Mobile development does not mean just native iOS development using Swift or native Android development using Java anymore. We are in the generation of hybrid, cross-platform and progressive web apps.
In this article, I am going to compare two popular mobile frameworks, React Native and Ionic. We will first see how they are similar and also explore their differences. This guide can help you decide which framework is right for you.
React Native basics
The idea is that you code once, and that code can be deployed cross-platform on iOS, Android, Web, and desktop. The same code-base is shared across all the platforms.
How are they similar?
If you are just learning about both React Native and Ionic, they probably sound very similar from the description above.
This means you don’t need to know native iOS or Android development to use Ionic or React Native.
How are they different?
Now let’s learn how these frameworks are different.
1. Native vs. hybrid
React Native is native
React Native is used to build truly native cross-platform apps. A native app is a software application built in a specific programming language, for the specific device platform, either iOS or Android.
Ionic is hybrid
Ionic apps are built using web technologies and are rendered using Web Views. Ionic apps are built using web technologies and are rendered using Web Views, which are a full screen and full-powered web browser.
The idea here is to reuse code across multiple platforms. So hybrid apps will not have access to native features of the mobile device out of the box. Native features like camera, GPS, contacts and so on. Ionic uses Cordova plugins to integrate native features to your app. Ionic renders its graphic elements via a browser, which takes several steps to start showing the component on the screen. This could cause a performance hit on larger apps.
But when you are building web applications, using hybrid technologies like Ionic, it is easy to convert them to Progressive Web Apps that can be downloaded just like any other mobile app.
Winner: React Native
If your product is solely a mobile app that needs to work cross-platform on iOS and Android and needs to look and feel like a native app, you should pick React Native. If you are looking for an elegant user interface that matches your website in the form of a mobile app, you could consider Ionic instead.
2. Technology stack
You could use Angular, Vue, or even React to build Ionic apps. Ionic’s tech stack is a lot more flexible compared to React Native. With the latest release of Ionic 4, you can use Ionic with any web development framework.
Until last year, React Native could have been considered a winner in this category because Ionic apps were built using only Angular. But with the recent updates to Ionic, it opens up a huge amount of flexibility in building Ionic apps. Any web developer, on any modern web framework, can develop Ionic apps. This is a huge perk for Ionic, making it a winner in this category.
Before beginning your quest to learn React Native or Ionic, let’s look at which one is more popular.
From this survey results below, we can infer that React Native is definitely more popular as a mobile framework when compared to Ionic.
Winner: React Native
4. Learning curve
If you are a React developer, then learning React Native is extremely easy. The concepts are the same, and you code in React. The only difference is that React uses web components like <div>, <p>, whereas React Native uses components that are wrappers around native iOS and Android components like <View>. It shouldn’t take a long time for a React developer to become a React Native developer.
With Ionic, you are essentially building web apps, that can become mobile apps. This hybrid approach is different in comparison to React Native’s native approach. This is easier for developers to grasp.
If you truly want the best performance, your best bet is to code native apps separately on iOS and Android. This is because native coding provides access to native features directly when you code. There is no layer of abstraction, and the direct interaction with native iOS and Android modules leads to enhanced performance. Both React Native and Ionic cannot match the native performance. Nevertheless, let’s look at which one is better.
Ionic on the other hand is a hybrid approach. It does not build native apps, and you could encounter performance issues. There are a lot of callbacks to the native code, which could cause lag. Ionic also requires the Cordova plugin, in case you need to access native features. Although Ionic is a great solution for building elegant UI and faster development, it does come with some performance issues when compared with frameworks like React Native.
Winner: React Native
React Native provides better performance than Ionic. The additional layer in Ionic, which involves Cordova plugins adds to the slowness since it is building a WebView and not a native app. React Native, on the other hand, wraps around native components, hence providing better performance.
6. Developer community
While evaluating a technology for your team, it is a good idea to explore the community involvement for that technology.
Let’s take a look at how React Native and Ionic compare with respect to the developer community and open-source contributions.
The GitHub stats is a good indication of community involvement for both the frameworks. React Native has about 78k stars with over 1900 contributors to the framework. This indicates that it is hugely popular in the community.
Ionic on the other hand has about 38k stars with only around 330 contributors to the framework. This is less than one-fifth the contributors when compared with React Native.
Winner: React Native
React Native has a much more active and engaged developer community when compared to Ionic. This could be owing to the reason that, it does build native mobile apps and not web apps. And also the fact that it uses React to build them.
Pros of React Native
- Uses React, the robust web framework
- Builds cross-platform native apps on both iOS and Android
- Provides a great developer experience
- Great community involvement
Cons of React Native
- React Native is not suitable if you are trying to build an app which is extremely heavy on animations, like a gaming app
- Developers have to learn React before they begin React Native
Pros of Ionic
- Flexible for developers to pick a framework
- Builds cross-platform hybrid apps on both iOS and Android
Cons of Ionic
- Does not perform as well as cross-platform native apps or native apps
- Have to use Cordova plugins, to use native APIs and modules
- Builds a Web View, which will not translate to the look and feel of a native app
So who won? In this post, React Native is the winner. Of course, there is never the “right” framework. If you are planning on building cross-platform apps, make sure you evaluate your use-cases and developer preferences to decide which framework to pick.
Both React Native and Ionic come with their own pros and cons, and it takes careful evaluation to pick one or the other for your development.
Post your comments below and let us know what you decide and why?
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