May 31, 2022
Cross-platform development is gaining momentum as one of the most common solutions for building mobile apps. It’s faster, easier, and more cost-effective than native development — and it provides users with a better experience than progressive web apps.
Cross-platform frameworks allow developers to create hybrid apps that work across a variety of operating systems and end devices. The final product has the look and feel of an application developed specifically for the operating system it’s running on.
In short: instead of coding one app for Android and a separate one for iOS, developers only need to create one. A single codebase means fewer developers, a shorter development cycle, and reduced overall costs.
Currently, the most widely-used cross-platform frameworks are React Native—which was developed by Meta — and Google’s Flutter. React Native dominated the market until 2021 when Flutter claimed the top spot.
Regardless of which framework you choose, both Flutter and React Native share major advantages:
Cross-platform development’s efficiency and convenience do come at a cost. In some cases, UI/UX quality and performance will suffer. And developers may need to customize applications with native code to ensure functionality for applications with complex functions. However, compared to benefits like reduced costs and shorter time-to-market, most developers find these tradeoffs have a minor impact on the final product
Before comparing React Native and Flutter, it’s important to remember the key difference between both technologies. React Native is a framework, while Flutter is a software development kit (SDK).
Frameworks provide developers with a foundation that they can customize with code to build software. This code often comes from libraries, which help developers avoid having to write code from scratch. In the case of React Native, these libraries are created by third parties and are not contained within the framework.
SDKs include frameworks, plus every other tool developers will need to build and test a fully functional application — such as libraries, documentation, and APIs. Since the kit contains all the necessary tools, developers don’t need to search for third-party support.
Below we break down a few key aspects to consider when making the choice.
Why it matters: The coding language that a framework uses will determine how easy and affordable it will be to find developers that can work with it.
Why it matters: The architecture that a framework uses will have a significant impact on an app’s performance, speed, stability, and overall user experience.
Meta apps, such as Facebook or Instagram, are an excellent example. Each version features small but noticeable differences in the UI that make it feel native to the platform it’s operating on.
Flutter: Flutter already includes the UI components needed to build an app within its framework, so it doesn’t need to use a bridge to render into native code. These components replace native UI components, which may not be desirable in every case.
The results are applications that look and feel the same across operating systems. This is why Google mobile apps, such as Gmail or Google Maps, look nearly identical on Android and iOS.
Eliminating the need to render into native code leads to faster, more stable apps. However, having all of these native components integrated into the framework can make the overall size of applications quite large. Apps that are too large can create problems for users with older devices or that lack enough memory space.
Why it matters: The quality of the tools that a framework provides developers to create, test, and maintain fully functional apps will have a big say in how quickly the development cycle flows and how easy it is to solve bugs and maintain the application.
For instance, React Native doesn’t offer official UI testing and integration testing support. Instead, it relies on third-party testing tools. Although developers can integrate frameworks such as Jest or Detox, this drags out the development cycle and creates room for complications.
React Native’s documentation can be lackluster too. Since so many tools and libraries are being released, developers don’t have much time to write proper documentation. Lack of quality documentation can make troubleshooting and maintenance more difficult in the future.
Flutter: Flutter offers integrated, officially supported tools for testing units, integrations, and widgets. This creates an easy and seamless testing process for developers. As with most Google software, Flutter’s documentation is thorough and extremely organized. It provides excellent support for setup and testing modules.
However, Flutter’s limited number of plug-ins and third-party libraries can create problems. While the out-of-the-box UI packages suit a multitude of scenarios, they may not enable certain complex features. Fewer plug-ins and third-party libraries mean that developers will either have to go through coding everything from scratch or make tradeoffs in cases where there are no plug-ins to support features.
The right cross-platform framework for your app will largely depend on the time and budget you have available and the complexity of the application. In general, React Native is considered better for developing complex apps and enjoys high levels of community support. Flutter is an excellent choice for quickly bringing simple apps to life or developing MVPs — although it’s evolving to accommodate more complex features.
Both Flutter and Dart are high-performing, trustworthy technologies. Regardless of which one you choose, you’ll benefit from a shorter time-to-market, reduced development costs, simplified maintenance, and the ability to reach a border user base.
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