When deciding upon a cross-platform development technology, several factors must be considered. These can include the speed of development, online resources and documentation, community support, and much more. Flutter and React Native are the strongest competitors in the cross-platform development market. While they deliver apps in different ways, there is no question that both are solid options if you want to explore cross-platform development. In this article, we will cover the capabilities of each and help you determine a winner for your particular needs.
Flutter is also an open-source framework, this time created by Google. It, too, allows you to code for both iOS and Android platforms from a single code base, but in this case, via a coding language called Dart. Indeed, there are more similarities than differences between the two platforms if you discount the underlying language and some differences in how they achieve their results.
Cross-platform (sometimes known as hybrid) apps are growing in popularity for many reasons. One of the most substantial reasons is that you can build mobile applications for both iOS and Android using one codebase, saving valuable development time. With native development, companies need to maintain one codebase for iOS and a separate codebase for Android. This means every feature needs to be written twice, with no code re-use between operating systems. Cross-platform development frameworks alleviate this pain point, allowing developers to utilize one codebase to deploy apps for both iOS and Android. This means that for the majority of features, code is re-used across platforms. Overall, this can result in the following:
And while there are use cases where it can be advantageous to choose native code app development, cross-platform solutions such as Flutter and React Native deliver enough performance that the average user would not notice the difference.
That all being said, there are still legitimate use cases for native development. Cross-platform applications are not intended to be utilized for all different application types. And they don’t always perform as well as native applications. We will explore use cases where native applications are more appropriate later in this article.
Now that you know what both are, let us compare them. In this section, we will be evaluating both tools using these 7 metrics:
First of all, let us talk about how easy it is to learn and build proficiency in the use of both tools.
The clear winner in this category is React Native.
Our second metric is a more direct comparison of the programming languages that both frameworks are built around.
On the other hand, Dart, used by Flutter, is a much newer programming language. So, you may not find access to as much community support as you would with JS/TS. Also, while Dart can be used for back-end programming, in practice, it is not, and choosing to use Dart as a back-end language would be risky. However, Dart does have one advantage over JS – it can be compiled. For this reason, it performs much better.
Our verdict here is that there is no clear winner in this category. It is a tie.
Here you can see a complete overview of, the technologies powering React Native
Now, let us discuss how both platforms compare to each other regarding the user interface components they offer.
React Native uses the native operating system components from iOS and Android. Various libraries exist to provide additional UI components that developers can use.
Flutter, on the other hand, has its own UI library maintained by Google. The benefit of React Native’s approach is that, by default, the components feel more native to the end user since React Native uses built-in OS components. However, Flutter will typically provide a more consistent experience across iOS and Android using the same components for both operating systems. Flutter maintains separate libraries for Material UI components and Cupertino components for those that want to use native operating system styles.
There is no way to decide a clear winner in this category; as it, all boils down to developer preference. Our verdict is that this category is a tie.
A comparison between these two platforms would be incomplete without an evaluation of their performance capabilities.
You must know that for many use cases, the performance differences between React Native and Flutter will be negligible. It’s like trying to find the difference between a laptop with a dedicated GPU and one without. You wouldn’t really notice any differences until you need to execute tasks that require that component.
As a result, certain studies have found that Flutter is better suited for tasks that require significantly high performance. If you want to build a regular app with minimal animations, this may not matter. But if you’re looking for higher graphical specifications and quality, you may want to go with Flutter.
There is a clear winner in this category, and it is Flutter.
There is a common joke about how most developers spend 80% of their time debugging, while only spending 20% writing code. And nothing could be closer to the truth. When picking a framework for developing mobile apps, you may want to check which one offers you a better debugging experience.
To this end, Flutter is the clear winner of this category.
Community support is important because it is next to impossible to survive as a developer in today’s industry without the occasional help from Stack Overflow or other similar developer communities.
While Flutter is popular with less than 10% of developers, Dart is not without its own active community and associated resources. Sure, it is less mature and has fewer third-party libraries and resources, since it is primarily used only for Flutter development; but you will find some great Flutter packages in pub.dev.
The clear winner is definitely React Native.
There is one feeling of dread familiar to anyone who has been a developer for at least the past 3 years. That feeling of seeing support discontinued for a project that you have come to love using. So, what are the chances that you may experience that with these two frameworks?
First, both frameworks were released recently, in 2015 and 2017 respectively. So, neither of them has been around long enough to have that immunity that may be conferred by sheer maturity. However, seeing React Native’s popularity, it is safe to assume that its creators may see no reason to pull support for it anytime soon.
For Flutter, on the other hand, one needs to consider Google’s reputation for abandoning experimental projects. The appropriately called Google Graveyard is replete with similar projects that filled the developer community with hope, only to be pulled after a while. Even mature projects are not safe; mature frameworks such as Angular have been abandoned by Google. Also, despite Flutter being created by Google, Kotlin continues to be the official programming language of Android. So, it is easy to see why developers should be hesitant to commit to Flutter in the long term.
So, it’s no surprise that React Native is the clear winner of the category.
The same Stack Overflow survey showed that Flutter is a more popular choice, compared to React Native, in terms of the technologies used. Also, Google Trends shows that search interest in both is almost neck and neck, with Flutter slightly outpacing React Native in terms of search volume.
We may argue that popularity is influenced by many factors that may not really be tied to the technical performance of the platforms. However, the data is indisputable; the clear winner of this category is Flutter.
Some of the most popular apps in the world are built on React Native – due to their Facebook-related origins, it is no surprise that both Facebook and Facebook Ads are React Native apps. Instagram is another React Native app with Facebook connections built upon the platform. But, as we’ve already covered the adoption level and a number of React Native developers, React Native extends well beyond the Facebook ecosystem. Walmart, Soundcloud Pulse, Wix, and the health app Gyroscope are strong examples of React Native apps. Every day, React Native is used to create apps for every industry.
There are also a large number of popular, enterprise-grade Flutter apps. Unsurprisingly, some Google apps are in the mix, including notables such as Google Pay and Google Classroom. On the non-google side, we see many notable Flutter apps, including Abbey Road Studios, Alibaba, BMW, Crowdsource, and eBay. As you can see, the Flutter framework also has numerous disparate examples to choose from.
At this point, it is impossible to definitively say which framework is better. React Native and Flutter have both won three categories each and tied in two others. The one thing that may upset the balance is if Google were to make Flutter the official development platform of Android. That would immediately pull Flutter into the lease.
While we wait for that to happen, as a regular everyday mobile developer looking to choose between the two, here are the four main points that you should consider.
Do you want to use native OS components for the UI (React Native), or do you want consistent UI/UX across both platforms (Flutter)?
What is your risk tolerance for experimental technologies from Google? Will it kill your business if Google abandons Flutter in a few years?
The major advantage of both React Native and Flutter is that they enable developers to build cross-platform applications. And of course, this is incredibly convenient, especially seeing as most commercial app development work involves building the same app for different operating systems.
However, there are certain situations when it might be preferable to avoid using both frameworks.
Overall, it is always best to go native when you want to build mobile apps, especially when you have all the time and resources available to you. React Native and Flutter only make the process much faster, and much more convenient.
You can check here for a complete guide to React Native.
There are quite a few frameworks that enable cross-platform app development. React Native and Flutter only happen to be the best known. Xamarin, by Microsoft, and Ionic, are two other alternatives that you can check out. However, for reasons of practicality, React Native and Flutter are still the de-facto top options for cross-platform development.
What are some popular apps that use React Native?
Quite a few popular apps that we all use every day were built using React Native. There is Facebook, Facebook Ads, Instagram, Walmart, Bloomberg, and SoundCloud Pulse, among so many others.
Flutter has its own fair share of famous apps. From Google Play to the New York Times app to the myBMW app, to the eBay Motors app, and so many others.
React Native was created by Facebook (now Meta), in 2015. It was developed by a team of engineers led by Jordan Walke, who had initially released an early prototype – “FaxJS”.
Flutter was created by a team of engineers led by Eric Seidel, at Google. It was first introduced to the world in May 2017, at the Google I/O developer conference.