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Flutter vs. React Native: Which is Better for Your App?

Jun 6, 2022, 15:45 PM by Len Ott

Flutter vs. React Native

 

The days of needing to maintain separate codebases for every mobile platform — or even separate desktop and smartphone codebases — are over. It's no exaggeration to say the benefits of allowing a framework to take care of the key differences between platforms have been well-proven.

Which leaves only one question for your next project: Which framework to choose? With the answer usually being either Google's Flutter or Facebook's React Native, depending on who you ask, deciding between the two isn't always easy — even if you entirely discount the other options available to you.

Comparing the Benefits -and the Drawbacks- of Each

A significant benefit to using either React Native or Flutter is that they account for the lion's share of the cross-platform mobile app development market. Since its launch in 2017, Flutter has risen to occupy a 42 percent share of the mobile market, taking first place from React Native at 38 percent, according to respondents in a 2021 Statista developer survey. Broad adoption means you'll find plenty of resources for both, from community-driven discussion forums to commercial training — and benefit from a deep talent pool should you need to contract out or hire new staff as your project grows.

Both React Native and Flutter are also suitable for desktop app development: While React Native was first to offer official support for desktop development, the launch of Flutter 3 on May 11, 2022, added macOS and Linux compatibility to the framework's existing Windows support. Either, then, offers a one-stop platform for true cross-platform development across mobile and desktop devices.

This isn't to say the two are neck-and-neck in all areas; There's a clear leader for applications where performance is vital. Benchmarking carried out in 2020 by Ukrainian software consultancy inVerita showed Flutter apps running between three and twelve times more quickly than their React Native equivalents across a range of memory- and processor-intensive workloads. While representing a worst-case scenario and in no way applicable to most everyday app workloads, it's definitely a distinguishing factor between the two — and testing by our own Socket Mobile engineer, Matthew Croak, found a small but noticeable difference in favor of Flutter for user interface updates and refreshes too.

For those early in their development journey, React Native may be easier to pick up. Certainly, for those who have previously used React for web development, transitioning to React Native for mobile and desktop will prove easier than moving to Flutter. Going back to the talent pool, you'll find more developers (and junior developers) with JavaScript experience applicable to React Native than you will with Dart experience applicable to Flutter.

React Native's head-start in the development market means it just about edges Flutter out when it comes to the volume of resources available, but there's a downside too: Fragmentation. React Native leans heavily on an impressive ecosystem of third-party libraries to boost its bundled components, requiring additional effort to track down what you need and often pulling down numerous dependencies which can bloat the finished app. Flutter, by contrast, attempts to bring with it every component you're likely to need — helping to reduce reliance on third parties, which could bring issues surrounding licensing, compliance, or support availability, while also reducing bloat.

This difference in approach extends to test, build, release, and continuous integration (CI) pipelines. React Native offers no official support for automated deployment but can be extended using third-party tools; Flutter includes tools and instructions designed to ease automated deployment and publishing. The React Native documentation made, at the time of writing, no reference to continuous integration; Flutter's documentation covers the topic as standard. Unit testing on Flutter is noticeably easier than on React Native, too, with the latter again relying on third-party tools for anything beyond basic testing.

From a user-facing perspective, the most significant difference between the two frameworks is their respective approaches to controlling what actually occurs on-screen. React Native is built around a bridge approach, tying into the host operating system's native controls — meaning that while the developer may be given a little less control, apps are more likely to appear convincingly native to the end-user. Flutter, however, brings its own rendering engine, Skia, and provides the developer with complete control over every single on-screen pixel — great for those looking to make something that stands out from the crowd — while also bundling widgets designed to offer a convincing replica of each target platform's native user interface elements. The potential downside of Flutter's approach: The possibility of a lag between the true native components receiving a visual refresh and their Flutter replicas being updated to reflect the changes.

The Choice is Yours

With all that said, both React Native and Flutter are great choices for cross-platform app development. Both have proven themselves in the market, pushing the competition down into a minority share, and both can get you up and running more quickly, requiring fewer resources than native app development.

Socket Mobile has a longstanding commitment to providing best-in-class development tools for our app partners. We continue to support Flutter and React Native development through our CaptureSDK. Rather than forcing developers to use one specific platform, CaptureSDK allows partners to select the platform that best suits their needs as they service their business opportunities. In the end, which you should choose will depend heavily on your existing development ecosystem, the skills of your developers, and your target market. Should developers choose to use either Flutter or React Native, Socket Mobile provides easy-to-use tools for your development process to help create cutting-edge applications with integrated data capture capabilities.

To learn more about cross-platform app development with React Native and Flutter, view our recorded Flutter Development Webinar and sign up for our upcoming React Native Development Webinar.


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