To top off all the wonderful things Facebook has done for our generation, React Native is the one that the developer community is especially thankful for. It all began in 2013 when Facebook realized that the developer community was in need of a solution that could facilitate faster and better cross-platform mobile app development, allowing for a better bridge between iOS and Android development. Today, React Native is one of the most popular frameworks for developing cross-platform apps that work seamlessly across devices and platforms. So let’s take a look at what makes React Native app development so great and also explore all the various React Native app development tools that can make your life simpler as a developer.
From developers to stakeholders to businesses, everyone is constantly looking for a way to create apps that have shorter development cycles and a faster time to market, and React Native app development gives you just that. We all want better app performances at lower prices. And everyone knows that creating native apps for both iOS and Android require far too much time and money. That is why developers experimented with a number of hybrid mobile frameworks such as Xamarin, PhoneGap, Ionic and many others.
React Native has emerged as one of the most preferred among this batch for a multitude of reasons, but the biggest reason is that React Native app development is the closest to native app performance. This is because it renders code components directly to the native APIs. In addition, it also allows developers to write the heavier, more important parts of the code in the native language, be it Java or Objective-C, letting the rest of the code to be shared across platforms. React Native applications boast of 80 to 90 percent code shareability.
Before React was born, engineers at Facebook were trying to create a solution that would let them build dynamic a UI that gave a high level of performance. They wanted to be able to accomplish tasks like updating the users’ newsfeed and timelines simultaneously with them using chat. This required the development process to be optimized.
Jordan Walke, the Facebook engineer credited with the invention of React, took it upon himself to find a way. Walke proposed XHP, the Facebook markup syntax, into the JS coordinate system. While doing something like that seemed impossible at the time, his team successfully released the ReactJS library in 2011. This library proved to be working faster than any other solution of its kind. In 2013, the library was released as an open-source tool and became widely popular.
It was a short while later that Facebook realized that mobile app development too needed a framework that could provide the power and agility of React and enable the creation of native quality cross-platform apps faster. Two years later, in January 2015, Walke and his team of engineers released React Native.
Today, React is one of the most popular repositories in GitHub, with 13,211 commits, 61 branches, 264 releases and a whopping 1,644 contributors. In the 2016 F8 Facebook announced that React Native can now be used for Windows, Samsung and Xbox apps.
It is important to understand that a point-to-point differentiation between the two cannot be made, as React Native uses ReactJS to write reusable components for mobile app development.
ReactJS uses virtual DOM (Document Object Model) to create better user experiences. DOM is a viewing agreement of data inputs and outputs to impart a logical structure to HTML, XHTML or XML formats. Now, the DOM construct is a rather time-taking method as DOM trees are very large today. ReactJS manages to make this process faster by using a virtual DOM. So ReactJS uses an abstract copy of the DOM and makes changes to one component without affecting the rest of the UI. This is what makes ReactJS so great at making updates quickly and the UI so dynamic.
Since React Native aims to create native mobile apps, it does not use HTML like ReactJS does. So if you’ve worked on ReactJS before, you will have to re-familiarize yourself with the React Native syntax. For example, where ReactJS used <P> and <div>, React Native uses <text> and <view> respectively.
Since you don’t use HTML with React Native, you also won’t be able to use any of the same libraries you earlier used with ReactJS, if they rendered any HTML, SVG or Canvas. There are a number of alternative libraries you can use, including the best and most recommended react.parts.
React Native focuses on the view component of your app and helps you build parts of your UI piece by piece. So you can first build a single button and then create a component that contains several buttons. You can go on adding layers of abstraction until you have created enough components for the entire screen. So even when your app becomes larger, each individual component remains distinctly manageable. The core value of React Native lies in its reusable components and code sharing.
Thanks to all of these nifty capabilities, React Native offers lucrative saving of time and effort, producing dazzling user interfaces and high quality app performance. Some of the biggest advantages that make React Native mobile app development so popular are:
Solving all the problems associated to hybrid app development in one neat stroke, React Native lets you create apps that are actually native to each platform, thanks to its use of native controls and native modules. While other cross-platform frameworks such as PhoneGap use WebView, React Native uses native APIs for UI components. The WebView approach isn’t entirely good for app performance, but the use of native APIs leaves little to be desired.
Another major advantage of the native modules is that because the React Native community is growing at a brisk pace, there are a number of existing modules that can be used with ease. React Native offers the highest percentage of code reuse. In addition, React Native also offers easy debugging tools and error messaging to make a developer’s life easier.
An extremely interesting feature of React Native is the ‘live reload’ which allows you to see the effects of your code modification on the UI in real-time. This means that if you open two windows side by side, one with your code and the other with your UI, you will be able to see every little change you make on your code reflect on your UI. You can make life alterations without a moment’s latency, making the entire process not just fast but also super exciting.
Considering most people only rely on native apps to achieve the kind of quality and performance they want, you’d be surprised at how many successful businesses built their apps with React Native.
You heard that right – one of the most popular apps – Instagram has been developed with React Native too. In fact, they had a native app at first and then took up the challenge of adding React Native to it. They began with the Push Notification view and slowly, all of Instagram is now React Native. Their development team did face a few problems at first, but as the development progressed, they were able to reuse 85 to 99% of their code between iOS and Android apps. It also resulted in easy maintenance on both iOS and Android platforms.
How can we not talk about this, even if it is the most obvious one? The iOS and now even the Android app of Facebook is built with React Native. As a result, the app is much faster, even the dashboard loads up twice as quick.
Bloomberg’s new consumer app for iOS and Android is used to provide an interactive experience with a high degree of personalization. The app loads videos, media, live feeds, and a ton of features that can be super complicated to design, but React Native makes it simple.
Gabriel Law, senior application engineer at Bloomberg says that “The consumer mobile app was a huge endeavor because we had to transition the entire organization to React Native”.
SoundCloud wanted to make sure that there wasn’t a gap between their Android and iOS app releases. In addition, they needed an app that would let users manage their accounts and keep the community buzzing. React Native proved to be a framework that developers were comfortable using and could create their iOS and Android apps simultaneously.
If you’ve seen the AirBnB app, you’ve clearly seen the power of React Native. A largely community driven app that lets users upload listings, view listings, transact and do a whole lot more, AirBnB manages to look great and work like a charm thanks to React Native.
Every framework, even React Native, needs tools, frameworks and libraries to make app development faster and easier, helping developers make the most of their time and effort. For example, the Visual Studio Code is one of the best text editors available to help developers execute React Native commands with ease using the command palette. Visual code of React Native has built-in IntelliSense, Git integration and debugging capabilities. You can check out VSCode for React Native to know everything you need to know about how to set up Visual Studio Code for React Native.
There are a number of other text editors and Integrated Development Environments (IDEs) that you can check out right here.
Now, let’s take a look at some of the other tools, frameworks and libraries to help your React Native mobile app development:
React Native Tools to aid React Native development cover a large number of ways they aid in development. They can be broadly classified into four key areas of focus – SDK, checking code quality, testing and debugging. Here are some of the most popular React Native tools:
Expo is a highly recommended SDK for React Native, allowing you to easily prototype your app using a set of specialized components and libraries. You don’t have to use Android Studio or Xcode once you have Expo. In fact, you don’t even need to connect your phone to the computer to use it. Just scan the QR code on your terminal using your Expo app and it will begin running your app.
Having issues debugging your React Native projects? We don’t blame you if you feel that this part is long and tedious. But Reactotron – a free desktop application – helps you inspect, modify and subscribe to the app state, effortlessly tracking the HTTP requests made through the app. Reactotron’s realtime event timeline allows you to easily track events as and when they happen, allowing you to fix issues briskly. The subscriptions allow you to isolate the problem and get right to work.
Snowflake is a React Native Android iOS starter app boilerplate for full-stack React Native development that gives you everything you need to help you quickly get started. From the front-end to the back-end, Snowflake has you covered.
Ignite is another React Native boilerplate that can get you started with your new React Native app in no time. It lets you choose one of the many boilerplates already available or lets you create your own. It adapts to your project and supports standalone plugins as you need them.
One of the most attractive things about React Native is that it comes with already created UI components that make your job easier. However, most of these components come in basic styling and you may wish to add custom styles to make them look good in your app. This requires you to create your own CSS code, which can be a drag. NativeBase comes to rescue here by allowing your app to take on a truly native look by customizing all UI components.
Implementing navigation in your React Native apps is made easy with React Navigation. With the help of its built-in navigators such as the Stack Navigator, Tab Navigator and Drawer Navigator, it not only makes navigation easier but also facilitates deep linking, Redux integration and web integration. All of these factors make React Navigation one of the most robust libraries for implementing navigation.
MobX makes the management of state simple and scalable by transparently applying functional reactive programming, deriving UI, data serialization, server communication and other aspects from the state. Together, React and MobX make for a powerful combination, providing optimal solutions to common problems in React Native app development.
When it comes to creating animations in React Native, you have the option to use not one but two APIs – Animated API and LayoutAnimation. But albeit powerful, these APIs can get a little cumbersome to use. So if you want just a simple and easy way to add basic animations to your React Native app, be sure to check out Animatable.
Here is a list of other popular libraries that you can use to make your React Native app development easier, faster and way more productive:
If you’ve made it this far, you are now ready to get started on your first React Native mobile app development project. This article not only gives you an elaborate primer on the various aspects of React Native development but also, I hope, it has piqued your interest and given you other opportunities to explore. So go on, start your first project and do share your experience with us. If there’s something we didn’t cover and you’d like to know more, do let us know and if there’s an app idea brewing somewhere, which you wish to explore, drop us a line and we will help you choose the right platform, framework and development strategy for you.