Socket.io, Bootstrap.
  • Tool – a smaller assistant to make the development process easier, in terms of issues like performance, maintenance, etc. Things like compilers, image compressors, task runners, some JS examples are Browserify, JSLint, Mocha.

The distinction can be tricky sometimes, but also helps navigate the JavaScript ecosystem.

10 must-know JavaScript tools

What we are highlighting here, are tools and libraries every JS developer should master, or at least be aware of, to stay relevant.

#1 React

React is a JS library introduced by Facebook engineers in 2011 and then released as an open-source. ReactJS offers new ways to render web pages, a dynamic UI, high performance and several other advantages. One of the key benefits is reusability of code components, which is especially useful and a time-saver when dealing with system upgrades. Components are isolated and do not cause changes in each other.

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Data binding is one direction (down) to enable a stable code, virtual DOM to increase the speed and constant improvements by developer community bring React.js to the top. In addition, the same engineers crafted React Native – a mobile app development framework, serving Android and iOS platforms.

React may seem to be a whole ecosystem, with its own tools and tips. Get the latest React.js version on Github.

#2 Express

A minimalist web framework allowing developers build websites with the help of Node. Node.js, in turn, is JavaScript runtime environment using JS on the server. Express.js is stable, fast and to the point. It simply provides robust tooling for HTTP servers, and that’s the beauty of it.

It features:

  • Routing
  • High test coverage
  • HTTP helpers (caching, redirection, etc.)
  • View system supporting multiple engines
  • Fast execution for general apps

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Why use Express? It is great for single page applications, websites, HTTP APIs. One of the most helpful features to programmers is the ability to build APIs relatively easy.

Get Express.js framework on Github.

#3 Angular

Angular.js is a JavaScript MVC-type framework, powered by Google. It helps writing client-side applications, it supports HTML, it enables accurate structuring where components work interconnected. With Angular developers do not have to write database, user interfaces and links (model-view-controller) separately, the framework takes perfect care of that.

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In simple terms, Angular is a popular and single solution to produce modern web apps, typically single-page apps. It is a part of the already standard MEAN stack and is being constantly updated – the current version is 4.4.6. Though, on the flip side, the older and newer version are incompatible, which is kind of strange.

Main benefits of Angular are:

  • Cross-platform
  • Automatic code-splitting
  • Command line tools
  • Ready for unit testing
  • 2-way data binding

Get the latest version of Angular on Github.

#4 Electron

When it comes to desktop apps, this framework has been gaining traction recently as a fine tool to build cross-platform applications and websites. Electron is based on Node.js and Chromium engine, and supports the whole HTML, JS, CSS pack. Nice examples of apps on Electron are Slack, Docker, Jibo and even GitHub desktop.

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It is publicly available, as well as compatible with Windows, Mac and Linux systems. The framework includes pre-built demo apps APIs, debugging with Chromium tools, the ability for unit tests inside the environment and safe code distribution.

The drawback with this tool is the size of updates – due to bundling with Chromium, it is around 40Mb.

Get Electron framework on Github.

#5 Gulp

Here is a nice example of smaller task-specific JavaScript tools. When developers write code, compress images and files, compile and validate the code, with every change they need to do it all over again. Build tools like GNU Make can automate those frustrating tasks, but now we’ve got smaller and more specific task runners such as Gulp.

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Gulp is a toolkit to automate tasks using the method of loading source files and data to a build folder before the output. Gulp looks better than other similar tools due to single-task plugins, JavaScript code usage, fast performance. It is believed that 40% of web devs use it, but some say there is even a simpler tool. It is next on our list.

Get Gulp.js on Github.

#6 NPM

With 3 million downloads equalling Gulp, NPM though is not only a general-purpose task runner but also a package manager for JavaScript and Node. It is also a registry where you can find thousands of reusable code packages. NPM can be used as a build tool, and it is pretty flexible in terms of things it’s capable of.

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NPM works with 2 types of tasks: default (for common issues, like tests) and arbitrary, i.e. your own tasks. Many developers prefer this tool over Gulp or Grunt, firstly because of the larger amount of packages/plugins, and fewer debugging or compatibility issues. NPM-run scripts are powerful, convention-based and work for cross-platform projects.

Thus, JavaScript developers should really look into it.

Download the latest NPM version on Github.

#7 Webpack

When running multiple JavaScript files such tool as a module bundler could be of great assistance. It helps to load modules with dependencies like .css, .sass, .jpg, .js into a browser in a proper order. Webpack is one the best tools to bundle JS files to be used in a browser and it’s also capable of packaging other assets as well.

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Webpack’s strong characteristics are:

  • Code splitting – into several pieces to reduce loading time;
  • Optimizations – reducing the size, controlling chunks loaded initially and at runtime, etc.
  • Bundling – a single bundle or few parts to load asynchronously;
  • Resolving dependencies while compiling;
  • Modular plugin system – enabling any task possible;
  • Possibility to use as a task runner.

It also has some cons, like the inability to load files found during runtime. Thus, among other module bundles, you may find Browserify, RequireJS, Rollup, JSPM.

Get Webpack tool on Github.

#8 ESLint

A tool for another important aspect of programming – code supervision to detect errors. We are all humans and will miss a closing bracket or a variable once a while. Analyzing the code for potential flaws is called ‘linting’, thus the name ESLint for one of the most widely used linting JS tools. In many ways similar to JSLint and JSHint.

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ESLint comes with a set of default rules, and while every rule is basically a plugin, developers may configure the tool as they like. It works with NodeJS and supports Windows, Mac, Linux. This tool has been in use by giants like Atlassian, Microsoft, Domain, Netflix, Zendesk and many more, which only proves the point of ESLint being the best tools for JavaScript.

Get the latest edition on Github.

#9 Vue.js

Going back to JS frameworks, we’ll finish with a more progressive framework to develop user interfaces – Vue.js. It is an open source, lightweight (20 Kb zip), virtual DOM library/framework, created out of Angular. Vue utilizes an HTML syntax for data binding and provides tools for tasks like routing, scaffolding, animations etc.

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Somewhat similar to React, Vue seems to be gaining adoption among developers recently because it is simple, it performs well and supports all the browsers. And though it also may bring risks as new and trendy project with fewer resources, it is worth following what updates Vue’s vast number of contributors may introduce tomorrow.

Download Vue.js on Github.

#10 jQuery

This JavaScript library still remains one of the most popular to build client-side applications (over 70% of all websites, including Google, MSN, DailyMotion). With accurate syntax, small size and striking features like event handling, animations, Ajax calls, it can help significantly. You can even build new plugins on top of jQuery.

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jQuery foundation also offers related and useful tools like jQuery UI, jQuery Mobile, a CSS selector engine called Sizzle. With jQuery UI, for instance, allows designing and tweaking your own user interface for web applications, reduction of code for interactive features, etc. jQuery suits perfectly to create dynamic web pages.

The trick with jQuery is that it also is perceived as outdated by many developers. How so? Many argue that it became inundated with mediocre developers that had actually turned it into a server-side library, and a DOM-centric paradigm could be a real headache. Even so, this JS giant cannot be abandoned yet.

Get the latest jQuery version from Github.

Conclusion

Obviously, we cannot fit all the existing tools JavaScript developers should know into one article, even the most popular. Honorable mentions herein include Backbone, Ember, Knockout, Meteor, Svelte, Browserify, Mocha, QUnit, TypeScript, Babel, JSDoc. We also recommend checking 15 best tools for Node.js that we use on daily basis at Brainhub. And do not forget that the choice of frameworks, libraries, and tools for JavaScript is only your own!

 

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Matt Warcholinski

Matt Warcholinski is the COO of Brainhub (a software house building awesome node.js web and mobile apps) who loves to build startups and play guitar.

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