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What Does "Vanilla" Mean in Web Development?

3 min read
Published on 11th April 2024
What Does Vanilla Mean in Web Development?

In the culinary world, vanilla often connotes simplicity and unadorned flavor. In web development, "vanilla" carries a similar meaning, denoting the use of pure, framework-free coding languages such as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. One such example could be building a router in vanilla JS, rather than using a framework. This article delves into the essence of vanilla web development, contrasting it with the use of libraries and frameworks, and discusses why and when developers might choose the vanilla route for their projects.

Understanding Vanilla Web Development

Vanilla web development refers to using a programming language in its original form without any additional libraries or frameworks. The term is most commonly associated with JavaScript (Vanilla JS), but it can also apply to CSS and HTML. In essence, when a developer writes in vanilla JavaScript, they are using only the features built into the language itself.

Vanilla JavaScript vs. Frameworks and Libraries

To better understand vanilla web development, it's essential to distinguish between the terms "library," "framework," and the vanilla approach:

  • Library: A collection of reusable code that can help developers perform common tasks more efficiently. Libraries give developers access to pre-written code, but they don't dictate the structure of your project. jQuery is a well-known JavaScript library.

  • Framework: Provides not just code libraries but also a strict structure and pattern for building applications. Frameworks dictate a particular way of doing things, with Angular, React, and Vue.js being prominent examples in the JavaScript ecosystem.

  • Vanilla Web Development: Involves using the core language itself (HTML, CSS, or JavaScript) without the aid of libraries or frameworks. It's about leveraging the native APIs and features of the language as standardized by the ECMAScript specification for JavaScript.

Advantages of Vanilla Web Development

  • Performance: Vanilla JavaScript tends to be faster than using heavy frameworks or libraries since there's no additional abstraction layer the browser needs to go through.

  • Learning the Core Language: Working with vanilla JavaScript forces developers to understand the language deeply, improving problem-solving skills and providing a solid foundation that makes it easier to pick up frameworks or libraries later on.

  • Flexibility and Control: Vanilla development offers complete control over the code and functionality, allowing for customized solutions tailored precisely to the project's needs without extraneous features.

  • No Dependencies: There's no need to worry about updating libraries or frameworks, dealing with version compatibility issues, or relying on third-party code that you don't control.

When to Use Vanilla Web Development

Choosing whether to use vanilla web development or reach for a framework/library depends on several factors:

  • Project Size and Complexity: For simple websites or features, vanilla JavaScript might be all you need. Frameworks can be overkill for small projects, adding unnecessary complexity and overhead.

  • Performance Requirements: If performance is a critical concern, such as in high-traffic websites or applications with real-time functionalities, the lean nature of vanilla JavaScript can offer advantages.

  • Team Skills: The decision might also hinge on the team's familiarity and comfort with the core languages versus specific frameworks or libraries.

The Role of Vanilla Web Development in Modern Web

Even with the rise of powerful frameworks and libraries designed to simplify development and handle complex tasks, vanilla web development remains relevant. It's often used for learning purposes, performance optimizations, or when developers need granular control over their code.


Vanilla web development is a testament to the power and flexibility inherent in the core web languages: HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. By understanding and appreciating the vanilla approach, developers can make informed decisions about when to leverage the simplicity and speed of pure code and when to harness the productivity gains offered by libraries and frameworks. Whether building a quick prototype, optimizing a critical feature for speed, or deepening one's understanding of web development, going vanilla can be a rewarding journey.