React vs. React Native: Which One And When To Choose?
May 2, 20229 min read
Senior full stack developer and CTO at Ideamotive.
“It’s just React for mobile” is a typical but misleading notion when React Native appears in the narratives of those who are used to judging things by how their names sound. Even though both React and React Native are the technologies for software development, their names and a common origin can hardly let them be confused in most contexts.
One technology contributes to mobile app development, and another one is appreciated by web developers. Those domains differ, similarly to how the technologies do. The difference is worth understanding when a company meets the challenge of choice: what technology seems to correspond to the project best.
To set the records straight in the React vs React Native selection, we offer the present brief but comprehensive comparison of both technologies.
What Is React?
The virtual DOM makes a temporary tree to decrease the number of updates on the real DOM. As a result, the performance of web applications goes up. Self-managed reusable components utilized by React help the development process run much faster. React web developers describe the development process as smooth and trouble-free. From day one, React has kept gaining popularity in the global community of web developers since Facebook has made the library open-source. Amazon, Uber, Twitter, and Netflix are the digital giants that use React for their web apps, to name a few.
What Is React Native?
Crooks-platform mobile apps can be created with relevant frameworks, and React Native is one of them. Facebook released the framework in 2015, enabling mobile developers to use a single codebase for both Android and iOS. React Native meets the paradigm of cross-platform mobile app development when labor, time, and money are reduced in the development workflow.
The process becomes easier and faster because the code appears reusable on different mobile platforms. The development experience, in its turn, goes smoother since less effort is required for support and maintenance.
However, no one should be misled by the “Native” word in the framework’s name: this is not about building genuinely native apps. At the same time, React Native is great for building “almost native” applications when the most critical code can be written in such platform-friendly languages as Swift, Kotlin, and Objective-C. In other words, React Native developers can use native components to create cross-platform mobile apps that look and feel native.
Bloomberg, Airbnb, Discord, and Skype are the world-famous brands that have created their apps with React Native.
React vs React Native in terms of business advantages
Both React and React Native have purely technical benefits that can be grasped by developers rather than by the business persons who have to make a decision on using one or another technology for their projects. In our context, the business-related features of the technologies seem to be more relevant to compare.
The following characteristics of React can help figure out whether the technology can fit your project from a business perspective.
Reusable components provide quicker development
The fewer the components used for app building, the less the development cost. React allows using similar code for different components. Moreover, when one component is changed, the other ones remain untouched. Due to the component-based architecture of React, both testing and debugging become rarer, therefore;
Virtual DOM rendering saves resources
Unidirectional data flow simplifies maintenance
React uses unidirectional data binding to keep parent code components unaffected when child ones are changed. In other words, any minor editing does not modify the entire program. Such a stable code results in much easier maintenance of apps;
Shorter loading time makes apps SEO-friendly
When web pages render faster, users tend to retain longer on the website. Better conversion happens, therefore. React improves the SEO performance of web applications due to the shorter loading time it provides. In addition, React Helmet and React Router are the specific tools that web envelopes can use to build SEO-friendly websites.
Extensions optimize building architectures
React appears to be more than just a UI library with the available extensions. They allow building fully-fledged architectures of apps. Server-side rendering inherent in the technology provides sending a completely rendered page to users after the client-side one has been rendered first.
Mobility is a mantra for modern business. Let’s see how React Native makes the mantra sound clearer for entrepreneurs at any level.
The framework is kept up-to-date
Since React Native is free and open-source, thousands and thousands of React Native developers worldwide continuously add their expertise to improve the framework. Besides, Facebook provides a broad range of support to the framework to make the development experience even greater. As a result, the enterprises that choose React Native for the development of their mobile apps can be sure that the technology will never become obsolete;
The community is always available to consult and support
The global community of React Native developers is always available to provide anyone interested with any sort of framework-related life hacks and know-how. In addition to the latest trends in mobile development followed by the community, both official channels and code repos of React Native are full of answers and ready-to-use elements. Hence, whichever problem a developer may face, the 24/7 global support will never leave it without a solution;
A shared codebase simplifies cross-platform development
The improvement of already existing apps as well as building new ones from scratch are possible with React Native due to the unified codebase for different mobile platforms. The framework allows using half of the resources needed to create a mobile app for both iOS and Android by native mobile developers. The cost efficiency is apparent: a dollar saved is a dollar earned;
Accelerated MVPs save investments
Minimum viable products help figure out whether a business idea is worth investing in. The faster the release of an MVP, the lower the chance to spend money in vain. React Native allows launching MVPs for both mobile platforms within a shorter period for less cost due to the inherent cross-platform approach. Besides the very development of MVPs, their updating and maintenance appear faster and less expensive;
Native look and feel improve the user experience
Achieving a native look and feel through cross-platform apps is one of the primary advantages of React Native. Most users can hardly distinguish a native app from a one created with React Native when relying on just their user experience, no matter whether it is iOS or Android. And a great user experience is the main factor of success for any mobile application.
React vs React Native through the lenses of disadvantages
Both React and React Native are not without specific drawbacks. They are worth taking into consideration when choosing one or another technology.
Calling the following features of React disadvantages can be debatable for many React web developers. Nonetheless, the business persons who have to make a decision about adopting the technology for their projects should be aware of those features along with the consequences they may entail.
React keeps evolving at quite a rapid pace. It may cause constraints for lengthy projects when already created elements have to be redesigned not to remain outdated;
React is expanding continuously since such a popular library is destined to grow. A particular lack of proper documentation has to occur in case of one or another update. Informal support from the community is not always an acceptable approach;
React is great for creating user interfaces. At the same time, UI is not the only element of any web app. The other necessary technologies may appear beyond the skills of the hired React developers. Hence, team extension may bring extra expenditures to project owners;
Like in the case of React, the following disadvantages of React Native may seem to be insignificant for many mobile app developers. Entrepreneurs, in their turn, should not ignore the drawbacks nonetheless.
Compatibility and debugging are not too smooth since React Native is still in beta. Large companies with big teams of expensive professionals face no big problems using beta versions as a rule. In contrast, small companies with limited development capabilities may find React Native troubleshooting to be a little cumbersome;
Even though React Native is formally an open-source project, Facebook has a special patent for the technology. It means Facebook can suspend some developers from using React Native if they somehow violate the patent;
React vs React Native: when and what to use?
Theoretically, both React and React Native can be used to build web apps. It does not mean that they are entirely fungible, however. React Native is created to build mobile apps mostly while React is a UI library for web development.
At the same time, many other libraries and frameworks are available on the market to compete with both React and React Native. The following can be accepted as the recommendations based on the existing use cases in which both technologies provide success for famous apps.
When to use React?
Most web developers familiar with React may agree that the library facilitates creating great user interfaces as little else does. The library is expanding continuously to provide web developers with a growing array of ready-to-use elements the global community adds. Hence, React spares web developers from creating user interfaces from scratch: successful UI solutions made by various professionals are here to adopt.
The dynamic client-side rendering provided by React makes navigation between web pages smoother and faster to improve a user experience significantly. The synchronization between your web app’s UI and a browser’s URL helps prevent every instance from being reloaded when users do something on the page. This is critical for sophisticated enterprise-scale websites and applications that work with large user audiences.
High-performing interfaces are what React contributes a lot. This is the reason why many heavily loaded projects use React for their interfaces.
Facebook keeps applying React to its web version more widely after the newsfeed in which React has been used first shows outstanding performance. The same relates to the web version of Instagram.
Netflix is another heavily loaded web service where React provides sufficient modularity, high performance, and extraordinary loading speed.
Project management tools benefit from the trouble-free client-side operation. Asana is one of the tools that has rewritten the entire front-end in React due to the great performance capabilities provided by the technology.
React became a primary front-end technology for the web apps of many other world-famous brands:
Why use React instead of other available rivals? The following distinguishing features of the technology help realize the choice:
Virtual DOM makes React outstanding with much faster-rendered code. Higher performance is achieved since no response from a browser is required. Unlike rivals with manual DOM handling, React provides a better user experience;
React supports reusable components to spare web developers from the necessity to write every line of code from scratch. The component-based architecture of React saves a lot of time in web development routines;
The React-inherent server-side rendering provides web pages with SEO-friendly capabilities, especially when some external tools such as Next.js, for instance, are applied;
React encourages web developers to be innovative in their approaches. The global community is continuously sharing cutting-edge expertise to add innovative elements to the library.
When to use React Native?
React Native allows the creation of a comprehensive environment for building cross-platform mobile applications. Native-looking mobile apps can be called a primary purpose for adopting React Native in the development process. Unlike many available rivals such as Cordova, PhoneGap, and the like, React Native renders code via native APIs instead of rendering via WebView. A more agile approach to mobile app development appears as a result.
React Native is a framework, not a library which is usually a collection of pre-composed elements that cover typical use cases. The React Native framework provides mobile app developers with a set of ready-to-use rules and tools with which cross-platform mobile development becomes structurally supported. Its component-based structure helps build mobile apps faster and easier.
Reducing time-to-market is one of the main advantages of React Native: using a single codebase for different platforms allows saving funds and efforts in the development workflow.
Many leading global brands prefer React Native for their mobile applications.
The following main characteristics of React Native make the framework appropriate for the companies that are looking for a technology to build cross-platform mobile apps:
Reusable code for both iOS and Android, along with partially shared code for the web, provides unprecedented agility and improved teamwork over the development process;
Reduced expenses for development, maintenance, and administration are provided by the unified codebase for different platforms along with the open-source license-free origin of the framework;
Responsive design and native-like UIs make React Native the best choice for cross-platform mobile solutions under limited budgets;
Hot reloading and declarative UIs help mobile app developers focus on business logic modifications and creative designing instead of being bored by searching for the technical opportunities to implement what they need;
The knowledge base of the React Native global community is continuously expanding to provide mobile app developers with any sort of support and expertise.
Both technologies are open-source and free to access. The growing communities of React and React Native prove that both technologies deserve their popularity. The available rivals of React can hardly drive React web developers away from the library since the development experience it provides is valuable enough to retain the community. The same relates to React Native since the framework is unique among the competitors in hybrid mobile app development.
The last but not least argument in favor of both technologies is that numerous global brands prefer React and React Native to build their web versions and mobile apps.
While having similar names and a common origin, React and React Native serve different purposes: creating advanced user interfaces for web projects is not the same as building cross-platform mobile apps.
Dawid is a full stack developer experienced in creating Ruby on Rails and React Native apps from naught to implementation. Technological superhero, delivering amazing solutions for our clients and helping them grow.