Why React Native??
My journey in mobile development began with native Android development, which I initially believed to be the most technically sound approach to building Android apps. However, as I observed a growing preference among clients for a single codebase, I decided to explore Flutter, which, in my opinion, offered an excellent compromise. Eventually, I also ventured into React Native, driven by its widespread demand among clients. But have you ever wondered why this preference exists? In this article, I will share some insights on React Native based on my experiences. I'm eager to hear your thoughts on my reasoning.
Building with React Native
The main appeal of React Native lies in its essence: it is fundamentally React, but with extra steps. All developers familiar with React should find it relatively easy to navigate React Native and start building apps. They might find some aspects of the project configuration a bit tricky, but this hurdle is easily overcome with a bit of help from Google.
What Meta (formerly Facebook) achieved with React Native was essentially taking React—with all its styling, component building, libraries, etc.—and enabling it to 'translate' into native platform code. So, when you create a <Button>, it's instantiated on the native platform with its native counterpart. Similarly, when you apply CSS styling, it translates into attributes for native components—business as usual. Native platforms, with their intricate UI building methods, diverse languages, and distinct libraries and ecosystems, can be complex. Meta has essentially simplified this process, making it as straightforward as using React, without the need to learn entirely new ecosystems. While Flutter also offers a unified approach to app development, it requires learning a new language (Dart), a new framework (Flutter), and its surrounding ecosystem. In contrast, React Native allows you to leverage your existing knowledge.
Maintaining React Native Apps
When not to use React Native
React Native is generally an easy framework for app development, making it a reasonable choice in many cases. Typically, opting for a popular framework is a safe bet. However, when might it be better to choose an alternative?
When dealing with highly customized UIs, React Native might pose some challenges. Most components in React Native are essentially bridges to native platforms, which can sometimes limit customization options. If you can't find an appropriate component, you might resort to lower-level UI building, like using Canvas, to create entirely new components. However, in React Native, this would require building the component natively for both Android and iOS. For highly customized UIs, Flutter could be a better choice, as its UI is drawn directly by the Skia renderer, meaning the entire UI rendering occurs within Flutter itself, not on the native platforms. This approach also tends to result in fewer bugs related to native platform APIs, such as compatibility issues on Android.
Another scenario to consider a different approach is with highly technical apps. By this, I mean apps that integrate with specific hardware (like Zebra scanners), make extensive use of connectivity (VPN apps, BLE device integration), or are involved in Web3 (crypto apps). In these cases, it's generally easier to build the app using native platforms, avoiding the complexity of creating numerous bridges between React Native and the Android/iOS platforms, which can lead to complications.
One final point to consider, which might be somewhat subjective, is the user experience. React Native apps often don't feel as native compared to Flutter and native platform apps, requiring extra effort to mimic the native feel. A prime example is the ripple effect on buttons or clickable elements: in native Android, you see an animated circle, while in React Native, it's typically just a flat color change.
React Native is an excellent choice for many types of mobile apps, particularly those that are relatively simple and interface with a REST API. With React Native, you can create an appealing UI and ensure smooth app performance. However, you may eventually encounter limitations in terms of functionality and design flexibility. It's important to consider whether you're willing to make compromises in cases where achieving pixel-perfect UI or animations is challenging. Another point worth mentioning is that while front-end developers might be adept at building apps with React Native, they may not be fully versed in the intricacies of mobile platforms. This lack of deep platform knowledge can lead to unusual bugs or performance issues. In such scenarios, companies often resort to hiring native developer freelancers, like myself, for optimization or debugging tasks. The behavior of mobile platforms differs significantly from browsers.
I hope you find this article helpful and insightful. Please feel free to share your thoughts!
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