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React Native vs. Xamarin: Answering the Million Dollar Question

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React Native vs. Xamarin: Answering the Million Dollar Question

When it comes to developing mobile apps across multiple platforms, these two heavyweights are at the forefront. But is one better than the other? Which should you choose?

· Web Dev Zone ·
Free Resource

As more than 36% of the world's population now uses smartphones, the need for mobile apps is greater than ever. Businesses that had their eyes and funds set on website development, are now considering mobile apps as a better way to reach their target markets.

For mobile app developers, it has been easier since the introduction of Xamarin and React Native. Not only are both of them cost-efficient, but they also shorten the development cycle considerably, sparing developers the recoding that otherwise needed to be done when developing in native frameworks for different platforms.

Just as these cross-platform development frameworks are in their aim - developing without having to recode for Android and iOS using different technologies - when it comes to functionalities, these two have some marked differences. While there is clear cut choice between the two, there are choices to be made depending on your requirements, your resources, and the skill set that you have in place for development.

Understanding the React Native Framework

When this framework was launched by Facebook in 2015, it took the market by storm, even when Xamarin had already existed (though it had not been adopted by Microsoft yet). The reason was pretty simple — it allows you to code in JavaScript, a widely popular language. Since the learning curve was shortened immensely, most developers loved its introduction, especially because it is a free tool.

It allows you to write one single app using JavaScript, including parts for both Android and iOS, and preview the results instantly.

Big names like Airbnb, Facebook Ads Manager, UberEats, Bloomberg mobile apps, etc. are the known results of React Native framework usage.

Benefits of React Native

1. Driven by the Developer Community

React Native was born as a result of the developer community looking for an alternative to mobile, that would be a combination of superior mobile app development, and a powerful and agile Native React environment. Once this framework came into existence, the development community supported it considerably through consistent knowledge and skill sharing, along with catalogs of freely available components.

2. Code Reuse and Cost-Effective

React Native enables you to use the same deployment code on iOS and Android. This not only reduces the development time, but is also cost-effective. As per a recent study, about 90% of the code can be reused between iOS and Android. This saves on the development time, but some minor modifications are required.

3. "Live Reload" Capability

It has a unique "live reload" feature, which allows you to view recent changes made to the code in real time. For instance, if there are two windows on your screen, one which displays the code and the other showing a mobile screen where the code has been applied — you can view in real time the changes you have applied in the first window.

4. Robust Performance

The React Native framework is well adept to all types of mobile devices. It leverages the GPU (Graphics Processing Unit), unlike other native platforms, which are more 'CPU (Central Processing Unit) intensive.' This attributes to its robust performance.

5. Modular and Intuitive Design

Its modular and intuitive architecture runs along the lines of the "React" framework. The interface allows developers to build easily on an already existing project. This enables the development team to easily create updates and upgrades to web apps. Further, testers will be able to understand the programming logic in less time, and successfully build effective testing situations. All these save time, which is a big plus from a business perspective, and more so when it is applied from web app development to mobile app development and so on.

Understanding the Xamarin Framework

Xamarin dates back to 2011 when it was launched to solve the problems of disconnected technology stacks for native mobile app development. It was acquired by Microsoft in 2016. Unlike React Native, it uses C# for creating user interface code.

It is open source and boasts the most frequent updates and testing among all the popular cross-platform mobile app development frameworks.

Renowned applications built on Xamarin include The World Bank, Olo, and Storyo.

Benefits of Xamarin

1. One Technology Stack

Xamarin enables you to reuse up to 96% of the source code, as it uses C# and the .NET framework in creating apps for iOS and Android platforms. You need not switch between development environments, so all the apps can be built in Visual Studio. Also, this framework is a built-in part of the IDE, without any extra cost.

2. Native-Like UX

With Xamarin, you can build an impeccable user experience via platform-specific UI elements. You can utilize the Xamarin.Forms tool to build cross-platform apps for iOS, Android, or Windows. In so doing, the app UI components are converted into platform-specific interface elements at runtime. Utilizing Xamarin.Forms also speeds up the app development process, which is a plus for prospective clients. You can customize the app's UI by leveraging Xamarin.iOS and Xamarin.Android separately.

3. Offers Full Hardware Support

Xamarin offers native-like app features, such as providing solutions to hardware compatibility issues. This is done via plugins, using platform-specific APIs, and connecting with native libraries. It results in effective customization and native-like functionality, with less running costs.

4. Open Source

After its acquisition, Xamarin's licensing policies changed considerably. Xamarin SDK became an open source technology, and was made available to all businesses under the MIT license, as a part of Visual Studio. By removing the license cost, the platform grew considerably. Further, with Microsoft leading it, and supported by Red Hat, JetBrains, Unity, and the .NET Foundation, it earned the reputation of a dependable and powerful tech stack.

5. Simplified Maintenance

Being a cross-platform app, Xamarin enables easy maintenance and updating. All you have to do is deploy the updates to the source file, which is applied to both iOS and Android apps. It is essential to note that this would apply only when apps use Xamarin.Forms, business logic, shared code, and updates for Xamarin.iOS and Xamarin.Android apps. It not only keeps your apps current, but also saves time and money.

React Native vs. Xamarin: Supported Platforms

Let's Compare the Two

Now that we know what the basic difference between React Native and Xamarin is, let's see what advantages each holds for developers and businesses when it comes to chosing between the two.

1. Market Share

React Native

The use of React Native is on an upward trend, from startups to Fortune 500 companies. Businesses using it include: Guardian, Lazada, Frontline Recruitment Group, Science Direct,  Tesla, Facebook, Skype, and Walmart.

Xamarin

Microsoft's Xamarin is the technology choice for over 15 thousand companies. In addition to developing cross-platform apps, it allows developers to reuse code, debug products, and it supports the test ecosystem. Storyo (Video Story Creator), Just Giving (Online Fundraising Platform), and The World Bank (Survey Conducting App), are few of the popular apps built using Xamarin.

Which is better: Equally good

2. Code Compilation

React Native

Just-in-time (JIT) compilation, which involves compiling bytecode or source code into the native code at runtime, cannot be done in iOS apps. Thus, one needs to fall back to the Android code, and it is not the case the other way around.

Xamarin

Just-in-time (JIT) compilation is not valid for iOS; it's Ahead-of-time (AOT) compilation that is used. This is because security features do not permit writable executable segments. On Android, Xamarin's JIT is the default, but there is an option to configure AOT.

Which is better: Xamarin

3. Cross-Platform Environment

React Native

An integrated development environment (IDE) must be chosen for deployment. Expo is the popular choice for debugging and developing an app. However, the loading feature does not necessitate full app reload after recoding.

Note: Expo does not support all the features of React Native.

Xamarin

Though you will need a separate platform for the build, you can code for an iOS app on Windows and simply compile it for Mac. It is more powerful on the whole.

Which is better: Xamarin

4. Documentation

React Native

Here, the documentation is good — it is accurate, concise, complete, and helpful. In other words, all components are in place. This makes the documentation very organized.

Xamarin

Comparatively, the documentation needs to improve, though the quality and quantity of the components of both are similar. Herein, the components are split between NuGet and the component store.

Which is better: React Native

5. Accessibility and Availability

React Native

Being an open source framework, it can be utilized for building apps for tabs, iOS, and Android platforms.

Xamarin

On the other hand, Xamarin's free version offers limited resources and features, especially when it comes to developing enterprise-grade apps. You will need to pay for an enterprise version.

Which is better: React Native

6. Community and Assistance

React Native

Still a young framework. There is developer support, but the lack of in-depth knowledge can be a major challenge at times.

Xamarin

Major developer support already exists. Massive assistance can be found via websites, forums, and communities.

Which is better: Xamarin

7. Framework

React Native

Uses modern, one-way data flow as provided by React. If you are handy with the latest JavaScript updates, you are good to go.

Xamarin

It works in the Model-View-ViewModel (MVVM) style. If you are good at ASP.NET MVC, Web Forms, or other MV* tools, this is your thing.

Which is better: Equally good

8. Ready-to-Use Components

React Native

All ready-made components can be found in one place with clear and ample documentation.

Xamarin

You will find the components in two places — component store and NuGet.

Which is better: React Native wins by a hair.

9. Performance

React Native

Does not support 64-bit mode on Android. Displays bad results on iOS before running the fastest code. Offers custom UI designing frameworks that use fast native widgets under the hood.

Xamarin

Allows running the fastest code on both iOS and Android. Fully supports 64-bit mode and offers fast UI by allowing the use of a native tools directly.

Which is better: Xamarin

10. Skill Set

React Native

If you are well versed with JavaScript, it's a win.

Xamarin

If you are great at C#, this one is it.

Conclusion

While Xamarin seems to score higher comparatively, most times it's the availability and the skillset of developers that counts. In cases (especially in businesses) where the available developers are well-versed with JS, Xamarin can be tough (and not useful) to adopt. The same is true when we reverse the scenario. While the market shares, performance, and the aim of both the frameworks are commendable, at the end of the day it is your resources and the expectations from the framework that matter most when chosing.

Topics:
xamarin ,react native ,mobile ,cross platform ,web dev

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