AngularJS vs Ember

A lot has changed since the early days of the web when a website would make a single request to the server, which would respond with the entire webpage to be displayed. Back then, the client-side of an application was a paper-thin veneer of HTML, query parameters, cookies, and request headers—and servers did all the heavy lifting.

It’s a very different story today. The front-end of modern websites is now complex enough to handle much of the magic that allows single page applications (SPAs) to deliver the sleek “desktop-like” user experiences that make them so popular. In this article, we’ll look at two of the most popular JavaScript frameworks available for building SPAs—AngularJS and Ember. Both are open-source frameworks based on the model view controller (MVC) design pattern that use wildly different design philosophies to achieve their goals.

Read on to learn more about these two competing frameworks.

What Is AngularJS?

AngularJS is a comprehensive, open-source JavaScript framework that solves the problem of developing SPAs by extending the functionality of HTML with directives. AngularJS famously describes itself as “what HTML would have been, had it been designed for building web apps.” The framework places an emphasis on simple modular code and test-driven development.

Some of the key technical features that differentiate AngularJS from Ember are:

  • Simplified syntax by using vanilla JavaScript objects for models
  • DOM-based templating with directives
  • Dependency injection
  • More flexible opinionation

AngularJS places an emphasis on getting your app up and running quickly. It opts for syntactic simplicity by using JavaScript objects for models. However, this comes with the performance tradeoff of relying on “dirty checking,” in which a deep comparison on all models within the view must be performed.

Angular developers must be wary of the number of bound objects within the view in order to avoid bogging down the application’s digest cycle. This isn’t usually an issue for most SPAs, but it is the major reason the newly released Angular 2.0 added server-side rendering and one-way data binding, among other major rewrites.

What Is Ember?

Ember combines proven concepts from native frameworks like Apple’s Cocoa with the lightweight sensibilities of open-source frameworks like Ruby on Rails and Backbone.js to create an open-source JavaScript framework that can scale with an entrepreneur’s ambitions. Like AngularJS, Ember is a full-featured framework that specializes in making dynamic, beautifully rendered SPAs. Let’s take a look at some of the key factors that differentiate Ember from AngularJS:

  • Avoids “dirty checking” by using accessors
  • String-based templating system with Handlebars
  • High degree of opinionation
  • More powerful routing at the expense of added complexity

Ember emphasizes scalability—it’s meant for apps that plan to scale into much bigger projects, and like a concerned parent, it enforces stricter rules on how you write your code to ensure that your application avoids bottlenecks and is primed for growth.

By opting for a string-based templating system like Handlebars, it’s possible to achieve quicker boot times by pre-compiling templates on the server. Server-side rendering also has the SEO (search engine optimization) advantage of natural indexing by Google crawlers—AngularJS by comparison must boot an entire browser environment called PhantomJS, which can really put a drain on resources. The tradeoff? The code is more complex.

Which Framework Is Right for Your Needs?

Both AngularJS and Ember serve a similar singular purpose—to make the development of dynamic SPAs with engaging UI/UX faster and easier for the developer. That means both offer perks like two-way data binding, DOM manipulation, easy unit testing, modular code, and the benefits of the MVC architecture. Where they differ is in their design philosophies and goals.

Use AngularJS If…

You’re starting a new project from scratch, time is at a premium, and your application is a small to medium-sized app. These applications are unlikely to run into the “dirty checking” bottleneck, meaning you’ll be able to take full advantage of the simplicity and coding speed that comes with using vanilla JavaScript objects as models. AngularJS is also a good choice if you like the feel of manipulating the DOM with an extended HTML syntax or wish to take advantage of the much larger community.

Even if you’re feeling ambitious, it’s worth noting that with the release of Angular 2.0 it’s now possible to take advantage of server-side rendering and avoid the pitfalls of “dirty checking,” provided you’re willing to tackle the learning curve that comes with a major rewrite.

Use Ember If…

You’ve got big plans for your app and want to make sure you build your SPA right from the bottom up. Frameworks exist to help developers work in accordance with best practices and avoid coding themselves into a bottleneck. Ember was designed with the mindset of “standing on the shoulders of giants” and it really shows within the careful (albeit verbose) syntax of this framework.

Other reasons to consider Ember—even if your application is to remain smaller—is that it offers faster boot times and inherent stability. With the recent release of Ember 2.0, the framework has been modified to bring out the best of Glimmer, Ember’s blazingly fast rendering engine.

A Brief Word About 2.0

While Ember 2.0 has been out since 2015, Angular 2.0 was just released on May 2, 2016, so be sure to give it a little more time to mature. We’ll cover the next generation of Ember and Angular in a future post once these new releases have had a chance to grow into themselves.