Retrospect and prospect: The state of web development in 2023 and 2024

Retrospect and Prospect_Web Development in 2023 and 2024

By Bryce Dunn

For most people in tech, 2023 will be remembered as the year of AI. ChatGPT was released in late 2022 and became the center of public attention in the early months of 2023, transforming the way people thought about the future of technology. A new wave of large language models and image generation allowed our imagination to run free, rethinking the ways technology integrates into our lives. Google, trying quickly to catch up, released Bard in March, and Microsoft rebranded Bing’s AI as Copilot to wrap up the year. But as the hype calms down and the dust settles, people who work in technology and software development are now eagerly curious to see if, when, and how AI will actually affect their day-to-day work in 2024. For application developers, the AI awakening of 2023 coincided with a dramatic year of changes to current tech stacks. The historic big players in the market made huge strides introducing new ways to couple client-server relationships more tightly, deprecating famous former versions, and even branding their 2023 changes as a “renaissance” for the entire framework.

Alongside these massive shifts in the tides of application development were new companies and technologies making waves for the first time. Fresh frameworks offering new solutions to old problems gained more steam than many have in the last decade. An array of developer and pipeline tools have enriched and expanded the developer experience. And of course, AI made deep inroads into the world of application and web development. All of these changes amount to an exciting but disorienting world for developers in 2024. To help developers orient themselves and become familiar with this strange new world, I’m going to map the major updates from 2023 and introduce the new technologies and development techniques of 2024. We’ll review the major players in the world of web development: React, Vue, and Angular. Then I’ll introduce the growing lineup of smaller frameworks, companies, and libraries making waves coming into 2024. Finally, we’ll take a look at the current tools utilizing AI for application development and what’s on the horizon for developers and AI in 2024. It’s an exciting time to be a developer! But it’s also more fast-moving than ever.

Here’s to starting off 2024 with a better understanding of the current state of web application development:

Shifting Tides: Changes to the Leaders

In the world of front-end web development, three libraries have dominated the space for the better part of a decade: React, Vue, and Angular. These are front-end frameworks that changed how web and mobile applications were made throughout the 2010s, and they’re as popular as ever: React is the 10th most starred GitHub repository of all time, yet it saw an increase of almost 17k stars in 2023 (the 7th-largest increase of any library in the JavaScript ecosystem). Front-end frameworks are some of the most commonly used pieces of tech for developers and these three lead the field, but these aren’t stagnant pieces of ancient tech; they have vibrant communities,active maintenance, and continue to release game-changing features every year. Take a look at the changes these libraries introduced in 2023 and what’s coming in 2024.

React

React, a champion library of the century, powers thousands of sites across the web and is the introductory step to professional level web development for many new developers (including the one writing this). Along with its counterparts – React Native, Next, Remix, among many others – the React ecosystem is one of the most popular and extensive among application development ecosystems. 2023 was the first year where we saw widespread usage and adoption of React Server Components (first announced several years ago), and this includes React’s meta-framework, Next.js, upgrading to support Server Actions in v14. This now allows full-stack development where React Server Components can run actions on the server itself. This progression of libraries like Next.js supporting complex full-stack development showcases JavaScript cementing itself as a viable choice across the tech stack.

React also introduced completely revamped documentation to help introduce the framework to new developers, and assist seasoned veterans at finding the piece of information they need much faster. (If you haven’t, you can check the new docs out at react.dev). React continues to see growth in its 3rd party library space as well. TanStack router (v1 released in late December) has had growing support over the ‘ancient and true’ “React Router” library showing how React is quite alive and well, constantly innovating to optimize. Overall, React is the most familiar library to many developers for good reason: it’s an established choice with a huge community of developers and maintainers.

Vue

Vue, while also a major framework for front-end web development like React, takes a more controlled approach, forging solutions to familiar developer problems with in-house solutions, rather than relying on open source development from the community (see Vue Router and Pinia for state management). Vue saw the fewest changes of the big three to its core library, but the Vue ecosystem had several upgrades: Vite, originally created for Vue by the creator of Vue, continues to get faster and grows in widespread adoption (even outside of the Vue ecosystem). The aforementioned Vue Router and Pinia have had incremental but continual improvements and Vue’s IDE extension “Volar” upgraded into a cross-framework tool supporting development of any embedded language (e.g., Vue, Angular, Svelte). With projects like Vite, Volar, and Nuxt, Vue’s ecosystem continues to provide great developer improvements for all web developers, even those outside of the Vue system.

In 2023, a famous version of Vue (v2) reached “end of life” status, encouraging projects to upgrade to the now-supported v3. Releases of v3.3 and v3.4 included developer experience improvements, faster template parsing, and more efficient reactivity. For Vue developers anticipating changes in 2024, one key possibility is “Vapor Mode.” Originally awaited in 2023, but now likely in 2024, Vapor Mode is modeled after Solid and allows components to opt-in to run faster, use less memory, and reduce runtime size. If it comes to fruition in 2024, it will give new projects (and upgraded old ones) a huge step forward in performance benchmarks.

Angular

Angular is the final leading front-end framework and a long-standing library for modern JavaScript development. Maintained by Google, it follows a consistent release schedule. In 2023 there were two major versions released: v16 in May and v17 in November. 2023 saw numerous changes to the Angular core library and caps a 3-year transformation into a new age of the Angular framework. Version 17 saw Angular favoring Vite (from the Vue team mentioned above) by default and introducing signals, differable views, and standalone components, each a transformative upgrade of its own merit. 

Alongside these changes, Angular, like React, introduced a brand new documentation site: angular.dev, a complete revamp of the docs, walking developers through the basics of Angular without ever leaving the home page via an in-browser IDE. And 2024 promises excitement for Angular developers with plans to improve developer experience, add more fine grained hydration strategies, and rumors of introducing native micro front-end architecture and improving testing with full Jest support by default. Finally, Angular has released notes that indicate they are considering adding a new block (similar to the released “@defer” block for differable views) to function similarly to Server Components in React. With advancements to partners in the Angular ecosystem like component library Angular Material and meta-framework Analog.js, Angular development in 2024 unfolds with exhilarating pulse.

Making Waves: Old Issues, New Solutions

Alongside the significant changes to the leading solutions in web development, many lesser-known libraries have introduced groundbreaking solutions to classic problems of application engineering, and some swim in the same lane as React, Vue, and Angular, providing new systems to build front-end or full-stack applications. Outside of pure frameworks, upgrades to styling and design abound, enhancing designers’ communication with developers, and developers’ ability to  efficiently implement designs. Finally, the outskirts of development have improved with invigorated tooling and build systems.

Frameworks

While React, Vue, and Angular are the most commonly used front-end frameworks, they aren’t alone. Svelte, alongside its meta-framework SvelteKit, was among the most admired frameworks from Stack Overflow’s 2023 developer survey. Initially debuting in 2016, but gaining popularity over the past few years, Svelte 4 was introduced in 2023 offering performance and developer experience improvements, paving the way for the upcoming Svelte 5—a complete rewrite promising major features and performance upgrades. Svelte’s compiler sets it apart by not shipping a JavaScript runtime to the browser, resulting in significantly smaller bundle sizes. Rather, developers primarily work with JavaScript and HTML-like code, compiled by Svelte. The meta-framework includes SvelteKit, offering a full-stack solution with SSR, routing, and code splitting. This evolution positions Svelte as a powerful and commendable choice for front-end development in 2024.

Solid, similar to Svelte, diverges from the typical rendering pattern (found in libraries like React) called the Virtual DOM, instead leveraging a compiler akin to Svelte, to provide much faster speeds. Solid emphasizes fine-grained reactivity through Signals, now being widely adopted by various frameworks. And Solid offers a unique twist on React’s developer experience—when writing JSX (JavaScript XML), developers get a real HTML component. A noteworthy development in the Solid ecosystem is SolidStart, the meta-framework for Solid, which saw a comprehensive revamp, culminating in the release of Beta 2 in late 2023. Solid’s innovations make it an appealing choice for developers seeking high performance and reactivity without compromising on the familiar developer experience from React.

Rising frameworks Solid and Svelte are relatively similar to React, Vue, and Angular, but some frameworks that budded in 2023 are rethinking what it means to be a front-end framework. Astro displayed its unique “Island” architecture, introducing the concept of partial hydration optimizing performance by loading JavaScript only where and when it is needed, otherwise leveraging much faster HTML. Astro is also unique in allowing developers to use their preferred development experience, supporting React, Vue, Svelte, or even a combination of frameworks compiling all code to static HTML, eliminating the need to ship as much JavaScript to the browser.

Qwik likewise attempts to avoid shipping JavaScript to the browser to mitigate performance issues. Qwik (and QwikCity)—built by Miško Hevery, creator of Angular, now-CTO at Builder.io—introduces resumability to avoid hydration entirely. It delivers serialized HTML that remains fully interactive and calls on JavaScript only when needed. Finally, HTMX takes a different approach to avoiding shipping JavaScript to the browser by recognizing the capabilities of HTML and enhancing them with a few new attributes. This focus on HTML acknowledges its inherent power but provides solutions to common tasks and edge cases. All of these frameworks attempt to redefine JavaScript application development by offering innovative solutions to enhance performance and improve developer experience.

Design

Developer tooling has also taken some great steps forward in 2023. Vite continues to grow in popularity and use, offering a compelling alternative to webpack and Rollup for JavaScript builds. Employing ECMAScript Modules (ESM) allows Vite to run a development server that serves code on demand instead of bundling in advance, resulting in improved speed and efficiency. Turborepo and Nx represent an attempt to manage development, repositories, and packages more effectively; these tools leverage caching to enhance build performance, and efficiently manage package duplication organizing development pipelines to lint, run, build, and deploy applications far faster. Finally, an exciting, game-changing runtime for JavaScript promises significant speed improvements over existing options like Node or Deno. Bun has earned quick acclaim, ranking as the 2nd most starred project on GitHub in 2023. These tools continue to move the JavaScript and web development ecosystem to be faster, more efficient, and more versatile.

Wind in the Sails: AI Advancements

No forecast of 2024 would be complete without an assessment of the impact AI will have. For software developers, there is a lot to be excited about. One improvement will be within the IDE, with companies like Microsoft and Google offering coding assistants directly inside their code. Copilot is the leader in this category, having matured for a few years, but Google is releasing Duet to compete. These coding AI assistants offer two ways for AI to assist developers coding. First, they add supercharged autocomplete functionality. As developers type, the AI offers text completion suggestions based on publicly available repositories and the user’s previous code. I can personally attest to GitHub’s claims of “55% faster coding;” I personally would place this number even higher! However, a renovation to these coding assistants is the variety of new chat and command features.

Not only can these AIs help engineers write code as they type, they can write code from start to finish with a few simple commands. Do you need to write a function to accomplish a specific task? Just explain the task to the assistant and it will construct the function and insert it correctly into the code. Do you hate writing laborious tests? Both AIs feature a “generate tests” feature: highlight the code and click “Generate Tests” and AI will complete the testing. Moreover, their benefit doesn’t stop with writing code: AIs can read code written by others (or written by the developer too long ago to remember what it does!) and explain it, refactor it to make it more readable, document the code inline, or summarize it in paragraph form. GitHub Copilot has even rolled out a feature to write pull request descriptions for developers.

But the advancements in AI don’t exist solely in the IDE: Figma, in partnership with Builder.io, has released Visual Copilot, an AI to fit into the design-to-code workflow. Developers run this plugin on Figma design files, then convert the designs into the code of their choice (HTML, React, Qwik, etc). Developers can then copy/paste the code, or have it automatically synced with their IDE, updating the code automatically as Figma designs are changed. All of this is powered by Builder.io’s open-source compiler “Mitosis.”

One AI development project from 2023 re-envisioned the future of engineering. From the team at Vercel, v0.dev introduces a new category of AI: generative UI. As they put it, v0 is “a product that makes website creation as simple as describing your ideas.” Enter a description of a new UI and v0 will build an interactive canvas of the design alongside the code used to render it. It’s powered by  open source tools discussed above: React, Tailwind, and Shadcn UI. After chatting with the AI to continue to iterate and tweak the UI, developers can copy and paste the code into your app and continue development from there. While it is still in its infancy, this kind of product radically shifts the way developers will write code and use AI in the coming years. It’s hard to imagine a world where nearly every developer won’t be using a tool like Copilot, Duet, or v0 on a daily basis in just a few short years.

Looking into 2024

2023 was a sensational year of tech innovation for the JavaScript and web development community. All three major frameworks saw significant changes. Newcomers offered groundbreaking solutions to old problems. Tooling is making JavaScript development faster and the developer experience more enjoyable. 2024 will be no less exciting, especially in the realm of AI. Large language models and generative AI will grow exponentially in 2024 quickly shifting the way apps are developed. From coding assistants to design-to-code compilers to AIs that create complete UIs, web development is going to move faster than ever in 2024. Developers will need to stay curious and reimagine how AI allows them to work. Wanted or not, the AI renaissance is here, and competitive companies must catch some of the wind in their sails and see how AI will carry them to revamped engineering, creative solutions, and new products.

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