When most companies plan to digitize today, the plan is to often start from mobile. This is a no brainer as that’s where most users are.
So, in the beginning, you might want to build a product that caters to both Android and IOS, at a lower development cost, rather than going full native for both.
If you have been planning to invest in cross-platform mobile app development, it’s possible you've had a hard time deciding on one of the two technologies that compete in this space: Flutter and React Native.
React Native is a top dog in this industry, but Flutter is a rising star. They are both powerful, and rich open-source frameworks that support the concept of one codebase for multiple operating systems.
Yet, though built to serve the same purpose, they both have unique pros and cons depending on the solution you want to build.
Let’s start with the basic overview of how each works, then carry forward with a more detailed comparison.
Applications that use React Native aim to create interfaces with a look and feel of native operating systems. For instance, with React Native, a button on an IOS device will look like a native IOS button and the same on Android.
Some of the notable apps built using React Native include Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Uber Eats, and Tesla.
Flutter is an open-source UI development kit maintained by Google. It was released in 2017. It uses a recent object-oriented programming language called Dart.
Rather than linking to native components, Flutter uses widgets that conform to specific design languages:
- There’s Material Design to mimic native Android UIs
- Alternatively, you can use Cupertino widgets for a native IOS component design.
React Native is reliant on third-party libraries to obtain native mobile modules whereas Flutter is unique in that it offers a portable UI toolkit to build apps across web, mobile, and desktop from one codebase.
Flutter, by default, allows developers to inject new code into a running app, and see changes on the fly. This feature is known as hot-reload and is symbolic of how changes take place in milliseconds.
It helps teams and their designers experiment with new features or fix bugs. This makes it perfect for building MVPs that you’d like to showcase to investors quickly. It’s the perfect option if time is short.
In response, Facebook shipped a fast refresh feature in its 0.61 React Native release. Fast refresh mimics the hot reload feature, and additionally allows you to view changes without having to recompile your build.
Flutter offers extensive and comprehensive documentation, providing developers with detailed guides and tutorials. You also get to use the Flutter debugger and inspector during application development.
React also has rich documentation, but a relatively larger community of developers all over the world. It also prides itself in having maintainers who have built an extensive collection of libraries around it.
However, Flutter is catching up quickly, with 127.1k stars on Github as of this writing, compared to React Native’s 97k.
Still, it’s important to consider that React Native has been around for longer and is a developer favorite. In this business, incumbents tend to have plenty of staying power as it’s expensive to change to new technologies without any significant upside.
In contrast, using Flutter requires that developers learn Dart, which is not as common as JS.
Flutter also lacks support for continuous integration on common CI platforms like Travis and Jenkins, which come in handy for automatic building, testing, and deployment. You might have to look for custom scripts like this one.
Furthermore, though Google has put much effort into supporting Flutter, it’s still quite new. You may not always find the functionality you need in its default libraries. Your team will have to build new features themselves, taking more time than expected.
Another notable flaw in Flutter is how its apps often take up more space. Its builds have bigger API sizes than native ones. But hopefully, this issue will be addressed in future releases by the Flutter team.
Flutter, however, offers more widgets compared to React Native. React only supports basic components by default, and you’ll have to look for additional components from appropriate repos. Flutter comes with Material Design widgets and Apple’s Cupertino widgets for UI design which will save you a lot of time.
If you have a background in web development and have some experience working with React, you can easily jump into React Native and start building.
However, whereas React Native only supports cross-platform mobile development, Flutter supports web, mobile, and desktop. It’s easy to see why more and more companies are attracted by Flutter. Leading companies such as Alibaba have already adopted Flutter, which makes it look more promising.
No matter which you decide to use, consider that:
- Flutter has a steeper learning curve, so if you have less time to learn, React Native might be your best option.
- React has fewer components that take more effort to design. Flutter, on the other hand, comes with ready to use widgets that make it easier to create superb designs.
- If you want to build your interface with native components, React suits you best.