Any web development project is usually divided into two core phases: frontend and backend development. Frontend development refers to the development of all that a user would see and experience while using the app, whereas the backend handles functions such as data storage, security, scalability and data transformation. A good example is a car, whose body, dashboard and steering is essentially your frontend and define the experience you have with it. This experience, however, will not be complete without the engine, chassis and the fuel tank of the car (backend).
A backend is vital to the successful function of any web development project, unless the webpage you require is a static one. The easiest way to have such a web page is to create one on WordPress as it allows for basic content and user management. Such a backend, however, is not useful for creating custom web applications with sophisticated requirements our clients require of us.
There are many backend languages used by developers around the world. A few, however, stand out for their ease of learning, use, development time and effort.
What you have to also take into account is Node.js’s unopinionated nature, which gives developers little to no preloaded features when using it. The backend developers, therefore, have to start from scratch and spend more time to complete a project, despite the freedom that comes with it. Node.js is also not advised as a solution for projects that demand high computational power and require developers to keep their apps compatible with the constantly changing framework and libraries.
The Node.js community however is an active one, with many developers from around the world contributing their projects for open source usage. One must, however, be careful as developers of lower skills have been known to use such projects in their work with clients, who end up with inferior products created from substandard code. Replacing and/or cleaning such code of dubious quality is expensive and is another reason we recommend doing some thorough research before picking a software development partner.
Django is a high-level Python Web framework designed for rapid development and scaling. It’s very versatile and can be used to developing solutions for content management and scientific computing platforms. Django is also very easy to learn, understand, use and places an emphasis on speedy product development, making it ideal for small to medium projects.
Django, however, is rather monolithic and does not allow for the division of a project into smaller parts as with Node.js. This might prove to be a disadvantage when working on large projects that need to be divided into several parts between developers. It’s also very strongly opinionated and does not allow developers much freedom as with Node.js.
Spring is another successful solution build on Java, the most popular programming language in the world due to its object-oriented robustness. This popular framework for creating enterprise applications comes packed with many features and additions that allow a developer to start an application with a basic website and authorization, almost out of the box. Spring’s modularity gives developers the freedom to pick and ignore classes, helping them focus more on customer-centric development and less on reinvention.
Spring, however, is very configuration dependent and requires a developer to write a sizable amount of boilerplate code in order to add new features. It also requires developers to undergo a steep learning curve as there isn’t much set standards and best working practices. This is one possible reason why you might encounter Spring when working with more experienced, bigger teams working on enterprise projects.
Ruby on Rails
Also called “Rails” or RoR, Ruby on Rails is an object-oriented programming language that is fast gaining a name for itself. First extracted from another project due to a requirement of its author, RoR is now favoured amongst the backend development community due to its ability to create fast web solutions. It also allows for speedy development due to its convention over configuration paradigm, which essentially “assumes” what the developer wants to do and how.
The downside, however, is its relative recentness, which is why the RoR development community is not as large as those you would find with other backend frameworks. It’s also not very flexible and rather resource intensive when compared to other frameworks. RoR’s age also makes it evolve quite often, requiring developers to update several dependencies to ensure the product they created on RoR stays updated.
Which one should you choose?
The backend framework you need should be decided based on what you hope to achieve with your software product. This decision is best made by your software development house in close consultation with you, the project requirements, outcomes and future plans. Doing so is vital as the backend architecture you pick will decide the trajectory of development and have implications on everything from planning, design, development and testing.
Need an application that is highly scalable, fast and supporting web, mobile and other devices? We recommend Node.js. Looking for a speedily developed MVP project that treats the web app and your backend as one? Go for Django or RoR. Have a computationally heavy app with a sizable number of features that require long development times and iterative developments with multiple sprints? We recommend opting for Spring as it allows for the division of the job requirements between a team and gives you control over what needs to be developed first.