Nowadays, it’s barely possible to find a development company that doesn’t rely on libraries and frameworks. Angular, Vue.js, Django, Node.js and dozens of other technologies can help programmers to implement complex functionality whether it relates to backend or frontend part of the system. There’s no shortage of programming languages, and the range of problems they help to solve is sometimes really amazing. However, programming languages “as is” operate with pretty primitive entities, whereas frameworks, for example, can create complex UI components with a few lines of code.
Among a plethora of actively growing frameworks, there’s something for everyone, be it a web development newbie or a data science expert. The seemingly idyllic picture is disturbed by the need to make the application work properly in many different scenarios. Today, we’ll look at how modern frameworks try to implement the “Write once, run everywhere” paradigm and what place React Native takes in this race.
How Frameworks Help Deliver Web Applications Faster
Modern software is pretty complex by its nature. Development teams have to perform dozens of repetitive tasks. For example, an e-commerce web application can contain multiple forms that users have to fill when they register or arrange the delivery of goods. Building a web form from the ground up and testing it each time you need one can become a pretty laborious task. Tons of frameworks and libraries have become a solution to this problem.
For example, MIU (Material UI) is a library that allows adding ready-to-use components into your React project to fasten the development process. For projects not tied to any particular framework, there’s also a lot of suitable tools, such as the Webix UI library, for example. jQuery, which is still pretty popular among professional web developers, simplifies interactions with distinct elements of a web page. Almost for every issue a web developer may face, there is a framework feature or even a separate library. For instance, routing is a pretty important part of any web app. In a few words, this mechanism determines which part of the system will handle the request received from a user. React Router is a library created to solve this problem specifically.
With frameworks, there’s no need for development teams to build every part of the app from scratch. Instead, they can use what framework creators offer. Take some ready-to-use components, configure them the way you need, make sure they interact according to your plan, add a pinch of eye-catching design, and you’ll get your own, one and only, web app. The testing process can get a lot easier, too. Creators of constantly developing frameworks pay due attention to fixing bugs as quickly as possible. Reduced time to market and low probability of bugs enable more efficient and less expensive web app development. However, there’s an aspect that makes things not as perfect as we would like. The ability of a web app to “migrate” seamlessly between different platforms while maintaining visual charm and functionality is what we’re talking about.
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If a company has a full-featured web system in its possession, it provides enough potential to become a solid business boost. Unfortunately, providing your customers with the ability to access your app via the browser is only half the battle. To reach a broader audience, adopting a mobile app along with a web application can be an excellent decision. Better accessibility and features that modern smartphones provide can become an extra ace up the sleeve of your marketing specialists. There’s a price you have to pay for such a luxury. For a native mobile app, you have to pay developers for writing the separate code for each target platform. Such an approach will require a lot of time and money. In return, you’ll get a mobile app with outstanding performance, but the question is, will the benefits outweigh such significant investments? The good news is that there are development tools that can help to simplify access to multiple platforms at minimal costs.
Can React Native Become Your Ticket to All Platforms
But let’s not panic. There’s always a place for hope. If you’re interested in web development even a little, most probably you’ve heard of React. It was created by the Facebook company and remained a pretty trendy tech for quite some time. From the standpoint of the “Write once, run everywhere” paradigm, React is a pretty promising technology. Well, React Native, to be precise. The word “native” is here not by accident. The major purpose of this library is to extend the possibilities that React provides and build mobile applications that look and behave almost indistinguishable from the native ones.
First, React Native is far better than the already mentioned Apache Cordova or Ionic that uses the same development approach. Applications built with Cordova or Ionic only pretend to be native. Such software usually renders using webviews, which in some sense make them web applications trying to put on a suit of native apps. But they don’t have access to native UI elements. In most cases, such an approach will do the trick. If you have a limited budget, have little time, and high performance is not one of your priorities, adopting an application built with Cordova can be an acceptable alternative to native development.
React Native knows how to deal with native UI elements. For any target platform you choose, it’ll ensure that the application will use the same rendering means as the native apps. Additionally, you won’t have to sacrifice performance. React Native inherits all the possibilities that React development offers, including the mechanism of components re-rendering. In web apps, React can rely on Virtual DOM that can be described as an abstract version of the actual hierarchical scheme of all the elements users see in their browsers. The main purpose of applying it is to reduce the use of system resources for rendering “unnecessary” elements. React applications can compare Virtual DOM with the current state of the application to determine whether they have to render specific UI components at the moment. Using this feature, React developers can create blazing-fast web-based software. Almost as fast as native apps.
React Native follows the same pattern and re-renders the views only in case their state changes. On mobile devices, such apps can rely on UI libraries that a specific platform provides, whereas Apache Cordova, for example, would use HTML and CSS for markup. Thus, web development teams can use familiar tools to build applications that do not lose native ones in terms of performance or attractiveness. Also, it’s important to note that the code written with React Native integrates well into the existing native apps. If you already have one, and want to expand its functionality, some views can be implemented using React Native. It’s a pretty common practice and some native applications can combine components of two different origins.
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The most interesting part, when we speak of React Native, is probably code reusability. After all, what can say more about the versatility of a development tool than being able to use the same code over and over again under different circumstances? With React Native, the situation looks promising, but not perfect. It can significantly shrink spending on development if you target both web and mobile platforms. Programmers already familiar with how to use React for building web-based software can rely on a pretty similar set of development skills to deliver a mobile application. But, as always, the devil’s in the details.
Code and knowledge can be shared effortlessly among the team members, which speeds up the development process and makes it more straightforward and transparent. But there are limitations that don’t allow you to share all the code written with React Native among all the platforms you desire to reach. Depending on the complexity of a specific project, you will have to dive into platform-specific features to some extent. Even Facebook, who initially developed React Native, could achieve only 87% code reuse between versions of its Ads Manager application for different platforms. Nowadays, experienced development teams can reuse up to 90% of code for different platforms. The figure looks impressive, but these ten percent (or even more!) show that the “Write once, run everywhere” principle at the moment remains elusive.
Don’t get us wrong, React is an outstanding framework for building web and mobile apps. Community is active and constantly growing, and framework development never stops. But always wanting more is human nature. Both developers and their customers will agree that running the once written code on every existing platform with no modifications is a feature that opens endless possibilities. Unfortunately, the slogan once invented by the Java programming language developers remains a dream to this day.
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