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Is React Native the “Holy Grail” for App Development ?


Facebook has a fair bit of experience when it comes to developing apps for its 1b+ users. Since its inception, it has been wrestling with how to develop truly native apps that offer the user the best possible user experience, against a long and therefore expensive development cycle.

Facebook’s developers originally began developing using native technologies (Objective C, Java), but then delved into what was then expected to be the holy grail of HTML5, which promised a single programming language which could be ported to multiple operating systems. They soon concluded that this strategy resulted unacceptable compromises in terms of user experience. Apps lacked the required responsiveness, and somehow looked “odd” compared to their native counterparts.

So FB reverted once again to developing in native code, but in the background started to build on an existing open-source framework, which they themselves had contributed strongly to: React.

React was originally developed to help increase productivity in building web apps, but it became apparent that React’s architecture could be applied to mobile native apps too. React Native was born and subsequently launched in 2015. Since then, React has been building momentum as a game changing approach for anyone developing native mobile apps.

“React Native enables you to build world-class application experiences on native platforms using a consistent developer experience based on JavaScript and React. The focus of React Native is on developer efficiency across all the platforms you care about — learn once, write anywhere. Facebook uses React Native in multiple production apps and will continue investing in React Native.”  – Facebook 2015

Here at RNF we have now been working with React Native for nearly 1 year and almost daily we are blown away by the massive efficiency gains React Native is giving us and our customers. Whilst the framework itself is still fairly immature, the open-source community contributing to its development is vibrant and, of course, led by the mighty Facebook.

To put this productivity-gain in perspective, we have seen a number of instances where 500 lines of native code get replaced with a single line in React Native. Where we have built an app for iOS, we are now able to reuse a large percentage of the code for Android. And in contrast to several technical fads we have witnessed in the past, the user experience suffers from none of the compromises. On the contrary, the apps look beautiful and perform as well as anything any native code strategy could have created – but in a fraction of the time.

Rob Mannion, RNF Digital Innovation Managing Director, said recently: “This is genuinely a once-in-a-generation development in the world of app development and we look forward to leading the way in the UK by continuing to develop apps of the highest possible quality for our customers.

“Enterprises are increasingly unable to keep up with the demand of deploying mobility into their business, and it is only by partnering with Mobile specialists such as RNF, who adopt techniques and frameworks such as React Native, that they will be able to keep pace.”

RNF will be announcing the completion of some major new React Native case studies in the very near future.