Right now, in 2023, Java is the third most popular programming language in the world with more than 9 million Java developers worldwide (Python and C occupy the top 2 spots respectively). Java’s enduring success can be attributed to a few key factors:
- It is a platform-independent language (as highlighted by Java’s “write once, run anywhere” motto)
- It follows the object-oriented programming paradigm
- Its syntax is similar to other well-understood languages such as C++
In the 20+ years that Java has been around, many excellent Java frameworks have proliferated that allow programmers to efficiently build web and mobile applications, microservices, and REST APIs that run on the Java Virtual Machine (JVM). In this programming tutorial, we will look into several of the most popular Java frameworks for web development, and list the key pros and cons of each.
Practically all the Top Java Framework lists give Spring the coveted #1 spot. An open-source framework specifically meant for Enterprise applications, Spring took the development world by storm by introducing the concept of dependency injection and aspect-oriented programming features. Companies who use Spring include giants such as eBay, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and Netflix.
Spring enables developers to create loosely coupled modules whose dependencies are handled directly by the framework. Spring is s a fairly extensive framework, covering a variety of features from security to configuration. Fortunately, Spring’s many features are not difficult to learn, thanks to a wealth of documentation and an extremely active community.
The configuration, setup, build, and deployment processes all require multiple steps – perhaps too many if you’re working on a smaller project. Spring Boot (a micro framework that runs on top of the Spring Framework) is a solution for this problem, as it allows you to set up your Spring application faster, with much less configuration. The Spring Boot framework was invented with quickness in mind, by greatly reducing the amount of configuration required for new projects.
Pros of Spring Framework:
- Hugely popular and very stable framework
- Flexible configuration
- Loose coupling (due to dependency injection)
- Easy-to-test applications (due to dependency injection)
- Uses POJOs (Plain Old Java Objects)
- Extensive documentation
- Active community
Cons of Spring Framework:
- Complexity (steep learning curve)
- Developers need to write a lot of boilerplate code (unless you use Spring Boot)
Struts Java Framework
Apache Struts is a robust open-source framework for web application development. Having been around over 20 years now, it’s one of the oldest Java frameworks in use today! It follows the MVC (Model-View-Controller) architectural pattern and extends the Java Server Pages (JSP) API. In a traditional servlet-JSP approach, when the user submits a form, the information either goes to a servlet for processing or straight to next JSP. This can become problematic in complex applications as the “View” or presentation layer should ideally not have business logic.
Struts separate the View, Controller and the Model (data) and provides the binding between each through a configuration file struts-config.xml. The controller is an ActionServlet where you can write templates for the View and the user data is maintained using the ActionForm JavaBean. The Action object is responsible for forwarding the application flow. The View is maintained by a rich set of tag libraries.
Struts are easy to set up and provides much more flexibility and extensibility over the traditional MVC approach using servlets and JSP alone. Moreover, you can integrate Struts with other Java frameworks to perform tasks that aren’t built into the platform. For instance, you can use the Spring plugin for dependency injection or the Hibernate plugin for object-relational mapping. Struts also allows you to use different client-side technologies such as Jakarta Server Pages to build the front-end of your application.
Pros of Apache Struts:
- Stable and mature framework
- Espouses convention over configuration
- Extensible via plugins
- Easy to integrate with other Java frameworks and tools
- Supports web technologies (REST, AJAX, JSON)
Cons of Apache Struts:
- Not the best choice for creating server-side components that can render on the front-end
- No built-in security mechanism; only security tips that you have to apply yourself
Grails Java Framework
Grails is an open-source, Groovy-based framework that is especially prevalent in the sphere of e-commerce shops. Developers tend to choose this framework because it lets them focus on the job without having to devote a lot of time on configuration. The Grails framework is also easy to get the hang of and use effectively in everyday work for the average Java professional.
Like Java, Groovy is an object-oriented language. Its syntax is also much like that of Java, both in style and that it compiles to JVM (Java Virtual Machine) bytecode. Grails is built on top of Spring Boot to make use of its powerful features like dependency injection. That, along with modern software development principles such as convention over configuration, opinionated APIs to enforce best practices, and sensible defaults all combine to make a winning framework.
Programmers can provide additional functionality to their applications by creating custom plug-ins. Many of these find their way to community sites where developers share their creations.
Pros of Grail Framework:
- Built on top of Spring Boot
- Seamless integration with Java libraries and tools
- Convention over configuration (with sensible defaults)
- Asynchronous capabilities
- High-quality documentation and tons of learning materials
Cons of Grails Framework:
- You need to know Groovy in order to write Grails apps
Types of Java Frameworks
So far, we have focused on very generalized enterprise-level Java frameworks that facilitate all stages of application development. There are also frameworks for specific tasks or tiers, such as:
- Frontend frameworks that let you create the view layer
- ORM (object-relational mapping) and persistence frameworks that allow you to interact with your database
- Java backend frameworks that help with creating microservices and REST APIs
- Java frameworks built on top of other Java frameworks
We discuss a few of these other types of Java frameworks below.
Hibernate is an object-relational mapping framework that facilitates communication between your Java applications and relational database management systems (RDBMSs).
One of the challenges when working with RDBMSs is that programming languages and RDBMSs handle data differently, which can lead to type mismatch issues. Known as “Paradigm Mismatch”, this issue is especially pronounced for object-oriented (OO) languages because they structure data as a hierarchy of objects, while relational databases hold the same data in tables. Hence, developers will encounter mismatch problems whenever classes do not line up perfectly with the database tables, i.e., there are more classes in your object model than the number of available tables inside your relational database or vice versa.
Hibernate provides programmers with the tools to achieve data persistence without having to worry about object mapping. It aims to achieve persistence, meaning that the data created/used by the application should continue on when the application is not being utilized or there are no active sessions. Originally built for relational databases, its newest versions provide support for NoSQL data stores as well. Hibernate comes with powerful APIs and several useful tools like Mapping Editor, Wizards, and Reverse Engineering. Many big companies including Platform, DAILY HOTEL, IBM, and Dell use Hibernate in their tech stacks.
Pros of Hibernate Framework
- Object-oriented interface (no need for SQL interfaces)
- Enables any class or data structure to be persistent
- Supports multiple fetching strategies
- Automatic versioning and time stamping
- Scales well
- Highly extensible and configurable
Cons of Hibernate Framework:
- Slower performance for complex queries
- Steep learning curve
Blade is a lightweight and high-performance Java framework that specializes in building web applications in a quick and efficient manner. In fact, most developers can learn how to use the whole framework within a single day, thanks to Blade’s focus on simplicity and elegance.
The Blade framework follows the MVC (Model-View-Controller) software design pattern. Based on Java 8, both the Netty web server and template engine are built right into the Blade framework. It employs a simple design, and does not depend on any third-party libraries or introduce a lot of layers, resulting in a minimal footprint. In fact, the source code is less than 500 kb in total!
Despite its small size, Blade is flexible enough to work with a variety of plug-in extensions and resources. It employs a RESTful-style routing interface and can deploy your app as a basic Maven or Gradle project. Blade has built-in security features as well; for instance, it comes with CSRF (Cross-Site Request Forgery) and XSS (Cross-Site Scripting) defense. Other significant features include clear and concise coding and modularity, giving users the ability to select components based on their specific needs.
Pros of Blade Framework:
- No dependencies
- Easy to deploy
- Small and lightweight
- Includes an embedded web server
- Template engine support
- Flat learning curve
Cons of Blade Framework:
- Not many tutorials and example projects
- Development is less active in recent years
Dropwizard is a high-performance Java framework for rapid development of RESTful web services. It’s especially suitable for creating Java microservices.
Due to its small size, Dropwizard can be regarded as both a Java framework and a library. It is often preferred by developers for its reliability, productivity, high operability and speed. It combines a number of Java libraries including an embedded Jetty server, Google Guava, Logback, Hibernate Validator, Joda Time, and many more, all of which help programmers focus on their tasks without distractions and therefore accomplish their objectives more quickly. Dropwizard also contains Jersey which you can use to build RESTful web services and Jackson for processing JSON. In addition, there are inbuilt tools to facilitate good configurations and performance of the system, making this framework able to provide the stability needed to get an application ready for production.
Developers can think of Dropwizard as a complete ecosystem that contains all the dependencies mentioned above, bundled into a single package. Dropwizard is considered to be a user-friendly framework, as it is not difficult to master if you have proficiency in Java coding and are well familiar with the logic of this language. In fact, even a beginner can create high-performance RESTful web applications quite easily using Dropwizard.
Pros of Dropwizard Framework:
- Rapid prototyping
- Quick project bootstrap
- Easy to set up and beginner-friendly
- Consists of mature Java libraries
- Good conventions
- Extensive documentation
Cons of Dropwizard Framework:
- A bit too opinionated for some
- Not flexible when it comes to choosing Java libraries
Google Web Toolkit (GWT)
Pros of Google Web Toolkit
- Handles browser compatibility (including mobile browsers)
- Integrated debugging facilities
- Code optimization features
- Unit testing of front-end code
- Flat learning curve for Java developers
Cons of Google Web Toolkit
- No control over the front-end output
- Generates non-semantic HTML code, meaning that tags do not directly convey meaning on their own
Jakarta Faces (JF)
The Jakarta Faces (JF) framework has undergone a few naming changes since being released back in 2004. It was first called JavaServer Faces and later rebranded as Jakarta Server Faces (JSF). It has now become a well-established and highly reliable framework for building user interfaces for Java-based web applications.
Similar to Struts, JF is a component-based MVC framework that simplifies building user interfaces for server-side applications by assembling reusable UI components on a page. JF encapsulates various client-side technologies and focuses more on the presentation layer to allow web developers to create the UI by simply dragging and dropping page elements.
Additionally, JF has massive community support and is integrated into parts of the main Java language. Therefore, this framework is a great choice for developers who want to create complex applications without having to fully code and integrate the front-end tier.
Pros of Jakarta EE
- High reliability (maintained by the Eclipse Foundation)
- Built on top of the Servlet API
- Cross-browser compatibility
- Automatic state management
- Supports graceful degradation and multiple output formats
- Relatively flat learning curve (for Java developers)
Cons of Jakarta EE
- Can be difficult to debug
- Not as many tutorials or learning materials as some other Java frameworks
JHipster is a development platform to quickly generate, develop, and deploy modern web applications and microservice architectures. It integrates nicely with many front-end technologies, including Angular, React, and Vue, and includes mobile app support for Ionic and React Native as well. On the back-end, JHipster supports Spring Boot (with Java or Kotlin), Micronaut, Quarkus, Node.js, and .NET.
JHipster allows developers to create production-grade Spring-based applications that work with minimal configuration. You can see how a JHipster app looks in real life by checking out the sample apps for Angular, React, and Vue, created by the JHipster team. Or, better still, you can see what leading brands such as Adobe, Siemens, Bosch, HBO, and Google have built using JHipster.
Pros of JHipster Framework
- Significantly speeds up development
- Support for many front-end frameworks and technologies
- Support for mobile app development (Ionic and React Native)
- Built on top of Spring Boot (so you can use dependency injection and other features)
- Multiple deployment options
- Active community and extensive documentation with sample projects
Cons of JHipster Framework
- Automatically generates a huge amount of code that can be confusing for beginners
As of Vaadin 10, Vaadin gives developers direct access to the DOM (Document Object Model) from the Java Virtual Machine. The Vaadin team also split the previously existing framework into two parts: a lightweight Java framework called Vaadin Flow that handles routing and server-client communication and a set of UI components that run in the browser.
Pros of Vaadin Framework
- Employs a unique programming architecture
- Follows web standards
- Mobile-friendly components
- Extensible (via the Vaadin Add-on Directory)
- Seamlessly integrates with the Spring Framework
- Premade themes for Java apps (available for free)
Cons of Vaadin Framework
- Vaadin is a for-profit company, so they charge for Pro components, tools, and support.
Final Thoughts on Top Java Frameworks
In this tutorial, we explored some of the top Java frameworks, including Spring, Struts, Dropwizard, Hibernate, Blade, and Grails. We will be updating this guide in the coming weeks and months, so be sure to check back here in this tutorial often.