Progressive Web App

Top 5 PWA Frameworks in 2021

Top 5 PWA Frameworks in 2021

Introduced by Google in 2015, the PWA methodology quickly became a new web development trend used by companies of all sizes. Such renowned brands as Adidas, Lancome, Flipkart, Oliver Bonas, and others jumped on the PWA bandwagon and transformed their websites into progressive apps. Their major aim was to skyrocket conversions, taking both the mobile and desktop versions of the sites several steps higher.

But what’s a PWA, and what are the peculiarities of its development? On this page, we will unveil the progressive web application matter and dig into the five frameworks that help developers build a PWA faster and with minimum expense. Moreover, we’ll introduce you to the alternative tool kits that developers generally choose when creating progressive web apps.

A Quick Intro to PWAs

This next-generation methodology is a real hit since progressive web applications provide flying-quick site speeds and impeccable navigation, leading to improved user journeys and enhanced conversions. The greatest part about PWAs is that their component logic is written on JavaScript. This fact allows them to take the user experience and performance of regular websites to the next level.

Thus, on mobile devices, progressive apps act as native applications: their interface and UX design are almost the same. Besides, due to the web manifest and service workers, they can provide push notifications and website caching. 

On desktops, PWAs showcase unrivaled performance thanks to client-side rendering and GraphQL, which provides a radically different approach to delivering HTML content. As such, once a visitor opens a JS-based PWA website for the first time, the server receives general site information. However, after the initial load, GraphQL fetches only those parts of the requested content instead of delivering the entire data scope. Consequently, this approach hugely cuts down the waiting time by extracting only request-specific data.

How Do PWAs Differ from Regular Sites?

From a technical point of view, three aspects differ progressive applications from regular websites. 

1. Service Workers

It is a kind of intermediary between the browser and the network that processes network requests. Service workers are responsible for providing offline functionality (instant page loading). Therefore, the PWA performance is comparable to the speed of native apps. Moreover, the service workers are in charge of performing the push-notification feature by saving any user action on the server for future services.

2. Web Manifest

A manifest.json is a JSON file that stores all the metadata about a progressive app, including its name, the URL, the icon displayed on home screens, the theme colors, and so on. In general, the web manifest determines how a PWA will look like in terms of UX.

It is worth mentioning that such a file is used not just for PWAs. Developers can apply it to any site to add an app-look appearance and the ability to be saved on a user’s home screen.

3. HTTPS Protocol

This protocol delivers a secure context. Even though it goes without saying that every website must provide a safe environment, lots of them still load insecurely. With PWAs, an HTTPS is essential because the service workers require a protected connection to provide offline functionality and fast performance.

Top 5 Commonly Used PWA Frameworks and Libraries

As mentioned earlier, progressive apps tremendously improve user experience and enhance conversions due to extremely fast loading and the cutting-edge functionality that was previously considered a prerogative only of native apps.

As far as PWA development is concerned, there are many paths that a frontend developer can choose when deciding how to build the app. Among them is custom coding the whole application using a modern framework to equip developers with a wide range of tools to leverage. Now we will go over the top 5 of such “help-mates”.

1. React.js

React.js is opening the list. This is an open-source JS library maintained by Facebook and generally used to create user interfaces for both single-page and multi-page applications. The library uses such additional frameworks as Gatsby and Next that enables developers to iterate on React websites by creating pages and routes, pulling in data, generating API interactions, and so on.

To eliminate the hassle of setting up the apps, developers can make use of the create-react-app package. This helps build progressive applications with little to no configuration needed. Among the library’s strengths to be noted include a mature ecosystem, comprehensive documentation, robust tools for crafting dynamic interfaces, and the enormous dev community ready to assist in resolving any issue that may arise.

2. Vue.js

Unlike React.js, this framework is not designed specifically for creating progressive web apps. As such, many developers find Vue handy for creating regular websites in cases where fast rendering is essential and for smaller projects and MVPs.

However, this open-source framework has enough capacity for dynamic apps and offers multiple packages for PWA building. It covers routing, state management, and server-side rendering.

Moreover, Vue.js provides a special package dedicated to progressive apps — CLI3 — which is a huge time saver for those who want to create a PWA at a faster pace. 

The advantages of Vue.js include:

  1. lots of robust and beneficial features
  2. code simplicity
  3. simple and straightforward structure
  4. virtual DOM that enables fast server-side rendering

The only roadblock you may face when developing a PWA with Vue.js is the absence of experienced specialists who are familiar with this framework.

3. Angular.js

Released in 2010 by Google, Angular.js is considered to be one of the oldest progressive JavaScript frameworks. Mentioning its strengths, Angular is 100% free and is used by thousands of developers worldwide to create both large-scale and single-page applications. The framework is also open-sourced and is licensed under the Apache license version 2.0.

It is also worth noting that not all of the Angular versions are good for PWAs. The script that allows you to create a progressive application via JSON configuration provided by @angular/service-worker module is available on the fifth edition and beyond. 

With all the benefits Angular.js brings, there are some pitfalls. For instance, the interface of the framework is anything but user-friendly. Besides, it requires a solid coding background, such as knowledge of TypeScript. Therefore, some developers believe Angular.js is too complicated for their needs.

If this is the case, we recommend using React.js or Polymer.js as alternative options because these two support the use of templates and provide reusable components that streamline the process. 

4. Ionic.js

Ionic is a wonderful framework option for inexperienced developers who are just starting with progressive web applications. Ionic’s toolkit includes all the needed components out-of-the-box. Furthermore, it practices a framework-agnostic approach that adds support for Vue.js, React.js, and web components. 

A noteworthy detail is that Ionic uses Stencil, a standalone web component compiler project, to optimize rendering and load performance. Among other handy tools for PWA developers that Ionic offers is Workbox, a set of Node.js modules for streamlining working with service workers and cache strategies. Above all, the framework provides a detailed guide on how to create a PWA with Ionic. 

However, Ionic is not free from shortcomings. As such, the PWA projects built on the provided toolkit are considered weaker and slower in performance than others. 

5. Polymer.js

Polymer.js is another solution introduced by Google. It is an open-source JavaScript library written in HTML which is dedicated specifically to creating web apps using reusable components. The library is getting more and more popular amongst web developers and currently has over 31,000 downloads on npm and 22,000 stars on GitHub.

One of the main highlights of the framework includes solutions that help developers deal with design peculiarities. With Polymer, one can create their own HTML elements, including themes, and compose them into web applications. This means that there is no need to modify the given source code to match the designers’ specifications.

Top 5 PWA Development Tool Kits

Along with the frameworks mentioned above, there are still other possible options to go with. The choice depends on the skills and preferences of the developer. For instance, third-party themes can be customized as per the specific needs of the future app. 

These SDKs are designed to help and save the time of PWA developers. The tool kits consist of code that you can reuse, the same applies to the libraries, components, and other essential elements for progressive app development.

Numerous tool kits provide coders with impracticable solutions for building components, architecture, rendering issues, SEO matters, among others. Thus, you may employ one of the following dev tools to force the process and build a PWA faster.

Here are the 4 most commonly used PWA tool kits that are worthwhile:

1. Magento PWA Studio

Magento developed the Magento PWA Studio tool kit for creating PWA storefronts on top of Magento 2 websites. The PWA Studio is always in line with the architectural updates and changes of the platform. It comes with GraphQL, Peregrine (a set of React components), Venia Storefront (needed to display visual elements), and other tools.

2. Scandi PWA

ScandiPWA is a ready-to-use solution, an open-source theme that is also created for Magento websites. As of today, it offers a practically complete spectrum of out-of-the-box solutions. Its major difference from the aforementioned Magento PWA Studio is that it was created by a third party (not the official Magento team).

3. SuperPWA

SuperPWA is another great solution for creating PWAs on top of WordPress websites. Generally, this is a WP plugin that can be installed within up to 2 minutes. Once the module is applied, the PWA functionality (offline functionality and push-notifications) is enabled on the website.

4. Webpack PWA

Webpack PWA is a plugin that generates a manifest.json for your progressive web app, with fingerprinting and icon resizing support. This bundler for modules can be a real helping hand when it comes to organizing dependencies and putting together the app.

Let’s Sum Up

Wrapping up, there’s surely more than one “highway” that developers can take on the “PWA building route”. Either opting to custom-code the whole app from A to Z using one of the progressive frameworks that were covered in the article, modifying a tool kit solution, or using a bit of both, a well-constructed PWA can surely improve a site’s performance, speed, and user experience.

Alex Husar
Alex Husar

Alex Husar, Chief Technology Officer at Onilab with 8+ years of experience in progressive web application development, Magento migration, and Salesforce development. He graduated from the Czech Technical University and obtained a bachelor’s degree in Computer Software Engineering. Alex’s expertise includes both full-stack dev skills and a strong ability to provide project-critical guidance to the whole team.

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