React Native vs. Native Apps: A Comprehensive Guide for Developers

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As React Native and Native Apps mobile usage continues to rise businesses and developers are increasingly interested, in creating apps to engage users. When it comes to app development there are generally two approaches. One is to use platform frameworks like React Native while the other involves utilizing platform specific native languages such, as Swift for iOS or Java/Kotlin, for Android.

In this beginner’s guide, we will compare these two approaches to help you determine which is better for building your next mobile app. We will cover pros and cons, performance, developer experience, code reuse, and more across 8 sections. Let’s get started!

Overview of React Native and Native Platforms

First, let’s quickly define what we mean by React Native and native platforms.

React Native

React Native is an open-source framework created by Facebook that allows you to build mobile apps using React and JavaScript/TypeScript. Instead of platform-specific languages, you build your logic and UI components with web technologies and React Native compiles this into native code.

The end result is a real mobile app indistinguishable from one built using native languages. React Native bridges web and native development, allowing you to reuse code across iOS and Android.

Native Platforms

Native platforms refer to building apps directly for each platform using their own languages and tools:

  • Native iOS apps – Built using Swift and Xcode.
  • Native Android apps – Built using Java/Kotlin and Android Studio.

With native development, you build using specialized languages optimized for each platform. This results in a dedicated iOS and Android app sharing little code.

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Performance and User Experience

A key consideration for any mobile app is providing a flawless user experience through smooth UI, fast interactions, and minimal bugs. Let’s compare React Native and native platforms when it comes to performance and UX.

Smooth Animations and Scrolling

For buttery smooth 60fps animations and scrolling, native development has a slight edge. React Native invokes JS code across the JavaScript-native bridge which can impact performance for complex UIs.

However, React Native has improved significantly in recent years with major performance optimizations. For most apps, you can achieve comparable smoothness to native.

App Size and Startup Time

Native apps tend to have faster cold start times and lower app sizes than React Native. This is because React Native carries extra JavaScript overhead.

However, by minifying JavaScript bundles, optimizing images, and pruning unused code, you can minimize the startup and size gap between React Native and native apps.

UI Implementation and Reliability

Native languages have robust and predictable built-in UI components like UITableViews, which make building reliable UIs faster. With React Native, while there are some third-party component libraries, you often have to build custom components from scratch.

Overall, for pixel-perfect and complex UI needs, native development makes it easier to craft reliable and high-performance user experiences. React Native is sufficient for most UIs but may require more effort.

Developer Experience

Beyond just end user experience, developer experience is crucial as well. Let’s see how React Native and native platforms compare when it comes to writing and maintaining code.

Write Once, Use Anywhere

One of React Native’s biggest advantages is write once, run anywhere code reuse. You can share over 90% of your logic and UI code between your iOS and Android apps. With native development, you have to implement everything twice, once for each platform.

This allows React Native apps to have a much lower total build time when creating apps for both major mobile platforms. You can launch to both stores faster.

Familiar Technology

For web developers, React Native is much easier to pick up compared to learning Swift or Java/Kotlin. The React framework and paradigms like components, props, and state will feel familiar. Reusable knowledge like Flexbox for layout also helps reduce the React Native learning curve.

Additionally, benefits like Hot Reloading and React DevTools make the development workflow highly productive. React Native leverages comfort with web technologies.

API and Tooling Maturity

Native languages like Swift and Java have mature tools and SDKs optimized for mobile use cases. React Native is relatively newer, so you may encounter more bugs, less polished tools, and missing OS integrations.

While React Native tools are rapidly improving, native platforms still have an edge in maturity and stability, making development smoother.

Code Reuse and Maintenance

Being able to reuse code between platforms and share maintenance overhead is valuable for any project. How do React Native and native languages compare on these fronts?

Business Logic Reuse

React Native’s cross-platform abilities allow you to reuse all your core business logic – state management, data fetching, models, etc. This avoids having two separate codebases to manage and keeps duplicate bugs low.

With native, you have to reimplement all logic separately for each platform. This increases maintenance effort and the potential for disparities between app versions.

UI/Platform Code Reuse

While React Native promotes UI code reuse, some rendering differences and platform APIs do need native code. For example, you may want a slick native iOS transition animation unavailable in React Native.

React Native allows for native code integration via modules and libraries. While you can’t reuse 100% of UI code, you can share significantly more vs native development.

Long Term Maintenance

Since React Native compiles into native code, it moves with native platforms as they update. There is less risk of the framework becoming outdated and causing maintenance headaches down the line.

React Native vs. Native Apps

Performance Optimizations

While native development has some inherent performance advantages, React Native provides many optimization techniques to help minimize this gap. Let’s look at some strategies to optimize React Native app speed and smoothness.

Minify and Tree Shake JS Bundles

Minifying JavaScript code and tree shaking unused modules reduces bundle sizes. Smaller code bundles improve cold start times and overall performance.

Pre-render Views Offscreen

Pre-rendering resource intensive Views outside of the visible area allows for smoother animations when these Views enter the screen.

Optimize Images

Compressing image assets, using smaller thumbnail previews, and prudent caching of Images enhances app speed and responsiveness.

Use Native Libraries for Complex UIs

For graphically intensive components like maps or 3D graphics, use performant Native Modules for optimal speed.

Test on Real Devices

The JavaScript-to-native bridge performs much slower on simulators/emulators. Testing on real devices provides a more accurate performance profile.

With diligent optimizations, you can significantly close the performance gap between React Native and native apps.

Distribution and Deployment React Native and Native

Releasing and updating your app is an important part of the mobile development workflow. How do React Native and native languages handle app distribution?

Streamlined Release Process

With React Native, you build and deploy your JS bundles without going through the app store review process. This allows you to push quick bug fix and UI improvements outside of major releases.

For native apps, you have to submit to the app store and undergo review for any changes, delaying updates. React Native offers more flexibility in this regard.

JS Bundle Deploys

Since React Native apps download JS bundles separately, you can push UI changes and new features without forcing users to download entire new app binaries.

This allows you to iterate and test new updates faster based on user feedback and data. With native apps, updating small pieces is more difficult.

App Store Restrictions

However, Apple and Google do impose some additional review policies around what kinds of code changes are allowed via JS bundles. Things like payment processing and enterprise authentication often still require full app updates.

So while React Native improves release flexibility, you still have to work within app store guidelines for certain use cases.

Access to Native Features

While React Native provides cross-platform capabilities, you still want access to device and platform-specific APIs. How well does React Native expose native features?

Expo Libraries

Libraries like Expo provide pre-built integrations to many common native features – camera, contacts, notifications, Touch ID, etc. These work across iOS and Android with the same JS API.

For most standard device capabilities, you can easily leverage them in React Native via Expo.

Native Modules

For highly custom native integrations, you can directly call Swift, Kotlin, and Obj-C code from React Native using Native Modules. This allows you to build reusable native features not available in Expo libraries.

While more work than Expo, Native Modules give you full control to implement any native behavior.

Emerging APIs

The main downside is React Native tends to lag a bit behind native platforms for support on emerging device APIs. There is often a delay integrating and exposing the latest native SDK features.

So if you need cutting edge device capabilities instantly, native development currently has faster access.

Testing and Debugging

Robust testing and debugging is essential to building quality mobile apps efficiently. How do React Native and native platforms help test and debug your code?

React DevTools

The React DevTools allow you to profile and debug React Native views, state, hooks, performance, and other React attributes directly from your browser. This aids rapid front-end debugging.

JavaScript Debugging

Since React Native is just JavaScript, you can leverage familiar debuggers like Chrome DevTools or VSCode to step through and inspect your JS code. Native languages often require IDE-specific debuggers.

Unit and Snapshot Testing

The React framework makes it easy to unit test components with tools like Jest and snapshot test UIs. Swift and Java unit testing is certainly possible but usually more boilerplate.

Integration with Native Tools

React Native integrates with native debuggers and profilers like Xcode Instruments. You get the best of JavaScript debuggability combined with lower level native app profiling.

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Community Support

Given React Native’s popularity, it maintains a strong community and learning resources. How does its community compare to native platforms?

Mature React Resources

Since React Native builds on React, you can leverage all the existing React tutorials, StackOverflow answers, documentation, and projects. React has an established community.

Robust Component Libraries

There are many high quality open source React Native component libraries for common mobile UI needs like forms, buttons, and lists. These provide vetted solutions.

Active Forums and Meetups

As a popular cross-platform framework, React Native has active forums, conferences, and meetups worldwide. There is no shortage of events and networking opportunities.

Less Mature Than Native

That said, native communities have even more collective experience given Swift, Java, and Android SDKs have been around for decades. React Native’s community, while sizable, is relatively younger.


To summarize, here are some key high-level takeaways on React Native vs native development:

  • Performance – Native languages currently provide smoother UIs and faster performance, but the gap has narrowed significantly with React Native optimizations.
  • Code Reuse – React Native enables significant code reuse across iOS and Android, reducing overall build time. Native requires separate implementations.
  • Developer Experience – React Native leverages familiar web technologies like React, JavaScript, and Flexbox. Native languages have a steeper learning curve.
  • Distribution – React Native allows more frequent updates without app store review. Native apps have tighter release cycles.
  • Native Access – React Native provides native capability access via Expo and Native Modules, but lags a bit on new APIs.

There is no unambiguously superior choice – consider your team’s skills, performance needs, and use cases when choosing between React Native and native platforms. Both remain excellent options for mobile development. React Native’s cross-platform abilities make it very appealing for companies looking to share mobile logic across iOS and Android.

I hope this beginner’s guide gives you a balanced perspective on comparing React Native vs native development! Let me know if you have any other questions.

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