Flutter vs React Native – Which is Better for Your Project?
Looking to speed up app development and cut costs with cross-platform app development solutions? Unsure which tech to choose? This guide is for you. We’ve stacked Flutter vs React Native from an app owner’s lens to help you find your best fit.
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Why we created this article and who wrote it for you?
Cross-platform solutions are gaining popularity. Flutter and React Native are the two leading market players. At Droids On Roids, we tailor apps for partners using the best approach – be it native, Flutter, or React Native.
Still, as an App Owner, you probably want to know:
- Which framework is the best for my project?
- Which option gets my app to market the quickest?
- Will my app be stable and user-friendly?
- Which route should I take if top-notch design is my top priority?
With over ten years in cross-platform development, we’ve penned this article to share the insights we give our partners. We aim to help you make a well-informed choice about the best cross-platform app development solution for your app concept.
Introduction to the battle: React Native vs Flutter
We’re just playfully calling it a “battle” here. Both Flutter and React Native have their pros and cons. Or maybe you’re thinking native for your app – that’s fine too. But since you’re reading this, you’re probably weighing your tech options for cross-platform app development. We’ll break down these two contenders to simplify your choice. But first, a quick dive into the backstory of mobile app development.
The rise of mobile app development frameworks
Search ‘mobile app development frameworks’ today, and you’ll find cross-platform frameworks topping the list. Over the years, numerous frameworks and tools emerged to enable multiplatform development – a solution that App Owners have loved.
But let’s rewind a bit: app development used to be platform-specific, meaning developers juggled multiple languages and tools. For iOS, it was Objective-C (then Swift) with Apple’s Xcode. Android? Java, paired with Android Studio or Eclipse.
This setup meant doubling the code for an app idea that targeted both platforms. This meant more time, higher costs, and the hurdle of ensuring that the two versions matched in terms of performance and features. In addition, synchronizing updates was a challenge and often led to inconsistencies.
Why picking the right framework is a game-changer?
Your framework shapes performance, scalability, maintenance, price, and the speed at which you can develop and deploy your app. The right pick will streamline everything, ensure a smooth user experience and reduce long-term costs. A bad choice? Well, that’s another story. Let’s see how you can choose the best cross-platform app development solution for your project.
Flutter vs React Native: In a nutshell
|What is it?||An open-source UI toolkit for cross platform development from a single codebase||A framework for cross platform development using React|
|Official release||December 2018, Google I/O||March 2015, F8 Conference|
|Free and open source||Yes||Yes|
|Popularity||157k stars on GitHub (September, 2023)||112k stars on GitHub (September, 2023)|
|Hot Reload feature||Yes||Yes|
• Google Fuchsia
• Embedded devices
|• Android & iOS (supported by creators of React Native)|
• Windows (all devices that support Windows 10 such as PC, Xbox tablets; supported by Microsoft)
• MacOS (supported by Microsoft)
• Web platform & Android and iOS TV platforms (supported by the community)
|UI development||Flutter uses its own highly customizable widgets that allow developers to adjust their properties and styles to achieve the desired look and behavior across every platform. It also comes with a set of out-of-the-box widgets based on the Material (Android) and Cupertino (iOS) designs, so it retains the feel of native apps.||React Native uses native UI widgets under the hood so developers have the freedom to stay with the default platform’s styling or adapt it to the desired UI.|
|Time to market||Quick with its library of prebuilt UI components, and ideal for MVPs.||Quick, but potentially slower than Flutter due to platform-specific optimizations.|
|Maintenance||Easily update to the new version thanks to automated built-in tools.||Updating versions can be challenging and may demand extra effort.|
|Documentation||Flutter’s documentation is clear and comprehensive, thanks to its organized and meticulous preparation.||React Native’s documentation, while not as standout as Flutter’s, is often deemed more user-friendly by developers, encompassing best practices and FAQs.|
Flutter vs React Native: Essentials
First, let’s cover the basic (yet essential) details about Flutter and React Native.
What is Flutter? An overview
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What’s Flutter for?
Flutter enables cross-platform app development. It gives developers an easy way to build and deploy visually attractive, natively compiled applications for mobile (iOS, Android), web, desktop, and embedded devices – all using a single codebase.
Flutter’s desktop support
- When it comes to developing desktop apps with Flutter, you can compile Flutter source code to a native Windows, macOS, or Linux desktop app.
- Flutter’s desktop support also extends to plugins — developers can install existing plugins that support the macOS, Windows, or Linux platforms, or they can create their own.
Flutter for Web
- Flutter’s web support delivers the same experiences on the web as on mobile. This means you can now build Android, iOS, and browser applications from the same codebase.
As we can read on the official Flutter website, Flutter’s web support is most useful in the following scenarios:
- Progressive Web Apps (PWAs)
Flutter delivers high-quality PWAs that are integrated with the user’s environment, including installation, offline support, and a tailored UX.
- Single Page Applications (SPAs)
SPAs load once and transmit data to and from internet services.
- Existing Flutter mobile apps
Web support for Flutter provides a browser-based delivery model for existing Flutter mobile apps.
Some more facts about Flutter:
- It’s free and open source.
- It’s based on Dart – a fast, object-oriented programming language. It’s relatively new and easy to learn, as Flutter offers docs for developers moving over from other frameworks. What’s more, Dart supports sound null safety.
- The architecture is based on the very popular reactive programming paradigm (it follows the same style as React).
- It provides widgets drawn from its own high-performance rendering engine – these are fast, attractive and customizable.
- Thanks to the widget experience, Flutter apps have a great look and feel (while you can still create your own custom app design using readily available UI elements that follow specific platform guidelines).
How mature is Flutter? A quick flashback on Flutter’s evolution
A team at Google built Flutter as an open-source project. Therefore, both Google and the Flutter community contribute to its development. Here is a brief timeline of its growth, highlighting key events.
Flutter in action: App examples
- Google Ads (iOS, Android)
- Xianyu by Alibaba (iOS, Android)
- Hamilton (iOS, Android, Website)
- myBMW (iOS, Android)
- eBay Motors (iOS, Android)
- Groupon (iOS, Android)
- Philips Hue (iOS, Android)
- The New York Times (iOS, Android)
- Reflectly (iOS, Android)
- Nubank (iOS, Android)
See also a few of the apps we developed with Flutter for our clients:
Useful Flutter links
What is React Native? An overview
What is React Native for?
React Native is an effective framework for:
- Cross-platform development
- Developing applications for both Android and iOS using a single codebase
- Using the same design as React
But, you should also know that:
- React Native uses components that are analogous to widgets in Flutter.
- To develop web and desktop applications with React Native with a single codebase, it’s best to use external libraries.
- Apps made with React Native can be updated without needing to go through the entire review process (e.g by using CodePush or Expo EAS Update).
- Since we already mentioned Expo – it’s a framework based on React Native that speeds up the development process by rich SDK for standard features (like camera, linking, SMS, splash screen, or even integration with Flutter’s skin graphics library). What’s more, it supports the web platform out of box. You can read more about the core concepts of Expo here.
How mature is React Native? A brief history
Here is a quick overview of how React Native has developed since its first release by Meta (formerly Facebook).
Looking at the above, two things are for sure: React Native is older than Flutter, and it boasts a bigger community. Not to mention that the Meta team has had plenty of time to stabilize the API and focus on fixing any underlying issues.
And let’s not forget – Meta is working on several other notable enhancements as well:
- Lean Core – reducing an app’s size by moving optional components/features to separate repositories (to add to an app as/when needed)
- TurboModules – for improved handling of native modules
- React Native Fabric – re-architected UI layer
React Native in action: App examples
- Instagram (iOS, Android)
- Meta Ads Manager (iOS, Android)
- Pinterest (iOS, Android)
- Skype (iOS, Android)
- Microsoft Office (iOS, Android)
- Tesla (iOS, Android)
- Bloomberg (iOS, Android)
- Wix Owner (iOS, Android)
- Walmart (iOS, Android)
- Discord (iOS, Android)
If you’d like to see other examples of apps made with React Native, check out the official React Native showcase.
Talking about apps supported by React Native it’s worth mentioning that as of January 19, 2021, Facebook ended its official support for React Native wrapper around the Facebook SDKs for Android and iOS. You can read more about it on GitHub and in this blog post.
Useful React Native links
How do Flutter and React Native compare? 9 key differences
Flutter and React Native reign as today’s top mobile app development frameworks. Each empowers developers to craft top-tier mobile apps for iOS and Android from a unified codebase. Yet, as you contemplate the best framework for your upcoming mobile, web, or desktop projects, it’s vital to note their distinct differences. We’ve gathered the most important ones to help you with that.
- Developers’ perspective
By simplifying and speeding up cross-platform app development, it reduces costs. With a growing developer community and robust Google support, it also offers consistent updates and comprehensive guides.
Based on the widely-used Web React library, web developers can quickly transition to mobile development. Integrating React Native with TypeScript boosts developer confidence. Its vast community provides ample online discussions, solutions, and insights.
- Designers’ perspective
Provides designers a blank canvas for top-tier user experiences. Celebrated as a top design idea of the decade, it turns visions into code without traditional framework constraints. Its integration with CodePen also makes it a potent tool for sharing prototypes.
Boasts design flexibility for both iOS and Android, excelling in animation performance. It enables developers to seamlessly incorporate diverse designs.
- Business Owners’ perspective
Allows engineering leaders and businesses to unify app developers into one team for mobile, web, and desktop development. They can craft multi-platform branded apps from a singular codebase, with Flutter streamlining release schedules and hastening feature creation.
Facilitates iOS and Android app development from one codebase. This framework offers time savings for companies with web apps in React due to its shared logic between web and mobile versions.
Uses its Ahead-of-Time compiler, which generates optimized code for both iOS and Android after the project has been built. This ensures native-level performance without embedding the entire codebase in the application binary, similar to React Native. Moreover, unlike React Native, which requires a bridge to communicate with native modules, Flutter interacts with them directly.
Doesn’t rely on native system components. Instead, Flutter provides a unique set of widgets for UI rendering, enabling the reuse of iOS or Android code in Flutter app development. With a single code base, the apps look and behave the same on iOS and Android, including on the latest operating systems as well as the older versions.
Flutter includes two sets of widgets that conform to specific design languages – Material Design widgets (Google’s design language) and Cupertino widgets (Apple’s iOS design). This means that Flutter apps will look and behave naturally on each platform, mimicking their native components.
Wondering if Flutter can go beyond widgets? Explore Practical Fragment Shaders in Flutter | Guide – Introduction
Therefore, application components look just like native components (for example, a button on an iOS device looks just like a native iOS button, and the same on Android).
If apps need to look nearly identical across platforms – even on older versions of an operating system (as Flutter does) – then consider using third-party libraries (like this one). They allow you to use Material Design components instead of native ones.
- Single codebase: Based on the Dart programming language, Flutter allows developers to write a single codebase that runs on both iOS and Android. This can lead to almost 100% code reuse across platforms.
- Custom Widgets: Rather than relying on native components for rendering, Flutter uses a graphics engine to render its own widgets. This ensures consistent behavior and appearance across devices.
- Native components (by default): As we said before, React Native uses platform components (e.g. React Native Button is translating to iOS UIButton/ Android android.widget.Button) under the hood. Thanks to that, an app’s widget will look and feel like a native one. On the other hand, Flutter recreates everything from scratch which can lead to inconsistency with native ones.
- Structured and comprehensive: Flutter’s documentation is thorough and covers a wide range of topics.
- Interactive widget catalog: Helps view and understand the UI components.
- Codelabs and tutorials: Flutter offers codelabs and tutorials that provide a hands-on coding experience.
- Clear guidance for different audiences: The documentation caters to developers from different backgrounds – such as Android, iOS, Web, etc – by providing tailored guides.
- Community-driven: React Native’s documentation has benefited greatly from contributions from the community.
- Examples and snippets: Documentation includes code snippets and examples, making it easy for developers to understand and implement features.
- Separation of core and community modules: The React Native ecosystem includes both core and community modules. The documentation clearly distinguishes between them.
- External resources: Given the age and popularity of the framework, there’s a wealth of tutorials, articles, and third-party documentation available.
In conclusion, you might lean toward Flutter’s documentation if you value structured, extensive, and interactive official resources. And if you prefer a large ecosystem with a mix of official and community-driven resources, React Native’s documentation may be more appealing. Nevertheless, community support for Flutter is also comprehensive.
Provides a debugger for iOS and Android apps, offering developers insight into the rendering engine’s state, alongside tools for examining memory consumption and making on-the-spot changes.
- Great look and feel, thanks to rich widgets
- Rapidly growing community and popularity
- Excellent documentation with solid support from the Flutter team (which makes it easy to start developing with Flutter)
- Flutter for Web, offering one codebase across mobile and web platforms
- Difficult to beat time-to-market speed
- Many successful, prominent market players using React Native
- Mature, vast community
- Easy-to-learn technology
- Plenty of tutorials and libraries, which enable quick and easy development
- Code can be easily reused for both web app and desktop app development
When is it not the best fit?
Flutter might not be the best if your app:
- Needs 3D Touch support (Flutter doesn’t currently offer this, but it’s on the future roadmap)
- Has a platform-specific design
- Requires extensive OS interactions or uses niche native libraries
- Prioritizes a minimalist UI but makes heavy use of phone hardware (like a music player or camera-only app)
- Is intended to be an instant app (small in size)
Then, in these cases, native app development may be a better fit for you.
React Native might not be the best if your app:
- Requires specialized background tasks, such as specific calculations
- Needs custom Bluetooth communication (challenging with React Native)
- Is for Android only
Web development – Flutter vs React Native
Can you develop web apps with Flutter?
As we’ve already mentioned, according to Flutter’s official website, web development with Flutter is the most effective for:
- Progressive Web Apps (PWAs)
- Single Page Applications (SPAs)
- Existing Flutter mobile applications
Flutter Web works excellently for web apps and offers a swift way to design attractive apps. Its standout advantage is the ease of adapting the completed web app to other platforms like Android, iOS, Mac, Windows, and Linux. All you need to do is adjust for screen sizes, tweak some settings, and run a build command. However, remember that Flutter Web is not intended for creating traditional websites. Also, like React, it is not SEO-friendly. Thus, if that’s your priority, you might need to look for alternative ways to achieve the best results.
Pros of Flutter Web:
- Unified Codebase: Single codebase for both web and mobile
- UI Consistency: Achieves an exact UI look across platforms
- Rich Animations: Provides complex animations and transitions
- Rapid Development: Offers a hot restart feature and a wide set of widgets
Cons of Flutter Web:
- Size: Initial app sizes can be large
- Performance: May not always match native web tech performance
- SEO: Challenges due to content rendering via the Canvas API
- Maturity: Still evolving, so you might have to pay extra attention to potential bugs or changing APIs
Can you develop web apps with React Native?
React Native does not support web development by default, but its structure makes it easy to add a new platform, such as macOS, Windows, or, indeed – the web. Here is how it works.
React Native for Web originated in 2015 by Nicolas Gallagher for Twitter’s Progressive Web App and has transitioned from a React Native-inspired framework to a bridge between React DOM and React Native. It’s been adopted by major companies like Meta, Twitter, and Flipkart, with ongoing contributions from Meta, Expo, and more. The challenge lies in balancing high-quality Web app needs with React Native API compatibility. Today, React Native’s expansion includes support for Android, iOS, Web, Windows, and macOS, aiming to offer unified React APIs for faster, multi-platform product launches.
And while we’re on the subject of React Native for the web, we should also remind you about Expo – a framework and platform for universal React applications that makes it easier to design, build, and deploy React Native projects, including web applications.
Pros of React Native for Web:
- Unified Codebase: Consistent code sharing between platforms
- Familiarity: Seamless experience if accustomed to React/React Native
- Component-Based: Allows for modular and reusable architecture
- Community: Large, offering many resources and support
Cons of React Native for Web:
- Web-Nativity: Can sometimes feel like a workaround
- Performance: Might not match native web framework levels
- Integration: Merging with web-focused libraries may need extra effort
- Learning Curve: Requires an understanding of mobile-centric components
- Applicability: Plain React might be better for web-only projects
Flutter vs React Native: App Owners share their stories
Flutter and React Native are both top-tier frameworks for cross-platform mobile app development. React Native boasts maturity and a vast community, while Flutter shines with its user-centric design and powerful UI capabilities. However, in the end, the optimal choice pivots on your project’s unique demands and the expertise at hand. Let’s dive into insights from industry leaders on the React Native vs. Flutter debate.
- The components in React Native are pretty basic, so if you need anything extra, considerable effort is required when styling. Only a handful of components are adaptive to the platform, while most of the time you have to use a different component for both iOS and Android; or, style it differently.
On the other hand, with Flutter, everything is a widget. And the widgets are based on Material Design, making them easily customizable. Most of the widgets are adaptive, and you can use the same widget across both Android and iOS.
React Native is the closest competitor to Flutter. I like it as it sets the standard for cross-platform native development.
That said, our experience with it has surfaced a few issues.
- React Native is just a wrapper over native methods, so it requires a bridge to translate those calls into a native API; this becomes a bottleneck when you have a lot of native calls happening. There are ways around this, but with Flutter, you don’t ever have to worry about the issue as the view layer is rendered like a game would be – and as all components are designed by Flutter engineers, there are fewer native calls to the bridge.
- React Native components aren’t always customisable enough as they are just wrappers over native views. So, say someone decided not to wrap a certain method, then you won’t have access to it (for instance, dashed borders around a view don’t work) – while new components released by Google and Apple can take a long time to become available on React Native.
- Bugs on React Native have also started to take a lot longer to get fixed. The dashed border issue, for one; as well as a separate issue supporting various build flavours etc. Most companies running React Native in production, run a custom fork to fix bugs that aren’t fixed upstream. The Flutter devs are more proactive, and you can expect fixes fast. We ended up spending most of our time looking for issues in React Native documentation, then figuring out why things weren’t working the way they should.
The issues we found sent us searching for something better – fortunately, Flutter was just around the corner.
The main benefit of Flutter over React Native (and native, in general) is the lack of platform constraints. Flutter isn’t muzzled by the platform UI because it doesn’t use it; it renders everything by itself. This frees you to build the best UX without compromise – and it’s the primary difference between Flutter and React Native. Read more here >>
Supremacy questions: Is Flutter going to replace React Native?
The debate on supremacy between Flutter vs React Native continues to be a hot topic. While both offer powerful solutions for cross-platform development, some industry experts believe that Flutter’s rapid advancements and unique widget-based design might give it an edge. However, React Native, with its vast community and backing by Meta, is not slowing down.
For business owners looking to invest in a new app, it’s important to note that both are evolving, with new updates expected in 2024. Your decision may come down to factors such as cost, time and the specific needs of your project. Keeping an eye on industry changes will help you make an informed choice for your business. And this is how it looks from the developer’s perspective:
Flutter has grown rapidly over the last few years, but we can’t say that it’s now so much better than React Native that it will replace it. Both frameworks have their target audience and will share the market for at least the next couple of years. The future of both frameworks depends mainly on the teams working to improve them, but also on community contributions, market changes, and people’s preferences and needs.
When to choose React Native and when to choose Flutter? – Making the right choice
Delivering projects on time is one of the most critical aspects of mobile and web app development. The cross-platform nature of both React Native and Flutter speeds time to market and comes with its advantages. But how do you choose the right framework for your project?
Flutter offers a fresh approach with its highly customizable widgets and the Dart language. That will be the best choice if:
- Your developers know Dart
- Your project prioritizes unique designs or animations
- You want to ensure a uniform UI across all platforms
- You want to reduce maintenance costs – you can create a new multiplatform app or rewrite an existing native application in Flutter
- You want to create a mobile and a web app – with Flutter, you can get that with a single codebase
- The design of your app differs between platforms
- You want to build your app’s GUI using native UI components
- You already have a web app built in React – React Native can allow you to reuse a significant amount of logic for the mobile app
Remember that every application has its own unique challenges, so your choice should reflect the specific needs of your project – whether that’s integration requirements, available resources, or other project-specific details. It’s always worth discussing your project with an experienced team of developers: people who are able to consider the different approaches and have a diverse enough skill set when it comes to cross-platform development.
If nothing else, take confidence from this: both Flutter and React Native are very good technologies. They benefit from huge popularity and enduring trust and can help your application spread its wings and fly. We’ll keep our fingers crossed for you – best of luck with your next steps, and if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask us.
And if you’d like to explore even further, check out our article on the 4 Most Popular Cross-Platform App Development Frameworks for 2023.