React and React Native are two powerful technologies that are behind some of the most popular web and mobile applications in the world today. You’re probably not even aware, but you use at least one of the two every single day. So what’s the difference between React vs React Native?
As you read on, we’ll break down the differences between React vs React Native, define their strengths and weaknesses, and provide some examples of companies that have adopted the two technologies.
What is React?
React had to be extracted from Facebook’s codebase so that Instagram could use it, which in a sense, means Instagram was the first ‘external’ user of React. This led to the open-sourcing of the technology for the rest of the world.
React is designed in a way that allows it to easily integrate with existing code or other libraries. Its primary purpose is to simplify the process of developing and building web applications that are fast, scalable, and simple.
What is React Native?
React Native is the younger sibling of React. Following the glowing reception of React in 2013, Facebook began working on a cross-platform mobile framework to keep up with the tech giant’s growing mobile needs. In March 2015, Facebook announced that the technology was open and available on Github.
That’s where the real power of React Native lies. React Native enables the creation of applications across multiple platforms (Windows, Android, iOS) smoothly and seamlessly. Like any siblings, React and React Native share similarities but also have distinct differences, which we’ll elaborate on later.
React Native vs React: How do they work?
Virtual Document Objective Model (DOM) for React
The Document Object Model (DOM) is a vital programming interface that is a representation of a Web document and all of its contents. The ability of libraries and frameworks to handle the DOM dramatically affects how they are ultimately used and viewed.
The groundbreaking feature of React is Virtual DOM. Virtual DOM is a virtual representation of the real DOM, meaning any view changes live inside a memory and not on the screen. For our non-technical readers, it’s important to understand that Virtual DOM is faster, provides higher performance, and better user experience compared to manually handling DOM changes.
Native APIs for React Native
On the other hand, React Native uses native Application Program Interface (API) when rendering UI components. Here’s a definition from Webopedia if you’re unsure about API:
“API is a set of routines, protocols, and tools for building software applications. In other words, an API specifies how software components should interact.”
Unlike other cross-platform frameworks like Cordova or PhoneGap, React Native renders certain code components with native APIs. React Native comes with native modules and components that improve performance.
Differences between React vs React Native
Most siblings share some commonalities, be it a shared interest in sport, music, or similar personality traits. With that said, most siblings would agree that they have as many differences as they do things in common. The same applies to the React and React Native siblings. Despite sharing similarities, there are some pretty clear cut differences between the two. It’s best to break them down into the following categories:
- React Native is an open-source framework for creating cross-platform mobile apps on iOS, Android, and Windows.
- React is designed primarily for web applications, whereas React Native was conceived for the intended purpose of cross-platform mobile development.
- React Native was explicitly designed for building responsive mobile UI.
- React has no dependency on a particular platform, meaning it can be executed across all kinds of platforms.
- React Native is platform-dependent (to a degree). While a large percentage of code can be shared across multiple platforms, there is also a percentage of platform-specific code that is adapted to each specific platform i.e. iOS or Android.
- HTML tags are used in React. The technology consists of two parts – Components and HTML Document
- There are no HTML tags used in React Native.
- React Native is slightly more complicated using its own navigation library to navigate mobile applications, enabling key mobile performance.
Advantages and disadvantages of React
Advantages of React
Listed below are some of the commonly accepted advantages of React.
Easy to learn/easy to use
A dynamic web application made easy
Previously, creating high-functioning web applications was difficult using HTML because of the complexity of the code, but React solved this problem because less coding is required, providing greater functionality.
An application that is made from React uses multiple components. These components each have their own logic and rendering, which can be reused whenever needed. This reuse enables easy development and maintenance of the application.
As mentioned previously, Virtual DOM is one of the defining features of React. The process of Virtual DOM guarantees a minimum update time to the real DOM, which in turn provides higher performance and better user experience.
Since React was made open-source in 2013, developers from around the world have been able to use and improve it. The React community provides valuable libraries that facilitate the React development process.
Disadvantages of React
Listed below are some of the most widely accepted disadvantages of React:
High paced development
The React environment is constantly changing, making it difficult for developers to stay in touch with constant updates. Most modern web frameworks share this trait, so while it may not be a disadvantage per se, it is still something to contend with for React developers.
Advantages of React Native
Below are some widely accepted advantages of React Native:
The shining achievement of React Native is that it enables cross-platform functionality. This is, in part, is achieved through reusable code that can be deployed on both iOS and Android.
There is less debugging and optimization required with React Native because it is deployed on multiple platforms. One app to build means monitoring only one backlog, unified version updates, and one set of bugs to fix.
React Native was initially conceived through a Facebook run hackathon back in 2013, and since then, the technology has been driven by its community. This is a huge advantage because a large community that’s willing to share their knowledge and expertise, catalogs, and openly available components will drive the development of the technology.
The benefits mentioned above all boil down to one overall advantage of React Native – reduced cost. A React Native application needs to be built once with the added benefit of using a single codebase (most of the time). This means one team which saves on payroll and administrative costs. The other cost-saving comes from the MIT license under which React Native is distributed. Users do not need to publish the source of the code, anyone can modify the software, and changes to the code do not need to be reported. The framework is completely license-free, so there is no need to pay or share for anything done within the framework.
Disadvantages of React Native
Listed below are the most widely considered disadvantages of React Native:
React Native is continually updating and that comes with bug fixes, new ported native components, performance improvements, and improved custom components. Updates aren’t necessarily a disadvantage, but something that React Native developers have to consider as opposed to a more developed framework.
Lacks Custom Modules
React Native still lacks certain components, while others are yet to be fully developed. Most React Native developers would not encounter this issue; however, those who do have to find ways around it by building a solution from scratch or hacking an existing one. Creating a custom module may also result in three separate codebases (Android, iOS, RN) instead of only one.
React vs React Native Examples
You’ve made it this far as we’ve defined React and React Native, outlined their differences, and went through each technology’s advantages and disadvantages.
Now you’re probably wondering, where are the two even used? Or better yet, have I already been using an app written in React or React Native without knowing it? Unless you live on an island or deep in a cave with no access to technology, then the answer is almost certainly yes.
Here are some real-world examples of both React and React Native:
Facebook Web Version
React was first conceived at Facebook back in 2011 when a software engineer named Jordan Walke led the creation of the library. First used for the newsfeed, React is used extensively (along with other technologies) for the web version of Facebook.com.
Instagram Web Version
Facebook acquired Instagram in 2012 and, at the time, didn’t have a web version of the app. After acquiring the popular social media platform, React was quickly implemented to roll out the web version of Instagram. Since then, the web version has been 100% based on the React library.
Asana is a leading project management tool used by companies all over the world. The tool has over 30,000 paying customers, including Spotify, Uber, Autodesk, and Trivago. Initially, based on Luna, the tool grew quickly, and with that came issues – mostly related to scaling. Following this, the decision was made to rewrite the front end, and React was chosen to do that.
Netflix is another big player that uses React. The streaming giant uses React on its platform called Gibbon, which is used for low-performance TV devices. The React library has also helped with startup speed, runtime, performance, modularity, and various other advantages, as written on the Netflix blog.
Facebook AppAfter the success of React, Facebook sought to deliver all of its benefits – such as fast iterations and having a single team to build the whole product – to mobile. The end result was React Native, which was leveraged in mobile app development for iOS and Android apps.
After the success of React, Facebook sought to deliver all of its benefits – such as fast iterations and having a single team to build the whole product – to mobile. The end result was React Native, which was leveraged in mobile app development for iOS and Android apps.
After Facebook acquired Instagram, React Native was integrated into Instagram’s native app, starting from the push notification view, which was initially implemented as the WebView. There were a few hiccups along the way, but the Instagram dev team substantially improved velocity. Between 85% and 99% of code was shared between Android and iOS apps, which resulted in a must faster development of the app.
In 2017, Skype announced that it’s working on an entirely new app to be written in React Native. The result was an app completely revamped, including the layout, icons, and even some cool new features. Microsoft even decided to use React Native not only for the mobile platforms but also on the Windows desktop app.
The electric car company developed its mobile application with React Native. The app is designed to diagnose and locate a vehicle, as well as partially control it with the help of a smartphone.
The famous website builder’s mobile application is entirely written in React Native. Tal Kol, former head of mobile engineering at Wix, spoke at ReactNext 2016 about how React Native is a game-changing technology for Wix.
React and React Native are technologies that are only becoming more popular within the developer community. Perhaps before reading this, you weren’t aware that many of your favorite mobile or web applications use one or the other. Hopefully, now you’ve got a better understanding of React vs React Native, their similarities, differences, and drawbacks. As their popularity continues to grow, we can expect to see them even more widely used by developers worldwide.