React and React Native are similar but they are used to build different solutions. Hence, this blog post serves to explain the main differences between them and show what they can be used for.
What is React
React allows you to build large web applications that can change data without reloading the entire web page. You can also use React to migrate legacy applications written in PHP by replacing their components one by one. That was the case for some parts of the Facebook website.
According to the Stack Overflow trend analysis, React’s popularity is growing fast, making it one of the most popular front-end technologies. In fact, in the Stack Overflow Developer Survey 2021, it won first place among the most popular web frameworks.
Why use React
One of the main bottlenecks when it comes to web performance is updating DOM (Document Object Model). When a component’s state changes, most web frameworks and libraries need to update the entire web page. This, of course, negatively impacts the overall performance.
React solves this puzzle by using Virtual DOM—a DOM kept in the memory. When the component’s state changes, it is reflected first into virtual DOM. Next, a diff algorithm compares the current and the previous states of the virtual DOM and calculates the best way, i.e., that requires the minimum amount of updates, to apply these changes to the web page. Finally, these updates are applied to the DOM. The entire process seems complex, but it is all performed under the hood.
Thanks to this mechanism, React ensures high performance from the web page. When changing a component, you do not have to render the entire web page, only the component that has been changed. Also important is that high performance boosts the SEO of the web page.
What’s more, React components are reusable, have their own internal logic, and decide how they should be rendered. They can be compared to Lego bricks, allowing you to build an entire application. You can reuse them wherever you want. This allows you to build your web page quickly, maintain a consistent look and feel, reduce the amount of code needing to be maintained and, most importantly, spend less time and money on the development process.
React also provides a good abstraction layer. Because it is a lightweight library, dealing only with the view layer, you do not have to delve into complex internal details. It is enough to understand a component’s life cycle, states, and props to start using React. Additionally, it does not impose any pattern or particular architecture to be used—you can design your web page in any way you need to.
Last but not least, React is supported by a huge community of developers. So, it is easy to find ready-to-use components and programmers who know the technology well.
React was used to build the websites of such companies as:
What is React Native
Normally, you would need to build two separate apps: one for the Android platform (in Java), and another for iOS (Objective or Swift). Thanks to React Native, you only need to build one app, which will have the same functionalities as the native applications (i.e., designed specifically for a given platform).
Originally released by Facebook as an open-source project in 2015, it fast became a very popular choice when it comes to mobile application development. And with good reason.
Why React Native
Time and money is an especially important factor for startups that want to build their Minimum Viable Product (MVP). For React Native, the entry threshold is low, and this technology has been around for years, so it can be considered battle-proven. You can have your MVP up and running very quickly, perform usability tests, and then concentrate on ironing out details and adding new functionalities.
Similar to React, there is a huge community around React Native, and you have access to plenty of ready-made solutions and libraries you can use, for example, to build UI.
Applications that were built in React Native:
React vs React Native
So, what are the difference between React and React Native?
On the other hand, React Native is a framework and uses its own syntax to generate native components dedicated to mobile platforms like Android and iOS.
In both React and React Native, applications consist of components, but the syntax is different. To add styles to the app, React uses CSS styles, whilst React Native uses style sheets.
React vs React Native—which one to choose for your project
These two technologies are used to build different types of solutions. The code, to some extent, can be shared, but you need platform-specific skills to implement the solution correctly.
Therefore, if you want to build a web application, choose React. If implemented correctly, such a web application will be immediately accessible from different platforms, but it will not be able to use all their capabilities due to the limitations of web technologies.
If you want to build an application that has to work as a native mobile application, choose React Native. In this way, you can create shared code and use native platform-specific components.
Last but not least, there is also the third scenario: an application that will be working both as a native mobile app and a web app. In this case, you can use React Native for Web. Using this technology is much simpler than trying to maintain the code shared between React and React Native.