React and Angular are both used to simplify front end web development but they share very little in common. The purpose of this guide is to compare Angular and React and examine what makes them so different from one another.

1. Library v. Framework

When you compare Angular and React, one of the biggest differences you’ll find is in how they’re classified: Angular is a framework and React is a library. While there’s often some debate among developers about whether React is a framework or a library, the official documentation identifies React as a JavaScript library

So what’s the difference between a library and a framework? They’re both bundles of reusable code that provide solutions to some of the most common problems developers face, but there’s a key difference between them: the amount of control the developer has over the flow of the application. With a library, the developer gets to choose how to structure the application but with frameworks, that structure is already built-in. 

When you look at Angular and React, this difference holds true. As a full-fledged MVC (model-view-controller) framework, Angular determines the flow of the application. React, on the other hand, allows for much more flexibility; it handles the view, but developers can choose additional libraries to take care of the model and controller. Of course, this degree of control also has a downside; since developers are using multiple libraries, they’re responsible for subsequent updates and migrations, which can make maintenance more challenging

2. Real DOM v. Virtual DOM

Another valuable comparison to make is in how each of these technologies treats the DOM (Document Object Model). The DOM is a data representation of all the objects that make up the structure and content of a web document; it arranges HTML and XML documents into a tree-like model, defining how the documents are structured, accessed, and manipulated. 

Angular uses what’s called a “real DOM.” With a real DOM, the entire model must be rerendered every time a user takes action. For example, if a user clicks on a button, the entire DOM has to be refreshed, including the one component that’s being changed. While this may not present much of a problem on a single-page site with little traffic, it impairs performance when multiple actions are taken in quick succession.

One of the most innovative features of React is its use of a virtual DOM, which is a virtual representation of the DOM. Instead of having to update the entire DOM whenever a user takes action, React changes the virtual DOM, compares the new iteration to the previous version, determines what’s different, then updates only the affected objects instead of refreshing the entire DOM. By only changing the necessary part, site performance is greatly improved. 

3. Data Binding

There’s also a significant difference between how React and Angular approach data binding. Data binding is the process that connects user interface (UI) elements to the application domain model. In Angular, data binding is two-way or bidirectional but with React, it’s one-way or unidirectional. 

In Angular’s approach to data binding, changing the UI element will lead to a corresponding change in the model state with the same happening in reverse; when a change is made to the model state, the UI element also changes. The changes occur in both directions, which explains the name “two-way data binding.”

React, on the other hand, only permits changes in one direction. The model state is initially updated then renders that change to the UI element. However, if there’s a change in the UI element, the model state is not updated. Instead, this is typically changed through a callback function. 

While there’s no doubt that Angular’s two-way data binding is easier to work with, React’s one-way data binding does present several advantages. For starters, unidirectional data binding makes it possible to quickly and easily synchronize data and modify an application. It also improves site performance and makes it easier to debug, maintain, and scale complex applications. 

4. JSX v. HTML

Another key difference between React and Angular is the programming language that’s used to create UI elements. Angular relies on HTML while React uses JSX, which stands for “JavaScript XML.” JSX is a JavaScript syntax extension that allows developers to structure components using language that’s similar to HTML but embedded within the JavaScript code. Developers can then create more dynamic web applications by taking full advantage of JavaScript’s expressiveness. While JSX isn’t required to create React applications, it does speed up programming by simplifying the coding language.

5. Testing

React and Angular also handle testing differently. Angular relies on the framework Jasmine to test its code, which often leads to bloated results that are difficult to read. Facebook created a testing framework called “Jest” to test JavaScript and React code. Jest is automatically included in every React project and can be used straight out of the box with no configuration required. It also contains a useful mocking library for prototype development and can be used in tandem with the testing utility Enzyme to create additional testing options. 

Choosing Between Angular and React

When you compare Angular and React, it’s clear that there are some significant differences between them. In the long run, both Angular and React simplify the development process, but how do you know which one to choose? The decision can be made by considering three things: your preferred approach to web development, the desired site performance, and how much experience you have with these technologies.

Do you prefer to have solutions presented to you or would you rather customize your application? If you want something that’s ready to go straight out of the box, then Angular is probably a better choice for you; it offers a complete framework solution while React only focuses on the user interface. Of course, additional libraries can be used with React to add functionality, making it the preferred choice for those who like to have more control during the development process.

What kind of site performance are you looking for? With its one-way data binding and virtual DOM, React offers better site performance, especially on large, complex projects. If you’re building a fairly straightforward application with few interactive elements or aren’t concerned about site responsiveness, then Angular is a viable solution. 

How much experience do you have with React and Angular? If you’re a complete newbie just starting out, then React would be the preferred option because it’s much easier to learn than Angular. For those who already have a lot of experience with either React or Angular, there’s no real need to switch to the opposing option; both can lead you to the same results, only via different routes. 

If you’re still not sure whether you prefer to use React or Angular, maybe you should take a look at the popularity of each one. In Stack Overflow’s 2021 survey, developers were asked which technologies they loved, dreaded, and wanted the most. Angular ranked at the bottom of this list with more than 76% of all developers stating that they dread working with the framework. In contrast, React was near the top of the “most loved” list with more than 69% of developers professing their love for the library. React was also ranked as the number one skill that developers wanted to acquire.

While the decision to work with React or Angular is completely up to you, if you ask most web developers, the choice is clear: React wins hands down. 

How to Learn Angular or React

If you’d like to learn how to use either React or Angular, there are several options open to you. But before you start to tackle either technology, it’s important that you’ve met a few prerequisites first, including experience with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. If you haven’t already acquired these skills, you can learn them by taking beginning web development courses in your area. Keep in mind that in-person learning options may be limited due to your location. If that’s the case, then you might consider enrolling in live online web development classes that can be taken from anywhere.

Once you’ve completed the necessary prerequisites, you can either choose to learn by yourself or in a class with others. If you prefer self-guided instruction, you can find a variety of resources available online through the official React and Angular websites including their official documentation, tutorials, blog posts, and other relevant information. For those who do best with visual instruction, there are multiple video tutorials available on YouTube. And if you ever get stuck while on your self-learning adventure, you can always look for answers on Stack Overflow

If you’d rather learn how to use React and Angular in a more structured environment, then it’s a good idea to look into classes or bootcamps. With the popularity of React, you’ll find quite a few React bootcamps being offered both online and in person. Just remember that you will need to meet a few prerequisites before enrolling. If you’re a total newbie to web development and you’re interested in making a career out of it, the best choice would be a web development bootcamp. These intensive, skill-based programs will teach you all the skills you need to know for a new career in web development and get you career-ready in just a few short months. You can even find web development bootcamps live online so you can learn from the comfort of your own home.