Vanilla CSS vs Bootstrap vs Tailwind: An Analysis
Hello everyone! Today's article is something I've always wanted to discuss. I remembered when I first learned CSS and hearing about Bootstrap and other frameworks like Materialize. At that time, I was unsure if I should learn these frameworks but I ended up with Bootstrap for a team project and it stuck around. And now Tailwind CSS seems to be rising in popularity, which makes me ponder if I should learn once again.
In this article, we will be looking at Vanilla CSS, Bootstrap and Tailwind CSS; analyzing their pros and cons and determining which one is best to learn in 2020. So let's begin!
My experience with CSS is that it is easy to pick up but hard to master. I do like CSS because I like to create custom styles that feels like my own. Also, it minimizes code as you are only writing styles that your site needs. Loading large chunks of CSS can slow down page loading time so by writing vanilla CSS, you reduce unnecessary code and boost your page's speed.
However, writing CSS from scratch can be daunting and tedious for many developers. This is especially true when the product you're making does not need custom designs but just a basic, simple look. In this case, it may be better to just use a framework, like Bootstrap, so let's take a look what it has to offer.
When I first discovered Bootstrap, I really love how fast I can make website templates with it. A simple blue button can be written as:
<button type="button" class="btn btn-primary">Click Me</button>
It's easy to learn, fast to implement and have a well-designed library of elements to use. It is also consistent across any devices or browsers, which means the website will remain looking good in terms of cross-device or cross-browser.
The downside is that it is so popular that many websites use it; so unless you override some styles with custom ones, your website will look very similar to other websites. Like a copy-paste.
Another con is that using Bootstrap means that we are importing large chunks of CSS code, whether we use it or not. For example, if our website don't have
dropdown elements on it, we will still import the styles of unused elements when using Bootstrap. That can impact page performance, even with the slim version, because we are importing a lot of unnecessary code. All the more if we are using Bootstrap with jQuery.
Note: jQuery is no longer needed for Bootstrap 5.
Unlike Bootstrap which is component-based, this framework is utility-based. This means that it is a low-level framework, it does not have a library of pre-designed elements like cards, buttons or dropdowns, etc. Instead, it has pre-written classes like margins, paddings, font-size and so on. The same blue button we made using Bootstrap can be written as:
<button class="bg-blue-500 hover:bg-blue-700 text-white font-bold py-2 px-4 rounded">
Because of the way it works, websites made using Tailwind does not look as generic as those made with Bootstrap. It is more versatile, customizable and lightweight compared to Bootstrap. However, as you can see, in order to make the same blue button, you need to write a little more code for Tailwind compared to Bootstrap. And of course, for any framework, you don't have complete control in the styling unless you override them so this applies to Tailwind CSS too.
Verdict: Which to use/learn?
While using vanilla CSS gives you full control and customization in terms of style, it is definitely not the winner here in terms of using it because it is just too much coding, especially if you are trying to efficiently build a website prototype. That's why in workplaces, you'll almost never use vanilla CSS to develop websites. You'll probably use some framework.
But in terms of learning, CSS is a must because if you are using other frameworks like Bootstrap or Tailwind, you might want to override some of their components or classes with your own CSS. Having that foundation that help you learn these frameworks faster and give you a little more control in styling too.
Bootstrap is a good choice for making generic but high quality looking websites fast. You want a navbar? Pop in
<nav class="navbar navbar-expand-lg navbar-light bg-light">... You want a nice looking carousel? No problem. It's all pre-styled and there. You minimize coding and get your website done very easily. Furthermore, the new Bootstrap 5 has made considerable new benefits to the framework such as removing jQuery as a dependency and including CSS custom properties. They are also implementing a Utility API which is their own utility-based framework like Tailwind.
Tailwind offers the best of both worlds from Bootstrap and vanilla CSS. A website can look like it is built with vanilla CSS with all its custom and unique elements on it. Yet at the same time, it still retains that responsiveness and classy look like Bootstrap has. Of course, because it requires a little more coding than Bootstrap, as components are not pre-styled. It is not as fast to get a website done as Bootstrap so it really depends on what your team or client wants: custom style vs. speed.
So for my verdict, it depends (I know, boring answer).
Tailwind has completely changed the game in rapid and customizable CSS development. But at the same time, Bootstrap 5 is making huge progress as well. I have used a lot of Bootstrap in the past, so I am more comfortable with component-based frameworks at the moment. I have tried Tailwind as well and it was simple to get started and learn, but still I had to refer to the docs every so often because it takes time to learn something new.
So, depending on my clients and how much time I have to finish a project, I say I'll use Bootstrap for rapid development and a clean look, but I'll use Tailwind for projects with a more customized and unique look. Last but not least, learn a little CSS (you don't have to be a master) to be able to understand some essential concepts to use these frameworks like
flex and so on.
Of course, there are also plenty of other frameworks besides the 2 in this article. Which one would you choose (doesn't have to be in the ones mentioned here) and why? Please share in the comments below. Thanks for reading, cheers!
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