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React vs. React Native: Key Differences, Advantages, and Disadvantages

Michael Hungbo
Michael Hungbo
January 11, 2023 · 14 min read
React vs. React Native: Key Differences, Advantages, and Disadvantages

People who are just starting out in the field of software development often confuse React with React Native or vice versa.

These two software technologies, however, are completely different and are used for different purposes. Although there are some similarities between the two, it is also important that you fully understand them and what they are all about so you can make an informed decision when selecting either of the two for your project.

In this article, we’ll demystify both technologies and explain their similarities, differences, and use cases. And by the end of the article, you should have a good understanding of what React and React Native are and are used for.

Now, let's dive right in!

What Is React?

React, or in other words, React.js, is an open-source JavaScript library for crafting user interfaces (or views) in single-page web applications, using blocks of independent and reusable bits of code called components. React is a free and open-source software developed by Jordan Walke, a Meta (formerly Facebook) employee, to provide an MVC-like framework for the Facebook web application.

In addition, React was created to keep up with innovations on the web, handle the increasing rates of interactivity, and provide a great user-friendly experience for its users.

Features of React

React is a widely used JavaScript library in web development, and in this section, we’ll look at some of the interesting features that make it so popular and a great choice by companies and developers alike.

Free and Open-Source

One key advantage that makes React so popular is the fact that it’s free and open-source. React, being open-source, has a lot of advantages and gives a lot of flexibility to the developer community.

These advantages include React being constantly developed and free for anyone to modify, future-proof, and less likely to be abandoned in the near future, and many others.

One-Way Data Binding

React is designed in a way such that data flows in a one-way unidirectional model.

Data is passed between blocks of parent components to children components using props (short for properties) in every React application. This approach is beneficial in that you have clear control of data and prevent unintended mutation of data within components.

Virtual DOM

React uses a Virtual Document Object Model (VDOM or Virtual DOM), a lightweight in-memory representation of the actual DOM, to optimize the rendering of components.

This is a programming concept in which an ideal, or ‘virtual,’ representation of a UI is kept in memory and synced with the ‘real’ DOM using a library such as ReactDOM. This process of syncing and updating is known as reconciliation.

Declarative Programming Model

To create React applications, developers use a declarative programming approach. Declarative programming in React is a programming style in which you create a React component, for example, and tell it what state you want the user interface to be in. React then validates the DOM against the state and updates it accordingly as the state changes.

This approach abstracts away manual DOM manipulation and updating, attribute manipulation, and event handling that you would otherwise have to use to build your app.

Component-Based Architecture

React is built around the concept of writing pieces and reusable bits of code called components, which can then be combined to build complex user interfaces. Components in React can be defined as functions or classes, and they can be composed to create larger, more complex components.

The example below shows how to create a typical React component using a JavaScript function:

function Page(page) { return < h1 > Hello, welcome to the { props.page } page! < /h1>; }

Or with JavaScript Classes:

class Page extends React.Component { render() { return < h1 > Hello, welcome to the { this.props.name } page! < /h1>; } }

JSX

JSX is an acronym for JavaScript XML. JSX is a template syntax similar to JavaScript and is used with React to describe what the UI should look like. Although React doesn’t require JSX to use, JSX allows developers to write React applications faster and is simple to read.

In addition, JSX comes with the full capabilities of JavaScript and is easier for beginners to work with.

Below is an example of a React component written without JSX:

class Hello extends React.Component { render() { return React.createElement('div', null, `Hello ${this.props.toWhat}`); } } const root = ReactDOM.createRoot(document.getElementById('root')); root.render(React.createElement(Hello, { toWhat: 'World' }, null));

Compared with the same code written in JSX:

class Hello extends React.Component { render() { return < div > Hello { this.props.toWhat } < /div>; } } const root = ReactDOM.createRoot(document.getElementById('root')); root.render( < Hello toWhat = "World" / > );

React Hooks

Hooks in React are functions that let developers "hook into" React state and lifecycle methods in function components. Hooks are a recent addition to React (React 16.8) and can only be used inside function components.

The greatest advantage of hooks is that they allow developers to abstract application logic into reusable bits or custom hooks that can then be used anywhere in the application. Some widely used hooks include useState ,useEffect, just to name a few.

Support for Server-Side Rendering

We cannot discuss the major capabilities of React without mentioning Server-Side Rendering (SSR).

Server-Side Rendering in React is a technique in which HTML or client-side files are rendered on the server before sending a fully loaded page to the client, such as a web browser.

SSR is primarily used to improve application performance and provide a better user experience. Examples of popular SSR frameworks that are built on React include Next.js, Gatsby, and so on.

What Is React Native?

React Native is an open-source, cross-platform mobile framework developed by Facebook for building native and cross-platform mobile applications using components written in React.

React Native is used by developers to develop cross-platform mobile applications for the iOS and Android platforms, all from a single codebase.

Like React, React Native is a project created by Facebook and has gained popularity among developers and businesses today.

Prior to the days of React Native, developers were only able to create native mobile applications by writing code in the languages supported by the target platform, such as:

  • Kotlin or Java for Android

  • Objective-C or Swift for iOS

Features of React Native

As one of the most popular mobile frameworks today, let's take a look at the key features of React Native that contribute to its success and set it apart from other mobile application frameworks.

Cross-Platform Compatibility

React Native enables developers to create apps for iOS, Android, and desktop platforms using a single codebase, thereby saving them time and resources.

In other words, the framework allows you to share the same logic of your app between platforms, which in turn saves you money and reduces friction between development time and time-to-market.

Free and Open-source

Just like React, React Native is also an open-source project by Meta.

Its vibrant and thriving community of developers is part of what contributes to its success as a popular mobile app development framework today. Being free and open-source means anyone has access to the React Native codebase and can make fixes or tweak the source code to their own advantage.

Another benefit of React Native being free and open-source is that it’s much easier to get help or resources when you’re stuck due to the large community around it.

Performance

React Native apps are compiled into native code, which means that you can expect them to deliver the same performance as apps built using native tools like Java or Swift.

In addition, React Native allows you to access native features of the device or platform you’re building, such as the camera or GPS, directly from your JavaScript code. This lets you achieve near-native performance in your applications and build a wide range of apps that use platform-specific features.

Hot Reloading

Hot reloading is another great feature available in React Native. With hot reloading, you can make code changes and see the results on the fly rather than having to rebuild or refresh your app manually. This feature provides a great developer experience and makes app development faster.

Developer Experience

Creating your own project in React Native is pretty much straightforward. Especially if you have knowledge of both React and JavaScript.

In addition, React Native allows you to create reusable components that can be shared across different parts of your app, which can help you build more modular and scalable apps faster.

React vs. React Native: Head-to-Head Comparison

Now that you have a basic understanding of the two technologies, we’ll look at how they compare, their use cases, advantages and disadvantages, and when to consider one over the other. This is to help you make an informed decision when deciding on which to go for when building your projects.

Similarities Between React and React Native

Although they are two entirely different technologies, React and React Native have some common features that are easily discernible.

One notable similarity between React and React Native is that they’re both products of the same company, Meta, and are open source.

Also, both React and React Native are built on the idea of modular, composable components that can be combined to create user interfaces. Both of them use a virtual DOM to streamline updates to the real DOM, which enhances the application's performance.

Additional similarities between React and React Native include the following:

  • Both technologies use the JSX syntax extension, which allows you to write HTML-like code in your JavaScript files.

  • Both use the same principles of state and props to manage the data and behavior of components.

  • Both provide a set of lifecycle methods that allow developers to control the behavior of components at different stages of their lifecycle.

  • Both use the same core concepts of the React framework, such as the declarative programming model and the concept of a single source of truth.

Advantages of React over React Native

One major advantage of React over React Native is development costs. Web apps that are built with React are more budget-friendly, and this is largely due to the fact that it only requires a web development skill set and can be completed using web-based tools and resources.

In contrast, creating a native mobile app with React Native necessitates knowledge of mobile development and can call for specific resources and tools, which could raise the cost of development dramatically.

Also, in terms of accessibility, web apps built with React are more accessible than those built with React Native. Websites built with React can be accessed from any device with a modern web browser, which means they have a wider reach and are more accessible to users. In contrast, native mobile apps built with React Native are limited to specific platforms (iOS and Android) and can only be downloaded from app stores, which can limit their accessibility.

In summary, if you’re looking to minimize costs, and build highly interactive and accessible web applications, then React might be the best option for you.

Advantages of React Native over React

React Native shines over React when it comes to creating personalized experiences for users. For example, React Native lets you access native API and resources, such as the Notification API, on mobile platforms to create notifications for users even when they are offline.

It's also been established that users tend to spend more time on mobile apps than websites. This can be beneficial in advertising and increasing conversions for your business.

In addition, mobile apps in React Native are faster and more efficient and may even work offline if there's no internet connection. Mobile apps also tend to be more secure than website applications since the former have to be verified and approved before being available for download on app stores.

Overall, React Native is a better alternative to React for creating applications that need to be fast and personalized and that need access to native APIs and system resources.

Differences Between React and React Native

Although developers may sometimes call React a framework, it’s not. It's actually a UI library. React as a UI library means it lacks the main capabilities and functionalities of web application frameworks such as Angular. React is only concerned with the rendering of your UI but allows you to add other functionalities to your applications using other libraries.

React Native, on the other hand, is a full-fledged mobile application framework, which means it has additional APIs and components that are specific to mobile development, such as components for handling touch gestures and access to device-specific features like the camera or location APIs.

In addition, React uses a Virtual DOM to render your components on the browser, but React Native uses a more complex and elaborate rendering method. React Native has a renderer, which goes through a series of tasks (sometimes referred to as the render pipeline) in order to render your application logic to a host platform.

The rendering architecture of React Native is more advanced and out of scope for this article, but you can read more about it here.

Furthermore, React Native uses native components rather than web components, so the look and feel of the app will be more consistent with the platform on which it is running.

Overview of React vs. React Native

React Native is a batteries-included mobile application framework for developing cross-platform mobile apps.

React, on the other hand, is a UI library for creating beautiful and interactive user interfaces on the web.

In short, if you want to build fast and efficient web applications, use React. And if you’re looking to build performant and cross-platform applications, then React Native is your best bet.

When to Use React over React Native

In this section, we’ll look at a few examples of applications you can consider building with React instead of React Native.

You can use React to build a variety of complex web applications. These include e-commerce, streaming platforms, social networks, dashboards and analytics pages, interactive games, animations, and much more.

Below are popular applications built with React:

  • Facebook - React was developed by Facebook to solve the problems they encountered with Facebook Ads. And since it was developed, it has also been widely adopted to build most parts of the Facebook web application.

  • Spotify Web Client - Spotify, a digital music streaming service, uses React to build its web application where millions of users stream songs and enjoy an interactive web experience.

  • Netflix - Netflix, a movie streaming platform, leverages the benefits of React to create an awesome and consistent UI experience for its users across devices.

  • Reddit - The popular social news, content, and discussion website uses React to build its complex and rich interfaces for its millions of users.

When to Use React Native over React

React Native is essentially your go-to when you’re building cross-platform mobile applications. It’s used by established Fortune 500 companies and hot new startups to create a wide range of applications, including e-commerce, social networks, real-time analytics apps, games, and much more.

Below are examples taken from this showcase for your inspiration:

  • Facebook - If you have the Facebook mobile application on your phone, then you must have experienced how seamless your interactions within the application can be. Meta, the creator of React Native and the company behind Facebook, also uses React Native in creating VR experiences in the Oculus VR application.

  • Microsoft - Microsoft is also one of the companies that leverage the power of React Native in many of its popular applications. React Native is used by the tech giant to build cross-platform mobile apps such as Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Teams, Skype, and a few more.

  • Coinbase - Coinbase is a popular cryptocurrency exchange platform. It leverages the power of React Native to provide real-time data and scale its operations for its large user base.

  • Pinterest - Pinterest, an American image-sharing and social media service, uses React Native, and it’s helped the company scale its service delivery, providing users with a rich interface to explore millions of images.

React Native vs. React: Is React Better than React Native?

Just like we mentioned at the beginning of the article, React and React Native are two different technologies designed for different use cases.

To summarize, React is often a better choice when creating web applications, while React Native is preferable when creating mobile applications. However, each technology has its own distinct advantages and can be used effectively for a variety of applications. In the end, it all boils down to the particular requirements and specifications of the project you're working on.

We hope this article has given you a better understanding of the two technologies, as well as their advantages and disadvantages and potential use cases.

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