React Native vs. Flutter: Which is Better for Your Project?

14 min read
Oct 09, 2020
React Native vs. Flutter: Which is Better for Your Project?
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When it comes to your next development project, it can be hard to choose between these two popular cross-platform frameworks. We’ll help you sort through their pros and cons.

In the tech world, it’s all too easy to jump on the latest trends, especially when new frameworks roll out with new pre-coded modules and promises of lightning-fast speed. Clients come to ProCoders feeling a little overwhelmed by their choices.

It’s not hard to see why. When it comes to comparing these two, it’s often a choice between “great” and “wonderful.” But there are nuances of difference between the two platforms, and here, we’ll discuss how to compare Flutter and React Native, so you can make the right choice for your next project.

Concerns about choosing a cross-platform framework

Both are cross-platform mobile frameworks with tremendous functionality, robust user communities, and an enormous amount of pre-programmed modules that can supercharge your development speed. But understanding the differences between Flutter and React Native can be the key to building your next project on the right foundation.

Read on for all the important information a company will need to make a decision in the Flutter vs React Native debate.

Flutter: the basics

Developed by Google in 2017, the framework is designed to work across platforms, so it can be expressed on any mobile device, or tie into your existing web applications. Thanks in large part to Google’s influence, It is considered one of the leading open-source frameworks available today.

Its advantages are many, including a complete development ecosystem, hot reload functionality and the fact that it’s open-source and free to use. Yet, even with all this, it has disadvantages, including its large size, and reliance on native tools and technologies.

Yet, it’s the popular choice for companies with big framework needs, like Alibaba, Hookle, Topline, OfflinePal, Hamilton, etc. With its speedy rendering and other benefits, it’s a contender to overtake React’s popularity, and soon.

React Native: the Basics

Developed by Facebook in 2015, this framework is a well-used, well-loved cross-platform app development technology that at present, is one of the most popular frameworks in the world. Why is it so popular? The answer is mainly it’s flexibility – because it allows developers to use React and JavaScript side by side with many other native platform abilities to build mobile apps.

React Logo

This highly reliable, open-source framework offers easy implementation of native UI components, hot reloading, platform-specific code, and one of the largest UI support communities in the world. Developers love the ease of its dozens of plug-and-play program modules.

With that being said, there are some significant disadvantages to this framework. Specifically, it has a more complex UI and the navigation isn’t always that seamless. However, it is still a favorite of many important online companies:

FacebookSkypeArtsy
VogueBloombergTesla

They all have built their entire online systems on React Native. This is a trend we don’t expect to slow down anytime soon.

Flutter vs React Native: Digging Deeper

What to choose? Flutter or React Native? First, let’s be clear. At ProCoders, it’s not uncommon for us to recommend either framework, as they each have their advantages and disadvantages depending on the project parameters. The key is to understand the features, and not what everyone else says are the trends. Let’s dig in.

Programming Language

Dart & the Flutter Framework

Google developed Dart as this framework’s programming language in 2011. Many say that programming done in Dart is a little faster to run than React Native. It’s hard to fault Dart’s elegant syntax. But its object-oriented concepts can be tricky to learn.

How Dart code looks like

That means there are fewer developers out there who have learned it. So, when we compare Flutter to React Native on ease of programming language use, Dart loses this round.

JavaScript & the React Native Framework

JavaScript is a breeze to program with, making it one of the most widely used languages in the world, from website designers all the way to software engineers. Thanks to the huge developer community using JavaScript, tutorials abound.

Throw in the pre-built modules it offers, and it’s easy to see how this framework can save you time and money. When our developers are asked will Flutter replace React Native, they usually say no, for this reason.

Architecture

Flutter’s Skia

The framework uses Skia, a 2D graphics rendering library, and the Dart language VM in a platform-specific shell. It compiles Dart’s source code ahead of time, creating native code. This point is critical. Its code is an elegant and speedy solution, integrating seamlessly with iOS or Android.

An Flutter built application on iOS and Android devices

There are no awkward programming bridges needed to make things work. To compare React Native and Flutter on this point alone, it is the clear winner for the elegance of its design.

React Native: Flux

This framework uses the Flux architecture from Facebook, but it requires a JavaScript bridge to integrate. This inconvenient fact inherently makes app design go a little slower than Dart, and that’s a key difference between Flutter and React Native.

Installation

Flutter: slower to install

To install this framework, you must download the binary for the specific platform you choose from GitHub. If you’re installing for macOS, there’s even an additional step here – an additional.zip file that has to be downloaded and added as a PATH variable. This is one of the key differences between Flutter and React Native, making it slower and trickier to install.

Matthew McConaughey is waiting for Flutter install

React Native and NPM

When it comes to installation, this framework is easy to love. Installation is seamless using the node package manager if you have a good command of JavaScript.

It’s important to note that both of these frameworks lack a one-line installation and a native package manager for OS. That means neither framework is ideal on this point. Yet, Flutter installation calls for one additional step. So in the comparison between React Native vs Flutter, we’ll choose to React every time.

UI and Development API

Flutter

This is a framework that relies primarily on its own customized development language. And that creates a stark difference in The UI development experience between Flutter or React Native.

It is 100 percent customized, using its own widgets. And this may very well be the framework’s key advantage over React Native because the widgets are automatically consistent with Material Design for Google and Cupertino for Apple.

A mobile application for the Philips Hue is built on Flutter

No third-party apps or custom components required. When people ask the question will Flutter replace React Native, its hand-in-glove compatibility with Google is one of the biggest reasons why.

React Native

React Native uses a third party or custom components. The result can often be a patchwork effect in the code. However, it’s important not to make too much of this, because React’s JavaScript development language does offer its own set of advantages. However, in a comparison of which is better, Flutter or React Native, Flutter definitely wins the day.

Development Time

Flutter

In a straight-up development speed contest, which is better Flutter or React Native? this framework loses. The Dart language is not as widely used or understood by developers. Though most people love its hot reload feature, this framework lacks the support of many text editors and IDEs, which adds more time to the development process.

React Native

The difference between Flutter and React Native is JavaScript, pure, and simple. And clearly, JavaScript makes development easy and accessible for more web developers and web designers.

Even better, developers are free to use any IDE or text editor of their choice. When it comes to development speed, there really is no comparison. React Native is clearly superior.

Code Reusability

Flutter

In any comparison between React Native and Flutter, code reusability is a big talking point. In Dart, Flutter’s codebase is a lot more reusable. Developers can simply define a single UI widget tree and then reuse the defined logic. Thanks to Google Flutter has an elegant interface, which makes it emerge the winner in this comparison.

React Native

We recommend it for development speed, but it comes with some caveats. Why? Because it isn’t always compatible.

Things don't always compatible

In general, this framework will allow you to write code once and apply it to every platform. But compatibility on every type of mobile app platform isn’t always guaranteed, often requiring developers to load a different set of components that work.

These modifications can take a bite out of your development time. Code reusability is an area that in the future we hope the framework will address.

Quality Assurance

Flutter

Like other programs developed by Google, Flutter offers many integrated quality-control testing features. Want to test an individual widget? You can. Want to run Integration tests? No problem. All these capabilities come on board. And even better,  it provides lots of detailed testing documentation.

In this respect, we believe its framework is more in keeping with the trends in 2020 and is generally more elegant.

React Native

This framework is woefully low on integrated unit test features. That said, developers can generally fill in this gap by using third party frameworks like Jest and Detox. It’s an add-on, but not that big of a problem to integrate.

So in a quality assurance comparison between React Native and Flutter, it’s really a bit of a draw. Both work equally well in their own way.

Ecosystem and Community Support

Flutter

In a comparison between React Native and Flutter on ecosystem size, Flutter will lose every time. But don’t despair. The community of developers using it is growing fast.

According to Stack Overflow’s Developer’s Survey of 2019, in the most loved/wanted category, 75.4 percent of people showed interest in the Flutter framework. When asked about React Native, 62.5 percent of developers showed interest. With the continued investment from Google Flutter will be a framework trend that will continue to grow.

React Native

On the market since 2015, it gained popularity for the ease of its JavaScript programming. Now, it has a developer ecosystem of more than 10,000, an enormous online database of tutorials, and its own developer conferences held all over the world.

It’s not just a framework, it’s a tribe. That’s a considerable difference between React Native and Flutter. So, the advantage goes to React Native in this comparison. For now.

Big JavaScript community

DevOps Support

Flutter

When evaluating DevOps in Flutter or React Native, most people would agree that React Native is the clear winner. However, what Flutter lacks in community support it gains in CI and CD official documentation.

The framework has an entire section on this documentation including several links making the addition of CI/CD for its apps an extremely easy process. While this is no substitution for deep developer community support, it is a good start. In the future, its usage is likely to grow.

React Native

The Facebook connection has ensured React Native has enormous third-party libraries, help guides, third-party support, and more. React Native is the clear winner in Dev/Ops support, hands down. And developers enjoy using it.

JavaScript addiction

For those who wonder – will Flutter replace React Native? The simplest answer is maybe. But the framework will have to equal React Native’s global developer support community first.

Performance

Flutter

In a Flutter vs React Native performance comparison, it wins the race. But this answer is not as clear cut as it appears. Yes, it runs faster than its rival. It doesn’t have JavaScript bridges slowing it down, and that saves development time.

Flutter has also set its animation standard at 60 FPS – which gives proof to its quick-running performance. And the fact that it is compiled directly into the native ARM code for both Android and iOS surely doesn’t hurt Flutter performance and speed, either.

Performance overlay showing the raster thread (top), and UI thread (bottom). Source: flutter.dev.

But even though it is faster, it is also a substantially bigger program with more native components. So, it’s a point that must be weighed before you proceed. Fortunately, this framework provides a wealth of documentation on how to reduce file size.

React Native

Again, the Flutter vs React Native performance comparison will always come out in favor of Flutter, due to the elegance and power of its design. It’s one of the key reasons many developers are now considering it a future-forward trend to develop in Flutter.

The JavaScript bridges to its back code and plug-and-play modules do slow it down. But it still doesn’t make React Native apps slow. Both are excellent programs in this regard, or they wouldn’t be a tool we use for developing our client’s websites, at all.

UI of a React Native biult application
UI for PLΛTES by Ivan Parfenov

Release

Flutter

To compare Flutter to React Native on Release protocols, Flutter wins every time. Why? Because Flutter has a seamless release process that will make it easy to get an app into the App Store or Google Play.

Flutter has official documentation for both fast Lane deployment and releasing to iOS Android. And recently Bitrise announced out-of-the-box CI support for Flutter. Better yet, Flutter apps can be deployed from the command line itself.

React Native

In this framework’s defense, its release process is a fairly standard one. The only problem is, it’s entirely manual. Any automatic deployment that is done requires third-party tools. That makes the release process considerably more labor-intensive, and that slows down development speed.

Concerns about chosing the right way

In a React Native vs Flutter comparison on this point, this framework has a long way to go to catch up.

Documentation

Flutter

A key difference between Flutter and React Native is its documentation. With Dart Flutter has invested a great deal in its native documentation, and it shows. It’s easy to love their documentation guides, which makes it easy to transition from another framework or optimize a current project.

Developers can always find helpful graphics and videos that are available directly within the framework.

React Native

Look under the hood of its onboard documentation, and you’ll soon see it is spotty and poorly done. In fact, to get the kind of documentation most projects need, developers often end up going to third-party sources. It’s a major point against the framework when you compare Flutter and React Native on documentation. Flutter truly will win every time.

Comparison Between React Native and Flutter

Flutter vs. React Native

In this ProCoder’s review of the difference between Flutter and React Native, the comparison has been made point by point, category by category. But in an overall comparison between React Native and Flutter, which framework wins? The answer is – it depends.

Flutter wins every time on framework design and performance metrics. On usability, though? It’s a bit of a toss-up. Dart-proficient developers love Flutter’s clean, fast-running, elegant and native option.

Developers preferring the ease of JavaScript and the tremendous amount of plug-ins and widgets and modules it offers, then React Native is the answer, even if it does run a little slower.

And if a developer community and wealth of third-party supports is important to a client’s development process, then React Native gets the recommendation.

Don’t forget, any of the decision points discussed here could also be thrown out the window by a project’s hardware requirements. Before starting, take a close look at hardware-specific APIs as they may make or break the app. How well those APIs can be accommodated by Flutter or React Native will depend completely on your project.

The Future of Flutter and React Native

2020 has seen a lot of improvements to both frameworks, largely due to improvements made in 2019.

For instance, Flutter released its version 1.12 in 2019, which included features such as:

  • Android X Support – so developers working in Flutter could update their designed Android apps without compromising on backward compatibility features;
  • OpenType Rich Typography Features – including tabular and old-style numbers, stylistic sets, and more;
  • Flutter for Web – which expands the framework to Chromebooks, Windows and Mac, and makes designing desktop apps with Flutter a reality;
  • Dart 2.7;
  • Beta Web Support;
  • Support for iOS 13 Dark Mode, and macOS Desktop;
  • And much more.

As for React Native, they have plenty of news to share, as well. In their upgrade to 16.9, they’ve added improvements, including:

  • Fast Refresh, which is a combination of their hot reloading features;
  • Fixes for frameworks! CocoaPods support;
  • Added Window Dimensions Hook;
  • They’ve also announced a push to make APIs stable, create a better GitHub Repository, improve documentation, clean up their surface area, and add support tools in the open-source community.

The Final Verdict

Flutter vs React Native, or React Native vs Flutter, the bottom line is, there is no universal “better” framework. Each project is unique. The framework to choose will depend completely on the project’s parameters, and the business needs surrounding it.

Speaking only in the most general of terms, Flutter is better for bigger apps and apps that need native programming. React Native is great for apps that can benefit from its plug-and-play modules and large developer community.

There are some specific “fit” issues to consider, as well. For instance, if a project needs 3D, Flutter doesn’t support that. Similarly, Flutter should be avoided if the app design is platform-specific, requires multiple interactions with an OS, or requires little-known native libraries.

React Native also has its particular disadvantages. You should avoid this framework if your app needs to handle less common, or very specific tasks (like calculations) in the background. Also, avoid it if a project requires custom communication via Bluetooth, or the plan is to create an app for Android only.

As you can see, there’s a lot to consider when you make a comparison between Flutter and React Native. Our managers at ProCoders would love to help you sort it all out.

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