Bootstrap vs. Tailwind CSS: Which Should You Use For Your App?

By Joshua Gross, 24 December, 2022

Front-end UI kits can help speed up development, save money, and create a stylish and professional-looking user interface. At the same time, these kits can be limiting if you want to create a truly unique design.

One of the most popular and well-established options is Bootstrap, though Tailwind CSS has been quickly growing as a utility-first CSS framework.

If you're starting to research different tools you can use when building your next app and you're wondering how you should approach UI, you might be wondering whether Bootstrap or Tailwind CSS is a better choice. In this article, we'll look at the pros and cons of each framework while also touching upon another potential option: ditching UI kits and instead building from scratch.

What Is Bootstrap?

Used in mobile-first front-end web development, Bootstrap is an open-source (and free) CSS framework. It offers CSS, HTML, and JavaScript-based design templates that can be used for interface components like forms, typography, navigation, and buttons.

The goal behind Bootstrap is to simplify the process of creating informative web pages. A well-established object-oriented CSS framework, the internet has been abuzz for the past few years with developers discussing whether they should make the switch to Tailwind CSS from one of the more predictable standards.

Originally released in 2011 by Mark Otto and Jacob Thornton, Bootstrap was originally used internally at Twitter by the developer team. Hundreds of components in the framework can help anyone quickly begin building a site, such as navigation bars, modals, dropdowns, buttons, cards, and many more.

Are you new to the world of app building? Take a look at our guide on the three different types of apps.

What Is Tailwind CSS?

Tailwind CSS is a utility-first CSS framework that's free and open-source. Used to build custom interfaces efficiently, the low-level and utility-first features allow you to choose from different classes that you can apply to your HTML and style without messing with CSS.

For developers that want to have a lot of control over the look and feel of their components as well as flexibility in their styling, Tailwind CSS is a popular choice. Rather than having pre-built components that limit the ability to create a unique UI, developers can use Tailwind to better align one's brand identity with the look and feel of the site.

Released by Adam Wathan and Steve Schoger in 2017, this framework is newer than Bootstrap but has gained popularity quickly. It approaches UI components very differently from standard OOCSS frameworks like Bulma or Bootstrap. When using Tailwind CSS, developers don't have to worry about remembering and building class name constructs.

On top of that, there's also a just-in-time (JIT) mode that gets rid of classes that aren't being used in your HTML. This can reduce load time significantly because the final CSS file only has the CSS classes that are being used in your chosen templates.

Researching libraries as you prepare to build your web app? Check out our recent post comparing Svelte and React.

Pros and Cons of Bootstrap

What are the advantages of using Bootstrap to create a user interface for your site?

Some of the most commonly cited benefits include:

  • Offers a huge collection of UI components, including navigation bars, dropdowns, and modals.
  • Pretty easy to customize thanks to Sass variables and mixins.
  • Very well-established CSS framework.
  • Large community and lots of resources available.
  • Creates UI with largely seamless and responsive design.
  • Easy to learn and use.

So what are the downsides? Why might you not want to use Bootstrap?

Some of the most notable cons include:

  • Difficult to customize the style sheet if you aren't using Saas variables.
  • Doesn't allow you to purge unused classes by default.
  • The speed of development is slower, and customizing templates takes longer.
  • Larger file sizes than Tailwind CSS.
  • Critics argue that sites created using Bootstrap all look similar.

Pros and Cons of Tailwind CSS

Why have some people made the switch from Bootstrap or other more established CSS frameworks to the relatively new Tailwind CSS framework? What does it have to offer?

Some of the most valuable benefits of this framework include:

  • Small CSS file sizes.
  • Biggest collection on the market when it comes to utility classes as a framework.
  • Quickly growing online community and available resources.
  • Not requiring creating class names and remembering classes as a project goes on.
  • JIT mode automatically purges unused classes.
  • Flexible compared to Bootstrap.

What are some of the things that are less desirable about Tailwind CSS?

Some critics argue that Tailwind CSS:

  • Code is more difficult to read thanks to long list of classes in HTML code.
  • Doesn't offer predefined interactive UI components.
  • Lacks plugins and resources.

If you're worried about getting your app to launch as quickly as possible, learn about eight ways you can stop your app project from stalling in this post.

Bootstrap Vs. Tailwind CSS: Which Should You Use For Your App?

Bootstrap has been around longer than Tailwind CSS, with the former first released in the fall of 2011 and the latter in the fall of 2017. While Bootstrap is the fourth most-starred library and fourteenth most-starred project on GitHub and has more than 161,000 stars, Tailwind CSS has over 63,000 stars.

Bootstrap is more widely used than Tailwind CSS, but that doesn't necessarily mean that you should automatically go with the old standard. There are different pros and cons to each kit-type framework which you should weigh against what you're looking for in the UI experience.

One of the primary differences between Bootstrap and Tailwind CSS is that Tailwind creates a list of "utility" CSS classes that allow you to style each button, table, and other elements by mixing and matching. Bootstrap, on the other hand, offers a collection of predefined classes for these elements.

This means that Tailwind CSS is not technically a UI kit. Unlike Bootstrap, Foundation, Bulma, and other UI kits, there aren't inbuilt UI components or a default theme offered by Tailwind CSS. Instead, it has pre-designed widgets that can be used while building your site.

Tailwind CSS is often praised because it is highly customizable, while Bootstrap is valued for its responsiveness, among other features.

So, which one is right for you? The answer to this question has to do with your specific project and team.

For instance, if you aren't a designer or developer and simply want to put together a quick and easy UI, Bootstrap is a good option. A lot of backend developers prefer to use Bootstrap because the pre-built UI components allow for more of a "bring your content" approach while allowing for stylish and functional front-end design.

On the other hand, Tailwind CSS is likely the better choice if you want to have a lot more flexibility and freedom when it comes to creating custom designs and components.

Before you decide between the two, you'll want to consider another appealing option that we'll be talking about in a bit: forgetting about UI kits and creating your unique app from scratch.

Other Popular Open-Source Front-End UI Kits

Bootstrap and Tailwind CSS aren't the only options out there.

Here are some of the other popular choices that offer different styles and varying levels of support:

  • Foundation: The library of Foundation is comparable to Bootstrap but doesn't have an interface that is nearly as stylized. Offering custom interface elements, a default grid, and components, this is another well-established option for front-end design.
  • Bulma: You can build responsive web interfaces using Bulma, which offers ready-to-use front-end components. With more than 46,000 stars on GitHub, this is another popular choice when it comes to front-end UI kits.
  • UIKit: This is an easy-to-customize and easy-to-append UI kit that's also simple to append. You can build page elements with reusable classes, and it comes with a huge list of components.
  • One-Nexus: Supporting touch devices and responsive design, One-Nexus is a powerful framework. However, it isn't the simplest one to use, so it's not a great option if you're new to the work of front-end design and frameworks.
  • Milligram: This is a small open-source library that offers a more minimalist approach to front-end development. It also requires the Normalize library, so you'll probably want to reduce your HTTP requests by combining the two libraries using a CSS minifying tool.
  • Pure CSS: The aesthetics of this framework are very minimalistic without feeling boring or overly simple. Similar to Bootstrap and Google's material design in some respects, Pure CSS lets you customize your files to your liking.
  • Semantic UI: Though this framework isn't nearly as popular as Bootstrap, it has a lot of similarities and many of the same benefits. The library includes everything you need, including dropdowns, buttons, and tabs.
  • GroundworkCSS: There are two available styles for the Groundwork library: in a template for Ruby on Rails or basic HTML/CSS/JS.
  • Topcoat: Easy to customize, easy to read, and fully themeable; topcoat focuses on code quality in addition to performance.

Should You Ditch UI Kits and Build Your Web App From Scratch?

Picking between Bootstrap and Tailwind CSS presupposes that you aren't going to ditch UI kits entirely and build your web app from the ground up. There are some obvious benefits to UI kits– they can help speed up development while also giving you responsive and repeatable elements, to name a few. Tailwind CSS doesn't offer pre-built components the same way that Bootstrap does, but the creators of the framework do offer TailwindUI, a UI kit that is a paid optional extra.

One of the major downsides of using UI kits to build your site is that they can seriously limit what you are able to achieve with your UI design. There are only so many components included within UI kits, which means there are only so many ways they can be rearranged.

This is one of the things you'll want to think about before deciding to use a UI kit– it ultimately limits your design possibilities. For some people, this might be perfectly fine and even preferable, as they can simply choose from the pre-built components and rest assured that their UI is functional, responsive, and sleek. For others, the sense of limitation might be a serious con.

It can also be frustrating to try and adapt a UI kit to an existing design. This can ultimately take time and energy that could be better spent simply building your own app and UI elements. While some people use UI for final product design, others only use it for rapid prototyping.

On top of that, the popularity of UI kits like Bootstrap can lead to an outcome where many sites look very similar. According to stats from SimilarTech, more than 500,00 websites in the US were built using Bootstrap. These include sites like Apple Maps Connect, Fox News, Reuters, and Forbes India. Companies that are known to use Bootstrap include Mastercard, Spotify, Linkedin, Twitter, and Lyft.

This both attests to the fact that it's an incredibly popular framework while also pointing to the reality that you run the risk of creating a site that doesn't really stand out from the crowd or capture your unique brand identity.

Ready to Build Your App?

You've got a brilliant app idea, and now you've started researching how to turn it into a reality. While frameworks like Bootstrap and Tailwind CSS can help make the process more accessible to people without design or development backgrounds, they can also hold back your app from achieving its full design potential.

For many, though, the prospect of taking a crash course in app development is out of the picture. This leaves several options, namely: wrangling together a hodge-podge team of freelancers, building an in-house team, or hiring an app development agency.

In the past, we've talked about how many developers you need to build an app, and in that post, we go over the variety of options you have when it comes to creating a digital product. Depending on your project, your budget, your timeline, and a million other factors, you might find that one of these options is the most compelling choice for you.

That being said, if you're looking for a team of talented and experienced developers that are eager to help transform your idea into a real-life digital product, you've come to the right place. At Planetary, we specialize in helping companies, from tiny start-ups to huge Fortune 500s, create web apps, sites, mobile apps, and more. If you're curious whether we'd be a good fit, drop us a line today and tell us about your project.