When we first heard about React Native, a framework that enables building an app for multiple platforms, we were thrilled. One team, one codebase and the potential to scale an app for iOS and Android using a fracture of resources required in native development is a great promise. But how does it stack up with reality?
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Until a few years ago, developing an app for iOS and Android separately was a necessity if we aimed at both markets. Having two different teams generates more costs, especially when we think about constant upgrades and regular introduction of new features. A few years ago, Facebook officially announced React Native, a powerful framework with the promise of cross-platform compatibility. RN has matured since its premiere, and we had a chance to test it in the battle. We have built a couple of apps for both commercial and internal projects, and now we can weigh up the pros and cons of React Native. Is it really worth your attention?
Pros of React Native
1. Faster to Build
The major selling point of React Native is shorter development time. It provides numerous ready-to-apply components that can accelerate the process. React Native still lacks some solutions, so you would probably have to build them from scratch. However, with the existing base of packages, you can save much time and it will only get better. As the RN community is growing and Facebook regularly introduces new updates, one day we may find a ready component for most of the solutions we need.
We built the very same app with both React Native and Swift. The latter took as much as 33% more time to build. The big saving comes with developing for more than one platform. As RN lets you share a big part of a codebase between operating systems within a few hours, you can potentially save about 50% of time and money.
2. One Framework, Multiple Platforms
React Native enables copying the codebase (or just a part of it) between iOS and Android. In practice, full cross-platform development is possible to some extent, depending on how many native modules you use in your application. Some features will be available in apt packages, but others need to be written from scratch. It will only get better, though. React Native community actively supports the framework adding new tools to open source.
3. Hot Reloading
Thanks to hot reloading, a developer can keep the app running while implementing new versions and tweaking the UI. It makes changes in the app instantly visible without the need for the developer to save them. It is a major benefit for developers. Not only do they save time on the compilation, but also they don’t lose any state of an app while making changes. It boosts productivity and, in effect, the whole development time decreases.
4. Smaller Teams
5. Fast Applications
6. Simplified UI
React Native is solidly based on creating a mobile UI. In native development, it is necessary to create a sequence of actions in the application, whereas RN employs declarative programming in which such an order of implementing an action is obsolete. As a result, it is much easier to detect bugs on the paths a user can take.
Cons of React Native
1. Less Smooth Navigation
React Native still lacks navigation components to provide users with seamless UX. There is no ideal solution in RN for navigation between displays. It will be getting better and better, but probably it will never be as good and smooth as native navigation.
2. Lack of Some Custom Modules
Despite its maturity, React Native still lacks some components. Others, in turn, are underdeveloped. The chances are you won’t have a problem with that, as the majority of custom modules you need are available, well-documented and working properly. However, it may happen that you will have to build your solution from scratch or try to hack the existing one.
Implementing some native features and modules necessitates detailed knowledge of a particular platform. React Native does offer custom modules that you can refactor across operating systems, but things such as access to device sensors, camera or push-notifications require help from iOS and Android developers. Their input depends on the complexity of your project, but you need to bargain for them when kicking off with React Native.
4. Facebook Rules
Facebook puts a lot of resources to ensure React Native’s reliability and also to guarantee a constant development of the platform. It is unlikely that Facebook kills the framework overnight. But you still operate on Facebook’s license and, at the end of the day, you’re always dependent on them. Finally, Facebook has a right to revoke the licence (BSD) to use React and React Native if you get into a patent-related dispute with them.
These advantages and disadvantages are worth considering before kicking off with React Native. To get a full picture of the framework, check out our ultimate FAQ list. Share your experience with React Native in the comments!