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Flutter vs React Native: Which is Worth Spending Your Time on as a Developer?

13 Jul 2018
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9 min

If we go back 3 years ago, it must have been a dream to write apps for two mobile platforms simultaneously using a single code base. And it became true when Facebook introduced React Native (RN) to the framework scene in 2015. It didn't require a lot of effort to realize that writing an app once instead of writing it two times is much more cost-effective. Therefore, the big players like Airbnb, Walmart, Bloomberg, Skype switched to React Native framework for cross-platform mobile app development and made it popular.

Google also wanted a slice of popularity concerning cross-platform mobile frameworks. Hence, it released an alpha version of Flutter UI framework but, unfortunately, that happened much later in May 2017. An appearance of a similar solution certainly had its consequences on the prevalence of RN. It has born the uncertainty whether to use React Native or Flutter for cross-platform mobile development in 2018.

To save your time, we've prepared a brief infographic to compare React Native vs Flutter. Nevertheless, to receive a comprehensive analysis, you should read the article.

Flutter io vs React Native main differences

All you need to know about Google's Flutter vs React Native in 2 minutes

React Native vs Flutter: productivity

Besides popularity, one of the most important factors of choosing a framework for software development is the convenience of use. Here are 5 important criteria how we estimated the productivity of these frameworks:

1. Hot reload support

This feature allows to automatically relaunch the application in an instant. Besides, it fully retains the previous state of the app. A refresh occurs when the code has been modified or when a device is connected. Both Flutter and React Native support Hot Reload. The programmers that have already tried this feature point out that it makes the working process a lot easier and boosts your productivity.

2. Code structure

A serious difference of Flutter is that templates, data and style aren't separated throughout the code. Absence of separation might be unusual for React Native developers, from the other side, it's an advantage. Flutter uses Dart programming language. Concerning Flutter, UI layout that is built using it doesn't require any additional templating languages such as XML or JSX nor some special visual tools.

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In result, it brings a significant time saving. That's because it's no need to toggle to a design mode and then think what to do in a program way and how. In Dart programming language, everything is done in a program way and available at one place.

Here's is an elementary instance of Dart that generates a green star figure and 'Hello World' text:

new Center(child:
  new Column(children: [
    new Text('Hello, World!'),
    new Icon(Icons.star, color: Colors.green),
  ])
)

And here's an instance of a basic list element that creates a horizontal line between the items by means of programmatic approach.

return new ListView.builder(itemBuilder: (context, i) {
  if (i.isOdd) return new Divider(); 
  // rest of function
});

If you combine it with the new features of Dart programming language like Outline View and Flutter Inspector, designing a layout becomes even simpler.

3. Installation and configuration

Flutter has a better installation process in terms of convenience compared to how React Native installs. Besides, it provides a simple tool for system issues check up called the Flutter doctor.

4. Supported IDEs

Flutter has a lower number of IDEs that support it. Flutter IDEs include IntelliJ IDEA, Android Studio and VS Code. On the other hand, there are so much React Native IDEs which support it that can be a problem to choose the best one for you.

5. Hardware-specific APIs

RN provides geolocation and Wi-Fi programming interfaces. It offers an external solution for Bluetooth, camera, biometrics and NFC payments. However, RN lacks of good solutions for drawing with the customizable graphics. This can be only achieved by messing around with native code.

As for Flutter, the situation is currently unclear. A lot of hardware-specific APIs, excluding NFC and Bluetooth, are being developed at the moment. So the success of Flutter relies on how rapidly the hardware APIs will become available and how good they will be.

Flutter and React Native: programming languages

React Native programming language is Javascript (JS). It is recognized as the most popular language for software development on a world-wide scale. It is widely used for mobile development. It is built-in as the default language for almost every popular browser. Eventually, Node.js has presented it to the server development either.

Flutter uses the Dart programming language that takes the exact opposite position to JS. Currently, it is mainly used for development and promoted by its creator - Google. There are some positive reviews of it from developers. Dart programming language has a gradual learning curve for both native and React Native programmers. It's also type-safe and expressive.

Google's Flutter vs React Native: documentation

One of the well known hallmarks of Google is that they tend to provide clear and in-depth documentation. They did it for Angular, Golang and Flutter UI framework isn't an exception. As for React Native, its documentation is rather poor structured. You may say that it's because React Native is a large open-source project. However, it still remains a minus. Here's the documentation for React Native and Flutter.

Google is even not afraid of competing with Facebook in the open. In fact, they help to learn Flutter for developers who already have experience with React Native.

The particular question is 'Will it take much time for developers to learn a brand new Flutter framework?'. The answer is confident 'no'. Along with great documentation, Flutter's Dart language has a lot of common with Kotlin, Java, C#, Javascript and Swift languages.

This way, the developers who already know the above mentioned languages can switch to Dart amazingly smooth. Also, similar to the new wave of languages like Kotlin and Swift created to replace Java and Objective-C respectively, the Flutter UI framework was intentionally developed to be simple.

React Native vs Flutter: performance

Flutter vs React Native performance comparison is all about that the latter needs a JS bridge to interact with native elements. Also, Flutter's Dart compiles its code faster than the Javascript V8's engine. Thus, it's capable to display animations at 60 fps as a standard.

React Native architecture consists of two parts: JS language and native. Initially, an application works using JS, but to interact with the device (e.g. notifications, touch events), it uses a bridge. Bridge is needed to convert JS variables to native ones.

React Native vs Flutter performance: How React Native interacts with native components

React Native interaction scheme with native components

That's why React is rather a high-powered but slow tool, especially regarding animation speed. For instance, it is needed 60 fps to drag-and-drop animations. However, RN won't achieve such fps level as it requires to convert JS to native code.

Flutter vs React Native performance: How Flutter interacts with native components

Flutter UI framework interaction scheme with native components

Flutter doesn't require a bridge to interact with OS's components. Furthermore, Flutter minimizes the interaction with them since it handles a lot of issues itself by having Skia Engine on board. Flutter uses Dart programming language but also there's high-speed C++ in its core. The resulting app produces such high fps that it feel like it's browser in-built one.

Flutter Architecture

The architecture of Flutter framework

Hence, in short, React Native vs Flutter performance comparison can be described as:

Flutter = Native realtime app

React Native = Native app by the means of Javascript and React

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However, the question is if the performance parameter has such a big value to you. RN has been battle tested for 3 years and there were no problems with the performance. Besides, RN has libraries to achieve 60 fps for animations, similar to Flutter.

React Native UI components vs Flutter's

A significant difference of Flutter UI framework is that it uses its own UI components instead of OS's native ones. Thus, Flutter makes it easier to customize the UI components that, in turn, increases their flexibility.

Proprietary Flutter UI elements include:

  • Material widgets for Android; 
  • Cupertino for iOS; 
  • Platform-independent widgets.

Flutter's widgets promise a decent compatibility with OS's components and native screens. Although, there's a shortage of necessary elements in Cupertino library for iOS development (such as iOS-style form components).

However, designing your mobile application using React Native UI components may deliver even better user experience. The number of React Native UI libraries is far more than the Flutter has.

React Native vs Flutter community

The release year of RN is 2015 compared to May 2017 for alpha version of Flutter. Hence, a lot of world-famous mobile applications are built using RN. Among them are such apps as Facebook, Walmart, Skype, Instagram, Bloomberg, Airbnb, Soundcloud. Also the knowledge base gathered for 3 years of RN's existence and the community of developers are currently more extensive for React.

Taking into account that Flutter UI framework is much younger, its growth is impressive. However, React's community is currently larger.

React Native vs Flutter popularity

React Native and Flutter community stats as of 30 May 2018

Since Flutter is younger, its future benefits still lie ahead. It's more than possible that it'll overcome RN. Google always has a few aces up their sleeves. A good instance is how they promote Kotlin for Android development using their easy-to-start and comprehensive documentation. And it steadily replaces Java, despite the fact that it is known as world's most popular language.

Drawing the line

Flutter UI framework looks like a good option to replace RN for hybrid mobile app development. You should definitely keep an eye on it as this technology may become surprisingly popular and end up the React's monopoly. Now it isn't simple to predict what's going to happen. Framework's popularity is rarely dictated by each developer's preferences but by the adoption of large brands.

Flutter tempts by offering a complex solution. It comes with all the needed libraries with no need to search for the third-party ones. Since both Flutter and React Native use declarative programming, switching to Flutter should be relatively easy for React programmers. But right now Flutter's functionality doesn't greatly surpass RN's. RN has also found its admirers who don't wish to switch to fresh and hasn't yet acknowledged Flutter.

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