We are developing web applications for our clients using various different frameworks and technologies. The choice depends on several different factors like hosting, the clients IT infrastructure and administration and of course project scope. Some of our successful web projects use the Grails or Ruby on Rails with JRuby full stack frameworks. While they provide a ton of powerful features they also intrinsically carry some complexity. This is not always needed nor wanted, some projects might fare well with much less. Sometimes the scope of a project is not entirely clear so choosing a lean alternative you can gradually extend and refine may be the right fit.
Full stack frameworks
A full stack framework usually delivers built-in solutions for persistence/database access, domain modelling, routing, html-templating and so on. If you know for sure that you will need all the provided features from the start and that they are a good fit feel free to choose a full stack framework like Rails, Grails, Play or Django. If you need less or there is no convincing solution for your needs start with a minimal system that delivers value to your clients.
Microframeworks provide only the basic functionality for routing and handling requests. No templating, no databases, no session management etc. attached. We made really good experiences with microframeworks like Nancy for .NET or CherryPy for Python. You start very simple and are up an running in minutes. If most of your GUI is client-side you do not need templating and you do not have it from the start. You do not need a database, well, you do not have one. Your server side logic revolves around REST, there you go!
The key point is that you are not stuck with this minimal set of support but you can easily extend the framework with features if need be. And usually you have several options per concern to choose from. For templating in Python there are many different solutions like Mako, Jinja2, Genshi and others. Need only file-based persistence, want to manage your database in SQL or need an object-relational mapper (ORM) – everything is up to you.
Our experience with CherryPy was very positive. It is easy to run standalone using the integrated web server. You can also run it behind any WSGI-compatible web server because a CherryPy application automatically serves as a WSGI application. This is very nice if you need the power of a native web server and the ease and flexibility of a Python microframework. CherryPy is also very flexible when it comes to request routing offering much convenience with the default routing and method annotations to expose actions on the one hand and
MethodDispatcher on the other. It feels easy to extend the solution bit by bit as needed, there is seldom something in your way. Configuration is easy and powerful and the documentation gets you up to speed most of the time.
Microframeworks let you choose what you need and which implementation best fits your needs. You do not carry all that complexity with you from the start and easily pull more framework support in as you go choosing the most appropriate for your current situation. Your choices may differ in the next project since every project is different.