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5 Best Templating Engines for JavaScript

Many decades ago, average programmers would have to use a lot of time writing and rewriting common code that was used more than once on a page. Things like the header, image slider, and footer, just to name a few. And on top of that, we had to write the HTML markup for it all.

Many people would give in and start using JavaScript to avoid the manual labor of writing repetitive code again and again. But then templating engines were created. The JSP tag doesn’t make it any cooler, but back in the day, these were something to talk about.

Today there are numerous templating engines for JavaScript out there that can improve and simplify your workflow once again – if you handle them the right way. Let’s look at some of them.

Best Templating Engines for JavaScript

1. Handlebars

Handlebars is a semantic templating library that works with your existing HTML. It comes with many of the same features found in other popular JavaScript-based templating libraries, such as mustache and dustjs.

Handlebars started its life as an extension to Mustache, but today has grown into a full-fledged independent library. It’s been around for about four years now and is currently sitting at version 4.0.5.

Precompiling Templates

One of the most useful features of Handlebars is the ability to precompile your templates into JavaScript functions that can be executed later on by passing in data (context) from which the template will be populated with. This makes it more efficient than parsing and compiling templates on the client side every time you need to render your template.

The precompiled function is also easier to work with because it’s in JavaScript, which means you can easily debug it using your browser’s developer tools or simply just view it in the console.

2. Mustache

The Mustache templating engine provides a simple syntax for creating dynamic templates. It takes a JavaScript object and uses it to render a template, which can then be sent to the client for display.

Mustache was originally implemented in Ruby but has since been translated into JavaScript and many other languages. There are several implementations of Mustache in different languages, allowing you to use the same syntax across platforms.

Thinking of Mustache as a simple templating language for JavaScript is not exactly accurate. It is a logic-less templating engine that uses replacement fields (or placeholders) with the double-mustache notation {{field}} to insert values from the data object into the template.

There are no conditional statements or control flow operators, yet we can still create complex templates with Mustache. Rendering dynamic templates is accomplished by using sections in combination with key/value pairs in the data object passed to the template.

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3. EJS

EJS is a simple templating language that lets you generate HTML markup with plain JavaScript. No religiousness about how to organize things. No reinvention of iteration and control flow. It’s just plain JavaScript.

EJS is a solid choice for writing templates, but it also has its drawbacks. It doesn’t support template inheritance out of the box, and it’s not possible to use it in the browser. Still, with these drawbacks in mind, EJS is a decent templating language to keep in mind the next time you’re working on a project that would benefit from using templates.

4. Nunjucks

Nunjucks is a JavaScript templating engine that is highly extensible and allows you to quickly build web applications without having to write any HTML, CSS, or JavaScript.

Nunjucks is similar in design to both Jinja2 and Twig. If you’ve worked with either of those, then it should feel familiar. If you’re new to templating engines though, don’t worry! It’s really easy to pick up and start using right away.

Nunjucks allows you to work with data objects that can be passed into templates for rendering. It also supports an inheritance model and filters that allow you to manipulate your data before displaying it on the page. Because it’s built on top of JavaScript, you can use the full power of the language within your templates.

5. Underscore

Underscore is a JavaScript library that provides a whole mess of useful functional programming helpers without extending any built-in objects. It’s the answer to the question: “If I sit down in front of a blank HTML page, and want to start being productive immediately, what do I need?”.

Underscore provides over 100 functions that support both your favorite workaday functional helpers: map, filter, invoke — as well as more specialized goodies: function binding, javascript templating, deep equality testing, and so on. It delegates to built-in functions, if present, so modern browsers will use the native implementations of forEach, map, reduce, filter, every, some, and indexOf.

Most of the time, you’ll need to use templates with JavaScript frameworks like jQuery, AngularJS, React, Ember, etc. But Underscore is a great standalone JavaScript library that gives you the awesome power of templates without depending on any framework

In Conclusion

There are several popular templating engines for JavaScript that allow you to compile templates into reusable components and manage them using the Node package manager, or npm. Depending on your needs and how you want to structure your framework, there might be one or two templating engines that would work perfectly for you, from our top five list.