Top Web Development Tools for Building Business Applications in 2021


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Nowadays, web applications have become an indispensable instrument used by most modern companies for the promotion of their products and services. In addition, web technologies help to automate business processes within a company and enhance the overall working efficiency of employees.

JavaScript is still the number one choice among web developers for building business web apps complemented with advanced functionalities. This programming language is booming thanks in large part to its rich ecosystem and a wide range of tools that make coding in JS easier. But it can be a very challenging task to form the right development stack from a huge variety of already existing and new aiding tools.

In this article, we will consider the following popular JavaScript web application development tools to help you choose the right toolkit:

  1. Code Editors and IDEs
  2. Version Control Systems
  3. Package Managers
  4. Front-End Frameworks
  5. JavaScript UI Libraries
  6. CSS Technologies
  7. Back-End Technologies
  8. Databases
  9. Testing Frameworks
  10. Task Runners and Module Bundlers
  11. Other Web Development Tools

Code Editors and IDEs

One of the key decisions for any web developer is to choose a suitable environment for writing and running code, as you will use it most of the time during the coding process.

There are a large number of code editors and IDEs (Integrated Development Environment) that are used by programmers for this purpose.

Code editors are simple tools mainly serving for writing and reading code, while IDEs are more powerful but at the same time more complex and memory intensive tools.

Visual Studio Code

Visual Studio Code (VS Code) is a multifunctional source code editor created and maintained by Microsoft. This tool is probably the most preferable option for many web developers, as it is free-to-use and provides a lot of IDE-like functionalities boosting coding productivity. Developers can take advantage of an intuitive interface, built-in support for multiple programming languages (JavaScript, TypeScript, etc.), smart autocomplete function IntelliSense, built-in Git, terminal support, easy debugging, etc. VS Code can be used right in a web browser. Extra features can be easily added by installing various extensions.

Sublime Text

Sublime Text is a lightweight cross-platform text editor packed with a set of instruments for highlighting, marking, and processing fragments of code. It offers numerous useful features such as a command palette, multiple selections, split editing, package control, instant switch between projects, and much more. The editor is also notable for robust API and enhanced customization capabilities.

WebStorm

WebStorm is a fully-fledged IDE solution specifically intended for coding with JavaScript that supports modern frameworks for front-end (React, Angular, Vue.js) and back-end technologies (Node.js, Meteor), and mobile development. The main strengths of this IDE lie in advanced code completion, availability of embedded tools for debugging and testing, integration with different command line tools, and support for version control systems. It is possible to adjust WebStorm to a specific coding style and expand its functionality utilizing a special plugin repository.

Version Control Systems

When working on a web project it is vital to have a reliable version control system (VCS) that helps to store a history of all changes introduced to source code over time in a repository and revert them if needed. VCSs are also very helpful in enabling multiple developers to simultaneously collaborate on one project and synchronizing their efforts.

There are three main types of VCS: local (RCS), centralized (CVS, Subversion, Perforce), and distributed (Git, Mercurial Bazaar). To avoid error-proneness and lack of collaboration capability typical for local systems and not to depend on one server like with centralized systems, web developers opt for distributed VCSs and one of them deserves special attention.

Git

Git is a well-supported distributed VCS that is commonly used by web developers for managing projects of any complexity level with speed and utmost efficiency. The most distinguishing Git features are local branching, user-friendly staging area, data integrity, nonlinear workflows, and offline access to a full history tree. Some popular services such as GitHub and GitLab provide hosting for Git repositories. Many IDEs come with built-in support for Git.

However, it should also be mentioned that Git offers limited support for Windows (compared to Linux) and it is not that easy to learn (a steep learning curve). Other distributed version control systems Mercurial and Bazaar are similar to Git in many ways, but Git has gained more popularity among web developers.

GitUI

Git has a lot of embedded GUI tools used for committing and browsing, but some web developers choose to add some third-party tools such as GitUI for achieving platform-specific experience. GitUI is a very fast and user-friendly interface that can be utilized right in the terminal. It provides convenient keyboard-only control with context-based help for using hot-keys. This scalable UI also allows benefiting from stashing, branch list, async input polling, and many other features.

Package Managers

Package managers allow JavaScript developers to handle a bunch of difficulties related to the usage of software packages maintained in repositories, but most importantly, effectively manage dependencies. Currently, the most demanded package managers are npm and Yarn.

npm

npm is a standard package manager for the Node.js runtime environment (also applicable on the front-end) powering an immense repository of code packages and modules. This tool allows managing all project dependencies, manipulating and sharing packaged modules of code, and collaborating with other developers. Being around for more than a decade, npm has gathered a big community that offers an array of extra libraries and plugins that help developers to solve various issues.

Yarn

Created and supported by Facebook with due regard to npm weaknesses, Yarn has quickly become a promising alternative option. Many web developers gladly adapted this package manager because of its great characteristics in terms of security, performance, and reliability.

Yarn’s lock file format makes it possible to install dependencies the same way on a different machine independently of the installation order. The offline mode allows the reinstallation of packages without an internet connection. It is also not a problem to install packages from npm or Bower thanks to the support for multiple registries. On the flip side, Yarn saves all dependencies locally, thereby increasing the use of disc space, and currently does not have such strong community support like npm.

Meanwhile, the npm team has done a lot to eliminate the shortcomings of its product and has managed to catch up with Yarn in many technical aspects. Moreover, last year npm was acquired by Microsoft with the aim of integrating it with GitHub and making it even more useful for the JavaScript community.

Front-End Frameworks

Modern business web apps allow end-users to perform a lot of complex operations that are possible thanks to the use of different coding tricks on the front-end. Using JavaScript frameworks, you can build basic parts of your app much faster and dedicate some extra time to more elaborate functions.

According to the State of JS 2020 survey, React, Vue.js, and Angular are still the most widely used front-end frameworks. Let us find out why.

React

Strongly supported and promoted by Facebook, React has become a powerful and very popular tool for building interactive and feature-rich UIs. Comparing NPM package downloads over various time periods, it is the most demanded top framework. With React, you can apply reusable components for building complex interfaces much faster and easily describe them using the JSX syntax extension.

The declarative programming approach makes your code more readable and helps to reduce its size. The use of the Virtual DOM enhances the performance of your app. It is also possible to combine React with Node.js for rendering on the server, React Native for building mobile apps, as well as with external libraries and frameworks. Starting from v17.0, the process of React updating has become very flexible.

Angular

If you need a mature framework intended for building sophisticated enterprise single-page apps, take a look at Angular. It is based on TypeScript and has a component-based architecture. Angular comes with a rich ecosystem and many out-of-the-box features such as RxJS for handling asynchronous data, a developer-friendly Angular CLI, Angular Universal, hierarchical dependency injection, and many others. A new rendering engine known as Ivy makes Angular apps much faster. The framework is supported by popular code editors and testing tools. Angular receives long-term support from Google.

Vue.js

Vue.js is a lightweight (just 20KB) progressive JavaScript framework with an incrementally adaptable architecture. It is designed for delivering highly-performant UIs with minimum optimization manipulations. This fast-growing framework is also suitable for creating complex single-page applications utilizing such functionalities as build tooling, routing, and state management. It also allows utilizing reusable components, HTML-based template syntax, reactivity system, transition effects. The ecosystem comes with core libraries and solid tooling. Vue.js can be quickly mastered and put to action thanks to a short learning curve.

Next-Generation Reactive Frameworks

According to the State of Frontend 2020 report, considering alternatives to these mainstream frameworks, you can pay attention to so-called next-generation reactive frameworks such as:

It is claimed that these frameworks are well suited for smaller apps but may require extra effort when working on more complex projects. All of them help to significantly reduce bundle sizes of default apps since they do not carry the same legacy as frameworks that have to support features of the past few years. These promising technologies are also in line with the latest standards and language features.

JavaScript UI Libraries

Business applications frequently require some comprehensive tools such as Gantt charts, event calendars, or data visualization components used for solving specific tasks. Creating such tools in JavaScript from scratch may require much time and work, therefore it is advisable to make use of special JavaScript libraries that help to accelerate the development process and avoid unnecessary bugs. Let us consider several JS libraries that may come in handy for a web project.

DHTMLX

If you are looking for feature-packed JavaScript libraries and UI widgets that can be smoothly integrated with popular JS frameworks (React, Angular, Vue.js) and back-end technologies, DHTMLX JavaScript/HTML5 UI controls are a perfect fit for data-intensive projects, especially project management apps. You can choose from a variety of highly performant UI tools such as Gantt Chart, Scheduler, Diagram, Spreadsheet, and many others.

All components are fully customizable, support TypeScript, and work on touch devices. Thanks to intuitive and powerful APIs, hundreds of samples, code snippets, and demos, you will quickly learn all aspects of DHTMLX products and make the most of their numerous functionalities in your web project.

Kendo UI

Kendo UI offers a set of ready-made UI components allowing you to develop line-of-business apps in combination with top JS frameworks. You can employ various charts, layouts, and other UI elements to implement useful functionalities required in business activities. There are also special Kendo UI Templates utilized for enhancing the performance of the UI components. One more notable feature is an embedded MVVM library that permits two-way data binding. Integrated customizable themes will help match Kendo UI components to particular design requirements.

Syncfusion

Syncfusion Essential JS 2 is a UI library that can be utilized for creating enterprise-grade apps. All UI components (grids, layouts, charts, etc.) included in this library are written in TypeScript and have a modular architecture. You can apply several built-in themes, and if needed customize them with the help of an online Theme Studio. All the controls are responsive and touch-friendly, thus they are rendered properly on various types of devices. Multiple language and cultural settings help to make your app more user-friendly for users from different countries.

Webix

Webix is a JavaScript library delivering a collection of business-oriented UI widgets that run on various platforms and browsers. Apart from standard UI controls with adaptive layouts, you can complement apps with complex widgets such as File Manager, Kanban, Chat, Doc Manager, etc. It is also possible to extend the configuration of the UI components and rearrange them on the fly to change the already initialized layout. Moreover, Webix provides a range of free tools (UI Designer, Code Snippet, Form Builder, Skin Builder) to make your coding work with the library more effective.

CSS Technologies

You have to devote some time to make your business application visually appealing to end-users. Creating attractive designs for your app involves the use of CSS technologies:

TailwindCSS

CSS frameworks can hardly help to create a 100% unique style for your app but they certainly speed up the development and ease code maintenance. If you want to combine fast development with enhanced customization capabilities, TailwindCSS can be a good choice that is currently growing in popularity among developers. It does not come with limiting built-in components like Bootstrap and provides more freedom to create custom designs. Another important feature is that this framework automatically removes all unused CSS, reducing the size of the final CSS bundle.

Compressors and minifiers

Complex and data-intensive CSS files can have a negative impact on the app loading time. That’s where CSS compressors and minifiers come into play. Instead of time-robbing manual manipulations for optimizing style sheets, these tools automatically compress your CSS code and increase the speed of your app.

Obfuscation tools

If you want to protect the design of your app from piracy, code injections, and other malicious actions, you can apply obfuscation tools. Obfuscators help to transform your CSS in such a way that it will be hard for third parties to comprehend the code and reuse it to their advantage.

CSS Preprocessors

Pure CSS is very limited in terms of functionality. Therefore many web developers resort to using special CSS extension languages called preprocessors. These tools are useful in web development, as they add extra syntax features such as variables, operations, mixins, nesting enabling you to write more readable and maintainable code. The most popular preprocessors are Sass, Less, Stylus.

Back-End Technologies

Building a robust backend is one of the key goals of any modern web project since the app’s performance and stability depend on it. When it comes to implementing your business web application on the server-side and organizing its business logic, you can consider the following options for your stack:

PHP

PHP is a well-established and stable scripting language mainly focusing on fulfilling web development needs on the server-side. It is flexible and can be used in combination with many other programming languages and web technologies. PHP allows creating custom extensions for significantly increasing the speed of apps. It is also known for running well on major operating systems, web servers, and supporting various databases.

Many powerful PHP frameworks such as Laravel, Symfony, Slim, etc. contribute to faster and easier development. This coding language comes with all-encompassing documentation and receives great support from a large community. However, it is frequently criticized for security vulnerabilities and poor error handling.

Node.js

Node.js is a cross-platform runtime environment based on the V8 engine that allows using JavaScript syntax for building scalable and data-intensive applications on the server-side. With Node.js, JavaScript can be used for full-stack programming. Responders of the latest survey from Stack Overflow named Node.js the most popular miscellaneous technology for web development. And it is not surprising, as Node.js comes with such benefits as high performance, event-based model, extensibility, easy scalability, and abundance of free JS tools.

Deno

Deno is a new runtime environment for JavaScript developed with the use of Rust, V8, and Tokio platform. It delivers native support for TypeScript and adopts security by default. If the drawbacks of Node.js associated with security architecture, package manager, module system are critical for you, Deno is expected to eliminate them. Numerous built-in tools such as a debugger, test runner, code formatter, and the ability to incorporate modern JS features help to make the development process more productive. The GitHub statistics say that Deno has already aroused much interest among web developers.

Go

Golang (or simply Go) is a statically-typed coding language from Google focused on simplifying backend development and ensuring advanced performance. This language is very fast, as it compiles directly to the machine code. Go encourages programmers to be more effective by always striving to provide only one solution for one problem. It brings along such significant features as built-in concurrency, garbage collection, and embedded testing environment.

Interestingly, Go can also be applied on the client-side after being compiled to pure JS with GopherJS transpiler. Although some programmers dislike the lack of generics and package management issues in Go, it still can be a good option for developing a business app.

Databases

Data is an essential asset of any business application that is usually stored in a table format within a database. Each modern web app uses one or several databases for storing various kinds of information. The key thing here is to ensure that end-users have an efficient instrument for interacting with databases. For this purpose, you have to choose the proper database management system (DBMS).

Taking into account the results of the Stack Overflow Developer Survey 2020 on the subject, let us consider 3 interesting DBMS options for your project.

MySQL

MySQL is a purely relational DBMS that has been a favorite of many web developers for years. It is a part of LAMP – a popular web development stack. This cross-platform database system is easy to use and maintain with numerous GUI tools. It should not cause any serious problems during the installation and deployment. Using MySQL, you can be sure that all interactions with data will be really fast and secure.

PostgreSQL

PostgreSQL (or Postgres) is an extensive object-relational DBMS designed for safely storing and scaling even the most complex data workloads. This system closely adheres to SQL standards. It is notable for data integrity and enhanced extensibility. For instance, you can specify your own data types or create custom functions. Postgres is also great at handling concurrency. It provides a variety of useful features related to data storage, replication, and querying.

MongoDB

MongoDB is a document-oriented, distributed DBMS utilized for storing hierarchical data structures with the help of flexible JSON-like documents. This system is included in the JavaScript-based web development stack known as MEAN. Accessing and analyzing data is very convenient with MongoDB thanks to such features as ad-hoc queries, aggregations, and indexing. You can also make use of horizontal scalability with native sharding for load balancing, capped collections for preserving insertion order, and replica sets for increased data availability, and much more.

MongoDB is a classic example of a NoSQL system and responders of the StackOverflow survey name this database technology that developers want to learn the most.

Testing Frameworks

Testing frameworks are dedicated to automatically checking application behavior under different conditions and quickly detecting any errors or other deviations from the expected behavior specified in the actual requirements.

Mocha

Mocha is a proven and well-documented JavaScript test framework with a large ecosystem that has gained the support of a large community. Operating well on Node.js and in web browsers, this framework allows performing asynchronous testing on backend and frontend. It provides sequential execution of tests, ensuring more precise test coverage reporting. Hosted on GitHub, Mocha is known to be very flexible and extendable. So you can add various extensions, plugins, libraries such as Chai (popular assertion library) but it also means spending extra time on setup and configuration.

Jasmine

Jasmine is a behavior-driven development framework that serves for testing JavaScript applications independently of the used browser, platform, or framework. However, it is especially advised for Angular projects. The framework operates without a DOM and has straightforward syntax enabling you to easily write tests. It supports tests for asynchronous processes and uses spy functions for test doubles. You can also take advantage of various custom features such as matchers, object formatters, reporters. But like in the case with Mocha, Jasmine can be difficult when it comes to dealing with configuration settings.

Jest

Jest is an easily configurable framework designed by Facebook for testing JavaScript codebases using a performance-enhancing parallel testing approach. It is frequently preferred for complex React apps but can also be employed for projects based on other popular JavaScript frameworks and technologies. Jest enables you to benefit from snapshot testing, mock functions, matchers, and many other useful functionalities. The State of JS 2020 survey says that Jest comes first in the list of the most used testing frameworks.

Task Runners and Module Bundlers

Task runners will help you to automatically perform a lot of standard repetitive operations such as (minification, compilation, concatenation, etc.), while module bundlers aid in managing dependencies in your JavaScript code and make it seamless.

Grunt

Grunt is a user-friendly JS task runner with a large ecosystem containing thousands of useful plugins for performing any kind of routine development tasks. Grunt is all about configuration and its plugins can perform one or several tasks. Grunt will run them sequentially. The greatest thing about Grunt is its enhanced customizability. You can create your own plugin, add new functionality, or generate a custom task and configure it in such a way that it will include multiple existing tasks.

Gulp

Gulp is a more performance-oriented and alternative to Grunt with a steeper learning curve. It focuses on the “code over configuration” approach, meaning that tasks are defined with asynchronous JavaScript functions instead of configuration objects as in Grunt. Gulp makes use of single-purpose plugins that can be chained together for achieving specific goals. Here tasks are commonly performed in parallel. Another peculiarity is the use of node streams allowing Gulp not to write intermediary files to the disk, thereby accelerating your build process.

Webpack

Webpack is probably the most well-known and highly customizable tool designed specifically for bundling JavaScript files together and preparing them for deployment. When adding special loaders, it is also capable of bundling other resources such as HTML, CSS, and images. Webpack transforms modules with dependencies into static assets that can be used in the browser. By taking care of dependencies, Webpack enables you to follow a modular approach in web development. Some programmers use Webpack as a substitute for task runners (Gulp/Grunt) or run them in combination.

Other Web Development Tools

Here is a list of valuable web services that can be useful in dealing with specific tasks during the development process:

  • Regular Expressions 101 is a widely-used resource that allows you to debug your regular expressions in real time
  • Material Design Icons is a huge collection of free material design icons for your application
  • Current Millis is a useful plugin for working with dates and time in the microtime format
  • Coolors is a  great service for fast generation of color schemes that can be used when creating a mock-up of an application
  • Can I Use is a valuable instrument for building a cross-browser web application

Wrapping Up

All instruments highlighted in this article are trusted by professional web developers but it is just a small part of web development tools and resources available for optimizing your development workflow and helping you to be more productive.

The real value of such tools depends on how they align with requirements of a specific project and skills of a developer. Make sure that all chosen tools can be used in one stack and you have enough skills to use them efficiently. Stay up to date with the latest news from the JavaScript world, as the web development environment is constantly changing and a lot of new tools become available.

And last but not least, when you get stuck with some coding issues on the project do not hesitate to use the internet, because chances are high that your problems have already been encountered and solved by somebody else.

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