Mobile applications have traditionally been written in native languages. Lately, however, hybrid cross-platform frameworks have been gaining market share. The recent swell of React Native’s popularity has raised the question: should developers use React Native for mobile development instead of native app development?
In the last 4 years, the React Native framework has grown to a community of over 2,000 contributors that averages 1,200,000+ weekly downloads through npm. Some of the largest companies in the world have embraced React Native, including Facebook, Pinterest, Skype, Uber, and Brex. Its widespread adoption is primarily driven by the convenience of its cross-platform nature and the unique technological approach used to accomplish this.
Despite React Native’s success, many people maintain that traditional native mobile apps are still the way to go. The proponents of native primarily cite its performance advantages and robustness when compared to hybrid alternatives. Tradeoffs exist between both options, and careful consideration is required when choosing between the two technologies. This article will weigh in on the matter by delving into what makes React Native so popular, and explore how it works under the hood. We’ll also look at the pros, cons, and business impacts of each option, giving you the facts worth knowing before making a choice one way or another.
Table Of Contents
Comparing React Native vs Traditional Native Apps
Most hybrid frameworks that you may be familiar with, such as Ionic, Cordova, and Phonegap, rely on what’s known as a WebView to accomplish their cross-platform capabilities. Essentially, they embed a webpage inside a native app and hook into it to integrate with the underlying device. The problem with this is that WebViews, especially when hosting complicated apps, run into performance issues and other limitations.
Now it’s obvious that the native iOS version looks “cleaner”, but that isn’t really a concern here. What’s important is that we see there are no WebViews in use, instead we have a set of native components. The stack of views in the React Native example is simply forming the basic responsive layout of the app, given that React Native uses Flexbox. The performance impact of this is essentially nominal, and well worth it, given that the need for WebViews has been removed.
However, there are still some performance concerns worth noting when analyzing how React Native achieves this feat.
How Does React Native for App Development Work?
Due to the disconnected and asynchronous nature of this means of communication, some performance issues can arise. Queues can get bogged down, say for example if the user is rapidly scrolling through a long and complicated list – many “user has scrolled” and “draw this new UI” updates fly back and forth. For a similar reason, animations can also be a point of concern. In reality, most of the time these kinds of performance deficits are negligible to the user; however, they are still something developers need to be aware of so they can be designed around.
React Native continues to evolve, given its popularity and supporting community. It remains a top choice for developers and warrants consideration for those thinking of building an app.
Pros and Cons of Native Frameworks vs React Native
Both approaches to mobile development have notable tradeoffs. It’s important to consider the strengths and weaknesses of each option with respect to an application’s use case and your organization’s structure:
Pros of Native App Frameworks
Cons of Native App Frameworks
The downsides of native frameworks can be summed up in one word: logistics. Assuming you are targeting both Android and iOS, you have to do most things twice. Two development teams, two codebases, separate testing and deployment pipelines, and so forth. Not only is there a doubling of most work, but the two streams must be kept in sync, requiring additional oversight and planning. New features and changes have to be coordinated and timed together, and problems quickly arise if one side falls behind or diverges from the other. A solid set of processes are required to keep things running smoothly.
The bottom line is that more time, effort, and money must be expended when compared to hybrid alternatives such as React Native.
Pros of React Native Development
Cons of React Native Development
With those caveats under consideration, it’s worth reviewing the different situations where it makes sense to choose one approach over the other.
Examples of When to Choose Native vs React Native
When to Use Native App Development
When to Use React Native
To Conclude: React Native or Native for Mobile App Development?
A mobile app is not just a bunch of lines of code, it’s a business. As such, the decision to choose one path over another is not purely a technical one. The bigger picture and associated implications must be considered when deciding whether React Native or traditional native is to be used as your foundation going forward.
On paper, it seems to make sense to develop natively instead of via an abstracted framework that sits on top of the native realm. Native provides superior performance and gives developers complete access to the capabilities of each device. It’s true that some use cases require this level of control. However, these benefits come at a cost – in the literal sense. The duplication of work and associated logistical effort can be taxing on a business that is not able to support it. With that in mind, it may be the case that an alternative approach is more well-suited to your situation.
With React Native development, in most cases, you get the best of both worlds: lower effort and associated cost and time to market, while still producing a robust and performant app that stands up against its native competition. The React Native framework is often the clear choice for rapid prototyping and the production of MVPs – a process that can serve as an evaluation of whether or not the technology meets the long-term requirements of your project. These benefits make React Native a strong option for a lot of organizations. Still, if you need pure horsepower or have a use case that requires it, native can sometimes remain the way to go.
Ultimately, there is no silver bullet. Careful consideration is required when making such a fundamental decision. Review the benefits and limitations of the choices before you.