Elijah Asaolu I am a programmer, I have a life.

Comparing Bootstrap vs. Tailwind CSS vs. Material UI (MUI)

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Comparing Bootstrap Vs Tailwind Css Vs Material Ui

Editor’s note: This post was updated on 20 July 2022 to include information relevant to the most recent versions of Bootstrap, Tailwind CSS, and MUI, as well as to add a section discussing if these libraries can be used in combination with each other.

Building your frontend application without relying on an existing library is great. But learning how to implement libraries doesn’t just save you time — it also helps you build clean and symmetrical layouts without extra effort. All of these libraries are built with cross-browser functionality in mind.

While there are numerous UI libraries out there, there are tons of differences between each one of them, ranging from accessibility to extensibility, amongst other criteria.

This article will identify the key differences between three popular UI libraries: Bootstrap, Material UI (MUI), and Tailwind CSS.

What we’ll cover:

Bootstrap

Bootstrap was initially developed by Mark Otto and Jacob Thornton while they were both working at Twitter. The first version was originally released on Friday, August 19, 2011.

Since its release, the library has gained a lot of attention in the developer community, with around 160k stars on Github at the time of this writing and 1000+ active contributors.

Bootstrap at first used CSS and optionally jQuery design templates for its components. However, the most recent version, Bootstrap 5, abandoned support for jQuery in favor of vanilla (plain) JavaScript.

Using the Bootstrap library

Integrating Bootstrap into a new or existing project is super easy. You can get started by including its CDN or downloading its source files and linking them in your markup page.

The developer community also strives to help bring Bootstrap to literally all frontend frameworks, including React, Vue.js, and Svelte.


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BootstrapVue

BootstrapVue helps you build applications using Vue.js and Bootstrap 4. It provides the most comprehensive implementations of the Bootstrap 4 components and grid system, but support for Bootstrap 5 is currently still in development.

In addition to core Bootstrap components, BootstrapVue includes extras such as the skeleton loader and the image lazy-loading components. It also features out-of-the-box support for Bootstrap icons.

Reactstrap

Reactstrap is similar to BootstrapVue, but for React.js. However, unlike BootstrapVue, this library does not support the usual Bootstrap icons out of the box. Also, there are no additional components.

Sveltestrap

Sveltestrap provides Bootstrap 5 components for a Svelte 3 app without requiring you to use Bootstrap component classes.

You also get some custom components that are not shipped with React by default, like its off-canvas and fade components. In addition, you also have access to Bootstrap icons out of the box.

Accessibility in Bootstrap

Ideally, Bootstrap was built to conform to the standard Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0). But of course, most accessibility factors also depend on the developer’s markup structure, additional styling, and scripts used.

The Bootstrap team was fair enough to have noted how to include further accessibility roles and attributes for each interactive component in their documentation. That makes it easier for developers to more accurately state the functionality of their component.

Bootstrap support for screen readers

Bootstrap provides a utility class (.sr-only) to hide contents visually while also making them accessible to assistive technologies like screen readers.

This comes in handy in situations where additional information needs to be conveyed to non-visual users.

Here’s an example:

<p class="text-danger">
  <span class="sr-only">Danger:</span>
  This action is not reversible
</p>

Extending Bootstrap

In some cases, you might want to change existing Bootstrap styles to better suit your needs. For example, you may want to change the default colors for different components or modify borders.

There are two major ways to work around this: using custom CSS, or using SASS.

Overriding Bootstrap styles with a custom CSS file

Using a custom CSS file is definitely the easiest workaround when it comes to extending Bootstrap. This method requires you to create an external [custom].css file and reference it after the main Bootstrap CSS file.

Here’s an example:

<link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" href="path/to/bootstrap.min.css">
<link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" href="path/to/override.css">

Customizing Bootstrap styles using SASS

SASS (syntactically awesome stylesheet) is essentially a preprocessor scripting language that compiles into CSS. SASS makes it easier to create and reuse CSS variables. Furthermore, its support for other features such as nested styles, mixins, and modules makes it popular among developers.

For those unfamiliar with SASS, this procedure may appear to be rather complex.

Bootstrap was written in SASS, then further compiled to pure CSS, so this makes it easy for developers familiar with SASS to modify and fine-tune the entire library to their taste.

However, it is recommended that you avoid modifying Bootstrap’s core files wherever possible, and instead create a custom SASS document that imports Bootstrap so that you can modify and extend it.

Material UI (MUI) for React

MUI is a Material Design system for implementing React-based applications that offers a large number of prebuilt components that are immediately available for use in production.

The Material Design system was created by Google to help developers build high-quality digital experiences for Android, iOS, Flutter, and the web. Applications in this case are built to follow the principles, behaviors, and design guidelines as documented on the official website.

The design guidelines also include instructions for how components should be created, colors and theming options to follow, concepts for how interaction and animation flows should be, typefaces and recommended icons, and many other guidelines.

Using Material Design

The official developers of Material Design provide a suite of frameworks and packages for both mobile and web applications. In fact, it is the default design system in frameworks such as Flutter and Kotlin.

However, the developer community has also built a number of open source tools to aid developers integrate Material Design into multiple web frameworks, including MUI.

MUI was designed to be appealing, with a variety of customization options that allow you to easily build your own custom design system on top of its components.

Furthermore, the library contains a variety of components that are not included in the official Material Design components, yet adhere to its design standard.

Vuetify: Exploring another open source tool for Material Design

Vuetify is a Vue.js-based framework that also includes a variety of Material Design elements. While there are multiple Vue.js material design frameworks, Vuetify has been popular among Vue developers since it is easier to learn compared to others.

In addition, Vuetify was designed with the purpose of being modular, responsive, and performant by default, and it comes with a number of themes from which to choose.

Accessibility in Material Design and libraries like MUI

The Google Material Design system already includes accessibility guidelines and best practices, and libraries and frameworks created around it are bound to follow them by default. Also, most of these libraries, like Vuetify and MUI, do have some additional features to further create rich and accessible applications.

Extending Material Design with MUI

The MUI library has several methods for customizing and extending its components. One option is to include the library’s sx prop and set its value to your preferred override CSS. Below is an example of its slider component:

<Slider
  defaultValue={30}
  sx={{
    width: 300,
    margin: '10px',
  }}
/>

It also includes a GlobalStyles and ThemeProvider component, which allow you to change the styling and define a separate theme for every desired component. To learn more about MUI customization and extensibility, the team has created a dedicated page with step-by-step instructions.

Extending Material Design with Vuetify

It’s pretty straightforward to customize Vuetify components. You can easily modify component themes during library initialization by supplying a theme field to the Vuetify constructor.

Here’s an example of how we’d override component color for both light and dark themes:

// src/plugins/vuetify.js

import Vue from 'vue'
import Vuetify from 'vuetify/lib'

const vuetify = new Vuetify({
  theme: {
    themes: {
      light: {
        primary: '#3f51b5',
        secondary: '#b0bec5',
        accent: '#8c9eff',
        error: '#b71c1c',
      },
      // or use pre-defined material colors from the vuetify library.
      dark: {
        primary: colors.blue.lighten3,
        secondary: colors.grey.darken2,
      },
    },
  },
})

The Vuetify team also developed a specialized theme generator that allows you to simply create and export themes for your application from a variety of color options.

Tailwind CSS

Tailwind CSS is a relatively new frontend framework, initially released on November 1st, 2017, with its first version created by Adam Wathan and Steve Schoger. The library has since gained a lot of attention and has even been adopted by big companies, including Algolia and Mozilla.

Tailwind CSS differs from the earlier mentioned CSS libraries in that it does not directly provide UI components. Instead, it provides low-level utility classes that enable you to create fully unique designs.

This library works by scanning for class names in all of your HTML files, JavaScript components, and other templates, then generating the relevant styles and writing them to a static CSS file.

To understand what this means, below is an example of how to create a primary (blue) button in Bootstrap vs. MUI vs. Tailwind CSS.

Pure Bootstrap example:

<button class=”btn btn-primary”>Awesome Button</button>

MUI example:

<Button variant="contained" color="primary">Primary</Button>

Tailwind CSS example:

<button class="bg-blue-500 hover:bg-blue-600 text-white font-bold py-2 px-4 rounded">
  Awesome Button
</button>

As you can see, unlike the other libraries, Tailwind allows you to directly customize your elements using utility classes. You can manually specify the color variant, the background color on hover, and more.

When you have common components that follow the same design pattern, the example above might be quite exhaustive and time-consuming. This is why an additional option for extracting component classes exists. Here’s an example:

<button class="btn btn-blue">
  Custom Button
</button>

<button class="btn btn-blue">
  Another Button
</button>

<style>
  .btn {
    @apply font-bold py-2 px-4 rounded;
  }
  .btn-blue {
    @apply bg-blue-500 text-white;
  }
  .btn-blue:hover {
    @apply bg-blue-600;
  }
</style>

However, it is recommended to avoid doing this whenever possible as it defeats the purpose of the library, which is to avoid having to write CSS code and come up with class names for such stylings again.

Using Tailwind CSS

Tailwind CSS is available as a node package that may be extended as a PostCSS plugin. It is also served via CDN, though the CDN is intended for development purposes only and is not the ideal option for production.

The node package can be customized to operate with all JavaScript frontend frameworks (React, Vue, Vite, and so on), Laravel, and even a Ruby on Rails application.

Accessibility in Tailwind CSS

Tailwind CSS is built to be performant and accessible by default. Like Bootstrap, Tailwind includes additional utility classes to improve accessibility — most notably, the screen reader (sr-only and not-sr-only) class. For example:

><span class="sr-only">Only visible to screen readers only</span>
<span class="not-sr-only">Visible to both users and screen readers</span>

Also, with Tailwind’s conditional utility classes, you can go a step further to hide or unhide items for screen readers based on element states (focus, hover, etc.) and device resolution:

<span class="sr-only sm:not-sr-only">Sample content</span>
<span class="sr-only focus:not-sr-only">Another sample content</span>

Using Bootstrap with Tailwind or MUI

While it is not recommended, it is possible to use one library alongside another.

Be mindful that various libraries and frameworks have identical class names behind the scenes, such as how the container, px, and mx classes exist in both Bootstrap and Tailwind. This may conflict with the design order of your project.

Here’s an example of using Bootstrap in combination with Tailwind CSS:

<head>
  <meta charset="UTF-8">
  <meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1.0">
  <link rel="stylesheet" href="https://cdn.jsdelivr.net/npm/[email protected]/dist/css/bootstrap.min.css">
  <script src="https://cdn.tailwindcss.com"></script>
</head>

<body class="container mt-5">
  <!-- Bootstrap button example -->
  <button class="btn btn-primary">Hello</button>

  <!-- Underlined bold text with tailwind -->
  <h1 class="text-3xl font-bold underline">
    Hello world!
  </h1>
</body>

In the example above, if we utilize a utility class that exists in both libraries, Tailwind’s styling will be mostly applied. This is because we imported it after Bootstrap in the head section of our HTML, thereby overriding conflicting stylings.

Conclusion

This article provided an in-depth guide to popular CSS libraries and frameworks. I hope this helps you choose the right tool to use when developing your frontend applications.

If you have another reason for favoring one framework over another, please share it in the comments below. Let’s talk about it.

Thanks for reading!

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Elijah Asaolu I am a programmer, I have a life.

4 Replies to “Comparing Bootstrap vs. Tailwind CSS vs. Material UI (MUI)”

  1. Great article.

    I’ve used Bootstrap for years but at most times I don’t use the default styles, which means the built-in classes, like “btn”, “table”, are usually re-styled, so I decided to try Tailwind to create different custom classes (or custom components in frameworks like Vue) for different projects.

  2. I hated Tailwind the first minutes, until I really realize how it works, and how you should use it. Now I think It’s awesome.

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