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Visual Composer Website Builder vs. Elementor; From a Developer’s Perspective

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Visual Composer Website Builder and Elementor are great modern drag and drop WordPress content editor plugins. They offer almost the same features and work in very similar ways, allowing users to design the structure and layout of WordPress pages and posts, without needing to understand coding of any kind.  

Elementor was released in 2016 and has 2m+ active installs, while the Visual Composer Website Builder (from here on VCWB) was released in 2017 and has 100k+ active installs. Both plugins offer great UX, interaction, and super-fast performance.

Visual Composer Website Builder Vs Elementor

Let’s look at the way developers can use these two products as part of a WordPress theme.

1. License

Both VCWB and Elementor are available as free and premium versions. Theme integration is only possible with the free versions; you can’t include or resell the premium versions with your theme–there is no so-called “in stock license”–even if you have purchased a developers license (something which allows multiple licenses for agencies). You can always encourage users to upgrade, however, if you feel they would benefit from the advanced features.

Elementor’s free version is hosted on the wordpress.org plugins repository, so you don’t need to include it in your theme pack. However the Visual Composer Website Builder free version is not available at wordpress.org. You either need to download the free version and include in your theme pack, or use the download link with TGM plugin activator.

tgm plugin activation
TGM Plugin Activation allows new theme buyers to download recommended plugins directly

The premium versions in both cases come with header and footer builders, and template systems. You can use pro version features with your own projects, but you can’t develop a theme for sale to be reliant on them. With the free version your buyers can enjoy the fast editors, great interfaces, a couple of free widgets and modules, and the fruits of the great developer APIs (you can, and should, extend your theme with custom elements).

2. Requirements

Elementor needs nothing more than the WordPress general requirements, but with Visual Composer Website Builder you also need to meet the following technical requirements:

  • Webpack 4.0 or higher
  • Node 8.0

And here begin the differences between these two products..

3. Developer APIs

Unlike with WP Bakery page builder, elements in both Visual Composer Website Builder and Elementor are no longer shortcode-based. An element is described as being an independent part of the system; an HTML-based block which can output media and dynamic content.

In Visual Composer Website Builder the editor works with elements as React components. These components must be built with webpack and enqueued by API. Every element has a preview image, a thumbnail image, a category, and a React-based component. The best way to understand this element structure is to clone the VCWB boilerplate repository on GitHub. Each element comprises a folder with JavaScript, json, PHP, CSS, and media files. The VCWB element system is a little bit complicated and you should be familiar with React to understand it better.

Creating a custom Elementor widget is not very different from creating a native WordPress widget; start by creating a class that extends the Widget_Base class and fill in all the required methods.

This approach is more familiar to any WordPress developer, and I personally find it much easier to build new elements for Elementor than VCWB.

Conclusion

Below is a quick tabular assessment of these two plugins from a developer’s perspective, current at the time of publishing:

  Elementor Visual Composer
Active installs 2m+ 100k+
Free version elements 30 Basic Widgets 50 Elements
Developer API Excellent Excellent
Extra requirements No Webpack 4.0 or higher, Node 8.0
3rd party extensions: 10+ official N/A
Compatible themes on Themeforest 350+ N/A
Ease of integration and development (1-5) 5 3.5
Starter theme Elementor pro only Yes

There you have it; my subjective assessment, based on my experience as a developer with these two WordPress page builder plugins. 

You may wonder why I compared these two plugins, given that Elementor is the market leader and has many more active installs. Well, I believe that any great product should have great competitors. VCWB uses new technologies that may well become popular in theme development. It has a very advanced and powerful starter theme with no limitations. VCWB creators already gave us a great product in the form of WPBakery Page Builder, so I firmly believe in their professional strategy.

On the other hand, Elementor is a very popular product that demonstrates great performance and is very easy to work with. Elementor also has a starter theme which resets the styling environment in WordPress. As a developer, at this point, I can see that Elementor is the number page builder, and I highly recommend developing with this plugin–but keep your eye on Visual Composer Website Builder!

Compatible Themes on Themeforest

During 2018 Elementor compatible themes on Themeforest grew from 90 to 350. That number currently sits at over 450. 

Elementor themes on themeforest
Elementor-compatible themes on Themeforest

Visual Composer Website Builder, however, has yet to penetrate the Themeforest marketplace. I believe the main reason for that lies in the extra technical requirements. I hope, like me, you’ll continue to follow these two great products moving forward!

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