Flutter VS React Native for mobile app development: Choose your fighter!
by Ruslan Botnar
The “rate of infiltration” of smartphones into everyday life is growing all over the world. According to statistics from StatCounter, the share of desktop users dropped to 45.66%. The simplest explanation for this state of affairs is the change in our way of life. We spend more time on the Internet than ever before. Almost everyone has access to a smartphone or tablet. Given that the average user spends almost 7 hours a day on the web, it's no surprise that more than half of this traffic comes from mobile devices. This, in turn, pushes the mobile app market to grow. The preference for mobile apps results in pretty impressive numbers. According to a Statista report last year, global mobile app revenues were $ 461 billion and paid downloads and in-app ads are projected to generate more than $ 935 billion by 2023.
Until recently, developing mobile applications for a new business took a ton of time to write code. But today we’ve got ourselves cross-platform development that uses reliable technologies like Flutter and React, to make the whole process fast, efficient, and clear. According to Digital 2020 Reports by We Are Social Inc. and Hootsuite Inc., the number of Internet users worldwide is increasing by 9 people per second. This means that more than 800 thousand people join the global online community every day using mobile devices. Cross-platform mobile development has earned a reputation as one of the most popular areas of software development. The cross-platform approach allows you to create applications for different platforms with a single codebase, which saves time, money, and unnecessary effort.
As long as there is demand, there will be supply. However, if developers want to stay on board and create modern, high-quality mobile apps that work equally well on both iOS and Android in no time they need to find effective tools to do so. This is when cross-platform frameworks like Flutter and React Native come into play. There is only one question left. Will there be a winner in the great battle of Flutter vs React Native?
The discussion about which solution is better, React Native or Flutter, has been in the trend for quite some time. I hate to disappoint you from the very beginning, but there is still no agreement on this topic. Both tools have their advantages and disadvantages, and each has its fan base. Therefore, most likely, you will not find a definite choice – which framework is better. However, there is a good chance that you can pick your champion based on your business landscape and product parameters.
- Flutter is the name of the open-source cross-platform SDK (software development kit) from Google. Despite being a relatively new framework (the world saw it in 2017), Flutter quickly gained popularity among developers. Since its release, Flutter has not stopped growing and improving, which is good news. This mobile development environment is powered by Dart, a programming language also created by Google. Therefore, C ++ and Java developers can easily work with this reactive framework. The tool is equipped with a huge number of useful widgets and has a single code base, which is suitable for developing applications for iOS and Android.
Off to the races!
Now that you have a closer look at both applicants, it's time to talk about each in more detail: highlight the similarities and differences, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of each cross-platform framework. We've done in-depth research and compared Flutter and React Native in various ways to provide useful information to help you choose the best option for you.
Installation and settings: It would be untrue to say that the installation process for each framework is extremely simple. As far as React Native is concerned, you can install it with a one-line command in your npm package manager. It should be noted that you will need to have Node.js and the npm manager installed in advance to do this. In addition to installing the framework itself, you will need tools such as the Android SDK and JDK.
When it comes to installing Flutter, things are a little more complicated, as you first have to download it from the official website to the directory you want and unpack the archive. After that, you will need to add the folder to PATH manually, which takes longer than a one-line command. Besides, you will need additional components, just like with the RN. Generally speaking, both platforms require almost the same level of effort to install and configure. However, if you already have Node.js and npm installed, setting up React Native is a little easier than Flutter.
User interface components: When it comes to graphical components, Flutter is slightly ahead of React Native due to one aspect - it has a huge number of widgets with which you can play with the UI design settings as much as you want. The widgets called Material Design and Cupertino mimic the design of applications running on Android and iOS operating systems, respectively.
RN, in turn, uses native modules as well as numerous user interface elements from external libraries. As for the latter, this is both an advantage and a disadvantage, since without access to third-party libraries; React Native can offer fewer graphical components than Flutter.
Development: When it comes to frameworks in terms of development time, there is no doubt that React Native is the leader in the race as it offers greater efficiency and reliability. As mentioned earlier, RN uses native components that are immediately ready to use, which means that the development process is simple and relatively fast. With this approach, a developer can reduce the time required to develop a full-fledged cross-platform application.
Flutter, in turn, uses its own set of widgets, which are also highly adaptable to different platforms. However, since this platform is relatively new to the world of mobile application development, some widgets require additional manipulations to customize everything the way you need it.
Both platforms boast a Hot Reload feature that allows the developer to restart the application according to changes made during development and speed up the entire process. in terms of development time, both platforms are great but React Native is ahead of Flutter. Although the latter promises usability and ease of use, the development time still needs to be shortened.
Performance: Although there are not so many examples of performance testing for applications developed on these two platforms, theoretically speaking, React Native lags behind Flutter a little. The reason for Flutter's success is the Dart programming language it uses. The point is that Flutter compiles all Dart code to native code, so it avoids the JS-bridge and as a result shows better performance.
React Native, on the other hand, uses a JS-bridge to interpret and render graphical components, so a Java API or Objective-C is required to render a specific iOS or Android component. Because of this, the overall performance may be lower. However, when it comes to developing apps in the native environment, with proper optimization, developers get remarkable performance from React Native projects.
Architecture: Since Flutter is a bit “younger” in the world of cross-platform application development, it is difficult for most developers to understand what architecture is best to implement in an application. Flutter currently offers several architectural patterns, each of which is highly reliable and usable. The most popular solution is BLoC (Business Logic Component). At the same time, if you find Flux or Redux more convenient, Flutter allows you to use those architectures as well. When it comes to React Native architectural patterns, it is Flux and Redux that are preferred by developers using this tool.
Documentation: For mobile developers, not only easy-to-use tooling is important, but also well-organized documentation. Comparing the two cross-platform solutions on this criterion, Flutter prevailed. The documentation that this framework offers is complete and very informative. Once you get used to Flutter, you will quickly find everything you need. React Native, on the other hand, also boasts many helpful tutorials. While RN's documentation needs to be tweaked and improved, its community is much larger, which means developers can find solutions to any problem much faster and easier. Summing up the documentation, it's safe to say that there are no winners or losers in this battle.
Community support and reliability: It goes without saying that for developers with little coding experience, support from communities that help solve problems and share knowledge about new technologies is important. It is only natural that cross-platform technology that has been around for a longer period has a larger fan base and is more reliable. We're talking about React Native, of course. Since its release in 2015, the RN community has grown significantly and continues to gain popularity among both professional developers and newbies. As a younger representative, Flutter's popularity is just beginning to gain momentum, however, the framework already boasts a fairly large community that is ready to assist if necessary.
PROS and CONS of React Native and Flutter
PROS React Native
CONS React Native
False arguments used when comparing Flutter and React Native
“Flutter and Dart are Google developments. Fuchsia, the new OS from Google, is coming soon. RN will die slowly as a result, as Flutter will be much better optimized for Fuchsia.” – No one can predict the future, but one thing is certain: some of the world's largest companies are now betting on React Native. For example - React Native is heavily used at Microsoft. We are talking about, say, CodePush and the React Native for Windows project, which allows you to develop native Windows applications using React.
React Native is also used by the company Discord, which develops the popular messenger. The company, in particular, publishes a lot of material about React Native. In Discord, in an RN application, it was possible to achieve a performance level close to that of native applications. RN is also used in banking. Flutter is certainly great for many projects, and its use continues to expand. However, I think that both frameworks will compete for supremacy in Fuchsia OS.
Real arguments used when comparing Flutter and React Native
"Flutter has better performance than React Native." – I have nothing to say here. Now, because Flutter programs are compiled into native code, we can only agree with this statement. But the performance of RN projects, if optimized, turns out to be at a very pleasant level, while there are no problems with them.
"Flutter is easier to learn for those who used to develop native applications" – This, due to the typing and implementation logic, is also true. Flutter is closer to Android and iOS internals than RN. Most of the logic is taken from Java, and the main difference, for example, in Android development, is a greater bias towards a declarative approach to development. In Java, for example, they wrote classes and called functions, and using Flutter, they write widgets using something like properties that describe the expected state and appearance of the application.
"Flutter developer tools are very good and React Native tools are of poor quality." –
In all fairness, there is a big chasm between Flutter and React Native in this area right now. The Flutter team has worked hard to integrate their development tools with VS Code and Android Studio. Many tools have been created for debugging and analyzing projects.
On the other hand, aside from the react-dev tools package and some small plugins, debugging an RN application relies mainly on the built-in capabilities of the respective platforms. Facebook, to make a difference, recently released the Flipper mobile debugger. But up till now, it is still considered to be an experimental project.
Choose your champion wisely:
Account for what your business needs and wants
Let's summarize everything we talked about. This will help those who are engaged in choosing a framework for their next mobile project to make the right choice. Let’s get one thing straight: there is no unambiguously correct or incorrect answer to the question of which framework to choose. The choice depends solely on the characteristics of the project, as well as the preferences and knowledge of the development team.
Choose Flutter and Dart if and when:
- You have done something outside of web development before, and you are not familiar with creating page layouts with CSS and something like styled-components.
- You don't have a hard deadline for the project; the project, in terms of possibilities, has a certain level of flexibility. The point here is that, when creating a Flutter project, a programmer will not have access to the same large amount of developments that an RN developer has access to. Developing specific interfaces in Flutter can be more difficult than an RN.
- The application uses a simple navigation scheme. The fact is that Flutter's routing system is more complex than the famous react-navigation system.
- One of the most important requirements for your application is high performance.
- You are prepared for the fact that you will not be able to update your application "over the air", ready to rely on the update mechanisms offered by the app stores for the iOS and Android platforms. At least - you are prepared for the fact that this state of affairs will exist in the coming months, or, perhaps, in the next year.
- You are already a React, Vue, or Angular developer and are familiar with the architecture of component-based applications.
- You are moving into mobile development from web development, you are familiar with layouts generated by CSS, you have experience with libraries like styled-components.
- You want to rely on a vast ecosystem of assistive products that you can use in your applications; you are going to search for answers to your questions on resources like StackOverflow.
- You want to take advantage of the over-the-air software update capabilities of Microsoft CodePush and Expo.io, allowing you to quickly fix bugs in your applications.
- You want to use popular services that tend to always provide standard support for Node.js.