Bootstrap – The Benefits of a Front-End Framework

Bootstrap is an extremely popular, open source, front-end framework. First released in 2011, and currently in its third version, it's the #1 download on GitHub. Bootstrap seems to be everybody's favorite. We love it too, but there was a time when we were skeptical and wondered whether or not we should use a predefined library, so we'd like to share our evolving experience here, just in case you don't believe the hype.


Here's our two cents on why Bootstrap is doing it right:

The hallmark of a talented developer is his/her ability, perhaps even penchant, for writing minimized code. Streamlined code makes for pages that load easily, ultimately creating a better user experience that delivers content quickly. In the beginning, we thought of Bootstrap's CSS library as a bloated beast that was necessarily overloaded because it was built to accommodate so many different types of implementations. We figured this was a deal breaker, because since our ultimate goal is to create websites and applications that are aesthetically pleasing and highly functional, an experience rife with frustrating load times was not acceptable. We could do better ourselves, we thought, with super-clean custom code. This seemed like logical thinking at the time, but with experience, we realized it was actually in our clients’ best interest that we use a framework.


Any time a tool gains popularity, there will be real pluses in using it. It will have a huge and most often enthusiastic community, creating new plugins that make it highly customizable, and it'll be thoroughly debugged as well. We're proud of our ability to write beautiful code, but we thought it unwise to ignore Bootstrap's enormous popularity. We decided to give it a try and figure out if it could be mutually beneficial for us and our clients. After a few projects, Bootstrap's benefits became clear.


Typically, we'll build and deliver a set number of templates to any given client. This serves as a starting point. Next, our client's engineering team will expand upon our work, integrating it into a larger scale website or application, to suit the needs of their growing business. Our templates will serve as the base from which they'll build new, often responsive pages, and Bootstrap has the code for these built in, which makes the work we deliver easy for any engineering team to internalize.


We found that what trumps super-streamlined code is the scalability that makes Bootstrap the perfect tool for expansion. For example, back-end engineers get the benefit of Bootstrap when they need to build front-end pages on their site as it expands. Bootstrap makes it easy for them to pick up various aspects of expansion pretty effortlessly, such as how to float correctly, how to adjust pages, how to do responsive design, and how to create grids appropriately. Since engineers can tap into the existing code so easily, it allows them to save time and hit their deadlines, instead of trying to reinvent the wheel every time they need to expand. Bootstrap can also be used with two popular open source content management systems: Drupal and WordPress. It's also highly customizable for a unique look and feel.


What are the negatives?

We did some research to find out what, if anything, developers don't like about Bootstrap. We found most of the complaints about Bootstrap to be pretty irrelevant to delivering an aesthetically pleasing and highly functional product that is easily modifiable by our clients. Some negative press came from developers who didn’t feel comfortable working with a product they hadn't invented themselves, a phenomenon known as NIH syndrome. Occasionally, however, you'll work with a client who simply can't stand the idea of Bootstrap. Perhaps, the client's engineering team has an existing setup that collides with Bootstrap and they don't want to have to re-engineer their workflow.


Some clients feel Bootstrap's CSS is too bloated (we used to think this too) and that this will create loading problems. This may be relevant for sites where code size is critical, but other than that, we've found that it doesn't make an appreciable difference in usability. Also, we always remind/inform these clients that Bootstrap actually has a function built in that allows developers to strip out unnecessary code.


There are clients who fear that the websites created from Bootstrap don't look unique. We feel this speaks more to the fact that Bootstrap is very easy to use, which allows people with little web design expertise to learn it. Professional designers specialize in being able to customize the look and feel of any website, with the main goal being to deliver their client's exact vision. We've found that Bootstrap serves this goal very well.


The most concrete complaint we've found is that with Bootstrap, JavaScript doesn't pass JSLint because its author did not include a semi-colon at the end of each line parsed. If an engineer minimizes the Bootstrap JS code with JSMin as such, there could be a higher likelihood that it would break. When Bootstrap detractors claim that the tool doesn't follow best practices, they're more likely than not referring to this issue. While we haven't yet had any problems because of this, it's a known issue in the developer community, and so we keep vigilant for potential problems.


In Conclusion

Unless a client has objections, we work in Bootstrap. Its popularity has created a large community, leveraging industry knowledge to create highly customizable sites. Its ease of scalability makes it a great boon to clients because it helps them expand and maintain their sites easily, which saves time, money and headaches. Ultimately, we found that with Bootstrap, our clients win, and that's our biggest goal.


We'd love to talk to you more about Bootstrap and how it can benefit your business.