December 28, 2021

Flutter vs React Native: Which Is Better for Cross-platform Chat Apps

Cosette Cressler

Flutter vs React Native: Which Is Better for Cross-platform Chat Apps

Everyone seems to be building mobile apps for their businesses these days. And rightfully so, since people prefer using a mobile app vs. a mobile website.

If you're looking to build a chat application, you already know that you need a mobile app. The next question is: how can I build it quickly and cheaply?

And the answer? It's by using a popular cross-platform framework such as Flutter or React Native. These frameworks allow you to target the biggest mobile platforms (iOS and Android) with the same codebase, thereby saving time and money.

cross platform frameworks
Popular Cross-Platform Frameworks

In this article, we'll be comparing Flutter vs. React Native—from the perspective of a developer and in the context of building a chat app. By the end of this article, you'll confidently know which of these frameworks is best for your project.

Quick Overview of Flutter vs. React Native

Before diving into the comparison between Flutter and React Native, it’s important to know the basics.

Uses

As we mentioned already, both React Native and Flutter are frameworks that help developers build cross-platform (also known as hybrid) mobile apps using one codebase written in a single programming language.

Without one of these two frameworks, if you wanted to build a native app for both iOS and Android you would need two separate apps written in two different languages maintained in two distinct codebases. This can be a huge headache for smaller development teams as it means more time and more money. Even huge companies with plenty of resources, like Pinterest and Skype, have chosen to use a cross-platform framework to build their mobile apps.

History & Background

React Native started as an internal project at Facebook and was officially released as an open-source framework in 2015. 

Flutter is an open-source project built by Google and was officially released in 2017.

As open-source projects, Flutter and React Native have one huge advantage—which is that both the company and the community contribute to the project with bug fixes and enhancements. 

However, open-source projects also come with risks. The most significant risk is that the company behind the project can stop supporting it at any time— leaving you to fend for yourself when it comes to dealing with future development or bug fixes. For this reason, it's important to know the company behind open-source projects so you can make an educated choice. Luckily, both Google and Facebook have a track record of maintaining their open-source projects for a long time, and both have an incentive not to drop support.

Now that you know why you should use either Flutter or React Native (and a little bit about their origins), let’s start the Flutter vs. React Native comparison. We’ll be comparing the two frameworks on these metrics:

  • Expertise and difficulty
  • Developer experience
  • Performance
  • Community
  • Compatibility
  • The future

React Native vs. Flutter: Expertise & Difficulty

Understanding the difficulty level of a framework is essential as it allows you to determine how quickly your chat app could be built by a developer who's not familiar with that framework.

Programming Languages

React Native is an extension of the React framework and uses Javascript as its programming language. Flutter, on the other hand, uses Dart for its programming language.

Javascript is one of the most popular programming languages out there. Most developers, especially web developers, have used it before since it's necessary to build web applications. If you have experience with Javascript, learning the React Native framework will be quicker than learning Flutter. 

Dart, unlike Javascript, is a newer and less popular programming language. Like Flutter, Dart was developed by Google, and it's actually maintained by the same team that maintains Flutter. Dart is an object-oriented and typed language that has a similar syntax to C. It's an easy-to-read language and is a relatively easy-to-learn language. If you're familiar with C or Java, you'll be able to pick up the syntax quickly.

Framework Complexity

Each framework comes with complexities and nuances. For example, you’ll have to learn how each framework handles concepts such as state management and bridging to native modules. However, there isn’t much difference between React Native and Flutter when it comes to the level of complexity. It’ll take about the same time to learn each framework if you’re starting with a clean knowledge slate.

If you're proficient with the React framework, you can stop reading the rest of the article and just use React Native. The two frameworks share the same syntax and core concepts. The advantages of using a familiar framework outweigh any of the potential benefits of using Flutter.

React Native or Flutter: Which Is Easier To Learn?

React Native is the winner in this category since both Javascript and the React framework are widely known. If you're familiar with either of those technologies, learning React Native will be a breeze. However, if you don’t have experience with either Javascript or Dart, it's a tie. Both Flutter and React Native are on the same level of difficulty to learn if you're starting from scratch. 

React Native vs. Flutter: Developer Experience

Developer experience consists of the interactions and feelings that a developer has when working with a technology, or in this case, a framework to meet a specific objective. The better the developer experience, the more enjoyable it is to work with that technology. Factors such as ease of use, documentation, and tooling all come into play here.

Setup and Project Configuration

To provide a good experience, installing the framework and setting up a new project should be straightforward and easy.

The React Native framework can be added to a project using NPM (Node Package Manager), which anyone familiar with Javascript will know how to use. Facebook provides good documentation on how to get started using React Native.

On the other hand, Flutter has to be installed via a binary and added as a PATH variable. Here’s their setup guide.

Both frameworks require Xcode and command-line tools to be installed and working. 

While both frameworks provide plenty of documentation to get up and running, we found that setting up a React Native project from scratch is a little bit faster and easier because of NPM.

Documentation

One of the most important aspects of a developer-friendly framework is good documentation. Developers need to be able to quickly find an answer to any questions they have and troubleshoot any problems that arise.

Both React Native and Flutter have amazing documentation. React Native’s documentation even includes editable code examples with outputs. And, while Flutter's documentation lacks editable code examples, it makes up for it with the depth of knowledge provided. You don't have to go anywhere else to find what you need; Flutter's documentation has you covered.

Both frameworks offer excellent documentation—so this one is a tie.

Developer Tooling

Another big factor in the developer experience is tooling. A framework or technology is more enjoyable to use when tools are available to speed up the development process.

When it comes to mobile app development, two of the most important tooling options are hot reloading and debugging.

Hot reloading refers to the ability to make a code change and immediately see the effect on the client, rather than having to manually re-compile after every code edit. Both Flutter and React Native offer hot reloading.

As any developer will tell you, debugging can be the most time-consuming and aggravating part of development. Having a good debugger is essential for a positive developer experience. Flutter provides DevTools, which allows you to inspect and tweak the layout, debug memory issues, analyze app size, and much more. React Native also has a debugging tool. Theirs is called React Developer Tools. They also have an extensible desktop app called Flipper, which provides the same functionality that Flutter’s DevTools provides.

Again, we're looking at a tie. When it comes to developer tooling, the two frameworks are neck and neck.

IDE & Code Editor Support

Using your favorite code editor or IDE while developing with a framework really helps with speed and ease of adoption.

Since Javascript is such a common language, most IDEs and code editors natively support React Native. You won’t have any issues here.

However, since Dart is less popular and less well-known, many IDEs and code editors don’t support syntax highlighting for Dart out-of-the-box. In fact, the Flutter maintenance team suggests you use one of the following IDEs for Flutter development: Android Studio, Inte lliJ, VS Code, or Emacs. This is because they’ve developed specific Dart plugins for those IDEs.

This is the first major difference in developer experience. If you choose Flutter and you’re not familiar with one of the Flutter-approved IDEs, you’ll have to learn a new one. However, if you use React Native, you can stick with whatever IDE or code editor you currently use and love.

Flutter or React Native: Which Has a Better Developer Experience?

Overall, Flutter and React Native both offer everything you'd expect from a modern development framework—great documentation, good tooling, and overall ease of use. React Native has a slight advantage because most (if not all) IDEs and code editors support Javascript.

React Native vs. Flutter: Performance

React Native vs. Flutter: Performance

Once upon a time, there was a huge difference in performance between the two frameworks. Flutter was leaps and bounds ahead of React Native. However, over the last few years, React Native has closed the gap. Now, unless your app is very complex, the difference in performance is most likely negligible.

To understand why they have different performance levels, we have to take a look at two things: how each framework gets compiled and how each framework interacts with the native modules.

React Native compiles the UI components into their native equivalents but runs all the Javascript business logic on a separate thread. Any interaction between the business logic and native modules requires a Javascript “bridge.” The bridge concept makes React Native much faster than other hybrid frameworks such as Cordova and Ionic, but it falls short of native app performance.

Flutter, on the other hand, compiles its entire codebase into native ARM C/C++ libraries which are very close to the machine language. This gives Flutter a very close-to-native level of performance and makes it faster than React Native. 

Flutter or React Native: Which Is Faster?

Because Flutter compiles into native ARM code, it has the upper hand over React Native when it comes to performance.

Flutter vs. React Native: Community

It's essential to have a good community around an open-source project like Flutter and React Native. The larger the community, the more likely it is that someone has created a beneficial open-source library, that more Stack Overflow questions get answered, or that bugs in the project are addressed faster. The developer community is a great litmus test for the health and expected longevity of an open-source project.

There are multiple indicators that can give us an idea of how strong the developer community around an open-source project is, including:

  • Stack Overflow tag trends measure how many questions get asked about a specific framework every month on Stack Overflow. Comparing Flutter vs. React, we see that in early 2020 Flutter flew past React Native in terms of the number of questions asked. And Flutter has stayed on top since.

  • Another measure of popularity is the number of stars the project’s Github repository has. As of December 2021, React Native has 99.6k stars. Flutter has 133k stars.

Given these data points, we can conclude that while both frameworks have a mature and thriving developer community, Flutter has outpaced React Native in the last two years.

Flutter or React Native: Which One Is More Popular?

React Native is older and has a more established presence but, in the last two years, Flutter has exploded in popularity. It’s now the number one most popular cross-platform mobile app framework.

Popular apps in Flutter and React Native

Flutter vs. React Native: Compatibility & Ecosystem

Another deciding factor between Flutter or React Native is compatibility. The framework you choose needs to be compatible with your target operating systems and third-party integrations. The ecosystem of open-source modules also needs to be taken into account.

Flutter supports five different operating systems: iOS, Android, Windows, macOS, and Linux. You can use the same codebase to ship apps on these OSs. React Native supports the following operating systems: Android, iOS, macOS, tvOS, Windows. Both frameworks also support web apps. As you can see, there’s not much difference between the two. 

When it comes to the ecosystem of open-source modules, React Native has the upper hand because most Javascript libraries can be added to the project via NPM. There are more than 1.3 million packages available on the NPM registry. If you have a problem you need to solve, you can likely find a package for it.

In contrast, Pub, a package repository for Dart and Flutter, has only 26,000 packages.

If you’re building a chat app, you’re most likely interested in if your chat SDK is compatible with React Native or Flutter. We at CometChat currently only support React Native. If you choose to use Flutter, you’ll have to find a different chat solution or code it from scratch.

React Native or Flutter: Which Has Better Compatibility and a Better Ecosystem?

React Native takes the gold in this category due to its compatibility with a large number of open-source modules, its compatibility with our chat SDK, and the number of operating systems it supports.

Flutter vs. React Native: The Future

This comparison of Flutter vs. React Native wouldn’t be complete without taking a few educated guesses at what’s to come.

Both frameworks seem to have bright futures—they’re consistently rolling out updates to each project and listening to their respective communities.

React Native is currently undergoing some massive architectural changes and is allowing the developer community to have a say. The React Native team also recently announced that they're adding desktop app support. This means the same codebase that runs your mobile app would be able to compile into a desktop app. It's huge news, especially for builders of chat apps, as most people expect chat apps to have desktop support.

But Google isn't one to be outdone—Flutter receives consistent updates and support from the main team. With the number of developers and companies flocking to Flutter in the last two years, there is no reason not to expect Google to keep innovating and improving Flutter.

Summary: React Native vs. Flutter

To summarize, here’s an overview of React Native vs. Flutter:

React Native Flutter
Programming Language Javascript Dart
Official Release Date 2015 2017
Created By Facebook Google
Open-source? Yes Yes
Popular apps built with this framework Pinterest, Skype, Instagram, Facebook Alibaba, Google Ads, eBay Motors, Groupon
Platforms Supported iOS, Android, tvOS, macOS, Windows, and Web iOS, Android, Windows, macOS, Linux, and Web
# of open-source modules 1.3 million on NPM 26,000 on Pub
Stars on Github repo 99.6k stars 133k stars

Three years ago, React Native would be the go-to choice. Now, there’s no obvious choice between using React Native or Flutter. While each framework has its pros and cons, there’s no clear winner.

Choose React Native, if:

  • Your development team is familiar with React and Javascript
  • You need to rely on lots of open-source modules for functionality
  • You need to rely on the developer community for insights and guidance
  • You want to leverage native OS elements

Choose Flutter, if:

  • Your development team is familiar with Dart
  • Performance optimization is important to your project
  • You need to provide a customized experience outside of the typical native UI elements

At the end of the day, the choice between React Native and Flutter will not make or break your project.

Ready to jump in? Sign up to our developer dashboard and start building your chat app for free.

If you still have questions, feel free to talk to our experts and get answers before you get started.

Or, if you're interested in learning more, Check out our related tutorials, articles, and guides:

About the Author

Cosette Cressler is a passionate content marketer specializing in SaaS, technology, careers, productivity, entrepreneurship and self-development. She helps grow businesses of all sizes by creating consistent, digestible content that captures attention and drives action.

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