Why & How Best To Use ElectronJS For Cross-Platform Software Development

Julian Wallis
11 min read
Tablet and mobile on table

If you’re looking to turn your web app into a desktop version, Electron is an excellent choice. It’s an open-source framework that enables you to build both native and cross-platform applications using familiar web-based technologies like JavaScript, HTML, and CSS. By leveraging the power of the Chromium web browser, Electron seamlessly renders your apps on the desktop. 

Interestingly enough, you might be surprised to learn that you’re likely using Electron apps on your computer right now, even without realising it. How’s that, you may be thinking, right? Don’t worry; we’ll get to that in due course.

In this article, we explore ElectronJS for cross-platform software development and why it’s great for swiftly developing desktop software solutions. Additionally, we’ll delve into the advantages and disadvantages of the Electron framework in comparison to other available options. So, sit back, relax and enjoy this in-depth guide on ElectonJS.

What Is ElectronJS? ⚛️

ElectronJS logo

ElectronJS is an open-source cross-platform app development framework that empowers developers to create cross-platform desktop applications using web technologies like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. By leveraging its capabilities, developers can build powerful, feature-rich applications that run seamlessly on Windows, macOS, and Linux operating systems.

The key idea behind ElectronJS is to combine web technologies with a lightweight runtime environment to create desktop applications that can run on multiple operating systems, such as Windows, macOS, and Linux. This is achieved by bundling a web rendering engine (Chromium) with Node.js, which provides access to native operating system features.

The best part? You don’t need any prior native development experience to dive in and create amazing software using a single JavaScript codebase. It’s no wonder the framework has gained significant popularity, particularly due to its ease of use, versatility, and ability to build cross-platform applications efficiently.

Advantages Of ElectronJS For Cross-Platform Development 🎯

🤹 Simplicity & Versatility 

ElectronJS simplifies the development process by providing a single codebase for multiple platforms. Developers can utilise their existing web development skills and tools, making it easier to transition into desktop application development. This improved sense of versatility compared to other similar frameworks helps developers by saving their time and effort by eliminating the need to learn platform-specific languages or frameworks.

🌐 Access To Web Technologies

ElectronJS brings the power of web technologies to desktop applications. Developers can leverage their knowledge of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, along with popular web frameworks and libraries, to create intuitive user interfaces and dynamic application logic. These rudimentary web development tools are pretty much the norm these days, meaning the learning curve on Electron is fairly smooth.

🦄 Unique Architecture

ElectronJS provides a Chromium-based runtime that allows developers to render web pages and execute JavaScript code. This unique architecture enables web developers to utilise their skills and build cross-platform applications that look and feel like native applications. By combining the power of the web with the capabilities of desktop systems, ElectronJS unlocks endless possibilities for application development.

👨‍👨‍👦‍👦 Community & Ecosystem

One of ElectronJS’s greatest strengths is its vibrant community and ecosystem. Developers can tap into a vast library of plugins, frameworks, and tools created by the community to extend the functionality of their applications. From UI frameworks like React and Vue.js to specialised libraries for file handling or database integration, the ElectronJS ecosystem provides the necessary resources to enhance productivity and build robust applications.

Limitations & Considerations For The Electron Framework 🚧

While ElectronJS offers numerous advantages, it’s important to consider a few limitations.

Team deciding on ElectronJS for cross-platform software development

💾 Memory Usage

ElectronJS applications may consume more memory compared to native applications due to the bundled Chromium runtime. That said, careful optimisation and efficient resource management can help mitigate this issue. Electron.js applications have a higher memory footprint compared to native applications. This is because Electron bundles a full Chromium browser along with the application code. As a result, Electron apps may consume more system resources, which can be a concern for low-end devices or memory-constrained environments.

⚖️ Application Size 

ElectronJS applications tend to have larger file sizes compared to their native counterparts. This is because ElectronJS packages the runtime alongside the application. But again, there is a fix, employing compression techniques and minimising dependencies can help reduce the application size.

Distribution Size 

Electron.js applications tend to have larger distribution sizes compared to native applications. This is because Electron packages the entire runtime environment, including Chromium, into the final executable. It can result in larger installation files and longer download times, which may be inconvenient for users with limited bandwidth or storage space.

Lack Of Native UI Components 

Electron.js relies on web technologies to create user interfaces, which can sometimes result in a less native look and feel. Although there are libraries like Photon, Spectron, and React Native for Electron that provides native-like UI components, achieving a fully native experience may require additional effort and customisation.

🦻 Built-In Accessibility Features

ElectronJS does not provide built-in support for platform-specific accessibility features. While it is possible to implement accessibility features manually, it requires extra effort from developers to ensure that Electron apps are accessible to users with disabilities. Native frameworks often have better integration with platform accessibility APIs.

🛡️ Security 

Electron.js applications inherit the security vulnerabilities of the underlying Chromium browser. Keeping Electron applications updated with the latest Chromium version is crucial to mitigate potential security risks. Additionally, the use of web technologies may introduce additional attack vectors that developers need to be aware of and handle appropriately.

Should You Use ElectronJS For Cross-Platform Software Development? 🕵️

When evaluating Electron’s performance, it’s important to consider the practical challenges and constraints faced by real-world web development teams, which are often overlooked in purely performance-oriented critiques. Targeting multiple platforms, such as Windows, Linux, and macOS, while simultaneously maintaining a web app can be prohibitively expensive. It requires the creation and management of four separate codebases, significantly increasing costs and complexity.

Furthermore, the operational aspects of adopting native development should be taken into account. If your development team and existing technology stack are primarily focused on web technologies, delving into native development can pose significant challenges. It may necessitate a complete reevaluation of your development approach and require acquiring new skills and knowledge.

Hiring the right talent can be a major hurdle. Developers specialising in specific technology stacks are proficient at identifying and recruiting like-minded professionals. However, they may lack the expertise to assess competency in different domains. Suddenly, your organisation is now faced with the task of not only mastering one new domain but multiple ones simultaneously. This can be overwhelming and a potential deal breaker for many products.

Electron offers a solution to mitigate these complexities. Most businesses, regardless of their size, already have a web development team in place, whether in-house or through agencies. By leveraging Electron, they can continue using familiar web technologies and pipelines to build new applications, all within a shared codebase. Scaling the team becomes more manageable, requiring fewer additional hires, and recruitment can be based on technologies already utilised.

These practical business considerations make Electron an attractive choice. It presents a classic 80/20 scenario, where you can achieve 80% of the functionality and performance of a native app at just 20% of the cost. For most, this tradeoff is highly appealing. In many cases, the decision lies between developing an Electron app or forgoing a desktop app altogether, as building natively may not be a feasible option.

Best Practices For ElectronJS Development 🏆

To maximise the potential of ElectronJS, we recommend considering the following best practices.

Office team discussing ElectronJS for cross-platform software development

🎭 Performance Optimisation 

Employ techniques like lazy loading, efficient rendering, and memory management to enhance the performance of your ElectronJS application. Due to the overhead of running a full browser instance, Electron.js applications may not perform as well as native applications, especially for computationally intensive tasks. But keep in mind that while Electron has made significant performance improvements over the years, it may still lag behind native solutions in certain scenarios.

📊 Memory Management

Electron.js applications can consume a significant amount of memory. Be mindful of memory usage and avoid memory leaks. Properly release resources, unsubscribe event listeners, and dispose of objects when they are no longer needed.

Native-Like User Experience

Strive to provide a native-like user experience to enhance usability and familiarity. Use platform-specific UI components and design patterns to match the user’s expectations. Consider using libraries like Photon, Spectron, or React Native for Electron to access native UI elements.

🚚 Packaging & Distribution 

Consider the size and distribution of your Electron application. Minimise the package size by excluding unnecessary files and optimising assets. Use compression techniques and package formats that reduce download sizes. You should also consider delta updates or differential packaging to minimise bandwidth usage during updates.

🧪 Cross-Platform Testing 

Test your Electron application on different platforms and configurations to ensure compatibility and consistent behaviour. Pay special attention to platform-specific nuances, such as file system differences, system font rendering, and UI scaling. And finally, use automated testing tools and frameworks to streamline the testing process.

🔐 Security Considerations 

Developers need to be mindful of employing the best security best practices when developing Electron applications due to the inherent vulnerability that is common amongst platforms relying on basic web development technologies. Make sure to regularly update Electron to benefit from security patches and bug fixes. Also, Implement secure communication protocols, validate user inputs, and apply appropriate security measures to protect against common web vulnerabilities.

Never Ignore Accessibility 

Ensure that your Electron application is accessible to users with disabilities. Follow accessibility guidelines, provide alternative text for images, use semantic HTML, and test your application with screen readers and assistive technologies. You can also look into leveraging platform-specific accessibility APIs to enhance accessibility features.

🚨 Error Handling & Logging 

Implement robust error handling and logging mechanisms in your Electron application. Catch and handle errors gracefully to prevent crashes and provide meaningful error messages to users. Log errors and exceptions to facilitate troubleshooting and debugging.

🛠️ Continuous Integration & Deployment 

Set up a continuous integration (CI) and deployment pipeline to automate the build, QA testing, and deployment processes. CI/CD tools like Jenkins, Travis CI, or GitHub Actions can help streamline the development workflow and ensure consistent and reliable releases across different platforms.

🗃️ Documentation & Community Support 

Electron has a vibrant community with extensive documentation, tutorials, and resources. Take advantage of these resources to deepen your understanding of Electron and leverage best practices. And finally, don’t forget to contribute to the community by sharing your knowledge and experiences.

Real-World Examples Of ElectronJS Applications 💁‍♀️

The adoption of Electron by prominent companies, among others, who develop desktop applications used by millions, clearly illustrates its viability as a cross-platform solution. Despite having substantial budgets, they choose Electron due to its ability to provide most of the functionality of a native app at a fraction of the cost.

👁️ Visual Studio Code

Visual Studio Code logo

One of the most popular code editors, Visual Studio Code, is built on ElectronJS. It offers a wide range of features and extensions that enhance the coding experience across different programming languages.

💬 Slack

Slack logo

The widely-used collaboration and communication platform Slack utilises ElectronJS. It provides users with a cross-platform desktop application that integrates seamlessly with the web version, enabling teams to communicate and collaborate efficiently.

👾 Discord 

Discord logo

Another popular communication platform, Discord, also relies on ElectronJS. It offers voice, video, and text communication features for gamers and communities, providing a rich user experience on various operating systems.

📞 WhatsApp Desktop 

WhatsApp logo

The desktop version of the widely-used messaging application WhatsApp is built on ElectronJS. It allows users to access their messages and engage in conversations directly from their desktop computers.

📬 Postman 

Postman logo

Postman, an API development and testing tool, utilises ElectronJS to provide a user-friendly desktop application. It offers a comprehensive set of features for designing, debugging, and documenting APIs.

Conclusion: ElectronJS For Cross-Platform Software Applications 🎇

In conclusion, ElectronJS is a game-changer in the realm of cross-platform software development. By harnessing the power of web technologies like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, the Electron framework empowers developers to create cross-platform desktop applications effortlessly, harnessing the power of web technologies. Its simplicity, versatility, low barrier for entry and strong community support make it an ideal choice for developers looking to build robust applications for multiple operating systems. 

By considering platform-specific optimisations and understanding the framework’s advantages, limitations, and best practices, developers can harness the potential of ElectronJS to build powerful and efficient cross-platform applications.

We hope this article has helped you understand how ElectronJS makes creating cross-platform applications possible. It’s a powerful offering that requires the right guidance from experienced industry professionals. So if you’re ready to make your own cross-platform mobile app idea a reality but not sure how and where to start, book a discovery call. We’d love to help!

Published On

June 16, 2023