September 1, 2023
August 2, 2022

React Native: All You Need To Know

Shane Bird

Facebook, Instagram, Shopify, and Uber are among the many businesses that have developed their applications using React Native. In fact, it’s become one of the top frameworks used by developers across a range of industries. But is it the right fit for your product? Do you know enough about the benefits as well as the drawbacks of React Native? Have you connected with a developer that can facilitate your React Native journey? In this guide, we’ll take a look at everything you need to know about React Native to make the best decision for your app.

So, to start, what exactly is React Native?

React Native is a framework based on JavaScript that is specifically used to build natively rendered mobile applications on both Android as well as iOS. It combines JavaScript coding with native platform capabilities to empower developers to craft products efficiently and effectively. The great thing about React Native is that the same codebase can be applied to various platforms. It is due to this capability that the framework has quickly become a favourite amongst developers. React Native saves valuable time and energy with its “one size fits all” approach, is based in React (a popular JavaScript library), and provides developers with the ability to create fully-fledged mobile applications; all contribute to its success and favourability.

React Native’s origin story

In 2012 Facebook decided to shift their focus from web-first to mobile-first. The problem, that stuck out like a sore thumb in the face of this company shift, was that the majority of their development team were web trained. This resulted in a few clashes, attempting to use HTML5 and WebView, and the Facebook team soon realised that none of these options were resulting in a mobile product they loved. Their aim was to provide the best possible user experience and the natural choice would have been a native application, though this presented its own set of challenges. With this in mind, Christopher Chedeau teamed up with Jordan Walke, Ashwin Bharambe and Lin He to create a prototype that enabled them to generate native UI elements from JavaScript threads from the user’s device directly. Armed with this breakthrough, Facebook organised an internal hackathon which resulted in a prototype that the team felt could form the basis of a mobile application framework. The original team took the discoveries from the hackathon and built out the React Native technology, which was open-sourced at the React.js Conference in January of 2015. Initially, the framework could only be used for iOS application development, but in September of the same year, the Android compatibility update was released. The Facebook team didn’t stop there and announced Windows and Tizen platform support in 2016. Fast forward to 2022 and React Native is as popular as ever with approximately 50 000 contributors on Stack Overflow.

React.js vs React Native

Now, you’ve heard us use the terms “React Native” and “React.js”, so what is the difference? The React framework was also created by Facebook, but it was created to enable their developers to craft front-end user interfaces based on UI components for their website. It is an open-source JavaScript library that gives developers the ability to write sophisticated front-ends for an enhanced user experience on websites. React Native was developed later to solve the crisis of mobile use for Facebook by “mirroring” the UI qualities developers love about React.js. Furthermore, React Native is powered by the React framework.

How does React Native work?

React Native makes use of JavaScript and JXL as its write-up programming languages, which means that it can communicate with both JavaScript-based, as well as native app threads. This communication feature is written into existence thanks to React Native’s “bridge” function that forms a link between the two unique languages (much like a bridge connects two land masses). The great advantage of this functionality is that developers can make use of components within existing iOS or Android mobile applications or make the switch to React Native. This effectively makes React Native a cross-platform development solution.

The advantages of React Native

One of the biggest reasons for React Native’s success is that it operates on actual native views and components rather than rendering in WebView like many other cross-platform development frameworks. This fact aside, there are a several advantages to using React Native for mobile application development:

  • Cross-platform development. We’ve touched on this already, but the value of code reusability cannot be understated! React Native saves developers time and makes it easier to implement codebases for multiple platforms. Further to this, if your website was developed using React Native that same code can be reused for your mobile app.
  • Cost efficiency. Further to its cross-platform capability, React Native is a cost-effective solution for mobile application development. Because the same code can be reused between Android and iOS, there’s no need to hire separate development teams; one effective team can build out your product.
  • Community-backed. Open-source frameworks benefit from developer advancement and React Native is no exception. This community of developers provide support to one another when solving coding issues and offer a wealth of knowledge when it comes to using the JavaScript-backed framework.
  • Speed. React native has a fast refresh rate and offers fast applications. Its refresh function allows developers to modify UI and implement updates to the app in the background, while the app still functions for users, saving time and improving productivity. While native code does operate faster than JavaScript, this difference is widely believed to be inconceivable to the human eye and thus does not affect the user’s experience.
  • Simplicity. JavaScript, the foundation of React Native, is the basis for building out the user interface for a more responsive app with a reduced load time and improved user experience, lending to both simple and complex design needs.

The disadvantages of React Native

While there are many benefits to making use of React Native for your mobile application development, there are some considerations to be made to ensure that this framework is the best fit for your project:

  • Compatibility. Through all its success and climb to stardom, React Native is still in the beta phase, which means your developers may encounter debugging or package compatibility issues. This requires troubleshooting which will be particularly challenging for developers with less experience using this framework.
  • Scalability. While many companies have seen great success scaling their mobile apps with the use of React Native, such as Facebook and Skype, others, such as Airbnb, found that the framework did not meet their scalability needs and so switched to native applications. React Native, however, continues to make great strides in advancement, so this issue is preventable with support from software architecture. 
  • Custom module shortfalls. In certain, specialised cases, React Native does not provide the support in terms of customised modules you may need. Either the existing codebase falls short of expectations, or they are missing in their entirety, meaning developers are required to use multiple codebases to achieve fully functioning apps across multiple platforms. While this concern exists, it is also deemed an unlikely event (though it always pays to be prepared for anything).
  • Native support. React Native bridges JavaScript with native mobile code, which means that your developer needs to be proficient in native coding to make a smooth transition when building out your mobile application. Alternatively, you’ll need some native development support that could add to your mobile app development cost. You can get around this disadvantage by bringing in some specialist support.

Comparing React Native for Android vs iOS

We’ve discussed all the ways in which React Native is compatible with a range of platforms, but are there some ways in which the programming language differs between them? The short answer is yes. The long answer has three considerations:

  • Operating system. Testing your mobile app on both Android and iOS is imperative to ensuring the best possible experience and smooth functionality for your user. The difference between Android and iOS then comes in with regards to the fact that Windows cannot run Xcode, meaning you will need to use a macOS device to test your application, rather than Windows.
  • Native elements. While you’ll be making use of the React Native library for the native components of your application, it’s important to keep in mind that they each look and function differently so anything you implement for Android may present with a slight difference on iOS. 
  • Styling. UI elements differ between Android and iOS, which means that manual configuration will come into play when working on the visual elements of your mobile app. Each platform has its own unique display manner, so developers need to account for this.

When shouldn’t you use React Native?

React Native is particularly a great option for companies looking to get to market quicker or those with a smaller budget but would not be considered a suitable framework for projects that require native functions, a specifically complex user interface, or for an app only required for one platform.

Naturally, there are a few considerations to take into account when determining if React Native is the right fit for you. With this being said, the value of React Native outweighs any small niggles. It is a well-loved programming language in the developer community for its cost efficiency, quicker development process, and time-saving aspects, while offering a broader audience for your product with its cross-platform capabilities. Community-backed by Facebook, Uber, and Shopify, amongst others, React Native further cements its worth as a framework worth considering for your mobile application development.

The team over at Blott Studio would be happy to answer any of your questions regarding React Native as a solution for your mobile application; get in touch!

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