Designing Websites Using Bootstrap

Bootstrap logo

If you’re just starting with web development, you’ll spend a lot of time learning how to style and design your websites to look great and be user-friendly. Furthermore, you need to make sure they work properly on all devices your visitors view them with. To get you to your goal faster, you can use Bootstrap – a set of tools that will make all this easier for you. Designing websites using Bootstrap is surprisingly straightforward and probably quicker than you’d think!

In this post I’ll share what I’ve learned about it so far and how it’s helped me design professional-looking, easy-to-use websites quicker than I ever expected. If you’re new to web development and want to get a website or a web application on its feet quickly, you should definitely read on and consider looking into Bootstrap.

To give you a good picture of what Bootstrap is all about, I’ll go through the following points in this post:

  1. What is Bootstrap?
  2. What does Bootstrap do exactly?
  3. Why should you use Bootstrap?
  4. Who should learn Bootstrap?
  5. What alternatives are there for Bootstrap?
  6. What disadvantages does Bootstrap have?

Let’s get started – happy reading!


What is Bootstrap?

In order to create websites that look great and are easy to use, you need to get acquainted with a few different technologies and programming languages. The first ones in line would most likely be:

  • HTML for creating the content
  • CSS for styling the content elements
  • JavaScript for adding interactivity to your website

Obviously, learning all three languages well enough to finish a website project eats up a lot of your precious time. That’s where Bootstrap is going to help you out – quite a bit, in fact! It basically offers a shortcut to a finished, professional-looking website, especially for front-end newbies.

Technically, Bootstrap is a front-end web framework created by Twitter and first released in 2011. It’s basically a collection of “ready-to-wear” templates you can use for creating and styling different elements and parts of your website.

The design templates in Bootstrap are based on HTML and CSS. Additionally, Bootstrap also offers a variety of JavaScript extensions. They are a much faster way of achieving a robust website design compared to using all the individual styling tools.

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What does Bootstrap do?

Whatever your website is about, you need to pay attention to a few important points in every projects. To help you out, Bootstrap comes with solutions to make your website look great (1), be more user-friendly (2), and be responsive across all devices (3).

1 – The look and feel of a website

First of all, you most likely want the website to look great. With Bootstrap, you can create a beautiful, modern layout for the elements of any web page. Starting with very basic HTML paragraphs, headings, and other elements, Bootstrap lets you arrange them into interesting and effective layouts really easily. Here’s one prime example.

2 – User-friendliness of your web page

There are various different ways to make your website more user-friendly. One of them definitely is making it as easy as possible for your visitors to navigate through your web page. Bootstrap offers a few tools for navigation elements. One of them is the navigation bar seen on top of a page, which creates a nice roadmap through the individual pages. You should see a nav bar at the top of this page, too.

Other examples of user-friendly tools in Bootstrap are breadcrumbs, for instance. They simply display the current page’s path within the website’s navigational hierarchy.

Breadcrumbs example

3 – Responsiveness of your website

Responsiveness simply means that the layout of the page adjusts dynamically depending on the dimensions of the screen it’s viewed on. So whether your visitors are admiring your website on a tiny smartphone display or on a big computer screen, it will always work the way you intended and have a consistent look.

Responsiveness actually is an ever-more important aspect of web design. You probably use your smartphone while following interesting links on Twitter, for instance, and read intriguing blog entries on the small screen. In fact, about half of the visitors on my blog are using a mobile device – a figure that pretty much matches a recent study that found out that up to 50% of all internet traffic comes from mobile devices already.

Why use Bootstrap?

I first came in contact with Bootstrap when I was creating my first web application using Python and Django. I was focusing mainly on the back-end dynamics of the project, working my way through Python Crash Course. Later on, I learned more about the wonderful world of Bootstrap in this great online course I’m working my way through at Udemy.

Python Crash Course introduced me to the awesome tools Bootstrap offers for a quick and easy solution for managing the front-end side of the project. With Bootstrap, I was able to create a fresh, clean, and simple look for my web application.

Of course I knew that I’d learn more about front-end development soon, but it was great to have a finished, easy-to-use interface ready even before I knew much about CSS or JavaScript.

Here’s a summary of the positive sides of Bootstrap I’ve discovered so far:

1 – Open-source and freely available

Thanks to Bootstrap’s very liberal license, anyone can access, modify, and use it for free. You can use it in your projects, even commercially. Pretty neat!

2 – Saves you a lot of time

I’d say the biggest perk of using Bootstrap is that it saves a lot of time! You don’t have to go and reinvent the wheel and get grey hair from trying to create a beautiful button or progress bar. Bootstrap has all that figured out for you already.

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3 – Very easy to use

Bootstrap has a really good and comprehensive documentation available right here. It’s clear, precise, and if you read it carefully you can actually understand every part of it. That being said, you don’t really need to know much code to start using Bootstrap.

4 – Makes websites responsive

As I mentioned above, responsiveness is a big thing in web development and design these days. It’s crucial to know that your site looks good on all devices out there. With Bootstrap, you don’t have to do the manual work yourself.

Furthermore, website responsiveness is also a part of Google’s search algorithm nowadays. Hence, making your website more responsive will increase its ranking among similar search results.

5 – Big, supportive community

Bootstrap is currently the second most-starred project on GitHub, where anyone can contribute and participate! Moreover, it’s fairly easy to find answers to your questions online when Bootstrap isn’t working the way you expected.

Laptop on sofa

Who should learn Bootstrap?

This is a pretty obvious one: anyone who’s interested in the points discussed above!

Speaking from experience, I’d say Bootstrap is an excellent tool for beginner web developers and designers. There are surely both pros and cons with starting off with Bootstrap. Keeping a healthy balance between bootstrapping and learning HTML, CSS, and JavaScript at the same time seems like a good way to go.

Personally I found Bootstrap extremely helpful for developing web apps as someone who had focused mostly on learning back-end stuff before starting with the front-end part of the project. And while I was using Bootstrap, I actually learned a lot about HTML and CSS. JavaScript came along a bit later.

So if you really want to develop your fundamental website styling skills, don’t use Bootstrap alone. Go through the documentation at the Bootstrap website. Read the code and see what it’s actually doing and how it’s working.

That said, learning how Bootstrap actually works is essential to mastering it in the long run. Sure you can create some beautiful-looking landing pages in just a few minutes with just Bootstrap, but copy-and-paste will never get you too far!

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Alternatives to Bootstrap

Once you master the realm of front-end development, you can of course create your own front-end framework similar to Bootstrap! That would definitely bring about a few nice advantages.

For example, with your own code, you’re not depending on any third-party updates and tweaks here and there. Keeping up with Bootstrap’s updates does obviously take some time. Now with a framework of your own, you can write your code once and use it for your projects. After 6 months, it will still be exactly the same.

Thanks to Bootstrap’s massive success, it’s no surprise that some alternative frameworks have appeared in the market, such as:

There are several different options out there to choose from if you don’t feel like Bootstrap is your first choice.

CSS code

What disadvantages does Bootstrap have?

Bootstrap isn’t always the optimal solution for everyone, of course. As any other tool, it has its occasional disadvantages and shortcomings once you look beyond the surface.

For instance, one point I bump into quite frequently is that Bootstrap can make websites look too similar to a certain extent. Of course it’s up to you how much you wish to customise. But if you spend a lot of time customising the different style sheets and other files manually, one could ask why you should use a web framework in the first place?

Furthermore, the files Bootstrap creates often tend to be rather big. The amount of code in the files is sometimes quite bloated. So is the file size in kilobytes in some cases. As with the customisation dilemma above, you could ask the same question here. If you spend your time altering the files yourself, maybe you could use that time to build a solution of your own to begin with.

Finally, it sometimes crosses my mind that Bootstrap could perhaps end up being a “dependency” technology for web developers. Don’t get me wrong here – I really love Bootstrap and I’m a heavy user myself! I’m just sometimes thinking whether it could get in my way at some point in the future when I possess more advanced skills in HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.


Conclusion

All in all, Bootstrap does really provide a great, easy-to-use tool for speeding up front-end development. Of course there are pros and cons to using it. Everyone needs to make their own decision whether it’s the right choice for them or not.

In my opinion, it’s an awesome tool for beginners who know some HTML and CSS already. Styling and designing websites using Bootstrap is a real time-saver. This perk is especially nice if you’re starting to learn how to code with a focus on back-end development.

So go out there and try Bootstrap for yourself! See if works for you and get to know all the cool stuff it can do for you. Combine it with learning HTML, CSS, and JavaScript and make sure you try to understand how it all really works under the surface.

— See also: Back-End Development vs Front-End Development

Please share your thoughts on Bootstrap in the comments below. If you liked this post, please feel free to share it so others can find it, too!

Toodles!

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