30 min read

Laravel vs Express - Which Framework Is More Powerful?

PHP has been alive in the programming world for a long time.

Tim Davidson
Tim Davidson

PHP has been alive in the programming world for a long time. Programming years are kind of like dog years, and PHP is the grandparent of the web. JavaScript isn’t much younger, but it’s traditionally been a front-end language with no business running on a server… until Node.js appeared on the scene.

These two languages are the focus of plenty of memes and jokes on Reddit (/r/webdev). According to these communities, PHP is old and “confusing”, and JavaScript wasn’t designed to run on a server. Despite this, both technologies have frameworks used by hundreds of thousands of developers with thriving communities.

Laravel and Express.js are the two frameworks we’re talking about. Both are used for building web applications. Laravel is a PHP framework known for its elegant syntax and extensive feature set, while Express.js is a minimalistic Node.js framework known for its flexibility and simplicity.

The goal of this article is to compare Laravel and Express in terms of their features, performance, and popularity to help you decide which one is more suitable for your next project.

Before we dive in - here's a quick pitch. Our team write a lot of helpful content on topics we understand intimately. We've developed tons of apps with Laravel and Express, and can help you get your technology stack right for an upcoming project. If you're looking for a reliable partner, or simply some advice on how you should approach your next web development or headless eCommerce project, drop our team a line. The worst that can happen is you get some free, experience-backed advice!

Laravel overview

Laravel is a popular open-source PHP framework used for web application development. It was created by Taylor Otwell in 2011 and has since become one of the most widely used frameworks in the PHP community.

Its most outstanding features are its focus on simplicity and ease of use. The framework is built on top of Symfony, which provides a set of well-tested, reusable components that can be easily integrated into Laravel projects. This allows developers to quickly create applications without having to build everything from scratch. The framework also offers numerous helpful tools and features that make development faster and easier. Its in-built command line interface (CLI) for example, allows developers to run tasks and generate code quickly and easily. It also includes a built-in templating engine, routing system, and database migration system, which all help to streamline the development process.

While it’s not really a feature, Laravel is accompanied by arguably the best set of video documentation, Laracasts, to help a new user get up to speed.

Here’s a detailed look into its features

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    Laravel Features

    1.   Eloquent object-relational mapping (ORM)

    Laravel has an in-built ORM known as Eloquent. This ORM allows you to interact with a database using PHP’s objects and classes instead of writing tedious SQL queries. As a result, you end up with a more efficient and readable code, with the ability to easily switch between different database types without changing the underlying code.

    In Laravel, each database table has a corresponding "Model" class that is used to interact with that table. The Model class contains methods for performing common database operations, such as inserting and updating records, as well as defining relationships between tables.

    For example, if a Laravel application has a "Users" table and a "Posts" table, you can create a "User" Model and a "Post" Model. The User Model will have a method for retrieving all of the posts written by a particular user, and the Post Model could have a method for retrieving the user who wrote a particular post. You can perform CRUD operations using classes as illustrated:

    Define the user model

    class User extends Eloquent
        protected $table = 'users';

    Update user details:

    // Update an existing user
    $user = User::find(1);
    $user->name = 'Jane Doe';
    $user->email = 'janedoe@example.com';
    // Delete a user
    $user = User::find(1);

    A template engine is a tool used to generate dynamic HTML pages based on data. This allows you to create web pages that are customized for each user and that can be updated in real-time without needing to refresh the page.

    Laravel's template engine is called Blade, and it is a simple yet powerful tool for creating dynamic and reusable views in Laravel applications. Blade templates use a combination of plain PHP code and special Blade syntax to create dynamic and reusable views. Blade templates are compiled into regular PHP code and then cached until they are modified, which makes them extremely fast to render.

    Blade also allows developers to use conditional statements and loops directly in their templates, as well as include other views and layouts within their templates. Blade also provides several useful methods and functions for working with common view-related tasks, such as generating URLs, handling forms, and displaying data.

    3.   MVC support

    Laravel follows the Model-View-Controller (MVC) design pattern. This means that it separates the application logic (the model), the user interface (the view), and the control flow (the controller) into distinct components, which makes it easier to develop, maintain, and test your code.

    The model represents the data that your application works with, such as users, products, or orders. The view is a template that defines how the data will be displayed to the user, such as an HTML page or a JSON response. The controller is a PHP class that contains the business logic of your application, such as handling user input, querying the database, or generating a response. By following the MVC pattern, Laravel makes it easy to build modular and maintainable applications that can be easily extended and customized.

    4.   Simple routing system

    Laravel provides a simple and flexible routing system that allows you to define routes for your application using a PHP or a plain text file. For example, you can define a route that maps the URL "/products" to a controller action that returns a list of products or a route that maps the URL "/users/{id}" to a controller action that returns the details of a specific user. The framework also supports route parameters, which allow you to capture parts of the URL and use them in your route definitions. This makes it easy to build dynamic and customizable URLs that can be used to access different resources in your application.

    Express.js overview

    Express.js is a web application framework for Node.js. It is designed to make it easy to build web applications and APIs using Node.js.

    The framework is built on top of the core Node.js module called http, which provides a layer of web server functionality for Node.js. Express.js extends this functionality by providing a simple and flexible way to define routes, or URLs, for your application and map them to JavaScript functions that handle incoming requests and generate responses.

    Express.js Features

    1.    A simple and lightweight web server

    Express.js provides a built-in web server that can be used to serve web pages and APIs. It is fast and efficient, and it provides support for many common web application features, such as routing, middleware, and error handling. This makes it easy to create and deploy web applications using Express.js, and it allows you to focus on building your application instead of worrying about setting up and maintaining a web server.

    2.    A powerful routing system

    Express.js includes a powerful routing system that makes it easy to define and handle different URLs and HTTP methods in your web application. You can use this system to create custom routes and handle different types of requests and responses. For example, you can use routes to handle GET requests for retrieving data, POST requests for creating new data, and DELETE requests for removing data. This allows you to create flexible and scalable web applications that can handle a wide range of requests and responses.

    3.   Middleware support

    Express.js provides support for middleware, which are functions that are executed before or after a request is handled by your application. Middleware can be used to perform tasks like logging, authentication, or data validation, and it is a powerful and flexible feature of Express.js. You can use middleware to add additional functionality to your application without modifying your application's core code, and you can also use third-party middleware to extend the capabilities of your application.

    4.   A large and active community

    Express.js is a widely-used and well-supported framework, and it has a large and active community of users and developers. This means that you can find a wealth of resources, tutorials, and libraries to help you learn and use Express.js effectively. You can also get help and support from other users and developers if you have questions or encounter any problems. This makes it easier to learn and use Express.js, and it can also help you to stay up-to-date with the latest developments and best practices in the field.

    5.   Compatibility with other Node.js frameworks and libraries

    Express.js is designed to be compatible with other popular Node.js frameworks and libraries, such as Socket.io for real-time communication and Mongoose for working with MongoDB databases. This makes it easy to integrate Express.js with other technologies and build powerful and scalable web applications. For example, you can use Express.js and Socket.io together to create a real-time chat application, or you can use Express.js and Mongoose to build a web application that stores and retrieves data from a MongoDB database.

    6.   Support for template engines

    Express.js provides support for template engines. This allows you to create web pages that are customized for each user and that can be updated in real-time without needing to refresh the page. Express.js supports a variety of template engines, including popular options like Pug and EJS, and you can use template engines to create flexible and dynamic web applications.

    Laravel vs. Express.js: Ideal use cases

    Laravel is best-suited for building large and complex web applications since it offers a wide range of features that make it easy to develop and maintain applications. On the other hand, Express.js, being a minimalistic framework, is great for building lightweight and real-time web applications.

    Choose Laravel if you want to build:

    Laravel is ideal for building e-commerce websites due to its scalability. It provides all the necessary features and tools such as caching memory, authentication system and smooth database access.

    • Content Management

    Laravel provides a wide range of features for creating and managing content thanks to its template engine support, and robust routing system. It also has tools for creating custom fields, and taxonomies.

    • APIs

    Laravel is an excellent choice for creating APIs. It provides an easy-to-use RESTful API system that allows developers to create secure and powerful APIs. It also has tools for creating custom authentication systems, and webhooks.

    Choose express Express.js for building:

    • Single-page applications

    Express.js's support for routing and middleware makes it easy to create SPAs that are fast and responsive, and that can update and re-render their content in real-time without needing to refresh the page.

    • APIs

    Express.js's support for routing and middleware makes it easy to define and handle different API endpoints and to provide custom responses to API requests.

    Differences between Laravel and Express.js

    Let’s compare the two frameworks using the following criteria:

    I.        Ease of testing

    One of the biggest advantages of Laravel is its ease of testing. It has a built-in testing framework called PHPUnit that makes it easy to conduct automated tests on the code. It also has a feature called “mocking” that allows you to simulate different scenarios and test them.

    The framework also has a wide variety of tools and libraries to help you test your application. These include tools like BrowserKit, which allows you to simulate a browser environment, and Dusk, which allows you to test user-facing interactions.

    Testing Express.js applications requires you to integrate with popular testing frameworks such as Mocha, Chai, and jest. As such the testing process is a bit more complicated than in Laravel; which boasts an integrated unit testing feature, which allows developers to easily create and run tests on their applications.

    In addition, there aren't as many tools and libraries to help you with testing Express.js applications. This means you have to write more of your tests and make sure everything is working correctly.

    II.        Microservice compatibility

    Express and Laravel use different approaches for microservice compatibility. Express apps are compatible with other microservices by default. This is because it uses a non-blocking I/O model that enables multiple requests to be processed at once. Express apps also support dynamic routes allowing developers to easily add new functionality to their apps without modifying existing codebase files.

    On the other hand, Laravel uses a more complex approach that requires more work to make it compatible with other microservices. First, it requires the developers to explicitly declare which APIs they want to use in their app. Afterward, they must explicitly register those APIs in the app's configuration file using the API config module. This approach avoids conflicts by forcing developers to explicitly control which APIs are used in their apps.

    III.        Community support

    Express.js has a larger community of users than PHP’s Laravel framework. This is because Express is easier to learn, especially for beginner developers. As such, you’ll have an easier time finding and hiring an experienced Express.js developer than Laravel. Nonetheless, both frameworks have excellent documentation and numerous learning resources online.

    Frequently asked questions

    Is Laravel better than Express.js?

    Laravel and Express.js are equally great frameworks. However, Laravel provides a more structured approach to development, making it ideal for building enterprise-grade web apps. It also offers a lot of features out of the box, such as authentication, authorization, and database migrations that make it easier to develop a complete application. Express.js is designed to be lightweight and fast. It is a great choice for creating modern and fast web applications.

    Is Laravel faster than Express?

    Although Laravel is more robust and scalable than Express.js, it's slower than its counterpart.

    Wrapping up

    Laravel and Express.js are both popular web development frameworks. Both frameworks are open-source and can be used to create powerful web applications. When deciding between the two, it is important to consider the specific needs of your application. If you are looking for a feature-rich framework for building complex web applications, then Laravel should be your go-to option. However, if you are looking for an easy-to-use and lightweight framework with a focus on performance, then Express.js may be a better choice.

    If you enjoyed this article, check out our Next.js Pros and Cons summary, Why we use Tailwind CSS as our primary framework, and other technology bites on our blog

    Written by
    Tim Davidson

    Tim Davidson

    Tim is the face of the company. When you want to kick off a new project, or an update on your existing project, Tim is your man!

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