Java Frameworks: The Best 10 for Modern Web and Apps Development

by 
 Updated on 
October 9, 2020
 / 13 minutes

Frameworks are good for speed development, they help enforce best practices, reduce boilerplate code, and in general give a sense of control to the developer.

Talking about Java, it is around for two decades now and commands a huge ecosystem that includes multiple Java frameworks, libraries, and other related development tools.

Whatever is your project need, you will find at least one Java framework to automate the tasks at hand. The problem is that Java frameworks are mushrooming everywhere, and many of those offer similar functionality, and that is what makes the selection process a bit difficult.

In this article, we are covering the best Java frameworks that are feature-rich, regularly upgraded, focus on the needs of modern application development, popular among the community of developers, and make it possible to build enterprise-grade applications.  

Which Java Framework Fits Your Stack?

It depends on many factors including individual career objectives, project scale and complexity, existing team skills, available tech stack, and much more.

It is worth noting that many old frameworks like Hibernate and Struts are still maintained but the use is on the continuous decline.

Enterprises are fast replacing these frameworks either partially or fully by more modern Java frameworks like MyBatis, Dropwizard, Spring Boot, Vert.X, Micronaut, and many others.  

Furthermore, many of the modern frameworks provide the capability to mix and match Java with other technologies like React and Angular.

So, you get to use the best of java as well as other modern tools as part of your overall tech stack.

Let us briefly look at best Java frameworks in the market –

1. Spring Framework ++

Spring is the most used Java framework of all time. It is open-source, free to use, lightweight, simple to learn, bring ready-to-use Java modules, speeds up development, and focuses on application security.

It is also worth noting that the Spring ecosystem comprises of core Spring framework as well as other projects built on top of the spring core to meet specific application needs. These projects include Spring Boot, Spring Cloud, Spring Batch, Spring Security, Spring Integration, and a few more.

The popularity of spring is evident from the fact that huge applications like Netflix are supported by Spring ecosystem. Apart from Netflix, IT giant Accenture’s tech stack also includes Spring and requires Spring as the key skill for many developer jobs. Other big enterprises using spring include Intuit, Zillow, MIT, Amazon, and Yatra among many others.

Why and When to use Spring?

  • Use spring to build serverless applications by utilizing modern cloud computing solutions that reduce to zero computing overheads when idle.
  • You would need to write less boilerplate code by using Spring modules like Spring JDBC, Spring MVC, Spring ORM, Spring Test, MVC, and many more.
  • Use the event-driven architecture of spring boot to develop streaming apps like stock exchanges and Netflix video streaming.
  • Deploy microservices in the cloud using spring core along with Spring Boot, spring cloud, ready to use patterns, and other Spring tools.
  • Spring is best in class for dependency injection, i18n, validation, type conversion, AOP, spEL, data binding, and a lot more.
  • Apart from Java, you can also use Spring with Kotlin, Groovy, and other JVM based programming languages.

Furthermore, the Spring Java framework has incredibly good documentation, many learning resources, and a supportive community including developers from organizations like Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and Netflix.

A note on Spring Boot –

While Spring core brings in dependency injection and ready to use modules like Spring JDBC, Spring test and Spring MVC, etc, it is Spring Boot that made spring hugely popular.

Spring Boot focuses on developer productivity by adding starter dependencies to simplify build configuration, automates configuration, embeds Jetty, tomcat, etc., and all of this without the need for any XML configuration.

Before we move on, want to add a little on spring cloud which works great for distributed microservices by load-balancing, service discovery, distributed tracing, monitoring, and much more.

Have a quick look at the below architecture –

spring java framework cloud architecture

Spring

2. Play for Java

Play is another lightweight Java framework that is popular among the community of Java developers. It is used specifically for web application development and follows the MVC architectural pattern.

Before we get into further details, it is worth noting that Play is also used by many large enterprises like Walmart, SAMSUNG, Verizon, LinkedIn, and the Guardian.

Why use Play Framework –

  • Play is a great fit for modern web apps and predictably scales both vertically and horizontally as the load grows.
  • Use Play to develop full-stack web apps and Rest Webservices. It provides support for an HTTP server, routing, I18n, CSRF protection, and web forms out of the box.
  • Provides multiple configuration options like setting cookies max-age, gzip compression of resources with the option to filter out resources from compression.
  • Seamless integration with Maven for easy of code and library management.
  • Play brings in Anorm, JPA, and Slick for database access but also allows the use of any third-party ORMs or NoSQL libraries.
  • Goes with the model of convention over configuration, supports hot code reloading, and lets you see errors in the browser.
  • Play framework also includes asset compiler for LESS and Coffeescript, JSON is just right there to be delivered via your web service. It also brings in good support to work with NoSQL databases and big data.

Play is built on top of Akka and claims minimal and predictable utilization of memory and CPU. It is worth noting that play can be used with Scala language as well, which too runs on JVM.

Playframework

3. Vert.X

When I talk about modern platforms for application development using Java, I mean something like Vert.X. It is a polyglot framework and supports multiple languages including Java, Kotlin, Ruby, Groovy, and Scala.

You might want to have a quick look at Kotlin vs Java similarities and differences.

Vert.X is a project of Eclipses foundation, and many large enterprises have already included Vert.x in their tech stack, including the likes of RBS, Bosch, Hulu, Red hat, Tesco, and Swisscom. 

Vert.X is a flexible framework and can be used to achieve many different use cases including microservices development in Java, network utilities, to develop messaging buses on the backend, and more.

Key notes on Vert.X –

  • Easy to write asynchronous non-blocking code using call­backs, futures, coroutines (in case of Kotlin), and many other reactive extensions that Vert.x ships with.  
  • It is modular like lego blocks. Pick the front end, backend, database, and everything else of your choice when working with Vert.X.
  • Vertex brings in modules for all aspects of the application development lifecycle including clustering, messaging, integration, monitoring, dev ops, authentication, authorization, and much more.
  • An amazing, dynamic, and growing community, you have much higher chances to get support whenever in need.

It is worth noting that Vert.X received the most innovative Java technology award just a few years back. For sure a framework to be evaluated for your next Java project.

Vert.X

4. DropWizard

Dropwizard is unlike any other framework mentioned in this article. It is more like a collection of best libraries and tools from the huge Java ecosystem rather than being a framework on its own. 

The developers of DropWizard have chosen the libraries with utmost care to ensure that you get a complete package for developing RESTful microservices and web applications. This also means that you get a bit of opinionated framework here that enforces you to develop applications using a predefined set of tools and methods.

At the core of Dropwizard are the production tested proven set of libraries including –

  • Jetty: HTTP server for high-performance web apps
  • Jersy: Proven RESTful web applications framework
  • Jackson: JSON for the JVM
  • Metrics: For application metrics reporting
  • Logback: Logging framework
  • Hibernate Validator: For Java Beans validations

It is worth noting that “Metrics” is at the core of DropWizard and not part of any external library. It is used in many other frameworks as well since its JVM and application metrics reporting is powerful.

Dropwizard.io

5. Spark

Spark is a small framework with a clear focus on microservices development. Developers also use Spark for building websites by integrating Spark microservices with template engines.

It is worth noting that Spark is focused on productivity and lets you serve JSON from your very first web service with just a few lines of code. It is expressive, brings minimum boilerplate, opinionated, and saves you time to think “how to do” by enforcing “how it should be done”. 

Below is all you need to serve a response – 

import static spark.Spark.*;

public class HelloWorld {
    public static void main(String[] args) {
        get("/hello", (req, res) -> "Hello World");
    }
}

Developers coming from NodeJS/ExpressJS would feel at home with Spark while getting all the benefits of JVM based app. It is worth noting that Spark can be used with both Java and Kotlin.

Spark

6. MYBATIS

Not many Java frameworks specialize in making Java deal easy with databases. But we have at least one, MyBatis. MyBatis is the best persistence framework used for connecting Java with relational databases.

While it has the capability to map POJOs to database records, it offers a lot more than that. With MyBatis, you can use stored procedures, custom SQL, and complex mappings. You get rid of all the JDBC boilerplate code you deal with in general. You can also use XML and annotations for configuration and primitives mapping.

Declarative data caching is particularly useful and lets you mark statements as cacheable. This lets you retrieve data from the database and store it in the cache for reuses instead of frequent trips to the database. MyBatis provides connectors to work with Ehcache, Memcached, Haelcast, and OsCache. You can also use APIs to integrate with any other caching system.

MyBatis also brings in XML like syntax to dynamically build SQL statements, you can also use Apache Velocity with MYBatis.

Read more about MyBatis here at: MyBatis.

7. Hibernate

Hibernate framework used to be the framework of choice a few years back, mainly to do database tables mapping in java classes. It used to be a huge time saver for developers to work with relational database management systems (RDBMS).

Hibernate added many more modules over time including Hibernate Search, Hibernate Validator, Hibernate Tools, Hibernate OGM, and a few more. Hibernate ORM for database tables mapping remains the most used module of the hibernate framework.

Key notes about Hibernate:

  • Hibernate does not provide anything battle-tested for NoSQL databases, so if you are thinking Hibernate, pick it only if you have an SQL database behind the scene.
  • Good fit for CRUD operations but does not go easy when you need to build complicated reporting spanning multiple tables or data sources.
  • You can use Hibernate with plain old java objects. You create POJO and map database tables one on one with the java objects, also map java data types to SQL data types.

Many large organizations are still using Hibernate, but its use is steadily on the decline when it comes to building new applications from scratch.

So, for students, learners, and for building new projects, I would suggest staying away from Hibernate as the core framework.

Hibernate

8. JHipster

JHipster is among the fastest-growing frameworks of recent times. Also, JHipster is huge in terms of features offered as compared to other Java Frameworks like Play or Spark.

It is worth noting that JHipster is a complete platform to build and deploy end to end web apps and microservices and not just a simple Java Framework. It lets you choose from multiple options for front end development, back end development as well as for deployment of apps and web services.

Why use JHipster?

You would use JHipster to mix and match the best of technologies, For example, you can keep JHipster at the core, choose React, Angular, or Vue for your front end and go with Spring Boot for the backend development.

The advantage of using Spring Boot at the backend is that you get all advantages and performance of complied language like Java or Kotlin. Going a step beyond, you can choose Azure, google cloud, AWS, Heroku, or OpenShift for the deployment, all controlled through JHipster, being at the core of your application.

 JHipster

9. Struts

Struts is currently maintained by Apache Foundation and available as an open-source framework, free to use. It used to be one of the most used frameworks for web development, but the use of struts is fading off with every passing year.

The current version of Struts is Struts 2 which came into existence after the merger of WebWork and Struts 1. Note that Struts 2 is fundamentally different from the first version and offers a lot more functionality.

Key notes about Struts Java Framework:
  • Ease of maintenance given that code is very well organized between JSP, java, and action classes.
  • Convention over configuration is the way to do things when we talk Struts.
  • It allows the use of many plugins including plugins for JSON, REST, and AJAX. You can also include Hibernate ORM for object-relational mapping as well as include Spring plugin to add dependency injection in your project.

Struts

10. Micronaut

Micronaut is another modern framework that runs on the JVM and can be used with Java, and hence we call it a Java framework. Apart from JVM, Micronaut apps can also run on GraalVM which is the universal polygot virtual machine created by Oracle.

What I love about running apps on GraalVM is that you compile the code to machine code instead of bytecode, and that is what makes applications written in Micronaut blazingly fast at startup and during further execution.

Micronaut is a great fit for building full-stack applications in Java, it is also a great fit for creating serverless applications, modular and testable microservices.

Micronaut

Closing Thoughts

Selecting the right framework that goes well with your overall tech stack is not an easy task and requires a good amount of effort in the beginning. However, the efforts are worth it and save you time in the long run. Furthermore, application development is multi-dimensional and requires the seamless working of the framework, database, version control, package management, and other tools and technologies.

Most Java frameworks discussed in this article are among the best in the market, as of writing this article. We hope the list provided you the information you were looking for.

Do let us know your experience with java frameworks via comments. Also, let us know if you believe there is another Java framework that really does the job better than any of the frameworks mentioned in this article.

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