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Flutter vs React Native: Comparisons and Differences[2023]

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Toluwani Folayan

June 09, 2023

Flutter and React Native are typically your go-to framework if you want to build mobile applications for different platforms. However, do you know that both are not the same despite serving similar purposes?

For instance, Flutter, developed by Google, uses the Dart programming language and allows you to build mobile apps with a single codebase. It emphasises a modern and reactive approach to UI development due to its various pre-designed user interface elements known as widgets. 

On the other hand, React Native uses JavaScript. This language is comparatively simpler to learn and enables you to create mobile apps for both iOS and Android using a single codebase. It also follows a "write once, run anywhere" principle, meaning you can write code once and deploy it on different platforms. 

As you can likely tell, both frameworks are pretty similar—however, the difference lies in their programming languages and architecture. Flutter uses Dart, but React Native uses JavaScript, which is more well-known and may require some additional understanding for beginners. 

Also, React Native emphasises using native components for a more platform-specific look and feel, whereas Flutter concentrates on building a unique and consistent UI experience. 

Keep reading this article for a beginner-friendly guide on Flutter vs React Native: Comparisons and Differences.


What you will learn:

What are Cross-Platform App Development Frameworks, and how do they work?

What is Flutter?

What is React Native?

A brief history of Flutter and React Native

Flutter vs React Native; what's the difference?

Flutter vs React Native; Which one to choose?


What are Cross-Platform App Development Frameworks, and how do they work?

For you to understand how Flutter and React Native works, we have to first start by explaining the term cross-platform app development. 

As the name implies, cross-platform app development is creating or building applications that can run on several platforms, such as Android and iOs, using a single codebase. This means instead of creating separate apps for different platforms; you can write code once and deliver it across many operating systems with cross-platform app development. Now isn't that amazing? 

Developers get to reach a wider audience, streamline their development process, reduce costs, and deliver consistent user experiences across platforms using the cross-platform app development framework.

The framework can be divided into two categories. These are Hybrid Development and Native Development. 

Hybrid Development

Hybrid development involves building mobile applications using web technologies like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript and wrapping them in a native container that allows them to run on different platforms. Think of it as creating a website that can be packaged and distributed as a mobile app; users can access its content and features through a dedicated app on their mobile devices.

For this to be possible, the hybrid apps would have to share some code (such as the HTML/CSS/JS code) between platforms, and this shared code executes in a webview on the target platform.

Hybrid development frameworks, such as Apache Cordova (PhoneGap), Ionic, or React Native, provide a bridge between web technologies and the native platform. These frameworks give programmers access to JavaScript APIs that let them use device functions like the camera, GPS, or push notifications. The program's user interface is often displayed in a web view, effectively a browser window integrated into the native shell.

However, hybrid apps could be subject to various performance and accessing specific device capabilities restrictions. This is because they rely on web views to display the user interface, which might not perform as quickly as native apps. Therefore, the programmer will need additional efforts to access the device API out of the box to replicate some of the functions of native applications.

Native Development

Native development involves building mobile applications using platform-specific programming languages and tools, such as Swift or Objective-C for iOS and Java or Kotlin for Android. 

This means that while the user interface (UI) is created using platform-specific widgets and libraries, they do not share any code between platforms, and the shared code they share is written exclusively for the targeted platform.

Native apps provide the best functionality, user experience, and access to device features, especially when compared to Hybrid apps. They also appear more native on each platform and give a consistent look and feel. However, They cost more to build and take longer to provide new features since it takes longer for developers to become familiar with the target systems' APIs. 

Regarding Flutter and React Native, both frameworks seek to make it easier to create cross-platform apps, but Flutter adopts a completely native approach. In contrast, React Native combines native and web technology. This means that Flutter offers a native development atmosphere, whereas React Native offers a hybrid approach to development. 


What is Flutter?

Flutter is one of the cross-app development frameworks that use the native development framework to allow developers seamlessly build and deploy mobile applications for iOS, Android, web, and desktop, all using a single codebase written in the Dart Programming language.

This sounds easy to understand. However, if you are still a bit confused about how Flutter works, let's use this example to illustrate.  

Imagine you want to build a house. Typically, you would need tools, materials and a blueprint to construct it. This can be likened to Flutter. With Flutter, you have everything you need, such as the tools and materials (code and widgets), blueprints (design patterns), paint colours (style), and your construction language that makes it easy to converse even if you are new to building houses (dart programming language).

Flutter's widgets are comparable to readymade furniture, doors, and windows that you can put together to create various rooms in your home, such as the living room, kitchen, or bedroom.

Also, you get to see instantly see how the changes you make to your sketch affect the outcome and functionality, allowing you to make the necessary adjustments and build precisely how you like. 

 


What is React Native?

React Native is a framework for creating user interfaces that combines the best aspects of native programming with React (hence the name "react native"). It also enables you to create mobile apps solely using JavaScript.

Since React Native uses JavaScript, a programming language all developers are familiar with, it is often simpler to learn. Additionally, The framework offers a collection of pre-made elements that you can use to create multiple panels, text inputs, and button-related components for your project. Similar to Lego parts, these elements can be put together and customised to build the user interface of your choice.

Lastly, with React Native, you can build mobile applications using well-known web technologies and watch them come to life in real-time.


A brief history of Flutter vs React Native

Google developed Flutter in 2017. It was initially announced in 2015 but wasn't launched until 2017. Since then, it has evolved as a cross-platform mobile app development framework to offer a smooth and practical approach to creating visually beautiful apps for iOS, Android, and other platforms. On the other hand, Facebook developed React Native, which was released as an open-source framework in 2015. It was made to make it possible for programmers to create native mobile apps using JavaScript and was built on top of the React JavaScript library from Facebook. 


Pros and Cons of Flutter

Some of the reasons why Flutter is a preferred choice for many developers include:

  • Single codebase- With Flutter, you can write code once and deploy it on several platforms.
  • Hot reload- With Flutter, you can modify the source code in any way and have the updated version of the code loaded into the Dart Virtual Machine (VM) without having to restart the program from scratch. 
  • Rich UI Customisation- Flutter developers can manage and create custom widgets and designs using their graphics engine without requiring native modules. This is a leading-edge Flutter has over React Native in the Flutter vs React Native debate.
  • Compatibility with MVPs- Flutter is an excellent choice to build an MVP(Minimum Viable Product) to demonstrate stakeholders because it enables quicker app development and deployment.
  • Native 2D Graphics Library- Flutter allows you to use Skia, its own graphics library, instead of relying on external ones. 
  • Fast performance- Flutter provides high-performance apps with fluid animations and quick rendering. It accomplishes this by employing its rendering engine, eliminating the need for a bridge connecting to the underlying platform. 

Despite the numerous advantages of Flutter, here are some limitations the platform poses:

  • Larger app size- Apps created with Flutter typically have more significant file sizes than those created with native frameworks. Flutter has a unique collection of libraries and widgets that must be packaged with the application. 
  • Limited CI/CD support- Not all CI/CD, or continuous integration and deployment, tools can be supported natively by Flutter. Therefore, developers may occasionally need bespoke scripts when testing and implementing any changes.

Pros and Cons of React Native

Some of the reasons why React Native is a preferred choice for many developers include the following:

  • Single codebase- With React Native, you can write code once and deploy it on several platforms. Also, the JavaScript programming language works well with web applications as well.
  • Native-like user experience- Apps created using React Native have the appearance and feel of native applications since it uses native components unique to each platform.
  • Java Script Compatibility- JavaScript is one of the most widely used programming languages; therefore, utilising it has a benefit over React Native regarding Flutter's popularity. Flutter's Dart, on the other hand, still has a distance to go.
  • Quick refresh- this feature is very similar to Flutter's hot reload. However, React 0.61's quick refresh capability makes it simple for a React Native developer to update the source code and see the result immediately. This feature mixes live and hot reload. 
  • Bigger Community and Ecosystem- The development community for React Native is enormous and vibrant. This results in better access to several resources, libraries, and software packages that could hasten the development process. 
  • Simpler to learn- React developers already proficient in web development may quickly learn and use React Native. This is a top edge React Native has over Flutter in the React Native vs Flutter debate. 

Despite the numerous advantages of React Native, here are some limitations the platform poses:

  • Platform-specific limitations- Since React Native is cross-platform, it may not be possible to incorporate some platform-specific features or APIs easily, or they may require more work. For instance, Developers may be required to write native code or use third-party libraries to access some platform-specific features.
  • Numerous outdated resources- The number of resource libraries for React Native has grown significantly over time. This has resulted in a lot of outdated libraries, so it is kind of a two-edged sword. For instance, it can make you spend time and energy using repositories, libraries, and packages.
  • Applications are larger than Native ones- When you use React Native to create a cross-platform mobile application, the JavaScript Virtual Machine will be loaded from the application itself. Native apps, on the other hand, won't require a JavaScript VM to function. Therefore, compared to native apps, React Native applications will leave a bigger digital footprint on mobile devices. 


Flutter vs React Native; What's the Difference?

The key difference between Flutter and React Native is the underlying technology and method of creating mobile applications.

Flutter, developed by Google, uses a programming language called Dart. With it, developers can create code once and release it to other platforms, including iOS and Android. Furthermore, developers can build aesthetically pleasing and responsive user interfaces using Flutter's widgets. It provides a high-performance experience and has "hot reload" functionality, allowing you to view changes as you make them right away.

React Native, created by Facebook, in contrast, makes use of JavaScript, a popular online programming language. It enables programmers to create mobile apps that replicate native ones by writing JavaScript code. 

Furthermore, developers can create apps that feel and look like native apps using React Native, which employs native components appropriate to each platform. It is also a well-liked option among developers due to its sizable community and numerous third-party libraries.


Flutter vs React Native; Which One to Choose?

Using Flutter or React Native depends on several factors and project requirements. Some of these factors and tips to help you make an informed decision include:


1. Performance

Due to the usage of a unique rendering engine and native-like components, Flutter is renowned for its superior performance. Flutter might be more suitable if performance is crucial to your program, as in cases when it needs to run quickly, like in games or applications with lots of graphics.


2. Experience

React Native can be a better option if you or your team are more familiar with JavaScript and have prior web development experience. On the other hand, Flutter's Dart language might be a suitable fit if you prefer a strongly typed language and have prior experience with object-oriented programming.


3. Demand

Google Trends shows that both Flutter and React Native are gaining popularity, with Flutter receiving more attention overall. The difference between the two frameworks started to expand in 2020. We can therefore presume that Flutter has more promising market demand when it comes to the discussion over cross-platform frameworks.


4. Architecture

React Native applies the Flux architecture, while Flutter uses the BLoC architecture. In terms of which is better, Flutter will be your best bet. This is because the BLoC architecture is simple, robust and testable. The basic tenet of the BLoC design is to create sophisticated products out of simple building components. The BLoC architecture also shortens the learning curve for projects, even for experienced developers. 


5. Installation

Flutter does not use program bridges; thus, you must download the complete binaries for the specific platform from its GitHub repository. For macOS installation with PATH support, you will additionally require an additional.zip file. All these factors mentioned making Flutter slower and more laborious. Hence, React Native is a better option when it comes to installation. 

Flutter does, however, provide a command line interface that comes packaged with a unique utility called Flutter Doctor. This Flutter Doctor aids in identifying and correcting problems with the development environment's Flutter configuration and dependencies.


6. UI Customisation

Flutter provides an extensive selection of configurable widgets allowing for highly flexible and visually appealing UI designs. Hence, Flutter can be a good option if you need substantial UI modification and want complete control over the appearance and feel of your app.


7. Platform support

Due to the use of more widely used JavaScript and its maturity, React Native has a more extensive user base than Google's Flutter, which is newer and uses the less widely used Dart language.

Due to this, React Native may offer a better environment and resources if you depend on existing native libraries or need particular platform integrations.


8. Development time and cost

 Both Flutter and React Native offer faster development cycles due to their hot reload features and code-sharing capabilities. However, Flutter's "write once, deploy anywhere" approach may result in faster development and potentially lower costs if you need to target multiple platforms.

Although, some may argue that assembling your development team will take extra time because Flutter is a relatively new framework. On the other hand, developers using the React framework have access to a wide range of resources, libraries, and designs. 


9. Packages and library

Regarding Packages and libraries, React Native is a better option because it has a more extensive and thorough selection of libraries and packages on npm, the JavaScript package registry.

Flutter also has an expanding selection of packages on its package repository, pub. dev. However, it is a more recent framework hence with a smaller community.


10. Code reusability

If you are considering code reusability, Flutter is your best bet because it is more reusable than React Native. With Flutter, you can generate new logic, update a single line of code, and reuse your existing code.


11. Quality Assurance

It is difficult to choose a clear winner in the Flutter VS React Native argument regarding testing and quality assurance. For instance, Although Flutter has fewer third-party testing tools, Google has packed it with extensive integration and testing options. But with React Native, you can get around any restrictions using various outside testing tools, such as Detox or Jest.


Conclusion

React Native delivers a native-like experience and broad platform compatibility, whereas Flutter offers excellent performance and customizable widgets, making it suited for visually appealing cross-platform apps. However, to decide which is better, consider several factors, such as development expertise, performance requirements, UI customization, platform integrations, and long-term maintenance.

Also, always ensure you consider your project requirements and run small-scale tests before deciding which framework to use. 

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