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The Greatest Javascript Libraries Since Alexandria

Kevin Zink
Dec 16, 2015
best javascript libraries

 

There are any number of JavaScript code libraries* that increase productivity, reduce errors, and enhance the user experience.  So…which rise to the top and which are just flotsam and jetsam?  There are a few things to consider when evaluating a library:

  • Does it do what you need it to do?
  • How flexible and extensible is it?
  • What is the cost to the end user?
  • Is the documentation adequate?

The first point of consideration for any library is whether or not it will help you accomplish your requirements. The library may have any number of components built in that either accomplish what you need or give you a great running start. It is unlikely that any existing extensions do exactly what you need without adjustments to the HTML, CSS or the script itself. The more extensible the library, the greater the potential you have to match what you initially envisioned.


It is often a difficult decision to select a framework that is only as “heavy” as it needs to be to accomplish your requirements while still making sure that your code is “future proof.” Ideally, you want a framework that will allow you to do the really amazing things you have yet to dream up.

The nice thing is that many of these frameworks allow you to build a custom package by selecting the individual components you need at any given time. If you need additional components, you have the ability to export a new custom package that matches your new requirements. Because of this, it is highly recommended that customized elements are created external to the base library so that no code is lost when updating the core library.

A second commonly-used technique is to reference the library via a third-party site. For instance, jQuery (an extremely versatile library) can be referenced directly from the Google via their hosted libraries. Because JavaScript is cached, in most cases, on the client side, a user who has visited any site referencing a third-party script may already have the contents cached by the time they visit your site. The more developers take advantage of this technique, the more advantageous it becomes.

The best libraries are fully documented and have a large support community and useful forums that can help you out in a pinch. Without support, a great library can quickly become a huge frustration point when things don’t work as you expect.

Here are some of the top libraries:

AngularJS

“HTML enhanced for web apps!”

jQuery

“jQuery is a fast, small, and feature-rich JavaScript library. It makes things like HTML document traversal and manipulation, event handling, animation, and Ajax much simpler with an easy-to-use API that works across a multitude of browsers. With a combination of versatility and extensibility, jQuery has changed the way that millions of people write JavaScript.”

Dojo Toolkit

“A JavaScript toolkit that saves you time and scales with your development process. Provides everything you need to build a Web app. Language utilities, UI components, and more, all in one place, designed to work together perfectly.”

MooTools

“MooTools is a collection of JavaScript utilities designed for the intermediate to advanced JavaScript developer. It allows you to write powerful and flexible code with its elegant, well documented, and coherent APIs.”

Prototype

“Prototype takes the complexity out of client-side web programming. Built to solve real-world problems, it adds useful extensions to the browser scripting environment and provides elegant APIs around the clumsy interfaces of Ajax and the Document Object Model.”

YUI (Yahoo User Interface)

“YUI is a free, open source JavaScript and CSS library for building richly interactive web applications.”

* The terms library and framework are often used interchangeably by developers.  There is, however, a basic difference between the two. See Martin Fowler's article on Inversion of Control.

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