Using Bootstrap 4 to Improve Your Website

Bootstrap is the most popular front-end CSS and JavaScript framework for designing responsive websites. According to W3techs.com, approximately 20% of websites currently use Bootstrap. There’s a good chance that if you’ve done any type of work on the web, you’ve encountered Bootstrap.

With the recent release of Bootstrap 4, the millions of websites that currently use a previous version face the decision whether to stay with version 3, upgrade to version 4, or transition to a different solution. Unless you’ve been paying close attention, you may not be aware of the differences between Bootstrap 3 and 4 and the issues that will likely determine whether you should upgrade or use Bootstrap 4 for a new website.

Read on to learn more about how Bootstrap 4 can improve your website.

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What is Bootstrap?

Let’s first back up and talk about where Bootstrap fits into a website. Whereas other frameworks are more concerned with managing the updating of data in the browser and communication with a web server, Bootstrap is primarily concerned with making dynamic websites look good.

Originally created by Twitter, Bootstrap provides standard and easy-to-use ways to create websites that work well on mobile devices as well as desktop. It also contains a set of components for accomplishing common tasks like making a navigation bar, hiding and showing content, making alert and pop-up windows, styling buttons, and more.

Many web developers use Bootstrap with frameworks like Angular, React, or Vue.js, or even to use Bootstrap with a content management system such as WordPress.

How does Using Bootstrap Improve a Site?

Bootstrap was created at Twitter in 2010, where it served as a style guide for the development of internal tools for the company. When it was released as an open source framework in 2011, it quickly became one of the most popular open source projects in the world, and the defacto standard for grid layouts and responsive design.

One of the things that makes Bootstrap so powerful and so popular is that nearly all of the functionality of Bootstrap can be accessed through the use of HTML attribute values. For example, if you want to create a dropdown menu using CSS and JavaScript, it might require ten or so lines of JavaScript code along with a number of CSS rules in addition to the HTML that actually specifies the content of the dropdown menu.

Bootstrap abstracts away the CSS and the JavaScript so that you can just focus on using a set of predefined attribute values in your HTML. For example, you can create a button that opens a dropdown menu when it’s clicked:


<div class="dropdown">
    <button class="btn btn-primary dropdown-toggle" type="button" 
        data-toggle="dropdown">Dropdown Button
    </button>
    <ul class="dropdown-menu">
      <li><a href=”#”>Item 1</a></li>
      <li><a href=”#”>Item 2</a></li>
      <li><a href=”#”>Item 3</a></li>
    </ul>
  </div>

And here’s what the above code looks like when it’s rendered in a web page with Bootstrap, both before and after being clicked on:

Bootstrap Menu Example

Should You Upgrade to Bootstrap 4?

Bootstrap 4 does all the same things as Bootstrap 3, but with some differences that you’ll need to be aware of if you’re going to upgrade. Depending on the size of your site and the features of Bootstrap 3 that it uses, migration to Bootstrap 4 can be a big project. So, should you do it?

If your site needs to support Internet Explorer 9 or earlier, you’ll need to stay with Bootstrap 3. Otherwise, the decision becomes a bit more complicated. If your site makes use of Bootstrap 3’s jQuery plugins, you should first make sure that you’re using the most recent release of Bootstrap 3 (version 3.3.7) and then you should seriously consider upgrading to 4.

All versions of Bootstrap prior to 3.3.7 use a version of jQuery that has a severe security problem. If your Bootstrap 3 site doesn’t use any jQuery plugins, and your site doesn’t use jQuery, you can skip upgrading to Bootstrap 4 for now and just remove or upgrade jQuery.

However, if you are using Bootstrap 3 jQuery plugins, upgrading to a newer version of jQuery might break your site. Bootstrap 3 is no longer actively maintained, and version 4 has significant benefits over previous versions, including:

  • use of Flexbox for its grid system, rather than floats.
  • simplified syntax for several components, such as creating nav bars.
  • improved documentation.
  • a new set of default utilities that make applying common styles easy.
  • use of the latest version of jQuery
  • smaller download, mainly as a result of dropping support for older versions of Internet Explorer.

Why Use Bootstrap?

A frequent complaint about Bootstrap is that sites that use it all look the same. This is partially by design — the whole idea behind Bootstrap, after all, is to provide standard ways to do things. But the similarity in many Bootstrap sites is also partially a result of it being so easy to use that you can usually just copy and paste code from the examples provided by Bootstrap to accomplish what you need — and many people do just that.

For programmers who just have to make something look good, Bootstrap is a lifesaver and a huge timesaver. For designers, Bootstrap helps you with the parts of CSS that can be confusing or difficult to implement correctly, such as grid layouts, margins between block elements, and cross-platform typography.

Millions of websites use Bootstrap. The styles and functionality that it provides will work as intended for almost anyone using your site and on any device. If you need a stable and easy-to-use solution for creating responsive websites, Bootstrap 4 is a great choice. If you’re considering upgrading to Bootstrap 4 from a previous version, the case is less clear cut and will require some additional knowledge of Bootstrap 4, your intended audience, and what features of Bootstrap your site currently uses. To learn more about Bootstrap 4 and get help with your transition, check out our two-day course, Upgrading to Bootstrap 4.

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Blog Post Author: Chris Minnick

Chris Minnick is an author, instructor, and CEO of WatzThis, Inc. For more than 20 years, he has helped clients with the management and development of hundreds of web and mobile projects. Chris has authored and co-authored more than a dozen books including Coding with JavaScript for Dummies and Beginning HTML5 and CSS3 for Dummies. He has developed video courses for Pluralsight, O’Reilly Video, Ed2Go, and Skillshare on topics such as mobile development and React.

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