What Is React Native? A Comprehensive Guide For 2024

Julian Wallis
13 min read
React Native shines in scenarios where project complexity is moderate, native functionalities aren't critical, and development focuses on a single platform. Moreover, its affordability makes it an appealing choice for projects with constrained budgets.
React Native being used in an app development project by developers

Within the landscape of mobile application development, React Native has garnered significant traction, earning endorsements from industry leaders such as Uber, Microsoft, and Facebook. Its widespread adoption across various sectors is a testament to its adaptability and utility.

But, does that mean you should build your mobile app with React Native too? Well, prior to committing fully to React Native, it is imperative to gain a comprehensive understanding of its operational mechanics and evaluate its suitability for your specific project requirements.

What are the primary advantages it offers, and conversely, what are its potential drawbacks? How does it differentiate itself from other platforms for cross-platform development? And, most importantly, what considerations must your development team take into account before embarking on a journey with React Native?

In the ensuing discussion, we will address these inquiries and explore additional pertinent aspects, empowering you to make an informed decision regarding the suitability of React Native for your business and mobile software development needs.

What Is React Native? 👨‍💻

React Native, an ingenious JavaScript framework is tailored for crafting genuine, inherently rendering mobile applications for iOS and Android platforms. 

Unlike traditional approaches, it diverges from the conventional browser-targeting methods. Instead, it pivots towards mobile platforms, empowering web developers to fashion mobile applications with a truly “native” ambience. 

This paradigm shift unfolds within the familiar confines of JavaScript libraries, fostering a seamless transition for developers. React Native seamlessly integrates the finest elements of native development with React, an esteemed JavaScript library renowned for crafting exceptional user interfaces.

Whether you opt for minimal integration or opt for a comprehensive approach, React Native accommodates both scenarios. You can easily integrate React Native seamlessly into your existing Android and iOS projects or embark on the creation of an entirely new application from the ground up.

How Did React Native Came To Be? 🕰️

Initially introduced as an open-source project by Facebook in 2015, React Native swiftly ascended to become a leading choice in mobile development within a short span. Noteworthy applications such as Instagram, Facebook, and Skype exemplify its widespread adoption and effectiveness.

React Native’s inception stems from Facebook’s recognition of a significant technological misstep. Originally opting for a mobile webpage based on HTML5 instead of a native app, Facebook encountered limitations in user interface and performance. This led to the development of React Native, initiated by a breakthrough by Facebook developer Jordan Walke in 2013, enabling the generation of UI elements for iOS apps using JavaScript.

React Native rapidly gained traction, becoming the second-largest project on GitHub within three years of its launch. It distinguishes itself from React (ReactJS), a JavaScript library for building website frontends, by facilitating the rapid compilation and launch of iOS and Android apps through a set of UI components.

How Is React Native Different From React? 🙋

While both React and React Native utilise JavaScript and JSX, React Native employs native mobile user interface elements rather than rendering WebViews, distinguishing it from other cross-platform solutions like Cordova and PhoneGap.

Simply put, React Native isn’t an upgraded version of React, even though it incorporates React’s functionality. React, also known as ReactJS, is a JavaScript library primarily used for constructing the front end of websites. Developed by Facebook, it shares similarities with React Native.

In contrast, React Native, powered by React, enables developers to swiftly compile and deploy iOS and Android applications using a predefined set of UI components.

Both React and React Native employ JavaScript alongside a special markup language called JSX. However, the syntax for rendering elements in JSX components differs between React and React Native. Additionally, React incorporates HTML and CSS, whereas React Native permits the use of native mobile UI elements.

Thus, although related, React and React Native serve distinct purposes. Merely understanding React isn’t sufficient for iOS and Android app development.

Key Features Of React Native ⚙️

Several factors contribute to React Native’s global acclaim. Firstly, it offers significant time and resource efficiencies by allowing companies to generate code once and use it for both iOS and Android applications. 

Secondly, leveraging React, a well-established JavaScript library, React Native streamlines the development process. This intuitive framework empowers front-end developers proficient in web technologies to create robust, production-ready mobile applications.

But, that’s not all, and there are quite a few more key features that make React Native one of a kind. So, let’s explore them in more detail.

JavaScript With Native Rendering 👨‍💻

Developed in JavaScript, yet harnessed by native code, React Native leverages React primitives to render native platform user interfaces, thereby ensuring that your application utilises the same native platform APIs as other applications.

With React Native’s capability to create platform-specific versions of components, a single codebase can be shared across multiple platforms, enabling one team to manage various platforms while leveraging the unified technology of React.

Broader Accessibility To Native Development 📲

Native development is now accessible to a broader audience with React Native, ensuring that your application delivers an authentic native experience without compromise. Leveraging a fundamental set of platform-agnostic native components such as View, Text, and Image, React Native seamlessly aligns with the native UI building blocks of each platform.

Flawless Cross-platform Compatibility 📱

Streamlining cross-platform development, React components encapsulate existing native code and seamlessly interact with native APIs via React’s declarative UI paradigm and JavaScript. This facilitates accelerated native app development, empowering both new and existing native teams to operate with enhanced efficiency.

Quicker Iterative Cycles 🔁

Experience rapid iteration with React Native’s Fast Refresh feature, enabling you to witness changes in real-time as you save your work. By harnessing the agility of JavaScript, React Native eliminates the waiting time associated with native builds, allowing for swift iteration cycles. Save, visualise, and refine your application iteratively with React Native’s lightning-fast development environment.

What Is React Native Used For? 🤔

React Native facilitates cross-platform development, streamlining the process of crafting applications for both Android and iOS simultaneously. This versatile framework enables developers to craft applications across various platforms by deploying a single codebase.

Applications leverage React Native’s authentic mobile UI components, avoiding a web-like look and embracing a genuine mobile aesthetic. Additionally, React Native furnishes JavaScript interfaces for platform APIs, enabling seamless integration with features such as the phone camera or geolocation services.

Presently, React Native extends support to both iOS and Android platforms, with promising prospects for future expansions. Noteworthy enterprises like Facebook, Palantir, and TaskRabbit have already embraced React Native in their production pipelines, attesting to its viability in crafting user-centric applications.

How does React Native Work? Understanding The Bridge Concept 🌉

Let’s delve into how React Native operates, keeping it simple for everyone to understand. React Native, much like its web counterparts, is essentially a blend of JavaScript and a special markup language similar to XML, called JSX. It’s designed to communicate seamlessly between two realms: JavaScript-based threads and existing native app threads.

But how does this communication occur? Well, React Native employs what’s known as a “bridge.” Beneath the surface, React Native harnesses this sophisticated “bridge” mechanism to beckon the native rendering APIs, be it Objective-C for iOS or Java for Android. 

Despite JavaScript and Native threads being written in entirely different languages, the bridge facilitates bidirectional communication between them.

Imagine it like this: the bridge acts as a connector between two separate worlds, allowing them to exchange information and interact effectively.

To visualise this concept, picture a sturdy bridge connecting two islands. Similarly, React Native’s bridge ensures smooth interaction between JavaScript and native components, enabling developers to leverage existing native app features within their React Native projects.

So, whether you already have a native iOS or Android app, or you’re transitioning to React Native development, the bridge ensures compatibility and smooth integration, making the development process more flexible and efficient.

Advantages of React Native 👍

Native Rendering APIs 📱

React Native’s hallmark feature lies in its implementation of the host platform’s native rendering APIs, setting it apart from conventional cross-platform development methodologies such as Cordova or Ionic. 

Unlike frameworks relying on web views for rendering, React Native transmutes markup into tangible native UI elements, ensuring optimal performance and fidelity. 

While traditional approaches may attempt to emulate native UI elements, they often fall short, lacking the finesse and fluidity of authentic implementations. 

In stark contrast, React Native seamlessly translates markup into native UI components, leveraging the inherent rendering mechanisms of the host platform. 

Independent UI thread 🧵

Furthermore, React Native operates autonomously from the main UI thread, preserving performance without compromising functionality. The update cycle mirrors that of React, wherein modifications to props or state trigger re-renders, albeit through the host platform’s UI libraries rather than HTML and CSS.

Robust Native Toolset 🧰

For web developers accustomed to React, React Native heralds a paradigm shift, enabling the creation of mobile applications with native performance and aesthetics, all while leveraging familiar toolsets. 

Moreover, React Native enhances the developer experience by offering robust debugging tools and streamlined workflows. Unlike traditional mobile development paradigms, React Native fosters an environment where developers can harness their preferred tools and methodologies without being tethered to platform-specific IDEs.

Code Reusability 👨‍💻

Additionally, React Native presents unparalleled opportunities for code reuse and knowledge sharing. Armed with proficiency in React, developers can target the web, iOS, and Android platforms with a unified skill set.

While some platform-specific functionality may necessitate native code integration, React Native facilitates seamless code sharing across platforms. Notably, applications like Facebook Ads Manager boast substantial code reuse between Android and iOS versions, exemplifying the efficacy of React Native in optimising development workflows.

Risks and Drawbacks Of React Native 👎

Here are a few key considerations to keep in mind before embarking on React Native app development:

Fairly New Framework 🆕

Despite its myriad advantages, React Native is not without its challenges. Chief among these is its relative immaturity, with the project still in its nascent stages. 

While iOS support debuted in March 2015, and Android support followed suit in September of the same year, documentation and feature parity remain areas for improvement.

Lack of Custom Modules 👎

Despite React Native’s maturity, some custom modules may still be underdeveloped or missing entirely. This could necessitate the maintenance of separate codebases for React Native, iOS, and Android, rather than consolidating into a single codebase. However, this issue is relatively rare and typically only arises when building an app from scratch or modifying an existing one.

Compatibility and Debugging Challenges 🔒

Debugging can be daunting with React Native, particularly at the intersection of React Native and the host platform’s APIs. Despite its widespread adoption, React Native remains in a beta phase, potentially leading to compatibility issues with packages and debugging tools. 

If your development team lacks proficiency in React Native, troubleshooting such issues may consume valuable time, impacting project progress.

Scalability Concerns ⚙️

While React Native generally performs well, some companies have encountered scalability challenges over time. For example, Airbnb initially adopted React Native for its mobile app but later transitioned to separate native apps due to scalability limitations. However, with advancements in React Native and thoughtful software architecture, scalability issues can often be mitigated effectively.

Need for Native Development Expertise 📲

React Native bridges JavaScript with native mobile code, necessitating expertise in both domains for seamless integration. Developers without native mobile development knowledge may struggle to incorporate native code into the React Native codebase. 

In such cases, assistance from experienced Android or iOS developers may be necessary to guide the integration process. Engaging a software consultancy proficient in native development can also provide valuable support in this regard.

Comparing Similar Technologies To React Native 🧑‍💻

Now that we’ve explored React Native, it’s worthwhile to examine some alternative frameworks so that you can make an informed decision to find the best framework for your specific project.

Flutter 👨‍💻

Flutter offers a compelling alternative to React Native. Developed by Google, it facilitates cross-platform mobile development with a focus on high-performance native interfaces. Flutter’s use of Dart language allows for fast development and hot reload functionality for rapid iteration. If you’d like to learn more about how React Native compares with Flutter, then check out our in-depth guide.

Ionic ☢️

Ionic, an open-source SDK introduced by Drifty in 2013, targets hybrid mobile development. Built on Angular, it uses web technologies like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript along with platforms such as PhoneGap and Cordova. While Ionic expedites development with numerous built-in components, its reliance on WebView may result in performance drawbacks compared to React Native.

Apache Cordova 🤓

Apache Cordova, initially developed by Nitobi, enables mobile app creation using CSS3, HTML5, and JavaScript without platform-specific APIs. Like Ionic, Cordova also employs WebView, which can impact performance, especially on iOS. However, it simplifies the conversion of existing web applications into mobile apps for multiple platforms.

PhoneGap ☎️

PhoneGap, a distribution of Apache Cordova supported by Adobe, offers additional tools for developers. It promotes cross-platform development by allowing developers to leverage JavaScript libraries and frameworks. However, apps developed with PhoneGap may suffer from subpar user experiences and browser-specific issues due to its reliance on web technology.

How React Native Is Different In Android vs iOS Development 📲

Returning to React Native, it’s essential to understand how development differs between Android and iOS platforms:

Operating System ⚙️

React Native development is more streamlined on macOS compared to Windows, primarily due to limited iOS testing capabilities on Windows. macOS allows developers to test both Android and iOS apps efficiently, whereas Windows lacks official iOS testing tools like XCode.

Native Elements 📱

Android and iOS apps exhibit distinct visual and functional characteristics, resulting in different components for each platform in React Native. Despite using the same component, the end result may vary between iOS and Android devices.

Specific Styles 🎨

React Native applies platform-specific styles to elements, leading to variations in UI appearance. For instance, shadowing on iOS may differ from Android, requiring manual configuration to achieve consistency across platforms. Other UI elements like fonts, status bars, and GIF images may also exhibit platform-specific behaviour.

Despite these platform differences, React Native remains a favoured choice for cross-platform development due to its efficiency in sharing codebases and expediting development timelines. While developers may encounter challenges in aligning UI elements and configurations between iOS and Android, the overall benefits of React Native often outweigh these considerations.

Conclusion – React Native In 2024 🤔

In conclusion, while React Native holds immense promise, its adoption entails careful consideration of the associated risks and benefits. As with any emerging technology, React Native’s evolution continues to unfold, with ongoing refinements and community contributions. Nonetheless, the overarching advantages of React Native outweigh its nascent challenges, positioning it as a formidable contender in mobile application development.

Embraced by both businesses and developers, React Native streamlines development processes, saving considerable time and resources. Its cross-platform nature allows simultaneous deployment for Android and iOS users, expanding reach without compromising efficiency.

Renowned tech giants such as Skype, Facebook, Pinterest, and UberEats exemplify React Native’s efficacy in app development. While native solutions excel in delivering unparalleled UI experiences and performance, React Native offers a compelling alternative, particularly for budget-conscious projects prioritizing satisfactory user experiences.

If you’d like to learn more about React Native or other software development frameworks that would work best for your next project, then reach out to us. Let’s delve into the specifics to ensure we’re on the right track from the outset.

Published On

March 14, 2024