Cross-platform development has many advocates these days. Single codebase, tools, and consistent behavior are reasons why devs choose it over native development. Building apps for Android and iOS using a single programming language is also faster and more effective from a business standpoint.
When it comes to choosing a framework for cross-platform development, one could name a few: Flutter, React Native, Ionic, Cordova, Xamarin, etc. But apparently, there are only two serious options to consider. Flutter and React Native are leading market players in the cross-platform niche.
We already discussed Flutter’s advantages and disadvantages in one of our previous articles. In this article, we will help you make an informed decision by comparing Flutter and React Native based on four criteria, namely:
- Programming language
- Ready-made widgets and components
- Development tools and documentation
But first, let’s take a closer look at Flutter and React Native.
What is Flutter and what is React Native?
Flutter and React Native are frameworks for building both Android and iOS apps using a single programming language. Released in 2017, Flutter is the brainchild of Google, while React Native was initially a Facebook project, open-sourced in 2015.
Flutter is a UI framework intended for the fast development of UIs according to Material Design and Apple Human interface guidelines. Google Chrome team has released the stable 1.0 version in 2018. Currently, 1.9 version is available.
Apps Built With Flutter:
- Alibaba – an e-commerce app enabling users to shop with their smartphones.
- Google Ads – this app allows users to view their Google ad campaign stats on their smartphone screens.
- Birch Finance – a fintech app helping users manage personal credit cards.
React Native is a framework for mobile app development. Its history dates back to the 2013 internal Facebook hackathon, and its first public version was released in 2015.
Apps Built With React Native
- Facebook – a renowned social media service that features some components built with React Native.
- Instagram – a Facebook-owned social media app for photo exchange.
- SoundCloud Pulse – an open-source platform for music sharing and distribution.
Let’s now proceed with comparing the SDKs according to the four above mentioned criteria.
A programming language is one of the top criteria for choosing a development framework. Its popularity will determine the availability of specialists on the market, the size of the developer community, the quality of an end product and the development speed.
Flutter uses Dart language for app development. This Java-like programming language optimized for developing client applications for mobile, web and server-side platforms, has strict typing, which simplifies code debugging and maintenance. Dart is a contemporary and fast-developing language. It is well-balanced, integrates a lot of modern approaches while being free of syntax “sugar” that may impede its readability and increase the learning curve. Currently, Dart version 2.6. is available.
The framework architecture is the second important criteria to focus on. It impacts the ease and the speed of development, the extension possibilities for solving certain custom tasks, and, ultimately, the quality of an end product.
Since Flutter is primarily a framework for developing UI, it has a low-level Skia engine, also used in the Chrome browser and Android under its hood. This engine allows Flutter to render its components at 60FPS. Flutter uses its own widget library to display the Flutter UI. That accounts for high performance and seamless UI operation, as well as the unification of the UI appearance regardless of the OS version. This enables the applications to look the same, both on new versions of Android and on older ones up to version 4.4. In native application development that may prove extremely difficult to achieve.
Good SDK architecture complete with ready-made widgets and components that accelerate development is a highly important factor for choosing a development kit.
Since Flutter is focused on rapid UI development, Flutter SDK comes with a huge library of widgets. The SDK features ready-made implementations of most modern UI patterns, such as Tabs navigation, Sidebar navigation, and scrolling effects. The widget library supports Google Material Design and Apple Human Guidelines. That allows the developer to quickly prototype and fully develop a UI that will look native on Android and iOS.
The widget library is completely open-source, which gives the development almost unlimited possibilities for customizing and expanding existing functionality without resorting to using native components.
The second advantage is excellent performance when rendering the UI and various kinds of animations.
The React Native SDK comes only with a basic set of widgets. To work with other native UI components, it expects developers to use 3rd-party solutions. You can find many ready-made components in the open-source community. Yet, developers always run the risk of encountering problems when connecting them, because they contain native platform code. Therefore, the developer always needs to be prepared for such problems and be able to navigate the structure of platform projects for both Android and iOS.
As mentioned above, React Native uses native UI components to render the UI. This allows applications to look as close to native as possible. At the same time, the release of a new OS version can break the application UI. Also, this approach creates difficulties when building custom components, which implies the need to implement the desired behavior twice, for Android and iOS.
Development tools and documentation
Convenient development environment, ease of learning and set up are some of the decisive factors in choosing a software development kit. A great SDK should be easy to operate and to learn.
The Flutter SDK comes with a complete set of tools for developing and debugging applications, such as integration with popular IDEs (Intellij IDEA and Visual Studio Code), tools for debugging and monitoring application performance, and test automation. Also, it features the “hot reload” mode allowing you to run a new code without restarting the application, which significantly saves the debugging time. It’s also convenient and easy to use.
Flutter has top-notch documentation; it also offers great starters toolkit guiding a developer through every aspect of setup and app development.
Similar to Flutter, React Native includes a “hot reload” feature enabling mobile UI to faster incorporate changes made to code. Also, React Native developers can successfully reuse web app code for desktop app development.
As far as the documentation base is concerned, React Native has robust docs and tutorials library actively supported by its vast developer community. Its setup, though, can be quite complex, especially if you’re not yet familiar with cross-platform development.
As you can see, both Flutter and React Native SDKs have advantages and disadvantages.
Although Flutter has a relatively new (but fast-growing) developer community compared to that of React Native, it has excellent documentation and support base and offers faster time-to-market.
We hope it helps you make a conscious decision about choosing the best cross-platform development solution for your project.