Last Updated on
May 2, 2024

React vs React Native: Key Differences and Use Cases

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Key takeaways:
  • React and React Native share a lot of similarities and a lot of the same syntax.
  • Both are JavaScript-based front-end frameworks which help developers to build complex user interfaces.
  • The main difference is that React (aka React JS) is for web applications, while React Native is for cross-platform mobile apps.
  • If you already have a web app built with React, MobiLoud is your best option to convert it to a mobile app, without having to rewrite your existing code.

Understandably, React and React Native often get confused. People often lump them in together, or struggle to understand just how much is shared and how much is unique between these two development frameworks.

In this article we’ll clear all this up - explaining the key differences, what kind of projects each framework is best suited for, how interchangeable they are, and any alternative frameworks or platforms that you should consider.

React vs React Native: Mobile vs Web Framework

Let’s get right to it. The main difference between React and React Native is that React is a framework for building user interfaces for web applications, while React Native is used for building mobile user interfaces for Android apps and iPhone apps.

They have a lot of similarities - the syntax is similar, both use JavaScript as a foundation, and both utilize reusable components to help developers build powerful applications efficiently.

However, despite the similarities, the differences in where your app can be deployed with each framework means it’s essential to understand the distinction between React and React Native before you start building an app or hiring developers.

What is React?

React (or React JS, React.Js) is an open-source JavaScript library, used primarily for building front-end interfaces for websites and web apps.

React JS was created by Facebook, and in its early days was used to build Facebook’s news feed.

The main idea of React is to break code down into components, which can be reused and managed independently, increasing scalability and making it easier to build complex user interfaces.

As of 2023, React was the 2nd most used web framework, according to a worldwide survey of more than 70,000 developers. 40.58% of the respondents said they used React, second only to Node.js.

React on its own is not a programming language or a full-stack architecture for building web apps. It’s a library that simplifies buidling a user interface of a web app or website, but the actual languages that the app runs on are still the classic HTML, CSS and JavaScript web technologies.

React today is free and open-source, with an active community of developers working to improve its capabilities.

A few well-known apps that have used React include Netflix, AirBnb, Codecademy and, of course, Meta’s suite of apps.

Pros and Cons of React for Web Development

React is largely considered one of the best, most user-friendly web development frameworks.

Here’s a summary of the best features of React for web development:

  • React allows fast development and iteration by breaking code down into smaller, reusable components.
  • It utilizes JavaScript, a well-known and widely accessible programming language.
  • React works great for cross-browser, responsive, modern web apps.
  • It has an active community, providing a strong ecosystem for tools, resources, and educational content.

In terms of cons, there are no major drawbacks to using React for your web app.

The biggest issue is that it might be complex for anyone who is not already well-versed in JavaScript, particularly as it uses JSX (JavaScript XML), an extension of JavaScript that some feel is more difficult to learn and use.

React code can become bloated, hurting performance. And since it’s not a full-stack framework, you’ll need to use additional languages and/or frameworks to build a complete web app.

What is React Native?

React Native is a JavaScript-based framework used for building mobile applications. In a nutshell, it allows developers to use JavaScript code to create mobile apps that function on multiple operating systems.

As of 2022, React Native was the 2nd most popular cross-platform mobile framework, behind Flutter.

React Native is a JavaScript library used in front-end development, as React is. It lets you write JavaScript code to build native app components, that work the same as code written specifically for a certain operating system.

Like React JS, React Native is free and open source, and was built by Meta (previously Facebook). React Native is used heavily in the Facebook mobile app, and is also used in Microsoft’s mobile applications, the Amazon Shopping app, Bloomberg, Walmart, Discord and many more.

For a deeper look, check out this ~20 minute talk from Facebook dev Olivia Bishop talking about React Native, and why it was created:

Is React Native an Alternative to React JS?

No.

React and React Native have two distinct use cases. React JS is used for web apps, React Native for mobile apps.

React Native is more an extension of React. It essentially lets you use React and JavaScript in mobile development, and build a real mobile app without having to learn and write platform-specific code.

Pros and Cons of React Native for Mobile Development

The biggest benefit of React Native is that it enables code reuse, for faster development and deployment of native mobile applications, requiring less work to update and maintain.

With native mobile development, you need to write apps in specific programming languages for each mobile operating system.

So if you want to make your app available on iPhone and Android devices, you’ll need two separate codebases, one in Java or Kotlin (for Android), and one in Swift or Objective-C (for iOS).

React Native lets you write code once, in a language that’s likely more familiar to you, and make your app available on both major mobile platforms.

Here’s a summary of the benefits (as well the disadvantages) of using React Native to create mobile apps:

  • React Native lets you write one set of code that can be deployed on both Android and iOS, instead of building separate native apps for each platform.
  • A single codebase also makes maintenance much easier, allowing you to make updates to your app once, without having to duplicate changes for each OS.
  • React Native is more accessible than native mobile programming languages. It’s fairly straightforward to learn if you’re proficient in JavaScript, and shares a lot of the same syntax with React and JS.
  • Compared to some other cross-platform or hybrid frameworks, React Native gives a more “native” experience, by using native platform APIs rather than webviews.

There are not a lot of major downsides to React Native. Here are the biggest issues you might face:

  • React Native applications won’t be able to achieve quite the same performance and functionality of fully native mobile applications.
  • Though cheaper than native development, building an app with React Native is still somewhat complex and not exactly cheap.
  • You may run into limitations if you’re looking to build more complex interfaces with React Native.
  • Debugging may be more difficult if you’re not familiar with native code.
  • You’ll still need a separate codebase if you want to ship both mobile and web apps.

Biggest Differences Between React and React Native

Summing up the differences between React and React Native:

  • React (aka React JS) is for web apps or websites, React Native is for mobile apps.
  • React Native integrates with native APIs to run on specific operating systems, while React apps require a web browser and additional web technologies (e.g. HTML and CSS) to work.
  • There are some differences in syntax for React vs React Native.
  • React is older than React Native, with the latter based on largely the same syntax as React JS.
  • React has a larger base of users and ecosystem than React Native (as well as wider demand for React developers).

Cost of Hiring React Developers vs React Native Developers

How about differences in cost? Is it cheaper to build a React web app, or a React Native mobile app?

This cost largely depends on the cost of hiring developers proficient in each framework.

The cost to hire React vs React Native developers is fairly even.

Development agency Bacancy puts the average cost of a senior React developer in the US at $121-$140 per hour, and the average cost of a senior React Native developer in the US at $100-$150 per hour.

ZipRecruiter, on the other hand, doesn’t distinguish between the cost of React developers vs React Native developers, giving an average of $129,348 per year or $62 per hour for both - indicating the overlap between both frameworks.

So, generally, it’s going to be around the same hourly cost to hire a developer for each one. 

However, if you’re weighing up development costs, you need to consider how long it will take to ship your app. And in most cases, mobile app development is more complex and takes longer (thus costs more) than developing web applications.

When to Use React Native vs React

Deciding between React Native and React is simple.

If your app is meant to be used on mobile, and don’t need a web version, go with React Native.

Otherwise, if you want to build cross-platform apps that are available on desktop and mobile, React is likely a better choice.

You will sacrifice a little on mobile user experience, but your app will still be available to mobile users, through the browser.

You could also build a Progressive Web App (PWA) with React, which provides some of the benefits of a mobile app while still operating within the browser.

Alternatives to React

Other front-end JavaScript frameworks include:

These frameworks serve a similar purpose to React, and some developers might prefer the capabilities, syntax or performance of one of these alternatives over React.

Alternatives to React Native

React Native alternatives include cross-platform frameworks such as:

Some will also mention Expo as an alternative to React Native, as a React-heavy syntax that allows you to publish cross-platform mobile apps. However, Expo is more like an extension of React Native than an actual alternative.

Other React Native alternatives include hybrid app tools and services, like MobiLoud.

Instead of coding a cross-platform app from scratch, with MobiLoud you can convert an existing web app or website into apps for iOS and Android - which can make things a lot easier if you’ve already built an app using React. 

Is It Easy to Translate a React Web App to a React Mobile App?

With the similarities between React and React Native, how easy is it to take a React app built for the web and turn it into mobile apps with React Native?

The answer: not that easy.

To start with, it’s not possible to just convert your React web app into a React Native app. It’s not like you can click a button or run a couple of lines of code and turn your React code into React Native.

React and React Native syntax is similar, but one is made for the web, the other made for mobile operating systems.

If you want to turn your React app into React Native, you’ll need to go through and rewrite your entire codebase, converting React components in to React Native components.

You might not need to rewrite each character, but still, checking and altering each line of code will be a huge task for any decent-sized app.

You’re also likely to run into a lot of errors if you just try and edit your code from React to React Native, so it’ll likely be easier if you start again from scratch.

And bear in mind that once you’ve finished, you’ll have two codebases to maintain, which means twice the effort required each time you make an update (assuming your mobile and web apps are meant to work the same).

Long story short: there’s no easy way to convert React to React Native, despite their similarities.

Should You Convert Your React App to Mobile Apps with React Native?

With what we discussed in the previous section, if you have a React web app and want to make it into a mobile app, React Native is not the ideal solution.

It’s not the worst - rewriting your code using React Native would be quicker and easier than coding new native iOS and Android apps.

But it’s much better to convert your app with a method that lets you actually reuse the code you’ve already written and, ideally, maintain a single codebase moving forward.

Why You Should Use MobiLoud, Not React Native, to Convert Your React App to Mobile Apps

MobiLoud is a much more efficient way to convert a React web app to mobile apps.

  • MobiLoud actually converts your web app to mobile apps, taking just a couple of weeks, rather than a few months of full-time coding.
  • The cost is a small percentage of what it would cost to pay React Native devs to build a full-featured app.
  • You’ll have a single codebase for web, Android and iOS, which means lower overhead and effort to maintain your apps.
  • All the work is done for you; you don’t need to worry about hiring the right devs or managing the project.
  • Apps have mobile-specific features (such as native mobile push notifications) built in, out of the box.
  • We also publish your apps to the Apple App Store and Google Play Store, saving you more time and effort.

If you want to save time, money, effort and headspace, MobiLoud is the way to go.

You can go live in as little as two weeks, for as little as $350/mo, nearly guaranteeing a positive ROI, with the help of our expert team.

The end result will be essentially the same as what you’d get with React Native apps, with much less work and cost to maintain.

You can check out some case studies of successful MobiLoud apps here.

If you’ve got a website or app built with React (or any other framework or platform), and want to launch a native app for mobile devices, get in touch with us to see how we can help:

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