There's no shortage of frameworks that allow you to build and maintain web applications for a wide variety of platforms.

Many have fallen out of favor in recent years as developers move towards more modern and flexible frameworks, but there are some that continue to be used, even though many would question their usefulness in this day and age.

Flex happens to be one of them. Flex was developed by Adobe as an open source application framework that allowed developers to build and maintain web apps that could be consistently deployed across all major browsers, computers, and mobile devices.

The aim with Flex was to provide a modern, standards-based language and programming model that allowed for common design patterns that were suitable for developers from many backgrounds.

With Flex, it's possible to build mobile apps for iOS, Android, and even BlackBerry OS devices in addition to conventional apps for desktops and browsers using the same model, tool, and codebase.

What is Flex in programming?

Flex is Adobe's open-source application framework. It's powerful and flexible, in that it enables developers to build mobile apps for different platforms and conventional apps for desktops and browsers with the same code base, tools, and model.

Flex apps can only be built through the free Flex SDK while the Adobe Flash Builder software speeds up development by offering features like intelligent code editing, memory and performance filters, step-through debugging, and visual design.

Enterprise-grade advanced data services are also offered by Adobe through its open source BladeDS project as well as the commercial Adobe LiveCycle Data Services ES2 module.

Flex can be used to create a range of highly interactive and expressive apps for mobile, web, and desktop. A data visualization app built in Flex, for example, can bring in data from different back-end sources and visually display it.

This will be a useful solution for business users who can then dive deeper into the data, change it and even have it automatically updated on the back end.

Another example of an app built with Flex can be that of a product configuration app that enables customers to easily select or customize products online. A self-service app can make it easier for users to change an address or complete steps that would otherwise be complicated.

Do people still use Flex?

Flex is one of the programming frameworks that has fallen out of favor. Adobe announced in November 2011 that they will no longer support Adobe Flex. They didn't kill the framework, though, instead they donated it to Apache.

The Apache Flex team has since been working on fixing bugs and providing additional components but the number of developers that actually use Flex now is very small. So even though it’s still around, there really doesn’t seem to be a prosperous future in the cards for Flex.

Programs and companies that run on Flex

BusinessQ is one of the many apps that have been built using Flex. It enables businesses to transform their raw data into actionable information. Businesses can have rows and rows of data in ERP and CRM systems.

They can learn so much from it by scientifically examining the data.

The BusinessQ intelligence and data visualization software from Qualia lets them do just that.

From monitoring sales to overseeing inventory and tracking Key Performance Indicators, the BusinessQ software lets businesses spot otherwise hidden patterns so that any potential problems can be spotted in time to mitigate risk.

dotSlope is a very useful app for civil, geotechnical, and mining engineers that's also created with Flex.

It's a professional grade web and mobile app that has been developed to allow engineers to analyze slope stability problems through the limit equilibrium theory.

Recovery Act Dashboard has also highlighted Flex’s usability for the government sector. The Department of Energy decided to develop a solution to track the billions of dollars invested over a diverse set of energy projects. So the Recovery Act Dashboard was created using Flex.

How to develop a custom app for your business using Flex

Tools like Flex Builder are required to develop Flex applications. The very first step involves utilizing the Flash Builder IDE wizard to create the new project. The application type can then be selected, for example, Web can be selected if a web app needs to be developed.

Developers then need to create an external CSS file and then modify the wrapper HTML page template. An internal CSS file is also required in addition to several other steps that need to be completed first before the app can be built and run.

3 alternatives to Flex: What could you use instead?

  1. PhoneGap:

    PhoneGap is a very powerful alternative to Flex. It's widely used for cross-platform app development. PhoneGap is an open source mobile app development framework by Adobe, it allows developers to create mobile applications with JavaScript, CSS, and HTML.

    PhoneGap was first called Apache Cordova. It was initially introduced by Nitobi Software which was later acquired by Adobe. That's when Adobe renamed Apache Cordova to PhoneGap.

    One of the reasons why so many developers prefer PhoneGap is because of its cross-platform compatibility. Developing apps for different platforms can be cumbersome so a framework that helps make that process easier is certainly going to be highly regarded.

    PhoneGap has proven to be a great cross-platform development framework. It's compatible with many major platforms like iOS, Android, webOS, Tizen, Bada, Symbian, and BlackBerry. The developers thus only have to write the code once and the app can be made compatible with all of these different platforms.

    PhoneGap is also preferred because it allows developers with limited resources to make their apps available on multiple platforms without the need for additional resources.

    A single program for an app can be written and then run on all of the desired platforms. App developers also get better access to the native APIs so that the apps can effectively use the device's camera, accelerometer, geolocation, contacts, and other core features.
  2. React Native

    Facebook has created its own open source mobile app framework called React Native. It enables developers to make apps for platforms like iOS, macOS, tvOS, Android, Android TV, web, Windows, and UWP.

    Developers can do this by utilizing React's framework with the platform's native capabilities.

    React Native is a JavaScript-based framework that's already being used by some of the world's biggest companies, including but not limited to Microsoft, Uber, and Facebook itself.

    Like other open source tools, developers are only required to create code once and they can then use React Native to power their apps on all eligible platforms, thereby saving a lot of time and resources for them.

    React Native essentially got its start when Facebook developer Jordan Walke made a revolutionizing discovery in 2013. He had discovered a method of generating UI elements for iOS apps through JavaScript.

    This sparked a huge interest to ascertain just how much mobile app development could be performed using the conventionally web-based JavaScript solutions. Facebook initially offered React Native for iOS but it was later updated with Android support. The framework then went public in 2015.
  3. Bootstrap

    Bootstrap is another useful Flex alternative that's highly regarded for web development. It's a free and open-source CSS framework that allows developers to create responsive, mobile-first web pages.

    Bootstrap has CSS and JavaScript-based design templates for UI elements and other interface components.

    It was developed by Mark Otto and Jacob Thornton at Twitter initially as a framework to improve consistently for internal tools. Before Bootstrap, different libraries had to be used for interface development. That led to a high maintenance burden.

    The main focus of the Bootstrap framework is to simplify the development of informative web pages.

    The primary benefit that it provides is in the form of its choices of layout, color, size, and font to the project. When it has been added to a project, Bootstrap provides a basic style definition for all HTML elements.

    This results in a uniform appearn for tables, prose, and form elements across all web browsers. Developers can also utilize CSS classes defined in Bootstrap if they want more customization for the appearance of their content.

Work with a development partner who can help with it all

Whether you still prefer to use Flex for a business app or are more interested in utilizing one of the many powerful alternatives that are now available, you need to work with a software development partner that is well versed in the intricacies of all of these platforms.

Zibtek is trusted by both Fortune 500 companies and startups alike. As one of the world’s leading software development companies, we have helped businesses of all sizes across all industries to leverage custom software and achieve their goals.

We’re based in the United States, with offices in Salt Lake City, Utah. We also manage a global talent pool of highly skilled developers from our offices in the United States. Contact Zibtek today if you have any questions about these frameworks and we’ll be happy to show you how we can help.