‘What does the customer want?’
As a developer, you wonder about, worry over, and meditate around it numerous times a day. After all, adapting any solution to a user’s need is as much a part of your job as is to filter through their requirements and pinpoint their needs.
CSS frameworks support you in such instances. They are efficient. Quick as well. They offer you facilities like multiple browser support, graceful degradation, pixel-perfect outlook, intuitive behaviour, etc. And, they lighten the drudge of design.
You get the drift! They are super-helpful.
And yet, When you decide to employ a framework for CSS designing, the question stares you in the face- which of the responsive CSS frameworks should help your objective? You can’t blindly trust any. Even though they exist to simplify your job, the costs must be calculated beforehand. And, not just the monetary ones.
These frameworks, essentially, offer a basic structure that you can use to design solutions for front-end web development. They are a bunch of generic functionality, a foundation of sorts that you can reuse to satisfy a specific scenario.
They provide structure, ensure organisation, save time, bring about consistency.
But, there are counterarguments to the case as well. For instance, a framework contains code that could be useless to you but will remain as an overhead to your application. You may find some developers complaining about how a website looks common when you use a CSS framework. Design grid is often stated as another complication since many developers prefer creating one by themselves.
Therefore, the answer to ‘Why is choosing a Responsive CSS Framework such a critical task?’, in a nutshell, depends on what you consider an excellent CSS tool.
Since you are basing a project on this tool, it must satisfy what you expect of it. And that’s why, before you can make a choice, it is paramount to assess what the framework can help you accomplish and if its functionality aligns with your needs.
However, you can’t just choose one based on the features they possess. You must also consider the language, modularity, customizability, etc.
In this space, we shall discuss five CSS frameworks which stand out from the crowd of CSS frameworks, and for very specific reasons, are preferred to others.
Initially called as Twitter Blueprint, Bootstrap is an open-source, free framework that has restricted itself to front-end web development. Mark Otto, the original co-developer, called Bootstrap a tool to document common design patterns and share them within the company.
Originally released in 2011, Bootstrap has received four major updates so far. With an increasingly developing GitHub fanbase, this responsive CSS framework is also popular amongst Joomla, Drupal and WordPress users.
Besides being the most popular JS, CSS, and HTML framework, Bootstrap also sports a friendly user interface.
Bootstrap 3 introduces a great deal of convenience in creating responsive, mobile-first layouts. Its syntax, layout, and architecture are very intuitive. With a smooth learning curve, it is easy to adapt to Bootstrap, especially for beginners.
Bootstrap 3 supported LESS. However, that ended with Bootstrap 4, which is firmly invested into SASS. The CSS Preprocessor lets you create variables, functions, mixins, etc. quickly and easily.
Bootstrap has a 12-column system of grids, components, and layouts. Its powerful enough to resolve most positioning and responsiveness-related issues.
The choice between a responsive or fixed grid, fluid or fixed layout, and offsetting or nesting of columns is only a matter of minimal changes. And, you can choose to disable the automatic page responsiveness as well.
The framework doesn’t require media queries or extra CSS definitions. It supports column wrapping, which essentially means that every ‘row’ class can hold as many columns as needed. The style, position, spacing, and similar features can be tweaked using the Utility classes. It has built-in flexbox ordering, responsive column classes, and 5-grid breakpoints to fix the layout for different screen width on multiple devices.
Bootstrap gives you all the needed amenities to quickly get a site up and running. To avoid the overly recognisable default Bootstrap appearance, the framework offers a wide variety of themes. You can also change the custom styling settings to alter the website looks.
Among all the CSS frameworks out there, Bootstrap has the largest online community. Plus, the open-source history of this CSS framework gives it the advantage of well-organised, comprehensive documentation.
Any help regarding development can be found on the official Bootstrap blog, StackOverflow, the Bootstrap channel on the IRC server, and the Bootstrap Expo. The documentation is also available in 13 languages so far, including Russian, Spanish, German, French, and Chinese, which haven’t been officially provided but translated with the help of the Bootstrap community.
With ready-to-use templates and live examples explaining all the components of Bootstrap in depth, you won’t be lacking any development assistance because of the enormous support community.
Bootstrap is designed to work with the latest releases of most mobile and desktop browsers, like Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari, and Opera.
It also works with old versions. While that may alter the appearance of specific components, the website remains fully functional.
Plus, proxy browsers, like Amazon Silk, Opera Mini, UC Mini, etc. aren’t explicitly supported. That list also includes Chromium and Firefox for Linux. Although, unofficially, the framework behaves and looks just right in those browsers as well.
The internet offers a great deal of free, partially paid, and entirely paid Bootstrap themes. These include SEO friendly, CSS coded themes, AngularJS admin control panel snippets, etc. Some of the recommended vendors include ThemeForest, Boot Bundle, Bootstrap Zero, and Themewagon.
It is easily implemented by downloading the CSS and JS packages and integrating them on a local machine. It carries a pretty balanced combination of essential design principles like responsiveness and browser portability.
However, what puts this minimalist CSS framework on top of the game is its material design implementation.
Materialize is full of convenient features.
It’s got numerous components like parallax elements, cards, hoverable objects, flow texts, simple installation, modern support, and default styling.
It follows User Interface design, which is simple. It supports hybrid mobile apps. It significantly reduces coding time. The installation is similar to that of Bootstrap. It is UX-focussed, which translates into a rich collection of components.
Materialize offers the fluid responsive 12-grid system. Its elements heavily utilise motion. While it may not have as many components as Bootstrap, it does offer impressive advantages like animation, responsive transition, depth effects like lighting and shadows, padding, badges, breadcrumbs, navbar, etc.
Materialize was initially created for the rapidly flourishing entry-level web developers. Hence, the CSS framework contains several pre-configured components.
With the recent updates, it gives developers more control by offering increased programmatic customisation abilities.
The initial package download offers a CSS version and a SASS version. You still get predefined classes which simplify the creation of containers to place different UI components across a website. Additionally, in the latest releases, dependencies have been cut, and compatibilities have been improved.
Materialise follows the principles of material design which specifically define how most design elements should look and behave. It allows the user to customise a website while keeping it consistent yet unique.
The official Materialize website offers support in the form of well-explained development routes, detailed documentation, and coding examples. The users can discuss matters with the Materialize developers and other users on a Gitter chat room.
Materialize supports almost all modern browser versions while actively trying to maintain itself for a few older browser versions as well. However, it is restricted to Internet Explorer 10+.
Themes, Components, Templates
Materialize has recently begun to offer paid themes with support, purchasable via its official website. Repositories like ThemeForest also provide a wide range of CSS themes for the purpose.
Foundation is an open-source, front-end, mobile-first CSS framework that has been in the market since 2011. It was developed by Zurb to help create better front-end code quickly. It also extends its services to Emails and App development.
Foundation is advanced. It’s easy to operate. It’s fast. It’s been used by brands like Amazon, Pixar, and Adobe.
With its library of tested components, compatibility with different back-end technologies, and relatively simple implementation techniques, Foundation offers some of the finest customisation abilities.
It has a robust grid system. It is easier for designers to use Foundation locally since the framework can run in a browser. It’s streamlined and straightforward, has useful product design constraints, is filled with features, and is frequently upgraded to remove redundant code.
Foundation gives you a robust XY grid by default to control the horizontal and vertical layouts.
It supports flexbox and float-mode. It has no containers. Its grid system is cleaner and relies entirely on rows. It offers features like block grids, collapsed gutters, and centred columns.
In addition to flexible breakpoints and responsive grids, it also supports responsive gutters, which are very easy to set up.
Foundation is flexible to the point where its minimalist approach to UI design allows developers to create a unique product with ease.
The recently released version 6 of Foundation improved upon the preexisting system by introducing new features. These include:
Foundation has an active community spread across Twitter, GitHub, and Stack Exchange. The official Zurb website for this framework offers Email support and a forum where developers can discuss matters among each other.
Foundation supports latest versions of browsers like Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Opera, and IE9+.
A few of its features, like the Flexbox grid, can be disabled on will if the target browser doesn’t support it.
Themes, Components, Templates
Foundation is often termed as ‘un-styled’ since it is neutral when it comes to design. The developer is expected to supply whatever themes and styles they want and customise the website accordingly using components as per the client’s requirements.
And yet, the final product often turns out incredible.
The framework offers a range of components, lots of settings, a stunning design, well-organised packages, and a helpful load of documentation. A lot of Semantic UI features are unique. It offers support for 3D transformations, modal, element dimmers, etc.
One of the major advantages of Semantic is that it works with human-friendly HTML and uses a shared UI vocabulary. The class names are closer to English. The CSS is easier to read. It helps users get used to the framework, learn to work with it quickly, and design more efficiently.
In the Semantic package, each component gets a dedicated file. You may choose to load only the ones you need for development. This organisation promotes the convenience of use as well as limited file size and reduced load time.
It is innovative, packed with features and design options, and is useful for a range of developers.
The recent updates to this framework brought in improvements like official SASS support, Angular JS framework support, and the ability to perform with any HTML tag, among others.
The default Semantic grid theme uses 16 columns. The theming variables can be altered to change the column number as well as other features. The layout doesn’t clutter up your classes.
Unlike Bootstrap, which is an excellent framework for different reasons, you don’t have to spend time overriding styles in Semantic. It also comes with several UI components, including ones for responsive mobile solutions.
The semantic class names make styling and development more accessible to grasp. The framework is cohesive with several built-in tools to tweak the look and feel of a website. And, it is quite convenient to integrate with any website, including responsive ones, quickly.
The designing variations are built into the elements, so you can easily choose how your content will react on different devices. The framework supports integrations with libraries like React, Angular, Ember, Meteor, etc. That helps since developers are empowered to organise application logic and UI layer side by side with ease.
The Semantic UI official website lets developers initiate a chat or ignite a discussion regarding their issues. The internet is also filled with several forums dedicated to the framework.
In a shell, the framework is compatible with all the browsers that work with React JS. That includes Internet Explorer 9+.
The framework comes with a few pre-designed templates and an official WordPress theme. Plus, a good number of third-party sources offer a variety of themes for the framework.
Semantic UI components are designed to follow the philosophy of Progressive Truthfulness. Developers can define how they want their components to differ from a default CSS theme instead of designing one from scratch.
Bulma is what the mature trio of Foundation, Bootstrap, and Semantic UI aren’t.
This lightweight, stylish, and beautiful CSS framework is pure CSS. It’s very interactive, entirely based on Flexbox, and quite responsive.
Bulma is an open-source CSS framework with a lot of built-in features. It offers layout components which reduce the need to write CSS.
The classes are a lot similar to what you get in Bootstrap. The syntax is pretty readable. It has a good deal of typography and responsive helpers. The customisable grid system is easy to use. And, since it focuses on CSS, the final code is lightweight and capable of being implemented into most developmental contexts.
Altogether, Bulma offers a designing principle which lets developers focus on defining the unique element of a website, as opposed to spending their time designing the code.
Bulma is entirely based on Flexbox. The grid is simple and helps in creating custom responsive designs.
It’s easier to create grid items, align columns, vertically centre elements, etc. using this framework. It offers a 12-column system, empty columns, offset modifiers, narrow modifiers, and tiles as well.
The layout is also immensely helpful if you need to understand how a particular component is codified.
Bulma uses SASS variables to allow easy customisation. The code is spread across the component boundaries, locked in different files. The variables are also stored in separate files.
The advantage- you can modify every part of the app under development.
The grid system can be tweaked to change the viewport-based layout, sizes, gapping, nesting, etc. The layout components, especially Level, Section, and Hero, let you cast modifications without needing much custom CSS.
Bulma is quite mature and stable for a CSS framework actively in development. Plus, it’s been established as a multi-purpose CSS tool in the development community. As a result, reasonably enough help can be found online for all levels of developers.
The framework supports latest browser versions, including IE 10 with some minor issues diagnosed so far, like vertical centring and speed concerns.
Themes, Components, Templates
Bulma uses idiomatic templates to help define a website design using semantic classes only. Many themes and templates can be found online for the framework.
I already addressed the significance of picking the CSS framework that fits your project.
Bootstrap is the most popular. Foundation is the most flexible actor with a more behind-the-curtains approach to popularity. Semantic UI is elegant. Materialize is responsive and has the best material design implementation so far. Bulma is new, customisable, and a quick developer.
But, any one of these or any combination of these frameworks will only lead to a successful output if you know how to utilise their benefits in sync with your abilities as a developer.