What is React Native? (And Why Is It Trending?)

According to GlobalStats, 54% of internet users worldwide connect to the web using a mobile phone. This means that the pressure to build better mobile-based digital experiences is on for both developers and decision-makers.

To develop and deploy improved mobile experiences faster, software developers have found techniques that allow them to develop in parallel for both iOS and Android without sacrificing quality and usability. Software frameworks and libraries capable of building native-quality apps without using Java, Kotlin, Swift or Objective-C are changing how developers approach mobile development.

React Native has been steadily gaining popularity with developers who are looking for an alternative to app development that uses native SDKs. In fact, according to Statista, two mobile development frameworks dominate the market: React Native with 42% of users and Flutter with 39%.  

And that surge in popularity isn’t without reason because React Native lets you create exciting mobile applications using JavaScript, a language that the huge majority of the web development community is already familiar with. Also, since Android and iOS support JavaScript, developers can code once and get applications for both operating systems.

You might have noticed we used the word "native" a lot. Let’s define it before we move on.

What Does ‘Native’ Mean?

In simple terms, native application development involves building apps for a particular mobile operating system —be it Android or iOS— so the users can access them from the dedicated app store that offers them. For example, for an iOS app, developers might use native development languages like Objective-C or Swift. Android app developers, on the other hand, might use Java or Kotlin to develop native code.

Both Apple and Android provide app developers with native development tools, UI elements, and SDKs so they can build mobile applications with ease. However, the problem with native development is that if a development team needs to build applications for different platforms, they will have to do it twice or employ a cross-platform framework like React Native.

What is React Native?

React Native is a JavaScript framework that enables developers to write a native app for both iOS and Android. It’s based on React, Facebook’s JavaScript framework for building user interfaces. Yet, instead of targeting the browser as its preferred interface, React Native targets mobile platforms, which, for developers, means building applications that look and feel native, all without having to learn new, complicated programming languages.

Like React for the web, React Native applications are written using a mix of JavaScript and XML markup text known as JSX. React Native uses APIs to render elements using real mobile-native components like those in Objective-C and Java. Contrast this with mobile web apps (including PWAs) whose user interface is optimized for small screens but do not feel as slick and responsive as a native mobile application.

Plus, another great advantage of the React Native framework is that most of the code developers write can be shared between different platforms, enabling them to develop for both Android and iOS simultaneously without the need to rewrite code in Objective-C or Java every time.

And since it comes with its own set of APIs that enable developers to access device capabilities such as the front and back cameras, GPS, and accelerometer without writing platform or device-specific code, developers can create advanced functionality without added constraints.

The Advantages of React Native

React Native offers a number of advantages. Let’s examine them in detail.

Code Reusability

React Native enables developers to reuse the code they’ve written. Now, with the same code, developers can create cross-platform experiences with ease. This also represents less time spent on developing, deploying and maintaining an application, which translates to lower costs for the company.

Popularity

React Native is a very popular framework and has a strong community of developers and users constantly improving the platform and identifying bugs and issues with the platform. Plus, the fact that several high-profile websites use React Native has driven developer adoption, making it more popular over the years.

Easy to Debug

One of the most significant advantages of React Native is that React Native has intelligent error detection and debugging tools. These advanced debugging tools enable developers to spot and splat bugs faster, which reduces the time from development to deployment of an app.

Plenty of Third-Party Plugins

Another advantage of React Native is its extensibility. The mobile framework is optimized for third-party plugins which can provide access to native device features that can't be accessed from JavaScript. A growing library of existing plugins is available for everything from augmented reality to reading NFC tags. This saves time and allows developers to focus their efforts on different areas of the application.

Hot Reloading

Hot reloading only refreshes the files that have been changed. For developers, hot reloading means that changes to the UI or application logic can be introduced while the app is running. This can significantly increase developer productivity and contributes to the great developer experience offered by React Native.

Examples of React Native Projects

Facebook

What started as a Facebook project to support iOS became an extensive library that can provide mobile UIs for both Android and iOS. Since then, Facebook has used React Native for apps like Ad Manager as well as important parts of the main Facebook app.

Facebook App

Discovery VR

This app enables users to wear a simple VR set and have different kinds of virtual reality experiences. The UI, built using React Native gives app users a seamless experience that works even with Google Cardboard. This is a good example of how React Native can be used to power VR and AR environments.

Discovery Virtual Reality Apps for Kids | Apps to Follow
Discovery VR

Gyroscope

Gyroscope is a health app that gives users granular information about their bodies, health, and exercise patterns. This app is a great example of what can be done with React Native and the ways data can be displayed in a coherent and pleasing way.

Gyroscope

Adidas Glitch

This line of football boots was sold through a dedicated Adidas app that ran on React Native. It featured a glitch-like effect that used OpenGL shaders and offered integrated eCommerce functions. It’s a great example of what can be done in terms of UI and aesthetics using React Native.

Adidas Glitch 

Skype

Skype’s first mobile application was clunky and looked outdated. In 2017, the company decided to switch to React Native, integrating new functionality and improving both the user experience and the user interface.

Skype

NamasteMD

Namaste Technologies is a medical cannabis prescription platform for eligible patients in Canada. Salsita built a comprehensive React Native-based app that patients can use to get a fast, free consultation with NamasteMD’s medical professionals. NamasteMD also enables mobile telemedicine and permits video and audio consultations right within the app.

With this React Native app, NamasteMD can reach users of both iOS and Android, which gives patients the possibility of accessing timely medical care regardless of their platform. Similarly, NamasteMD app simplifies the prescription process, online order fulfillment, and payment processing.

NamasteMD

Elevating Your Mobile App Experience

React Native has been offering numerous benefits to mobile app developers since it was first created by Facebook. From easy code reusability to a great developer experience with easy debugging and hot reloading, it has allowed the likes of Adidias, Skype and more to create fast apps that provide an enjoyable and fully native user experience.

At Salsita, our experience using React Native allows us to create easy-to-use mobile applications for our clients that users have no trouble navigating, enabling them to get exactly what they need at their fingertips. If you want to learn more about Salsita’s capabilities when it comes to creating and deploying experiences using React Native, read this project description we wrote to document our work on NamasteMD.

ABOUT SALSITA

Salsita is a digital product agency that designs and develops exceptional web and mobile solutions which differentiate our clients, engage their customers, and grow their business. We provide design-driven development services that cover the entire software development cycle.

Our areas of specialization include eCommerce, web and mobile dashboards, online content editors and data visualization. We leverage the Salsita 3D Product Configurator Framework to develop slick, cost-effective 3D product configurator, visualization, and design solutions for brands and retailers across industries from consumer electronics to furniture, fashion and more.

We have developed award-winning digital solutions for dozens of companies, ranging from household names like eBay, SAP, Texas Instruments, and First American Financial, to innovative startups across Europe and North America.

Contact us