Choosing the Right Stack For Your Next Web Project: MEAN vs MERN

Although they were great in their heyday, websites with rotating tables and GIFs are now extinct. These days, websites are built with widgets in order to make them load quickly, be more interactive, and more mobile-responsive.

Users demand richer experiences from websites and expect something similar to what they would experience using a native mobile app. On the business side of things, developers are also under significant pressure to develop DevOps methodologies in order to deliver new applications rapidly while rolling out enhancements and updates on a regular basis.

But it doesn’t stop there as they are also required to scale appropriately when needed and ensure high availability at the same time. As a result, you can say that the evolution of web development has been driven and accelerated by the demands of the end users.

This means that the traditional approach of combining JavaScript, CSS, and HTML is no longer sufficient (although it gets the job done). For large enterprise web apps, taking advantage of a web stack has proven to be a perfect solution to meet the demands of today’s web audiences.

JavaScript (and its successors like JSX, ES6, etc.) is essentially the enabler of stacks as it can easily tie up multiple technologies together (with the JSON data format).

Once known for just adding pop-up windows and flashing headers, developers are now able to utilize JavaScript to implement application logic, front-end experiences, and access databases.

There are many stacks used by developers, but the dominant two are as follows:

  • MEAN (MongoDB, ExpressJS, AngularJS, NodeJS)
  • MERN (MongoDB, ExpressJS, ReactJS, NodeJS)

As you can see, the key difference here is between AngularJS and ReactJS.

The MEAN vs MERN Stack

The stacks used in web development are basically the response of software engineers to current demands. They have essentially adopted preexisting frameworks (including JavaScript) to make their lives easier.

While there are many, MEAN and MERN are just two of the popular stacks that have evolved out of JavaScript.

Both of these stacks are made up of open source components and offer an end-to-end framework for building comprehensive web apps that enable browsers to connect with databases. The common theme between the two is JavaScript and this is also the key benefit of using either stack.

You can basically avoid any syntax errors or any confusion by just coding in one programming language, JavaScript. Another advantage of building your next web project with MEAN or MERN is the fact that you benefit from its enhanced flexibility.

There is a lot of overlap among most stacks out there (including these two), so it really comes down to knowing the strengths and weaknesses of each framework in relation to what you’re trying to achieve.

For example, knowing the key differences between AngularJS and ExpressJS is important as both can run application code, the route to pages, and implement business logic. But a developer who knows each framework inside out will also know that ExpressJS is a better option for back-end work as the framework is more secure for code and data, closer to the database, and highly compatible with dynamic servers.

Regardless of whether you choose to work with MEAN or MERN, both stacks foster a lot of familiarity and standards for coders. As each approach can help address the critical but repetitive tasks at hand, efforts can be redirected towards innovation.

As most enterprises embrace more DevOps frameworks, adopting MEAN or MERN also means more time for deployment and market testing. Further, these stacks also play a key role in utilizing REST APIs to break down application silos.

This makes your web project less isolated and enables interaction through public APIs. This means that web developers will now have the power to enable customers to perform actions such as pinning a location on a map or connecting via social media platforms like Facebook (something we have all become accustomed to).

How to choose the right stack

Choosing the best stack for your next build really comes down to you. If you’re awesome working with ReactJS, then it makes perfect sense to pick the stack with ReactJS.

But for small to medium projects, you really shouldn’t choose one over the other because you think one is “better.” This is because your experience and comfort level will dictate your speed and how well you accomplish the task at hand.

If you choose to work with a MEAN stack, the considerable overlap between the features in the technologies will make it important to decide who does what within the development team. So you will have to decide where the fundamental phase of your build will take place.

As both AngularJS and ExpressJS are enabled with common features (like run application code and route to pages), either one can be used to implement the business logic of a sophisticated web project.

But traditionally development teams have favored ExpressJS for the back-end because of the following reasons:

  • Sensitive data can be kept safe in an environment that’s more secure
  • Minimized latency as it’s likely to be closer to the database
  • Intellectual property can be protected as the application code is hidden from the user
  • Increased performance with the use of powerful servers

But this might change as there is a growing trend to transfer more of the functionality to AngularJS as it’s already running on the user’s browser. This new trend is primarily being driven by the need to reduce costly resources that are used to power the back-end by utilizing the processing power of the end user’s machine.

It makes sense to adopt this approach as it offers a more scalable architecture as users will add their own computing resources to the equation. This means better response times as long as there isn’t much need to access the database or other resources often.

Sometimes some progressive applications can provide a sub-par service (quite often) when the client application loses contact with the back-end because the user has lost internet connectivity. But modern browsers enable applications to locally store data and synch with the back-end later when connectivity has been restored.

When all the required data is local, MongoDB offers a much better option than AngularJS or ExpressJS as it’s a sophisticated aggregation framework that can perform a lot of analytics. This provides a surprising option of running a part of the application logic within the database.

Something else that can affect your decision is the validation of any data that’s supplied by the user. If this is as close to the user as possible, AngularJS can be used to verify the provided password against security rules and offer instant feedback.

While this thought process makes a lot of sense, it doesn’t negate the value of validating the data in the back-end by using the MongoDB document functionality as well. This approach can also protect the web application from software writing erroneous data.

If you want to move away from using AngularJS, ReactJS provides a great alternative. Facebook built this JavaScript library to achieve reactive or interactive user interfaces (UIs). Just like AngularJS, ReactJS also breaks down front-end applications into components.

This enables each component to hold its own state. At the same time, a parent component will be allowed to pass its state down to its child components. These components will also be able to pass changes back to the parent component by utilizing callback functions.

ReactJS comes with the added benefit of being able to run on the back-end server within NodeJS. Although it’s commonly executed within the browser, it can also run as a mobile app using React Native.

If you’re comfortable with both, but don’t know what to use for your next build, a Google search will bring up a bunch of discussions about it. If you dive into them, you will learn that AngularJS 2.0 is a little more powerful, but ReactJS is easier for developers to quickly learn and use (or maybe not).

So if you need someone else to help you with parts of the development, make sure that they also share the same level of comfort with the framework before moving forward.

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