released four years ago, but the project has stayed fairly under the radar
since then. Based on the W3C engineered Web Components, Polymer elements are
reusable, customizable chunks of code which create standardized browser
elements across the web. These individual HTML elements are designed to operate
together natively, and allow for cleaner, more manageable code bases for web
For those who are less familiar with Web Components, the
standards include four key features:
- HTML Templates - The 'template' element,
which allows pages to contain inert areas of DOM inside
- HTML Imports – Methods for importing HTML
documents into other documents
- Custom Elements - APIs which enable building new
single unit, and separate from the DOM
Google’s Polymer project builds upon vanilla Web Components,
adding new features such as improved custom element creation and repeatable
templates. All of these features are directly built into the browser, and so
are supported by (almost) all browsers. In addition to this, Polymer includes a
large number of pre-built elements, which can kick start the development
Sounds great, right? Well, not everyone is in agreement. Facebook’s
React library has exploded in popularity; it performs a similar role to Polymer
elements, but supports code-sharing between front and back end environments,
and has significant speed advantages over similar technologies. These speed
advantages are a prominent argument for Reacts superiority.
So, what should you use when building a web application?
React, Polymer, both together or something else altogether? It really depends
on your implementation. More importantly, you should take care not to conflate
React and Web Components. At a basic level, they are different things – Web
Components are designed to allow encapsulation of reusable components, and
React is excellent and keeping the DOM up to date in line with changes in your
data. Given this, you should choose a tool based on what best meets your app
functionality. You could even utilise both together; web Components behave as
native HTML elements, and as such can be used in React applications as any
other element would be.
The Web Components and Polymer specification is constantly
maturing, though. And for a large number of potential use cases, the simplicity
and modularity that Polymer affords is too good to pass up on. Developers wouldn’t
need to worry about cross-browser interoperability as the library is based on a
universal standard, and applications could be rapidly prototyped and developed
due to the reusability of elements. As time goes on and in-built browser
features become fuller and more developed, Polymer will certainly become more
proliferate across the web, and change the way we build modern web
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