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Astro: everything you need to know about this increasingly popular framework

Astro js framework cover

In our last article "Svelte, Solid and Qwik: the rise of new front-end frameworks" we have talked about the new frameworks on the rise in front-end development by following their interest rate on the website The state of JS. Another tool that is becoming increasingly popular is Astro, a static website generator that allows the use of JavaScript for the creation of web components and the management of client-side logic, which we at DevInterface are also already using.

So let's see in detail what it is and how this tool can help you.


What's Astro

Astro is a JavaScript framework for generating static websites and was created by a programmer named Fred K. Schott in 2021. Schott developed Astro.js as a framework for building fast and secure websites using technologies such as React and Vue.js. The framework was developed with the goal of simplifying the creation of static websites, improving page loading speed and providing an enhanced user experience. Astro.js is open source software and is available on GitHub.

Although it started out as a JavaScript framework for static websites, Astro was not created to compete with other frameworks. Instead, Astro was created to work with other frameworks. The creators of Astro themselves have made it clear that the framework does not meet all frontend development needs and that there are use cases for which the tool is not suitable. In fact, it is a tool that has a very specific target: the development of content-centred websites.


Astro's unique characteristics

1) Template language

The Astro template language is a markup language used for the creation of static web pages. The aim of this project is to make the process of creating web pages more straightforward. The markup system used is very simple and based on HTML tags, although it supports the use of variables, as well as loops and conditions to create dynamic web pages. 

One of the special features of the Astro template language is the ability to generate image thumbnails automatically and to create photo galleries quickly and intuitively. In addition, the Astro template language is highly customisable and supports the use of CSS and JavaScript to create aesthetically pleasing and interactive web pages.


2) Framework-agnostic

One of the main features and strengths of Astro is its 'framework agnostic' nature, i.e. its ability to integrate and work with other libraries and JavaScript frameworks commonly used in front-end development.

This means that developers can still integrate Astro into an existing application based on a different framework (such as React) without having to modify the architecture of the site or run into compatibility problems with pre-existing libraries and frameworks, nor be constrained by the technical choices made previously.

In summary, Astro's 'framework agnostic' feature offers greater flexibility to web developers and allows them to create high-performance static web pages using the development tools of their choice, without having to compromise the quality of their work or add excessive complexity.


3) Client-side performance

Astro was designed with the objective of offering high performance, both client-side and server-side.  With regard to client-side performance, Astro uses advanced rendering techniques such as static extraction of components and pre-fetching of resources such as images and JavaScript files, again with the aim of improving the user experience.

For example, when using Astro, components are statically extracted, which means that they are generated asynchronously before the JavaScript code is executed.  This approach considerably improves page loading time as the components are loaded independently of the JavaScript code and can be cached by the browser for faster retrieval.

Astro also supports the generation of static pages: these can be pre-generated during the compilation process and served as static HTML files, without the need to execute client-side JavaScript code. This considerably increases client-side performance, as static HTML files can be served more quickly for the benefit of the user.


Pros and cons 

There are several pros to using Astro as a web development platform:

  • In the words of the authors: 'The goal of Astro is to be accessible to all web developers. The framework is indeed easy to set up and use, is oriented towards a server-first API design and does not include any JS runtimes.
  • It provides a comprehensive set of tools to cover all the needs of developers. 
  • It includes file-based routing, data retrieval, resource management and much more.
  • It is possible to use Astro in conjunction with other popular frameworks (React, Preact, Svelte, Vue and many others) without impacting their operation or making development more complex.
  • Astro also offers support for Markdown.

As with any technology, there are also some cons to using Astro as a web development platform:

  • For creating particularly complex or interactive projects such as administration dashboards or social networks, Astro is probably not the ideal framework. Astro was born and focused for the development of image-rich websites and static content.
  • The number of resources, tools and functionalities available certainly cannot yet compete with more famous and established frameworks such as React, at least for the time being, but the community revolving around Astro is very active and constantly growing, and in particular 
  • the Discord channel is full of information and developers willing to help and provide suggestions and advice.
  • Astro's future looks solid and rosy, but only time will tell.


When to use Astro and how we use it

Astro may be an ideal choice for web developers seeking to create high-performance static web pages. However, there are some cases where it might be better to consider alternatives to Astro:

  1. Complex projects: If the project you are developing is very complex and requires a lot of advanced functionality, Astro may not be the best choice. In these cases, it may be better to consider more advanced web development platforms with more functionality.
  2. Dynamic projects: If your project requires a lot of dynamic interaction between the user and the server, for instance with a highly interactive web application, it might be better to consider alternatives to Astro, as Astro is geared towards static web pages.
  3. Prior knowledge: If you are already an expert in a specific technology or library, it might be more efficient and convenient to continue using that technology or library, rather than learning a new technology like Astro.

In general, Astro is an ideal choice for creating high-performance static web pages, but it may not be the best choice for more complex or dynamic projects, or if developers already have prior knowledge of a specific technology or library. Furthermore, it is important to consider one's own experience and specific needs before deciding whether to use Astro or alternatives. At DevInterface we also use Astro, mainly for the development of content-rich internal landing pages.


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