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React Native vs Flutter: is there a winner in the app development competition?

It is already obvious that the popularity of mobile apps will not disappear in the near future. We are going to compare these tools face-to-face in order to help you decide which of them is going to be the best for the development of your future application

It is already obvious that the popularity of mobile apps will not disappear in the near future and as a matter of fact the buzz around them is only expanding. The number of people using various applications on their smartphones is growing exponentially. And while there is a demand there will always be a supply.

Cross-platform mobile frameworks used by software developers worldwide

Source: Statista

In order to remain competitive on the market each company definitely needs an app or perhaps a couple of them. And it won’t be a surprise that companies are interested in getting the apps available for iOS and Android platform as fast as possible and at the lowest cost. So software engineers who want to keep the lights on and in limited periods of time develop modern and versatile apps able to work on multiple platforms will definitely need to use some particular powerful tools for this purpose. And that is when cross-platform solutions such as Flutter and React Native come into play. But here is a challenging issue: which of them wins the competition? Let’s try to find out.

Flutter vs React Native: basic information

Frankly speaking the issue of which one is better: Flutter or React Native is not new. This topic has already been discussed for quite a while but the solution hasn’t been found yet. That is why the question which tool is better can hardly have a definite answer. Both frameworks have their pros and cons as well as their own community of followers. But we hope that after reading this article you will have a better understanding of Flutter and React Native as well as will be able to break down the nuances of these hybrid technologies. And perhaps be more likely to choose your favorite tool.

A few words about Flutter

Flutter is an open-source cross-platform SDK (software development kit) created by Google. Although it is a quite new framework (it was released in 2017) Flutter managed to gain popularity among developers very quickly. Since the moment when Flutter first saw the world it keeps growing and advancing and at the moment it can boast a vast community of fans. Flutter uses the Dart programming language, which was also developed by Google. One of the most outstanding features of Flutter is its abundance of versatile widgets which help to build apps with impressive UI. The detailed description of all useful features and functionalities of Flutter were described in this article.

Flutter is a young technology but nevertheless, there are some great examples of apps made with it:

flutter top apps

A few words about React Native

React Native is an open-source framework which helps to create sophisticated mobile applications for various platforms simultaneously.

React Native is an open-source framework

React Native was developed by Facebook and that is why most of the apps from the Facebook family-like Skype, Instagram have been created with the use of this tool. The programming languages used by React Native are JavaScript and React.js which is a great advantage for software engineers since they don’t have to master new tools from scratch.

Compared to Flutter, React Native has seen the world a little longer as it was released in 2015. The major benefits of React Native are vast libraries along with a great number of training guides.

Just have a look at some popular examples of the React Native apps and you will definitely find out that you are using them in your everyday life:

React Native top apps

So now let’s have a closer look at these cross-platform frameworks and highlight their pros and cons as well as the aspects they have in common. In this article, we are going to compare each of the frameworks according to 8 criteria:

  1. Installation and Setup
  2. UI Components
  3. Development process
  4. Architecture
  5. Performance
  6. Documentation
  7. Community
  8. Testing

Installation and Setup

Frankly speaking the setup process with both frameworks is not the easiest one. The React Native framework can be installed using the Node Package Manager (NPM). For this purpose you will have to install Node.js and NPM manager beforehand. For developers with a JavaScript background, the installation of React Native tends to be easier. Besides the framework itself, some extra tools like Android SDK and JDK are needed.

In the case of Flutter, the installation process seems to be slightly more complicated as some additional steps are required: you will need to download the binary from the source code and add it manually to PATH which takes longer than in the case with React Native.

So both Flutter and React Native require additional components which makes them almost equal in terms of setup. But if Node.js and NPM are already installed on your PC, the setup process with React Native appears to be easier than with Flutter.

UI Components

The support of native-like components is extremely important for the development of a cross-platform mobile app, as without it the app won’t feel like a native one. Flutter is bundled with a real army of highly-customizable widgets which help to create as much of an app as you can imagine. Moreover, Flutter is armed with a rich number of elements such as UI rendering components, device API access, navigation, testing, and loads of libraries. On the other hand, React Native framework provides only UI rendering and device access APIs. React Native relies greatly on the third-party libraries when the access to native modules is needed. So because of this it is inferior to Flutter. Of course React Native is able to use lots of components and UI elements from third-party libraries but without the access to them, React Native is characterized by a smaller number of elements than Flutter.

React Native vs Flutter. UI Components

Development process

It is impossible to predict how long it will take to build an application. This period can vary from several months to a couple of years. The choice of the platform does not really influence the release speed. However, working with simple Flutter applications can be more profitable and faster due to the big number of components out of the box. Flutter also allows using native code so your application can seem native.

The development process for React Native apps is also fast since the framework uses native components, which are ready to use. These components help to speed up the process of mobile app development, eliciting many pains.

React Native development processBut the most valuable feature of both frameworks is the Hot Reload function, which allows developers to introduce changes to an existing state of the app without having to recompile all of the code from the start, which improves efficiency and accelerates the whole process.

So we can conclude that in terms of development speed both frameworks are great.

Architecture

React Native provides the use of two main patterns when building applications - Flux and Redux. While the former is created by Facebook, the latter is more popular with developers. Both of these structures follow a unidirectional pattern of data flow during development and provide the storage of application state in a central "store", making app components stateless.

React Native vs Flutter arcitecture

Since Flutter is relatively new to the world of cross-platform application development, most developers find it hard to figure out what architecture is the best option to implement in an application. Flutter offers a number of architectural patterns, each is highly reliable and convenient to work with. The most popular solution is BLoC (Business Logic Component). At the same time, Flutter makes it possible to use Flux or Redux, if you find these architecture samples more convenient.

Performance

The React Native architecture consists of two main parts: the JavaScript language and the native language. In the beginning, it only uses JS. But for the interpretation and rendering of UI components it must use the JavaScript bridge as it helps to convert the variables to native ones. So, yes, React Native is powerful but the necessity of using a bridge makes the performance slower and influences the animations speed.

Flutter, on the other hand, goes a bit behind and the main reason for that is the use of the Dart programming language. Flutter compiles the whole code to the native machine code and avoids any special connection between the interface and the code. This makes rendering incredibly fast and results in better and quicker performance.

Let's have a look at the operational principles of Flutter and React Native frameworks on the scheme below.

React Native vs Flutter perfomance

Documentation

Well-structured documentation and a user-friendly set of tools are essential for software developers. And in terms of documentation Flutter surpasses React Native as it is supplied by sophisticated and thought-out documentation by Google. Flutter developers are able to find any information in seconds. Although it is a relatively new framework Flutter is quite easy to switch to due to the fact that Dart is similar to Java and Kotlin programming languages. So it’s not a big deal for a Java developer for instance to start using Flutter for the development of mobile apps.

What concerns React Native, it would be reasonable to state that it doesn’t provide such thorough and full-scale documentation as Flutter in spite of the fact that React Native is “older”. Nevertheless React Native can boast a vast community of users and loads of useful guides, which provide opportunities to find necessary solutions in no time.

Community

One of the most essential issues influencing the reliability of a framework is the support of the community who make fundamental contributions to the overall framework advancement. As React Native was released earlier it is not surprising that it has got a much bigger community of followers, who can share the knowledge on some new technologies with less experienced developers as well as offer help in solving various problems. Since the release in 2015, the React Native community has significantly expanded and the interest to this framework only keeps growing. As a younger framework Flutter (released in 2017) can’t boast such a vast community but from the very beginning it was actively supported by Google software engineers. At the moment Flutter has got quite a big fan base and since the release of a new stable version the popularity of Flutter is sure to increase at a blazing speed.

FlutterReact Native
Github stars116,00093,900
Github commits23,02222,113
Stack overflow watchers44,40063,500
Stack overflow questions79,60496,662
Numbers of students (Udemy)254,308313,066

Testing

React Native and Flutter are both cross-platform technologies, which means that the testing time is cut in half. It also makes the QA team easier to work with because they only need to test one application. But surely if these are different applications on different platforms all of them have to be tested.

Developers have all JavaScript frameworks available for testing React Native apps at the unit level. However, when it comes to UI testing and automation, the situation is not as good.

Flutter is a new framework, and when it comes to testing a new framework, it can be a bit tricky. But Flutter uses Dart, which offers a great unit testing framework to use. So Flutter provides great options for developers to test widgets offline, at unit testing speeds.

Conclusion

When approaching the issue of choosing a platform for hybrid app development, you need to analyze a lot of factors such as the budget, time, app size, platforms, and so on. This means that choosing the best solution for mobile development will mostly depend on the specific task. However, many experts agree that the expanding interest in Flutter, its use and support from Google will eventually end up in its leadership. On the other hand, the strong support of the React Native community, its stability and reliability also make this platform very popular and actively used.

To sum let’s briefly go through the most important features of both technologies:

React Native vs Flutter comparison Infographics linkup studio

So for the time being neither Flutter nor React Native can boast of the superiority in this race, since both technologies have their strengths and weaknesses. Yes, React Native is a more robust cross-platform tool using one of the most popular programming languages, JavaScript. However, Flutter is developing faster, perfectly adapting to the needs of today's technology world, and is becoming more and more popular with software developers every day.

Hopefully, now that you know enough about each platform, you can make an informed decision and choose the one that best suits your needs and expectations.

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