Are micro-frameworks suitable only for small projects?

When I first heard about micro-frameworks I thought they were suitable only for small projects, prototyping and small REST Apis (or other types of Apis).

Well this kind of thinking wasn’t my fault. That’s how some micro-frameworks were presented to the world. And still, nowadays, some of them have descriptions that make us think they are really simple and supposed to be used only for small or simple projects.

Let’s take a look into some of them (Based on a search on DuckDuckGo for php micro framework).

Another interesting note is that most of micro-framework’s pages uses the words simple and easy to describe the framework. Ok, they want to bring in new developers, but maybe simple and easy are not the right choice of words.

Now, to the big question: Are micro-frameworks really easy to use and aimed mainly at small projects?

Well, I don’t think so.

A lot of people misunderstand what the micro means for micro-frameworks. It doesn’t mean that your projects should be micro or small, it means that the framework does not ship with most of the components you usually have in a full stack. Micro-frameworks are a response for the big full-stack frameworks, that usually ship a lot of libraries, helpers, patterns and structure to help you focus on your problem, not on defining which patterns, libraries, best practices or whatever a project usually needs to be good and maintainable.

So, if you think about it, micro-frameworks are actually harder to use than full-stacks!

And this leads to another question: Are micro-frameworks good for beginners?

Now, going back to projects’ size…

Well, for really, really small apps, with no database connection, no Apis consuming and basically no need for more than a few lines of code for each route (or prototyping with mock data), micro-frameworks will be really easier to use and will not require tons of config files and other services running like some full-stack ones require.

But it doesn’t mean that micro-frameworks should be used only for these cases.

If you are a seasoned web developer, you should have used some full-stack frameworks already. Actually they were kinda the first experience with frameworks a lot of us had. One of my first experiences with frameworks was CodeIgniter. It’s fast, easy to learn, has a nice documentation and has a lot of nice stuff to help you getting things done.

Don’t know how to organize your code? Use default directories organization from CodeIgniter and done.

Don’t really understand MVC? Just create controllers, models and views following the documentation and done. And it’s ok if you have a lot of business logic in your controllers and super slim models used just for data persistence and database’s searches and basically no real OOP at all (that was my case).

Want to send e-mails? Framework has a library for you.

Want to log stuff? Framework is here for you.

Need a cache layer? Framework!

Template engine? Framework!!! (Ok, not CodeIgniter…)

Well, you get it.

The problem here is that many beginners get used to one framework and tend to use it for everything. If you are a beginner, I recommend you to build stuff, a lot of stuff, with no framework at all. Build a lot of toy projects, then try to use some frameworks, more than one, and then you will be able to make better choices.

Now, back to the full stacks, maybe you don’t need all these things. Maybe you need just a router for your small Api. And I think this is where the problem lies. If full-stack frameworks have a lot of helpful things, they are useful only for big projects, that will really make use of everything in the framework, or most part of it. And, of course, micro-frameworks will be the opposite of full-stack and be suitable only for small projects where you need just a few libs.

… This is not true!

Actually, my old CodeIgniter projects are now so glued to the framework that it became really hard to use something new or to add simple stuff like… Tests! So if I really want or need to move away, I’ll have some hard times ahead. And the problem is not just moving away. If the default template engine of the framework is not suitable for the project anymore, it will not be easy to get rid of it.

When you choose a full-stack framework, you are kind of choosing to couple your project to the framework. Ok, you can build a project decoupled from the framework, but this is not the usual way to go and is surely not easy.

If you use a micro-framework, you will also have a lot of hard decisions to make as your project grows and needs new features. Yet, it will be easier to decouple your project from the framework.

It’s not hard to find ZF1 projects using Doctrine for database management or twig for templates (or ZF2 :) … )

So, if you think about it, maybe micro-frameworks should be targeted at small and big/huge projects, because the standard libs of a full-stack will not be always the best choices and the project will be really glued to it.

If you are a experienced developer and know you can build a better stack out of decoupled components and keep them up to date, go for micro-frameworks. It will surely not be easy in the beginning, yet it should pay off as the project grows and having a better understanding of the stack and how to mold and control it is necessary.

What about you? have any thoughts on this topic? Where are you using micro-frameworks? Leave your comment below :]

Happy coding!


Evaldo Junior

Web developer, writer, speaker, Free and Open Source Software contributor and sometimes a gamer and a guitar and ukulele player.

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