What Is a Programming Framework and Why Should You Use One?

Are frameworks confusing you? Do you want to understand what it does and why it’s so prevalent in the community? Well, I’ve answered all these questions and much more in this comprehensive read on programming frameworks.

A programming framework is an abstract structure that offers a standardized and reusable environment for developing and deploying specific applications. By using a framework, the programmer doesn’t have to code the common base structure of an app and can focus their efforts on the unique parts.

In this article, I’ll give you a detailed look into programming frameworks and the benefits of using them. Following this, I’ll also share my thoughts on whether or not beginners should use frameworks, take a quick look at the different types of frameworks, and answer some frequently asked questions.

Programming Frameworks: Understanding the Concept

Programming frameworks are often referred to as the skeletons of an app, while your code is the meat. And in my opinion, this is the best analogy to understand what a framework is and what it does.

The skeleton already pre-defines the structure of the body – whether it’s going to be a human or a dinosaur. It’ll also define the type of dinosaur. As such, you have a base common to–and indistinguishable from–all humans or dinosaurs.

By adding the meat, you have the freedom to make the body unique. However, it still holds limitations based on which skeleton you choose; it’s either going to be a human or a dinosaur.

The skeleton provides the benefit of having a pre-established framework.

Furthermore, you also have a clear idea of where to put what type of muscle, ligament, etc. Similarly, each programming framework is developed to provide the common base structure of a particular type of application. 

For example, by using a web development framework, you’ll get access to all the common assets like a user authentication form, option to connect to a database, user profile areas, section to showcase information feeds, and much more.

A framework will provide you with these sections, saving you from wasting time on mundane coding. All you’re left to do now is implement your custom code to design the website or “add” extra features.

react native framework
Frameworks exist to save time with various programming projects.

Key Characteristics of a Programming Framework

So, what are the main distinguishing features that frameworks bring to the table? I’ve summed them up as follows:

  • Inversion of Control (IoC): The traditional flow of control is dictated by the caller, i.e., the code. However, in frameworks, the flow of control is inverted, and as such, is dictated by the framework.
  • Extensibility: A framework allows the user to extend its feature-set by incorporating custom user code or overriding selective sections.
  • Non-Modifiable Framework Code: A framework can be extended but not modified. This means users can add new features if they want, but they can’t alter or change the framework’s source code. In other words – you can build upon it but not rebuild it.

Why Should You Use Programming Frameworks?

A programming framework gives us the underlying structure on top of which programmers can write their code. Using frameworks, programmers can develop better apps in less time.

You should use programming frameworks to increase productivity, as there’s no need to write recurring code over and over again. They also lay out a structure implementing the current industry best practices. Programs developed using a framework offer better upgradability and are easier to maintain.

To help you develop a better understanding, I’ve put together a brief overview of how programming frameworks help increase productivity, ensure proper implementation of the best coding practices, and make the code/program easier to maintain and upgrade. 

Increase Productivity

Programming frameworks take care of the standard and repetitive code so you can focus on writing the unique parts. This significantly reduces the overall development time and increases productivity in the process.

Let’s consider website development as an example. You might have noticed that almost every website comes with a header area, login area, user authentication form, menu system, etc. 

A web framework already comes with all these “core structures” built-in. You won’t have to code any of these sections, saving you countless hours of mundane work. As such, you can focus all your efforts coding the unique parts of the website that’ll make it stand out, whether it be in functionality or design.

Overall, by using frameworks, programmers don’t have to keep reinventing the wheel and can focus their skills on creative problem-solving.

Proper Implementation of Best Coding Practices

Frameworks are developed by the programmers for the programmers. 

Generally, a team of experienced programmers will create the framework focused on a particular use case, e.g., designing the front-end of a website. Keeping this in mind, the framework will come with all the common elements and best practices related to front-end web development. 

Furthermore, the frameworks, especially the popular ones, go through constant improvements adding new features relevant to the current industry trends. 

As a result, by using a popular and trusted framework, you can rest assured that your programs are using state-of-the-art technologies that already implement the best coding practices.

Another subtle but significant benefit of frameworks is you don’t need to second guess what security features are needed. 

With the ever-growing number of cyber threats, it’s crucial to ensure your code offers robust security. Frameworks already ship with the all necessary tools to keep your app and its users safe from common threats.

Better Readability, Upgradability, and Easier Maintenance

Frameworks enable programmers to develop apps and software following a standardized process. As a result, these apps are easier to understand, maintain, and upgrade.

For example, consider a developer self-coded a complete application without using a framework. 

In this case, it’ll become challenging for other developers to understand the code since they didn’t take part in the development process.  

As such, only the original developer can maintain, support, and update the app, which isn’t ideal.

However, for apps developed using a framework, the overall structure of the app will become apparent to any programmers familiar with the framework. Also, maintaining and updating these core components become more straightforward because the framework provides them.

Video: What is a framework?

Should Beginners Use a Programming Framework?

Should a first-grader use a calculator before they learn arithmetic? The same sentiment carries over to the use of programming frameworks.

Beginners should avoid using programming frameworks if they aren’t knowledgeable in the respective programming language. One should first get good at a language, learning its quirks and nuances. Otherwise, they won’t know how the framework itself works, which can lead to problems down the line.

It’s important to understand that the programming framework, itself, is a program that provides a base structure for creating other programs. But remember, it’s only giving you the skeleton. Your code is the meat that goes on top of it.

If you don’t know the programming language, how will you write the program? What’s more, how will you understand how the predefined framework elements will interact with your written code?

As such, you should at least get to the point where you can self-code an entire application with a particular language. After that, to avoid repetitive tasks and aid in development, you can pick up a framework as a resource in your development toolkit.

Types of Programming Frameworks

We have already learned that a programming framework can only develop a specific type of application. Furthermore, it is dependent on a programming language(s), specifically the language(s) used to write that framework.

As such, there are tons of programming frameworks available on the market, each focusing on a particular type of application and programming language.

To help you understand, I’ve put together a table showcasing a broad classification of the types of programming frameworks, what kind of apps you can build with them, and examples of popular frameworks that fall into those categories.

Types of Programming FrameworkWhat Can You Do With ItPopular Examples
Web Development FrameworksUsed for developing websites, web apps, and web services.ASP.NETAngularDjangoLaravelRuby on Rails
Mobile App Development FrameworksUsed for developing apps for mobile platforms like iOS and Android.React Native Flutter Xamarin Swiftic Ionic 
Data Science FrameworksProvides a framework for quick development data science projects related to AI, deep learning, and machine learning.Apache MXNetCaffeChainerHorovodLightGBM

Let’s go over each of these types of programing frameworks in more detail:

Web Frameworks

Web frameworks offer a programming structure specifically designed for developing websites, web apps, web services, and the likes. It makes sense to learn one of the web frameworks as an ever-increasing demand for web developers comes nowadays almost with a standard expectation that you are familiar with one of the frameworks also (React or Vue are fine also).

When developing these web apps, the programmer will generally need to tackle two distinct areas: the client-side (front-end) and the server-side (back-end). As such, web frameworks can be divided into two sub-groups: front-end and back-end frameworks:

  • Front-end frameworks: These help developers and designers create the UI/UX, SEO optimization, scalability enhancements, etc. 
  • Back-end frameworks: These are used for database management, URL routing, server handling, etc. 

Notably, there are also more sophisticated full-stack web development frameworks with all the necessary tools to handle both front-end and back-end workloads.

Please note: I use React daily for web development. And while many consider it to be a framework, it is actually just a library. Therefore I have decided not to include it here. I have found this video on YouTube that explains what React is well if you want to know more about it.

Here’s a quick look at some of the most popular web development frameworks, what they do, and where they are used:

1. ASP.NET: 

ASP.NET is a full-stack web development framework ideal for developing dynamic web pages, web apps, and web services. The framework is written using .NET languages and follows the model-view-controller (MVC) structure.

Popular websites that use ASP.NET include:

  • Microsoft
  • GoDaddy
  • Ancestry.com
  • TacoBell.com
  • StackOverflow
Video: 1h ASP.NET crash course

2. Angular

Angular was introduced by Google. It’s a FOSS (Free and Open-Source) front-end framework based on TypeScript (a superset of JavaScript) and follows the MVC structure. Useful features offered by the framework include modular development structure, 2-way data binding, excellent flexibility, etc. 

Popular websites that use Angular include:

  • Upwork 
  • PayPal 
  • Freelancer 
  • Forbes 
  • The Guardian
Video: Angular crash course

3. Django

Django is a FOSS full-stack web framework based on Python, allowing developers to write clean, readable, and maintainable code. It uses the model-template-views (MTV) structure and is considered one of the best frameworks for the back-end development of web apps.

Popular websites that use Django include:

  • Quora
  • Spotify
  • YouTube
  • Instagram
  • Pinterest
Video: Django introduction

4. Laravel

Laravel is another FOSS web framework primarily used for back-end development related to order management, handling multiple user accounts, data migration, etc. It’s currently the most popular PHP-based web framework and follows the MVC structure.

Popular websites that use Laravel include:

  • Github
  • BookStack
  • YouTube
  • Laracasts
  • Alison
Video: Basics of Laravel in 3 minutes

5. Ruby on Rails

Ruby on Rails, or simply Rails, is a robust full-stack web development framework based on Ruby. It follows the MVC framework and comes with default structures for easy development of databases, web services, and web pages. 

Popular websites that use Ruby on Rails:

  • Twitter
  • GitLab
  • Fiverr
  • Shopify
  • Hulu
Video: Intro to Rails: What is Ruby on Rails?

Mobile App Development Frameworks

A mobile app development framework provides an environment for the easy creation and deployment of mobile apps. They come equipped with a basic structure common to mobile apps along with useful tools like compilers, debugging software, and various libraries.

These frameworks can be divided into three main categories:

  • Native frameworks. It’s used for developing platform-specific or OS-specific apps, either Android or iOS. E.g., camera apps, GPS apps, etc.
  • Mobile web app frameworks. It’s used to turn a web app into a mobile app. E.g., IM apps, shopping apps, etc.
  • Hybrid frameworks. It offers functionalities of both native frameworks and mobile web app frameworks.

Here’s a quick look at some of the most popular mobile app development frameworks:

1. React Native 

React Native is currently one of–if not the most–popular mobile app development frameworks. Developed by Facebook, it’s an open-source framework and enables cross-platform app development. Programmers can use this framework to write apps for both iOS and Android, as well as macOS, Windows, tvOS, AndroidTV & UWP. 

Notable mobile apps developed using React Native include:

  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Shopify
  • Tesla
  • Uber Eats
  • Shopify
Video: Build your first React Native app – Todo List

2. Flutter 

Flutter comes from Google and offers an open-source UI development framework for cross-platform app development. With Flutter, you can create apps for Android, iOS, as well as Linux, Mac, Windows, Google Fuchsia, and more, all from a single code base. Flutter is notable for the rapid development and deployment of apps offering a platform-native design style.

Notable mobile apps developed using Flutter include:

  • Google Ads
  • Reflectly
  • Coach Yourself
  • Alibaba
  • Birch Finance
  • Hookle
Video: What is Flutter

3. Xamarin 

Xamarin is an open-source app development framework owned by Microsoft that uses the .NET and C# programming languages. It primarily focuses on helping businesses develop cross-platform apps that provide a native experience. With Xamarin, you can develop apps for Android, iOS, macOS, tvOS, and watchOS.

Popular mobile apps developed using Xamarin include:

  • Storyo
  • Insightly
  • Olo
  • Skulls of the Shogun
  • Thermo Fisher Scientific
Video: What is Xamarin video series

4. Swiftic (Formerly Como)

Swiftic is a premium and robust mobile app development framework for iOS and Android. It comes with all the bells and whistles you’ll need to quickly create and deploy a stunning app for eCommerce, complete with features like mobile stores, loyalty cards, push notifications, delivery management, in-app coupons, and scratch cards, and much more.

Popular mobile apps created using Swiftic include:

  • MT. Royal Bagel
  • The Clubhouse
  • Spa Cafe
  • Lakeside Fitness
Video: Swiftic (Formerly Como) Review

5. Ionic 

Ionic is a FOSS hybrid mobile app development framework. It’s based on HTML, CSS, & JavaScript and built on top of two popular libraries/frameworks AngularJS and Apache Cordova. With Ionic, you’ll get a dedicated command-line interface complete with tons of built-in features to develop cross-platform apps that support Android, iOS, and Windows.

Popular mobile apps developed using Ionic include:

  • MarketWatch
  • Diesel
  • Honeyfi
  • McLaren Automotive
  • Cryptochange
Video: Ionic 4 Crash Course for Beginners – Build an App

Data Science Frameworks

Data Science refers to the scientific analysis of data using complex algorithms and scientific methods to gather information from massive structured and unstructured data sets without going through each data point individually. 

A data science framework is a software framework that comes with a dedicated data science toolkit to help interpret and use these massive data sets. These are generally used in the the fields of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and deep learning.

I’ve shortlisted some of the most commonly used data science frameworks to give you an idea of what it is and what it does:

1. Apache MXNet

Apache MXNet is an open-source framework primarily used to train and deploy deep learning applications, specifically deep neural networking. 

The framework offers deep integration with Python with additional support for Scala, C++, R, Java, and many more. 

One of the main highlights of the framework is its ability to switch between imperative and symbolic programming easily.

Video: Deep Learning with Apache MXNet

2. Caffe

Caffe is another open-source deep learning framework. It’s written using Python and C++ and offers an expressive architecture that’s fast with access to extensible code and is supported by a large community of developers and researchers. 

Caffe utilizes “blobs,” which provide insight into the various layers of a neural network and information storage.

3. Chainer

Chainer is an open-source framework used for deep learning and purely written in Python utilizing the NumPy and CuPy libraries. 

It pioneered the “define-by-rule” neural network structure, making it possible to change the neural network dynamically. 

The framework has built a good reputation over the years as it’s considerably faster than other similar solutions like TensorFlow. 

4. Horovod

Horovod is a FOSS software framework for deep learning and is based on popular frameworks/libraries such as TensorFlow, Keras, PyTorch, and Apache MXNet. 

The framework is focused on improving the training of machine learning models in terms of resource allocation, speed, and scalability. 

Uber originally developed it to streamline distributed deep learning, bringing down the training time from weeks to days and days to hours.

Video: Seminar – Deep Learning at Scale with Horovod feat. Travis Addair

5. LightGBM

LightGBM stands for Light Gradient Boosting Machine. It is a gradient boosting framework originally developed by Microsoft and written in C++, Python, R, and C. 

The framework utilizes decision tree algorithms to help with machine learning workloads like classification and ranking. 

Using LightGBM, scientists can expect faster training speeds paired with better accuracy, higher efficiency, and lower memory usage. The framework can also support parallel and GPU learning.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on Programming Frameworks

Programming Language vs. Framework: What’s the Difference?

A framework gives us a structure and a set of tools to develop software, whereas a programming language gives us syntax and functions to write code. So, are frameworks just more powerful and fancier programming languages? No!

A programming language helps the user communicate different algorithms to the computer. Whereas, a programming framework simply offers a structure based on which a specific type of program can be written. Overall, a programming language is multipurpose, while frameworks are project-specific.

For example, Python is a programming language. You can use Python for machine learning, creating websites, developing games, and even data analysis and visualization. Now, Django is a programming framework based on Python. Developers can create fancy websites with it, but it isn’t ideal for machine learning or AI-based workloads.

Also worth noting is that a programming language is enough for developing an app or software, so you don’t necessarily need a framework. The framework is just there to make your life easier.

Are Frameworks the Same As Libraries?

A common misconception among programming students is that frameworks and libraries are the same. I’ve even seen some professional programmers interchangeably using the terms – “framework” and “library.” However, both of these are very different technologies with different use cases.

Frameworks aren’t the same as libraries. A Library is a set of predefined code snippets you can call inside your code. In contrast, a programming framework offers the underlying structure on top of which your code is added. A framework can come with built-in libraries, but not the other way around. 

A famous saying among programmers is that your code will call the libraries, whereas the framework will call the code. This is essentially a ‘Yoda-ish’ way of saying that the framework will determine what code you’ll write since it provides the underlying structure. 

You can think of it as building a house. Here, the tools you use to build the walls, the roof, the stairs, etc., represent libraries in coding. In contrast, the structure/frame that guides the construction of the house is analogous to a framework.

Key Takeaways

A programming framework is developed to save programmers from reinventing the wheel. 

It provides a base skeleton of a specific type of application that contains all the common features and assets. As such, the programmer only has to focus on creating the unique parts of the application.

Using programming frameworks helps save a lot of time in the development process. It also implements the best coding practices into your apps, making them more readable, maintainable, and upgradable.