React Native vs. Flutter | Which is better?

Many developers prefer cross-platform application development technologies to build modern apps because of the many advantages. For instance, Flutter and React Native, which are two of the world’s leading cross-platform frameworks today, offer numerous features that enhance development outcomes. This article takes an overview of React Native vs. Flutter development frameworks.  Hopefully, this comparison would help you make an informed decision while choosing a framework for your next app project.

Below is the overview of the content of this article:

  • What is a cross-platform mobile framework?
  • Why Choose Cross-Platform Development?
  • Everything you should know about React Native
  • Everything you should know about Flutter
  • React Native vs. Flutter | Comparison
  • Conclusion

What is a Cross-Platform Mobile Framework?

A cross-platform application framework is used to create apps that work across different operating systems such as Android and iOS. In essence, the developer can write a single code and deploy it for an app on Android and iOS.  The main benefits of cross-platform development are that it enhances both the speed and quality of app development.

Why Choose Cross-Platform Development?

Reusable Code: Developers have the privilege of using a single codebase for different applications when building apps with a cross-platform framework. This feature makes it easier to maintain and revise codebase.

Faster Time to Market: The procedure of creating apps with this type of framework is faster. Therefore, the time to market is shorter when building apps with a cross-platform framework.

Cost-Efficiency: Cross-platform frameworks reduce app development costs significantly because it simplifies development tasks and saves time.

Native-Like Experience:  Since the backend features and functions of hybrid apps are similar, the apps would have parallel UI and provide a better UX for the users.

React Native Overview

RN is a JavaScript library created by Facebook for native app development on Android and iOS.

The History of React Native

The React Native project started in 2012 when Facebook decided to shift from HTML5 to native development for their app project. Jordan Walke, a software engineer at Facebook at that time, used background JavaScript threads to create UI elements for the iOS app. After that, a Hackathon was organized to improve the Jordan Walke prototype for building native apps. These events led to the first version of React that was launched in 2015.

How React Native Works

While React Native has indistinguishable features to ReactJs, it doesn’t rely on virtual DOM to control DOM.  React Native works by running inside a background process that interprets JavaScripts directly on the user device. It uses serialization to communicate within a native platform. React Native uses JSX syntax and Pure JavaScript; it does not depend on HTML at all.

The Benefits of React Native

Outstanding Performance: The use of modules and native controls makes React Native an excellent choice for enhanced app performance. React Native can connect with the native components of Android and iOS and create codes through the native APIs.

Create App Updates Faster: With React Native, the procedure for creating and updating apps becomes shortened significantly. The update process is streamlined because it does not require a separate building process.

Modular Architecture: The presence of modular architecture in React Native allows the developer to separate functions in various interchangeable blocks called modules. Therefore, developers can upgrade applications faster. Moreover, these modules can be reused, just like web and mobile API codes.

Apps Enhancement: Developers can use React Native to improve on existing apps. For instance, the UI components can be inserted into another app without rewriting it altogether. 

View Changes Instantly: The hot reloading feature, which is also called live reloading, allows the developer to instantly view code modifications within a live preview window.  As such, React Native developers can get real-time feedback on app project modifications.

Over the Air Update Feature: React Native developers can utilize over the air (OTA) feature to update apps. This type of update is effective, even when the app is in use. However, the update would reflect the next time the app is launched. In essence, app users don’t have to download updates from the Android or iOS app store to use an app’s latest version.

 The Shortfalls of React Native

  • The service of a native developer is still required.
  • Some vital development components are not yet available.
  • React Native is still in the Beta stage of development.         

Popular Apps Made with React Native

  • Airbnb
  • Instagram
  • Uber Eats

React Native Best Fit Projects

  • React Native is an excellent tool for creating complicated cross-platform applications.
  • It is excellent for a wide array of app development projects. 
  • There are extensive and detailed documentation and strong support.
  • It offers reusable code for creating web or desktop apps.

When to Avoid Using React Native

  • Projects that must implement the Bluetooth communication feature.
  • Small app projects.
  • An app for a single operating system.

Flutter Overview

Flutter was created by Google to provide developers with an opensource UI development toolkit for creating native compiled apps.  Flutter is versatile; it gives the developer options to compile apps for iOS, Linux, Android, Web, Mac, Google Fuschia, and Windows platforms. 

Google introduced the first version of Flutter during the Dart Developer Summit in 2015. During the event, the company demonstrated the app’s capability of 120 fps rendering. After that event, Google announced Preview Version 2 during the Google Developer Days keynote in Shanghai. This was closely followed by the release of Flutter Version 1.0 on December 4, 2018. The latest version of Flutter at the time of writing is version 1.17, and Dart SFK version 2.8 was launched on May 6, 2020. This version now features support for the Metal API and performance enhancement for iOS devices.  Other novel features in this version include new material widgets, network tracing tools, and many more. 

The architecture of Flutter                      

Flutter basically consists of the Foundation library, Flutter Engine, and the Dart Programming Language. Let’s take a look at these components one after the other.

Foundation Library

The foundation library gives the developer access to various functions and classes useful for creating Flutter apps and APIs that handle communication with the Flutter engine. The foundation library is written in Dart.  Other components of the library include widgets for designing UIs for Android and iOS apps. 

The Flutter framework offers two sets of useful widgets that align with specific design languages. For instance, the Material Design widgets are excellent for creating Google visual identity-like UI, while the Cupertino widget aligns with the human interface guideline by Apple for iOS.

Dart programming language

Flutter applications are created with the various advanced features of the Dart programming language. Flutter uses the Dart virtual machine with a runtime build engine that works on Mac, Linux, and Windows via the Flutter Desktop Embedded Project.

Flutter relies on the JIT compiler to handle application writing and debugging. That is why it supports hot reloading, allowing a developer to change the source file while running an app.  Better still, the Flutter hot injection process reflects the changes in a running application without losing state or restarting the app.

Flutter uses Ahead-of-Time (AOT) to compile release versions on iOS and Android. That is why Flutter apps enjoy a high performance on mobile devices.

Flutter Engine

The Flutter Engine acts as a portable runtime for hosting Flutter apps. It works by activating Flutter library components such as file and network I/O, architecture, graphics and animation, and other Dart runtime/build components. The fact that the Flutter engine is written in C++ allows for low-level rendering through the Google Skia graphics library. Better still, it integrates platform-specific SDKs such as Android and iOS SDKs seamlessly. Basically, developers use the Flutter framework to interact with Flutter.  The framework provides a responsive structure, layout, foundation widgets, and platform widgets. 

The Benefits of Flutter

Access to Native Features: Flutter allows the developer to create apps with native functions such as camera access, geolocation, and lots more. These types of functions are made with native languages. So, Flutter apps replicate native feel and functions because Flutter can use Swift, Java, and Objective-C to access native iOS and Android features. 

Native-Like Performance: One of the essential factors that enhance user experience is the app performance. Flutter not only presents native-like aesthetics, but its performance is also comparable to native apps.  Since Flutter apps are built into the machine code, the possibility of having performance bugs during interpretation is ruled out completely.

Hot Reload: The function that enables the developer to inject new code into an app and observe the results instantly is one of the core features of Flutter. Since changes can be viewed within seconds, developers can fix bugs and experiment features with minimal hassles. This feature also enhances collaboration between developers and designers by testing new visuals faster than ever before.

Less Coding: Flutter is written in Dart, a strongly typed and object-oriented programming language. It uses a declarative and reactive programming style, just like React Native. However, Flutter does not need a JavaScript bridge for performance enhancement.

While Dart provides AOT and Just-in-Time compilation, Flutter uses JIT compilation for development workflow enhancement. Flutter’s hot-reload feature allows the developer to reload the UI during development without creating a new build altogether. 

The Rendering Engine: Flutter empowers developers with tools and development resources more than other platforms. One of such tool is the cross-platform rendering engine. With the use of Skia, Flutter can render into another platform’s infrastructure. This engine allows the virtual launching of Flutter UIs on any platform.  In essence, Flutter users do not need to customize a UI before deploying to another platform.

Flutter Famous Apps

The following are popular apps made from Flutter.

  • The New York Times
  • Realtor
  • Square

Best Time to Use Flutter

  • The hot reload features and other in-built native tools make Flutter an excellent platform for iterations.
  • It is perfect for creating Minimum Viable Products MVP
  • It is an excellent option for developing UI-centered apps

When to Avoid Using Flutter

  • Apps that need the 3D Touch feature.
  • Projects that need a platform-specific design
  • Apps that must use multiple OS interaction or rare native libraries.     

Flutter Shortcomings

Relatively New Framework: Flutter is a relatively new framework and often considered as immature. It has stability issues and cannot fully exploit operating system capabilities. It might be restrictive for specific development projects because several features are not supported at this time. 

Dart Programming Language Limitations: Dart is considered immature compared to other development languages such as Kotlin, Swift, and JavaScript. It has limited features that are not quite refined. 

React Native vs. Flutter | Similarities

In this section, we shall compare and contrast React Native and Flutter development frameworks. Here are the similarities:

  • Opensource platforms.
  • Supports hot reloading.
  • RN and Flutter are allows cross-platform development.
  • They both offer native development experience.

React Native vs. Flutter | Comparison

The table below provides a detailed overview of both React Native and Flutter frameworks.

Usage and Adoption

We shall use data on Google Trends, Statista, and GitHub to evaluate the development frameworks’ adoption rates.

  • Google Trends:Going by the data on the year 2020 Google Trends data, Flutter enjoys wider adoption than React Native.
  • Statista: Analytics from the year 2019 to 2020 shows that React Native enjoys 42% adoption while Flutter follows closely with 39% adoption.
  • GitHub: Going by the GitHub ratings, Flutter boasts of 102,000 stars while React Native has 92,000 stars. Given the fact that Flutter was released in 2017 vs. React Native 2015 release, one can conclude that Flutter is gaining more traction.

Summarily, both frameworks have a similar level of adoption among developers. Therefore, both frameworks would have active communities that can provide support when the need arises.

Programming Languages: Javascript vs. Dart

The main difference between RN and Flutter is the programming language.  If you are already familiar with JavaScript, you would be inclined to using React Native. However, if you are entirely new to Programming, Dart would be a better choice. 

React Native uses JavaScript to create cross-platform applications. React Native works seamlessly with several other JavaScript frameworks, including React.  Therefore, developers can use React Native to create mobile applications without passing through extensive training. That is why many organizations find it easy to use React Native for app development.  

On the other hand, Flutter uses the Dart programming language that Google released in 2011. Although Dart is not quite popular among developers, it aligns with object-oriented programming principles and has a syntax similar to Java and JavaScript. 

Which is the More Productive Framework?

Every developer wants to write better codes faster to increase their productivity. Let’s look at how React Native and Flutter enhance the productivity of developers. 

  • Hot Reload: With the hot reload features, developers can make changes to an app’s back-end code faster than ever. Flutter and React Native support the hot reload feature. In essence, developers that use both frameworks can create app updates, modify, and test changes efficiently.
  • IDE Support: React Native supports a wide array of IDE ranging from the text editor to full-fledged integrated development environments. Since Dart is not quite popular, only a few IDEs features support for the programming language. 
  • Programming Language: Developers with JavaScript experience would find it easy to build cross-platform mobile apps with React Native. Flutter users can kickstart their app development project with a demo app. However, developers would have to become innovative to use Flutter to crate apps with complex features. 
  • Project Configuration: Flutter developers can access an informative stater’s guide for creating apps on Mac, Android, and iOS. Another useful tool is the Flutter Doctor, a CLI tool for configuring Flutter.  On the other hand, React Native simply assumes that all the requirements for developing an app on iOS and Android are already in place. 
  • Support: A large and active community is essential to get help on opensource platforms. Both React Native and Flutter have detailed documentation and extensive community support when the need arises.

Comparing the Learning Curve

People who already know JavaScript will find it easy to handle React Native development. The code reusability of React Native makes it an attractive platform for developers. Just like Flutter, there is detailed documentation and many other guides and tutorials online.

Flutter provides detailed documentation, and there are many free learning resources online, such as articles from developers and other guides for creating apps with Flutter. 

Well, previous experience with JavaScript would make the learning curve of React Native easy. New developers would also need about the same learning curve with Flutter. 

Framework UI comparison

React Native: The appearance of React Native apps is quite similar to native apps. Other UI feature of apps made with React Native are:

  • React Native apps can retain the same appearance for apps on both new and older operating systems through third-party libraries.
  • React Native uses native components as a background process, ensuring that the app components reflect changes in the UI updates.  That is how React Native displays material design components instead of the native ones.

Flutter: An application programmed in Flutter works and looks uniform across every platform, and it is capable of emulating its native components. Here are other UI features of Flutter:

  • It gives an app a uniform look across Android and iOS platforms.
  • Flutter apps have great aesthetics on both older and modern operating systems.
  • Flutter gives developers access to two types of widgets. The material design widgets that align with Google design language and the Cupertino widgets model after iOS apps.
  • Flutter does not use native UI views. This can lead to battery drainage on mobile devices because it does not use system optimization for UI views. 

The Handling of Continuous Integration and Delivery (CI/CD)

The CI/CD method of app delivery uses automation and different stages of app development. Some of the vital CI/CD delivery concepts are continuous delivery, continuous deployment, and continuous integration. CI/CD effectively handles the challenges of integrating new codes in development projects.

The CI/CD procedure entails continuous monitoring and automation of all app processes such as integration, testing, delivery, and deployment. All of the monitoring practices are collectively referred to as CI/CD pipelines.  The functions are handled by development and operations professionals that work together through DevOps and Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) procedures.

The details on CI/CD procedure are contained in the official Flutter documentation. React Native does not provide official documentation for CI/CD procedures. However, there are unofficial guides and documentation for setting up CI/CD with React Native.

Publishing React Native and Flutter Apps

The procedure for publishing React Native and Flutter apps on the App store is basically the same. Simply follow the guideline for publishing apps on Google Play and Apple Store.

Conclusion 

The review above makes a detailed comparison of  React Native vs. Flutter, two of the leading cross-platform app development frameworks.

Both of these frameworks are opensource and works excellently for cross-platform app development. Also, the frameworks are maintained by well-established companies and have a large community of developers. 

The main difference between Flutter and React Native are the programming language, UI Components and the procedure for handling CI/CD.

FAQ

Why go for cross-platform development?

– Reusable code
– Faster time to market
– Lower costs
– Close to native experiences

What are the distinctions between React Native and Flutter?

The main difference between Flutter and React Native are the programming language, UI Components and the procedure for handling CI/CD.

What are the similarities between React Native and Flutter?

– Opensource platforms.
– Supports hot reloading.
– RN and Flutter are allows cross-platform development.
– They both offer native development experience.


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