Can You Use React for Mobile App Development?

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When Facebook was new, it enjoyed a steady growth in users. This growth boded well for the company both from a development and business perspective. The increasing number of users meant people liked the app’s performance, and more users meant higher financial gains. 

Everything worked favorably for Facebook — until it grew into a behemoth of an application, attracting some 600,000,000 users at the tail-end of 2010. With the spike in user growth, the social media giant’s development and business sides were suddenly at odds. The web app couldn’t keep up with the influx of content people fed to the site, putting the app’s performance at risk. Developers knew something had to be done. And that something eventually became React.

Image credits to Pexels

What Is React & What Does It Create?

You’re scrolling through your social media feed, consuming one piece of content after another. At some point, you will briefly reach what appears to be the end of the page, only to see a new set of posts appear on your screen. So your scrolling continues, an endless stream of data enticing you to stay on the site.  

Finding new content on social media is second nature to many of us by now. And we can credit Facebook for this no-brainer access to data. About a decade ago, Facebook’s advertising arm aimed to have fast-updating timelines for their web app. They were able to do this by creating a framework called React.

However, many tech-adept minds frowned upon Facebook’s decision since it deviated from the best practices at the time. But Facebook went ahead and implemented the changes anyway. Needless to say, they were successful. So what exactly is React, and how did this technology help the company’s web application?

React, also known as ReactJS, is a JavaScript library that gives developers a way to easily manipulate the presentation of changing data in an application’s user interface. In other words, React shows users new updates fast. It was made specifically for single-page web applications that have “large-scale user interfaces…with data that changes over time,” according to author and software developer Cory Gackenheimer in his book Introduction to React. Notice how we specifically said “web applications”, isolating mobile applications from the picture. Undoubtedly, many web apps have benefited from React, but can the same be said about mobile applications?

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Can You Use React for Mobile App Development?

Now comes the question of whether mobile app development is possible with React. So far, we have only noted how React can build user interfaces on web browsers. This is because React was designed only for that — web applications. While you can still use React’s structure to build mobile applications, you will need a different framework to accomplish this. The framework is called React Native.

What Is React Native? 

React Native was brought about by a mistake Facebook made when it tried to create a mobile version of its social networking platform. In an interview, Mark Zuckerberg expressed his frustration at HTML5, the latest HTML version that can supposedly perform cross-platform development. It was “the biggest mistake” the company made, he said. When Facebook developed for mobile using the markup language, the resulting output was generally unstable. It even retrieved data much slower than if they had used a more compatible code for the intended operating system. But thanks to Jordan Walke, one of Facebook’s software engineers, the company achieved cross-platform support on both iOS and Android. How? Through a new framework called React Native.

Image credits to Pexels

Why React Native Is Suitable for Mobile App Development

What separates React Native from its predecessor React is a so-called “bridge” that allows cross-platform development to occur in the iOS and Android mobile operating systems. We can look at the bridge in the following way. Imagine a developer using the React Native framework to develop a mobile application. In React Native’s environment, the developer will write the code using JSX, a special type of JavaScript language that looks similar to HTML. Once the developer writes the code, they will implement native rendering tools to translate JSX to Objective-C for iOS devices or Java for Android devices. 

React Native’s access to these operating systems’ UI elements is what sets it apart from other mobile development frameworks. It reduces the time it takes for developers to rework an application’s code for different platforms, all without sacrificing its performance. However, it also has a few drawbacks. Twitter software engineer Bonnie Eisenman notes in her book Learning React Native that debugging with the JavaScript framework is “hairier”, especially where React Native and the operating system intersect. This debugging issue is one of the main reasons why Airbnb chose a different framework for their mobile application, but it didn’t stop other popular companies from using React Native.

Image credits to Pexels

Mobile Applications React Native Has Made or Maintained

We talked about React Native’s most significant advantage, which is cross-platform development. This feature is a huge draw among big companies that want to reach a wider audience, and it shows in React Native’s roster of prominent advocates, which include Instagram, Skype, Walmart, and Soundcloud. Their top reasons for using the framework? Its ability to render faster page load time, its easy-to-use environment, and its straightforward cross-platform mobile development process.

In Summary

Is React capable of developing mobile applications? Not really. Facebook created React, or ReactJS, mainly for web application development. However, if you enjoy React’s environment and would like to develop a mobile application with a similar framework, consider React Native. It’s the right technology for your goals.

Facebook built React Native specifically for mobile app creation. Developers can perform cross-platform development through React Native’s framework without sacrificing their mobile application’s speed and appearance. In fact, with React Native, a mobile application’s look and feel is as native as it gets. This means you can write code once, execute your code for both iOS or Android devices, and users from both sides won’t have a difficult time accessing and experiencing your product in the way you intended. 

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Justine Jordan

Justine Jordan

Justine Jordan is a content and copy writer. She has written for a popular business daily in the Philippines and for various startups across the globe before transitioning to work for NarraSoft. She graduated cum laude from the University of the Philippines-Diliman with a bachelor's degree in journalism.