Editor’s note: This article was last updated on 7 February 2023. Check out this article to learn more about working with React Native for iOS apps.
If you’re looking to build an iOS app, you’ve got a fair number of languages and frameworks to work with. React Native and Swift are two such tools to do so.
Before choosing between the two for iOS development, the first question to ask yourself is whether you intend to build a cross-platform app or an iOS-native app. There are other factors to consider, of course, before making this choice.
In this article, we’ll assess these two technologies against a number of factors, from performance to ease of use.
- How React Native builds an iOS app
- How Swift builds an iOS app
- React Native pros and cons for iOS development
- Swift pros and cons for iOS development
- Which is better for performance?
- Which has the faster development lifecycle?
- When to use Swift and when to use React Native
How React Native builds an iOS app
In the end, our native iOS modules like
DeviceInfo, and others communicate with the iOS SDK, implementing their corresponding native functionality.
How Swift builds an iOS app
Swift was developed to replace Objective-C in building Apple software. It is included in Xcode, Apple’s IDE for writing and developing applications. Swift uses the LLVM compiler, which is still included in Xcode.
React Native pros and cons for iOS development
No matter how great and reliable a language is, it will inevitably have some downsides. Just because a company chooses Swift or anything else over React Native doesn’t mean it’s a bad tool for mobile development; rather, it doesn’t fit their business or product use case. Generally speaking, React Native offers many pros.
- Hot reloading: UI changes from your code do not require you to rebuild your application. This also aids in faster development and bug fixes
- Component-based: You can write code and reuse it. Components such as buttons and cards can be used everywhere within you codebase or even in other projects — no need to rewrite the same stuff
- Cost effective: This might not be reasonable across every market, but in general, the cost of building an iOS application is time-saving and has low cost
- Big community: React Native has a large and active community, making it easier to find help and resources for development. The community can often provide answers and solutions to common problems already answered on Stack Overflow. You can check out the React Native Community on GitHub, which has repositories that support the React Native ecosystem. In terms of content, you can find React Native-tagged content across multiple platforms, including the r/reactnative/ subreddit, as well as the LogRocket blogsite.
- Unforeseen changes in update versions
- Scalability issues when it comes to large projects. Complex software that relies deeply on device hardware tends to experience performance and scalability issues if it isn’t built with native code. Keep in mind that the bridge React Native uses to connect JS code and native code still uses additional layers, which may impact performance
Swift and React Native UX
Swift and React Native are both used for mobile app development, but they have different approaches to user interface (UI) and user experience (UX).
As a native iOS development language, Swift provides a familiar and predictable UI and UX to users of Apple products. Apps built with Swift have access to all of Apple’s built-in UI elements, allowing for a cohesive look and feel with other native apps. However, designing for a specific platform can limit the app’s reach and audience.
React Native also has a large library of pre-built UI components, making it easier for developers to create a polished, native-feeling app quickly. However, React Native’s UI can sometimes feel slightly different than a fully native app due to its cross-platform nature.
Swift pros and cons for iOS development
Swift was built to be used on all Apple operating systems, i.e., iOS, iPadOS, macOS, tvOS, and a few others. Swift’s primary benefit is in its name — it’s fast. But, as always, there are cons to weigh against the pros.
- Type-safe: Swift provides a safe and strong typing system with a good error handling style. This prevents or reduces bugs to the greatest extent possible
- Scalable and maintainable: Swift allows you to focus on the core infrastructure of your application. A simpler syntax makes code easier to read and maintain
- Performance: Swift was created to outshine Objective-C as a means of developing mobile apps. Apps built with Swift have been shown to be 2.6x faster than a similar app built with Objective-C
- Backed by Apple: Swift is built and maintained by Apple, so you can safely assume your app will be future-proof. It is also open source
- Lack of support for previous versions
- Relatively costly/competitive job market to find dedicated Swift developers
- You have to use Xcode and work on a Mac and other Apple devices exclusively
Which is better for performance?
True native development with Swift wins for performance — not because it is Swift, per se, but because it allows for direct access to native device hardware and APIs.
That doesn’t mean React Native isn’t performant; it is, by default. With that said, there are certain measures you need to take to ensure your app is fast and reliable when using React Native for iOS development:
Use an alternate image caching component
Consider using the external react-native-fast-image for rendering images. React Native does provide an inbuilt
Image component, but it can sometimes lead to poor performance, especially when it comes to flickering or handling many images on the screen.
Some potential benefits that you can consider when using
FastImage over the built-in
Image component are:
- Faster image loading and rendering: This library is particularly optimized for performance and can load and display images faster than the built-in
Imagecomponent in some cases
- Improved memory usage: It can use less memory when displaying images, which can help prevent out-of-memory errors and improve the overall performance of your app.
FastImage (the external library) is a wrapper around the popular library SDWebImage for native iOS development.
Hermes has been available for APK for Android for a while now, and it has helped reduce app download size, memory usage, and more. It also reduces download size, decreases the time for the app to become usable, and reduces memory usage. Hermes is still in the early stages for iOS support.
To use Hermes in your application, set
true in your Podfile and run
use_react_native!( :path => config[:reactNativePath], # to enable hermes on iOS, change `false` to `true` and then install pods :hermes_enabled => true )
This is a specific type of caching that returns the same value of a function that has already been cached. This alone speeds up programs and can improve performance.
I have had to explain more on performance optimization for React Native because Swift is clearly the winner here — it’s native, and there’s not much more to say than that. But that doesn’t mean React Native is not powerful enough for certain use cases.
Which has the faster development lifecycle?
React Native excels in meeting the criterion of releasing an app on both iOS and Android, as it enables you to build a single app that works seamlessly on both platforms. Also, React Native components are mostly from the web (React) and can be copied over, speeding up the development process.
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Additionally, React Native provides hot reloading and live reloading features, which means you don’t have to rebuild your application multiple times. This alone fosters a fast development lifecycle.
However, you need to understand that the development lifecycle depends on various factors, such as the complexity of the app, the skills and experience of the developers, and the resources available. Both Swift (for iOS) and React Native offer you fast development cycles thanks to their streamlined processes.
When to use Swift and when to use React Native
React Native and iOS are two powerful tools that do their respective jobs great. The choice to use one or the other now lies in your hands and ultimately depends on the type of project you want to build.
This is what I mean. Swift will work better for:
- Resource-intensive apps with high memory management needs and sophisticated UIs
- Apps that will definitely extend or connect to other Apple products in the future — in other words, apps that are predominantly meant for iOS and macOS users
- Apps that will need upgrades or maintenance over the long term
A lot of the apps on the App Store use Swift due to the fact that it is natively supported by Apple itself. All the Apple apps, Airbnb, LinkedIn, Slack, and Firefox, are written using the Swift language.
React Native will work better for:
- Apps that need to be developed in less or limited time with a few developers
- Apps that require cross-platform capabilities
To understand better, here is a list of companies that wrote about their experiences using React Native:
- Shopify — Migrating our Largest Mobile App to React Native
- Discord — Switching to React Native for the Android App
Also, you can find a whole showcase of top React Native apps from Facebook, Microsoft, Wix, etc.
Here is a comparison table of some key features of Swift vs. React Native:
|Platforms supported||Apple platforms (iOS, macOS, tvOS, watchOS, iPadOS)||iOS and Android|
|UI/UX||Native and familiar look and feel for Apple products||Cross-platform UI with custom components with native-like feel|
|Development time||Can be quicker for experienced Swift developers||Development may take longer, but cross-platform support can save time in the long run|
|Community and support||Large, active community and well-established support from Apple||Large, active community with a variety of available resources|
|Performance||Good performance, especially for native apps||Performance can be slightly slower, but optimization techniques are available|
|Code reusability||Limited to Apple’s platform||Higher code reusability due to cross-platform support|
In conclusion, Swift will produce a more performant iOS app by default, but it is still good to know that RN offers strong performance and a good DX out of the box, particularly now that Hermes has helped to reduce download size and memory usage. At the end of the day, choosing the right tool for your app requirements is definitely the best thing you can do.
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