November 17, 2016
With hundreds of free JS libraries out there it’s tough to know where to put your energy. Some end up discarded or forked into new projects, while others grow rapidly and achieve widespread adoption.
Most developers already know the big names like jQuery and React. But in this post I’d like to introduce twelve alternative JS libraries that are less well-known but rising rapidly.
Big data is a growing industry and data visualization is quickly becoming just as important. There are tons of charting & mapping libraries but few stand out as much as D3.js. This JS library works with SVG and canvas elements to render graphs, charts, and dynamic visualizations on the web.
I know many devs are sick of hearing about Node all the time. But it really is the fastest growing JS library and it offers so much more than a dev environment. With NPM you can manage local packages for all your projects right from the command line.
This makes Node a full development toolkit that works well with other tools like Gulp. Plus dozens of related open source projects have been built on Node so you can work with unit testing in Mocha.js or build a front end interface with the Sails.js framework.
If you haven’t tried Node yet then you might be surprised just how much you’re missing.
Virtual DOM rendering and custom elements litter the React library. It has quickly become the choice of all professionals who want a powerful digital interface library for front end development.
But Riot.js is putting up a solid fight offering a nice alternative to React. By using the Riot framework you still have access to a virtual DOM but it’s much easier to control with simpler syntax requirements. Unfortunately this library isn’t as big as React and it’s not powered by Facebook, so you won’t have the huge community. But it’s a healthy alternative and it’s a decent competitor in the front end space.
From web animation to digital media you can work with everything in CreateJS. This isn’t one single library, but rather a suite of libraries built for different purposes. For example Easel.js works with HTML5 canvas elements while Tweet.js helps you build custom tweening & animations for the web.
Every library in this collection serves a different purpose and offers modern features for all major browsers. But most of these libraries help with specialized features so they’re best used on specialty websites. If you’re curious, then take a look at the Create JS website to see what it offers.
Earlier I mentioned Node.js and how many other libraries are built on top of it. Keystone.js is a fantastic example that goes beyond Node by offering a full-scale CMS engine.
With Keystone you can build MEAN webapps powered by Node/Express and MongoDB on the backend. Keystone.js is completely free but still very new. At the time of this writing it’s only in v0.3 so it has a long way to go for professional use.
In the world of front end frameworks you typically find two prominent choices: Angular and Ember. But Vue.js is another very popular choice and it’s quickly gaining more attention since its v2.0 release.
You can integrate any platform into the Meteor framework with fantastic results. This open source project helps developers build JS-powered applications whether they’re real-time chat apps or social communities or custom dashboards.
There’s even a social news framework called Telescope built on top of Meteor. This lets you create a social news/social voting website from scratch running on Meteor and React.
Meteor is a beast of a library with lots of features, but it’s not easy to learn. However it is fun and skilled JS developers can build almost anything with this platform.
This is one of the few libraries I recommend for data graphs because it’s easy to setup, easy to customize, and it comes with some of the best documentation of any open source project.
This works off the most popular devices like the Oculus Rift and the Vive but it’s currently in a development stage. The API is open source and constantly being tested against modern browsers to gauge how it functions on VR devices.
If you’re curious to learn more or get involved with the project check out the official site or visit the MozVR page for more info.
It’s crazy to see how much 3D animation has grown dating back to the 1980s up to today. We’re all familiar with 3D animated movies but web animation is still a new frontier. And thankfully we have libraries like Three.js blazing a path for 3D animation on the web.
On the main site you’ll find dozens of live examples of Three.js in action. You can build motion-sensitive backgrounds, custom 3D web graphics, and dynamic interface elements that use 3D animation effects. If you have enough patience and drive you can build any 3D effect with this library. It is the best resource for 3D motion on the web, and it comes with lots of examples to get you started.
I would specifically recommend this library to any experienced developers who want a smoother development process. It’s a complicated subject for beginners but Omniscient can radically change your dev workflow when used in coordination with React components.
This is a pretty dense library but it offers one of the smoothest learning curves for beginners. It’s not as detailed as React, and it uses vastly different syntax in JS and HTML. Visit the main site to learn more, and check out the examples page to see what’s possible with Ractive.