Comparing Flutter and React Native for Android App Development

Hybrid application development has become the popular choice for application developers & stakeholders. With hybrid development frameworks like Flutter and React Native getting better every day and providing performance comparable to applications built with native languages like Java or Swift, it is only natural to see the popularity of React Native and Flutter grow. That being said, it can be tough to choose between the two given that both are used widely in production applications and provide similar benefits. We’ll try to make the choice easier by considering a few significant differences between the two.

What is Hybrid Application Development?

Simply put, hybrid application development involves maintaining a single code base for applications that are expected to run on more than one operating system. In the case of React Native, the source code is written in JavaScript, which is then transpired internally to the language of the respective OS the application runs on Java/Kotlin for Android and Swift for iOS, and that for Flutter applications is written in Dart.

Community Support, Available Plugins, and Documentation

React Native, being the older of the two frameworks, enjoys larger community support. The number of third-party plugins for React Native (available on npmjs) is far greater than those for Flutter (available on pub. dev). Furthermore, JavaScript is much more widely used than Dart from building simple HTML-based web pages to complex e-commerce websites. Needless to say, React Native developers have access to a larger pool of developers to seek help from.

As far as the documentation is concerned, both Flutter and React Native docs are intuitive enough to navigate through without much confusion and provide sufficient information about important concepts. However, the Flutter team periodically releases short videos on YouTube explaining the use of certain built-in widgets which is something the React Native team has yet to do.

Platform Support

While React Native, as of writing this blog, supports only iOS and Android, Flutter offers support for iOS, Android, Fuchsia OS, Linux, macOS, Windows, & web. Therefore, in case an application targeted initially for Android is later required to support other platforms, Flutter should be the obvious choice.

Related read: How To Start With Flutter?

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Code Reusability (Components vs. Widgets)

Both frameworks provide great support for code reusability. Just as React Native encourages a component-driven approach, Flutter recommends a widget-driven approach wherein a piece of repeated code is maintained separately which accepts properties from its parent components that control the behavior of the said component. Therefore, as far as code reusability is concerned, there’s no clear winner between the two.

Source Code Language (JavaScript vs. Dart)

Javascript is used reportedly by over 60% of developers globally, and Dart by a meagre 6%. The availability of JS frameworks (React, Vue, Next) coupled with the ease of learning the language itself makes it the preferred choice for developers. Dart, on the other hand, has quite a steep learning curve. Furthermore, Javascript is a loosely-typed language, compared to Dart which is strongly-typed.

Although a program written in a strongly typed language makes it easier to identify bugs at compilation time, developers may consider it cumbersome to address variable types in their code at the beginning. Interestingly, the creators of Dart have compiled a guide that makes it easier for developers coming from a JS background to acclimatize themselves with Dart’s syntax.

Reliance on Third-party Libraries

Consider the case where the requirement is to add a drawer menu (the one that comes into view by swiping horizontally across the screen). In React Native, one has to follow one of two approaches: develop the functionality manually, or install a third-party plugin.

In most cases, the job can be done by adopting the latter approach, but the issue with relying on third-party plugins is that most of those are developed by independent developers without the backing of an enterprise, resulting in abandonment of the package at the whim of the developer or due to lack of funds to continue.

With Flutter, the drawer widget (among others such as floating buttons, and animated carousels) is built into the core library requiring no additional installation. Since Flutter has a lesser dependency on third-party plugins, it makes it safer for the two to be used for production applications that require a lot of native functionality.

Related read: The Comprehensive Guide to Flutter App Development

Pre-styled Elements

Google recommends following the Material Design Guide for developing Android applications, which provides an intuitive user experience. Flutter comes with pre-styled widgets that follow the Material design guidelines (and also the Cupertino design guidelines) which could greatly reduce the development time. React Native has to rely on third-party plugins such as react-native-paper, react-native-elements, etc. to provide a native feel to the common UI components (buttons, text input fields). Flutter, in this regard, is the clear winner.

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Conclusion

In this blog, we saw how Flutter fares better than React Native in some areas (scalability, pre-styled widgets, lesser TTM) whereas React Native outperforms Flutter in others (lower learning curve, community support, third-party plugins). It may seem confusing to choose the right framework for developing an Android app, but the decision ultimately comes down to a few factors such as the TTM, availability of Dart/Javascript developers, UI preferences, and client requirements, to name a few.

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