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The mobile application industry has experienced a major fork – Android and iOS. Polished and robust mobile applications increase engagement and keep businesses booming. Today, companies are trying to save resources by adopting a cross-platform approach to mobile application development. In this particular blog, I will be comparing the two hottest frameworks in the market for cross-platform mobile applications i.e Flutter vs React Native.
The following topics are covered in this blog –
Installation requires extra steps e.g. setting of PATH
Installed easily through NPM
Detailed and easy to follow documentation
Documentation lack a lot of vital information
Complete and independent architecture
Architecture depends on bridges resulting in poor performance
Rich in features and API has everything you need
Heavy reliability on third-party libraries
Productivity decreases with complexity
Encourages developer productivity
Smaller community than React
Huge and active community
Inbuilt testing support through modules
Testing is done through third-party applications
Release automation well documented
Release automation also dependent on third party applications
Inbuilt CI/CD support
Can be set up through third parties
Flutter is Google’s response to the cross-platform development problem discussed above. Google has been churning resources into Flutter’s development for quite a few years, before releasing it to the public in 2017, during their Shanghai Keynote.
Flutter can be used to create mobile applications for iOS and Android, quickly and efficiently. The major factor that convinced several developers to shift to Flutter, is that the project will have a single codebase. Despite the single codebase, the Flutter framework provides enough flexibility to embrace the differences in both the platforms.
If you want to learn more about Flutter, you could check out my Flutter Tutorial.
React Native is another cross-platform mobile application development framework. It’s been around for a greater time than Flutter, ergo has a bigger community too. React Native was created by a software developer called Jordan Walke, a Facebook employee. He drew major inspirations from XHP, an HTML component framework for PHP. It was first implemented for the Facebook news-feed in 2011 and later on the Instagram application.
Now that we have a brief idea about the lineage and usage of both frameworks, let us begin the battle between the two: Flutter vs React Native.
Flutter is built upon the Dart language, which was made by Google too. The language is considered a niche in the developer community but is in no way a tough language. If you have any experience with object-oriented programming, then learning Dart will be a cakewalk. A thorough guide, along with examples can be very easily found at the official documentation.
Therefore, we can say that in terms of programming language, React Native takes the point as it is much easier to get into, compared to Dart and Flutter.
Installation is a big part when comparing two frameworks. Installation should be easy, and devoid of complicated configuration processes. Above that, the whole installation process should be well documented in the official documentation.
Both Flutter and React Native lack one-liner installation with native package managers for a specific OS, but Flutter installation seems to require extra steps for adding the binary to PATH and downloading it from the source code. Hence, my point goes to React Native again.
Prior to beginning a project, there are a lot of essential steps that include configuration of the framework in use along with its peripheral requirements. This can include trivial tasks like setting up an IDE for proper syntax highlighting. Even trivial tasks like these can become extremely hard to figure out without proper documentation.
Flutter makes up for its infancy as a framework and choice of niche language for development with a well structured, detailed and easy to understand documentation. If one were to religiously follow the documentation, no stone would be left unturned. The getting started guide provides intricate instructions on IDE setup, project configuration, etc. Flutter also has a command line based tool called Flutter Doctor, which guides the user through the whole configuration and setup process by showing what has been installed, and the elements that still need to be installed.
React Native, doesn’t even come close to Flutter when it comes to structured documentation. Comparing the ‘beginner’s guide‘ to both, we find that React Native assumes a lot about how much the developer knows and hence seems to lack essential information. For example, there is little to no information on the Xcode command line tools. The documentation directly jumps to the step of creating a new project.
When making an educated decision on the choice of development framework, an important criterion is always architecture. Having a working knowledge of architecture often helps in performing custom tweaks that might be needed for the project. Above that, the architecture should be independent i.e. it shouldn’t rely much on third-party services to act as a whole.
Flutter uses the Dart framework which has most of the components inbuilt. So, it’s bigger in size and often does not require the bridge to communicate with the native modules. The Dart framework uses Skia C++ engine which has all the protocols, compositions and channels. The architecture of the Flutter engine is explained in a detailed manner in their GitHub Wiki. In short, Flutter has everything needed for app development in the Flutter engine itself.
Choosing a cross-platform approach to develop an application comes with a few compromises, the biggest one being no direct access to native features like Bluetooth, various sensors, etc. Most cross-platform frameworks provide supplement APIs that provide access to these features.
In the case of Flutter, its API is rich in everything that is needed to access these native features. The framework is bundled with UI rendering components, device API access, navigation, testing, stateful management and loads of libraries. If you happen to choose flutter as your choice of framework, then you will find everything you need in Flutter itself, without relying on third-party applications.
React Native provides the bare minimum when it comes to features and API components. With React Native, a developer is just provided with UI rendering and device access modules. For native features, React Native is heavily dependent on third-party libraries and modules. This clearly makes Flutter the winner when it comes to Features and API.
The framework of choice should always encourage a developer to be productive. This ensures the delivery of a quality application in a stipulated period of time.
Flutter is a relatively new framework. So, while the easier stuff can be achieved in almost no time, as your application gets more complicated, it becomes a tedious job to keep up for some developers. If the developer is not accustomed to Dart, he/she might have to spend a good chunk of time researching and learning how to implement the things he wants.
So, React Native is the way to go if your focus is developer productivity.
An active community means quicker bug reports, more creative feature suggestions and most of all, a good chance at troubleshooting complicated doubts.
Flutter being the newer of the two frameworks, obviously has a smaller community than React Native. None the less, the Flutter community is going through tremendous growth. With the backing of a company like Google, Flutter is also garnering the trust of many to implement it in their projects. At this moment, React Native surely has a much more diverse community that even hosts international meet-ups. Though, given enough time, I think Flutter will emerge with an equally thriving and active community too.
Proper testing of an application on all its fronts, is imperative to its success. If a framework comes with inbuilt testing modules and libraries, the job becomes easy to orchestrate and can be efficiently executed.
Ergo, Flutter is much more convenient if the testing of your application is a major concern.
Releasing a native application to the respective application store portals – Play Store for Android, and App Store for iOS, is a tedious process. With a cross-platform application, it can become a grueling task and automating the process can be tons of help.
Flutter has a strong command line interface. We can create a binary of the app by using the command line tools and following the instructions in Flutter documentation for building and releasing Android and iOS apps. On top of this, Flutter has officially documented the deployment process with Fastlane.
React Native, natively (haha) doesn’t support any sort of release automation. The process found on their documentation is a completely manual one. None the less, third-party applications like Fastlane can be used for automating the build and release process.
The DevOps cycle has brought about a major change in how applications are released and then maintained so that they comply with industry standards. An essential process in the DevOps cycle is continuous integration/continuous delivery or CI/CD in short.
Flutter has a section on Continuous Integration and Testing which includes links to external sources. However, Flutter’s rich command line interface allows us to set up CI/CD easily. React Native doesn’t have any official documentation on setting up CI/CD. However, there are some articles which describe CI/CD for React Native apps.
React Native and Flutter both have their pros and cons, but Flutter came out as the winner in this match. Many industry experts have actually predicted that Flutter will bring about a revolution in the mobile application development industry. Given the comparison we performed on various parameters, we can conclude that the prediction has a good possibility of becoming a reality. All we have to do is wait and watch!
If you have any doubts regarding this blog, feel free to post a comment in the comment section of this “Flutter vs React Native” blog, and we will get back to you. Also, feel free to share where you agree and disagree with my point of view.