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React Native: How to build mobile apps faster?

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Launched by Facebook in 2015, React Native is a framework that enables building multi-platform mobile apps. This relatively new technology has already been greatly appreciated by many developers. This section briefly illustrates the reasons behind its success.

What is it about?

It is essentially a framework that allows the development of native iOS and Android mobile apps using tools based on the JavaScript technology and the React library. A native mobile app is one that is specifically created for a category of the operating system. On iOS, it uses the Objective-C / Swift development language. However, on Android, it uses the Java / Kotlin language. This type of apps is deemed faster, more efficient and offers a better user experience. Nevertheless, its development is time consuming (as many developers as platforms), which justifies the need to resort to React Native.

Native mobile apps?

Yes, you read it right. React Native enables you to build native mobile apps. In the very DNA of the framework, Facebook has enabled the embedding of native components (unlike web components). This means that React Native can chat directly with the current APIs found in the OS (iOS and Android).

However, React Native cannot interface with all the system APIs (note that the framework is in response to Android and iOS recent choices concerning their operating system). Logically, this would mean that using a given advanced feature implies that the developers have to create, themselves, the specific modules in JavaScript to interface with it.

It is nothing of the sort; React Native allows the developer to import code blocks written in the Java, Kotlin, Objective C or Swift language, which makes life way easier.

What does this great potential tool promise?

Time savingis the main strength of this framework. First, it saves the developer from having to recompile with each modification, since the app reloads instantly during the development phase. Then, the tool enables the creation of a single code base that is suitable for both iOS and Android, which helps the developer spend less time coding. So, only one code to create, one code to update and by a single developer (on paper). Such app would be more maintainableand lessexpensive.

A mobile app that is conceived with this tool also promises high quality, excellent performance, good interface responsivenessand an optimized user experience. Moreover, a well-trained JavaScript developer can build a mobile app using this tool without having to learn the ecosystem and language specific to each OS, which represents another time saving point stated by the framework.

What makes it different from other frameworks?

What about tools like Cordovaand Ionicwith respect to React Native?

Ionic or Cordova create the so-called hybrid apps. The latters are developed with standard Web technologies and are encapsulated in native components. It is therefore a real overlay to native development, unlike React Native.

As mentioned above, React Native uses native components, and is thus not an overlay to the OS. Technically, the JavaScript written code is compiled (transformed) into a native code. As such, no JavaScript trace appears in the final app installed on the phone. However, the Cordova or Ionic generated graphical interface is displayed through a Web view (which refers to the view of a responsive website without the browsing bars), which removes its efficiency and quality as well as the user experience and the performance of using more advanced features.

So, can we say that React Native is the “El Dorado” of App Makers?

Let us not go too fast. A quick summary of what is written above:

  • React Native is based on the React language, which is a JavaScript library itself, to create interfaces. Therefore, you have to master Web technologies like JavaScript, HTML and even CSS for component customization.
  • The mobile user remains demanding and wants an optimal experience. The navigation in an Android app and in an iOS app is very different (only by the presence of a number of different browsing buttons between the two devices). This implies that some adjustments during projects are necessary to adapt the app to one device or another. In addition, some components are unavailable, which means that the developer may have to develop directly in the native form.
  • React Native remains a very young technology. The official website shows the 0.48 version as we write these lines, depicting the framework potential instability. As the course of version 1 is still not achieved, huge changes can impose the complete rewriting of an app to support a new OS version, raising maintainability and evolution concerns.

It is easy to see what I am getting at.; React Native’s learning curve for making quality mobile apps is, thus, very important. A good React Native mobile app developer must not only master the native languages of the different paradigms, but also the JavaScript that exists between them.

 

INTEGRATING A NATIVE LIBRARY IN A REACT NATIVE APP, SOMETIMES, REQUIRES A LOT OF CONFIGURATION

 

In addition, debugging an app built from React Native can often be a complex process. Indeed, the errors being reported by the system correspond to the React Native generated code. The developer is then responsible for finding out the way React Native generated this code, and how to act on it.

Finally, sometimes, a native library integration within a React Native app requires a lot of configuration. For example, a Google Maps map implementation becomes a long-term job while it takes only a minute on an Android native app.

The excellent command of the React Native framework for creating mobile apps is, therefore, a hard skill to acquire, which implies that as an App Maker, you will be more dependent on the developer who wrote your code.

 

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