What is React Native?

React Native is an open-source framework for building cross-platform mobile applications for iOS and Android using JavaScript and React.

React Native logo

React Native’s role in app development

React Native is a framework for developing mobile applications that render natively. It does so by bridging JavaScript to the native code. Both the framework and the library are free, open-source, and developed and maintained by Meta (formerly Facebook).

React Native allows developers to write their mobile applications in JavaScript and TypeScript while giving them access to native UI elements. This not only influences the feeling of the app, but can also improve performance. And: It makes simultaneous iOS and Android development easier, since a large part of the code can be shared between the two platforms.

Before React Native, mobile applications built with JavaScript had to be wrapped in a sandbox browser called WebView. This effectively presents users with a website, not a native application. As React Native apps access the respective platform’s own components at runtime, the user experience is seamless.

Advantages of developing apps with React Native

Before developing an app for multiple platforms, you will have to decide between two approaches: native (code written specifically for every target platform) and cross-platform (one code base to build applications for multiple systems). 

The main advantage of native development is performance: Apps typically run more smoothly, since they have better access to internal device resources. However, developing an app natively for multiple platforms also means recruiting skilled talent for each of them, driving up costs.

Cross-platform development, on the other hand, creates a single codebase that can be made to run on multiple platforms, for example, both Android and iOS. Using JavaScript with React Native, you can achieve precisely that.

Using JavaScript and React Native for cross-platform development

Since React Native uses the popular programming language JavaScript, you have access to a wide pool of developers for your cross-platform app. To access the operating systems’ native features, you can use one of the many open-source packages available on GitHub. Many of them are easy to install with widely used package manager tools like Yarn or npm.

Developers already familiar with the React framework, used for web applications, can apply their knowledge to build mobile apps. They don’t need any knowledge of the operating systems’ native languages for this. Instead, they can use React Native’s core components during development. At build time, these are converted into their native counterparts.

With React Native’s fast refresh feature, tweaking the app’s UI is much less time-consuming than with comparable frameworks, since every code change is immediately reflected in the preview.

Is React Native the right choice for your project?

When it comes to cross-platform development, React Native offers a lot of advantages. But is it the framework you should use for your next app?

Although React Native is a highly popular framework for a reason, it has its drawbacks. One of them is limited platform support: While React Native allows you to use the same codebase for your iOS and Android apps, this is the end of it. Other cross-platform development frameworks cover more ground. Flutter, for instance, also supports macOS, Windows, and Linux out of the box.

Other frameworks also include more UI components that don’t rely on external libraries. If you want to add more unusual UI elements to your app, you may quickly find yourself looking for third-party packages. These may not get updates frequently, leading to security risks.

Nonetheless, you should consider using React Native if your developers already have experience with JavaScript or if you plan to release your software as a web application using React as well. Using the same code base for all platforms will save you a lot of money in the long run.

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