Creating mobile applications has always been a fundamental pillar of the tech industry but having multiple platforms for which different apps need to be developed has been an issue for some time. Apart from having to maintain two teams, one for Android and one for iOS, there’s always a gap between the applications developed as they are made by totally different teams. That’s what gave birth to the idea of creating cross-platform mobile applications.
There are many types and solutions but the most popular one right now is by creating compiled apps that give the closest performance to that of the real native applications. The most powerful contenders in that field at this moment are Google’s Flutter and Facebook’s React Native. Let's look at the strengths and weaknesses of both Flutter and React Native and do an objective Flutter vs React Native comparison.
With this table below, you can get a quick look at the difference between Flutter and React Native before we dive deeper.
What is Flutter?
Flutter is a reactive cross-platform mobile development framework created by Google and uses Google’s Dart language. Flutter was initially unveiled at the 2015 Dart developer summit. Three years later, Google released the first stable release version Flutter 1.0 on December 5, 2018, at the Flutter Live event. It is used to develop applications for Android, iOS, Windows, Mac, Linux, Google Fuchsia, and the web using a single code base. Google’s strong support helped Flutter quickly catch up to other cross-platform options like React Native. At its core Flutter is a reactive framework and comes with a large number of ready-to-use widgets. Flutter’s applications are compiled using arm C/C++ library so that it’s closer to machine language and gives better native performance. Let's look at some of the pros and cons of Flutter vs React Native:
Some of the advantages of cross-platform mobile app development using Flutter include:
- Hot Reload: One of the biggest pros of using Flutter is the ability to get a near-instant reflection of changes. Hot Reload allows developers to make changes to the codebase and not have to restart the application to the change reflected.
- Cross-platform development from one codebase: With Flutter, writing one codebase can support iOS and Android platforms. The same codebase can also be used for the other platforms supported by Flutter including the web. And with Flutter having its widgets and designs you have the option to create the exact same app on both platforms. Or have them varied if you wish.
- Cut down on debugging time: Having the same exact app for both platforms and the same codebase means that you will only need to debug once instead of separately for each platform.
- Fast fluid UI: Flutter apps boast a fluid and fast UI and this is thanks to the Skia Graphics Library. With the library, the UI is redrawn each time when a view changes. With help from the GPU, Flutter UI delivers a smooth and fast experience.
- Great app design: Flutter has its own custom widgets and doesn’t use native system components. Flutter also has a very user-friendly UI. This distinct yet very attractive look gives Flutter a big advantage over React Native.
- Same app UI, even on older devices: The non-reliance on native components and having cross platforms be the exact same also works for older vs newer devices. Apps will look the same whether on older iOS/Android devices or newer versions.
- Perfect for MVPs: A huge factor when looking for cross-platform development options is how quickly and easily can it build an app. There is a huge demand for building an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) for an app and Flutter is the best option to accomplish this.
- Flutter community and support: Traditionally due to Flutter being a newer option than React Native, community support has always been a disadvantage when compared. But due to its surging popularity Flutter has surpassed React Native in popularity and community support. Flutter currently has 102,000+ stars on Github while React Native has 92,200+ stars. Google has also continued to strongly support Flutter and its development and it is no longer a potential but rather a very stable option.
- Open source and completely free: Flutter is completely free to use, as opposed to other options like using an app builder or no-code solutions for your cross-development needs.
While Flutter is surging in popularity amongst the cross-platform development tools out there at the moment, it is certainly not perfect. Some of the disadvantages of React Native include:
- Libraries compared to native development: While Google has been strongly supporting Flutter as well as the community it still is relatively new. Libraries have come a long way but there is still some functionality that would otherwise be available or better implemented in native development thanks to the variety of libraries.
- Apps in the wild: While Flutter has been getting exponentially more popular in dev circles. There hasn’t been a huge amount of popular apps adopting it. Not having in the field examples of complex apps running Flutter can be seen as an issue, but that can soon change. Check out our list of the top Flutter apps out there.
- App sizes: Flutter has been working on this and they have their own guide to reducing file sizes. But Flutter apps tend to be a larger size than native ones.
Check out our essential list of Flutter resources and development tools.
What is React Native?
React Native Pros
Some of the advantages of cross-platform mobile app development using React Native include:
- Reusable Code: Develop an app and export it on multiple platforms from a single codebase.
- App Stores: Publish your app on the app stores of the respective platforms.
- Performance: React Native compiles your app into native apps, which are almost identical to apps created using native tools, making it faster than hybrid apps that have to run code inside a platform-specific web component.
- Native UI Components: React Native allows you to create views using React Native UI components, which are compiled into platform-specific UI components, unlike other cross-platform tools that use HTML tags. By offering ready-made components, you save a lot of time compared to writing everything from scratch.
- Hot Reloading: A feature available in React Native that allows changes in the code to take effect right away in iOS and Android apps so that you can visualize the changes immediately.
- Testing: Debugging React Native apps is fairly easy as it publishes native apps, which can be tested on physical devices using a tool like Expo, a free and open-source toolchain built around React Native, without the need to open them in Xcode or Android Studio.
- Native Code: Unlike most other cross-platform development tools, React Native allows you to further modify your published native apps separately and it gives you the option to even combine your React Native code and native code, whether it’s Swift, Objective-C, or Java. This is great in case you want to implement separate visual components for different platforms using platform-specific code.
- Reliability: React Native was created by Facebook and many of the world’s top mobile apps use React Native, including Facebook, Instagram, SoundCloud, and Skype. So needless to say, it’s very stable and reliable.
- Free and open-source: React Native is completely free to use, as opposed to other options like using an app builder or no-code solutions for your cross-development needs.
React Native Cons
While React Native is one of the best cross-platform development tools out there at the moment, it is certainly not perfect. Some of the disadvantages of React Native include:
- New Technologies: Learning JSX and ECMAScript isn’t as easy and would probably take more time than other familiar technologies like HTML and CSS.
- Native UI Components: While the UI components are one of the biggest advantages of React Native, there are only a few ready-made ones available at the moment considering it’s still a fairly new cross-platform development framework. This is sure to change with time.
- Native Code: In some instances, you might have to write native or platform-specific code in your mobile apps, especially if you need to access the device hardware like the camera or GPS, which can defeat the purpose of cross-platform development and can deem React Native useless for smaller teams.
- Almost-Perfect Performance: While React Native excels in terms of performance compared to most other cross-platform development frameworks, it’s still never as good as native apps development using platform-specific tools and languages.
Make sure to check out our list of top React Native newsletters, blogs, and online communities to stay up-to-date with all that’s new in the world of React Native. Also, check out our essential React Native development tools blog post for more information regarding each tool.
Every app and every mobile team is different and there will be room for both Flutter and React Native in the market. Traditionally with React Native being much more established and used in big apps, it was usually the go-to. But nowadays that isn't the case and there are very valid reasons to go with Flutter. Mainly the great UI and its rapidly growing community and library support.
- Essential Flutter Resources for All Levels
- How to Release Your Flutter App for iOS and Android
- Introducing Flutter Crash Reporting
- Instabug for Flutter Apps
Instabug empowers mobile teams to maintain industry-leading apps with mobile-focused, user-centric stability and performance monitoring.