The Pros and Cons of React Native


Until just a few short years ago, if developers wanted to create mobile apps for iOS and Android, they would have to do so separately. This meant two different teams and two sets of development costs, which only increased when it came to upgrades and the introduction of new features. 

However, the development of frameworks with cross-platform capabilities allowing developers to work on two different operating systems using a single platform has changed all of this. One such framework, which is very popular with mobile app developers, is Facebook’s Reactive Native. While React Native enables the same code to be used across different operating systems, it pays to know the pros and cons of the framework. 

What is React Native?

React Native is an open-source development framework developed by Facebook in 2015. It is based on React, Facebook’s JavaScript library for building user interfaces, but targets mobile platforms instead of browsers. The framework enables developers to create native mobile applications for both iOS and Android using the universal programming language, JavaScript. Not only does this make development a lot simpler, by using the same fundamental building blocks as regular iOS and Android apps, it enables a native look and feel with a feature-rich UI.

The React Native framework is community-driven and supported by a large following of developers, ready to share their knowledge and expertise. However, while a popular option used by leading brands such as Skype, Airbnb and Tesla, React Native also has a few drawbacks. 

The Advantages of React Native

With big brands leading the way with React Native, it has plenty of advantages to offer developers:

  • Development time – 95% of React Native’s code is cross-platform, which means that developers only need to build one app to create two. As it’s based on  JavaScript, the framework also provides an extensive open-source library of ready-to-apply components that can save time. 
  • Cost – by using the framework, businesses can have both apps at once for around half the cost of building one version using native code. In addition, updates can be done simultaneously, saving future costs once the apps have launched. 
  • Performance – React Native apps perform almost exactly like native apps built on iOS or Android. What’s more, the programming language is optimised for mobile devices, making it faster than cross-platform hybrid technologies. 
  • Flexibility – the interface makes it easy for different developers to work on the same app. This makes team flexibility easier for the initial build but also makes the app easier to update and upgrade. React Native UI components can also be inserted into existing native apps without needing to rewrite them. 
  • Consistent – with smaller  development teams, communication is fundamentally better. This solves the issue of having two projects with two teams working at different speeds resulting in differences in features, behaviour and appearance. 
  • Moveable – if the app needs to be moved to another development framework at some point in the future, developers don’t need to start from scratch. Apps can be exported from React Native and moved into Android Studio or Xcode. 
  • Instant feedback – React Native aims to enable files to be saved and the changes viewed in under a second. Hot reloading allows developers to immediately view code changes in a live preview window and get real-time feedback. Meanwhile, Fast Refresh speeds up building new features and bug fixing. 
  • Fast updates – instead of requiring another build process for each individual app, apps can be updated simultaneously, and changes can be implemented even as users are using the app. There is no longer a need to update the app in the app store manually and have it approved by Apple or Android. 
  • Large community – as an open-source platform, developers can contribute their knowledge to the framework, which is freely accessible to all. This makes it simpler to resolve issues and has a positive impact on improving coding skills across the board. 

The Disadvantages of React Native

While the development framework offers some pretty serious advantages and is a popular choice, there are also some disadvantages that need to be taken into account:

  • Compatibility – as React Native is still in beta, developers might come across issues with package compatibility or debugging tools. Those who aren’t proficient in React Native might lose time troubleshooting. 
  • Customisation – React Native still has some components which are lacking or underdeveloped. While most custom modules are available, some solutions will need to be built from scratch. While unusual, that means that custom modules could end up with three codebases instead of one. 
  • Skills – while most code can be reused across multiple platforms, implementing some native features and modules will need specific platform knowledge. Out-of-the-box support for native app functionalities is beginning to grow. However, business may still require help from iOS and Android developers. 
  • Immaturity – updates can be confusing for developers as lots of changes are required, extra native code is required for components that aren’t compatible with React Native and sometimes components are poorer than their native counterparts. 
  • Learning curve – dependent on experience, learning Reactive Native can be challenging. This is due to JSX in the JavaScript Syntax extension where the HTML element gets combined with the JavaScript. This may be more complicated in comparison to other cross-platform frameworks. 
  • Security – as React Native is a JavaScript library and open-source framework, it creates a gap in security robustness. For those creating banking or financial apps, extra security may be required. 

Is React Native Right for Your Business

The overall feedback for React Native is positive. By using React Native, you can reuse the vast majority of code across multiple platforms saving time and money. Moreover, with no need for dedicated development teams for each platform, you can have a smaller, more efficient team that can lean on the large community base thanks to the open-source framework. 

Despite performance problems and needing some native platform knowledge at times, React Native can be used to build almost any type of mobile app. You might want to consider the alternatives if you are building a fast-paced graphic-intensive game or financial app where optimal security is fundamental. Otherwise, the vast majority of issues due to the immaturity of the technology, look set to soon be a thing of the past. 

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About the author

Michael Ridland is the Co-CEO and Founder of Xam Consulting.

Design-led problem solving delivering digital solutions.

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