January 4, 2022

Ionic vs. React Native: Choosing the Best Framework for Your Chat App

Cosette Cressler

Ionic vs. React Native: Choosing the Best Framework for Your Chat App
Ionic vs React Native

Looking to build a mobile app? Wondering how to do so quickly and cheaply?

The answer is to use a popular cross-platform framework such as Ionic 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.

Best cross-platform frameworks
Popular Cross-Platform Frameworks

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

Quick Overview of React Native vs. Ionic

Before we compare Ionic vs. React Native, let's go over the basics of each framework.

What Is React Native?

Facebook's plan was to use the React framework and Javascript to control both iOS and Android UI native module rendering. So, they released React Native, an open-source framework, in 2015. Now developers can use React Native to build cross-platform apps with the same codebase.

Quite a few popular apps are built with React Native,  including:

Popular apps built using React Native
Apps Built Using React Native

What Is Ionic?

Ionic is an open-source UI and Native API framework. It provides cross-platform UI components and native API functionality for building iOS, Android, Electron, and web apps using standard web technologies.

The first version of Ionic was released in 2013. The current version, 6.0.0, was released in December 2021.

Some popular apps that are built with Ionic include:

Popular apps built using Ionic
Apps Built Using Ionic

Want a step-by-step tutorial on how to build a chat app with Ionic? We've got you covered with this detailed walkthrough.

How Are They Similar?

Both Ionic and React Native are great alternatives to building native apps. Ionic allows you to build hybrid mobile apps using traditional web technologies, like Javascript and HTML (and even web frameworks such as React, Vue, and Angular). Similarly, React Native lets you build hybrid mobile apps using the React framework and Javascript. Whichever one you choose, you'll end up with a single codebase written in one language that compiles into cross-platform mobile apps.

While they both achieve the same goal of creating mobile apps, React Native and Ionic are fairly different in how they do it.

React Native vs. Ionic: Architecture

Ionic Architecture
Ionic Architecture
React Native Architecture
React Native Architecture

The architectural differences of a React Native app vs. an Ionic app can be summed up as "nearly native" vs. "web-first."

React Native is "nearly native." Though the apps themselves are built using Javascript and React, the underlying widgets are all native iOS or Android components. However, it's not quite a native app because React Native still requires a Javascript bridge between the native components and the compiled Javascript and React code. React Native is basically an abstraction that controls the platform's UI modules directly. Since all the UI components are native to the platform, React Native apps look and feel very similar to a native app.

Ionic is basically a wrapper that takes HTML, CSS, Javascript code and renders it onto a WebView (a full-screen web browser native component) to build mobile apps. The WebView is connected to the Ionic codebase at runtime with technology such as Cordova or Capacitor. Put simply, an Ionic app is a mobile website rendered onto a mobile app.

Another architectural difference between Ionic and React Native is that Ionic is framework-agnostic. Since it's essentially a mobile wrapper for a website, you can use any web framework (such as React, Vue, Angular, or even vanilla Javascript) as the underlying technology. React Native can only be built with React Native, an extension of the web-based React framework.

React Native vs. Ionic: Who’s Architecture Is Better?

It depends. The winner of this category is based on your project's restraints and app requirements. If you just want to build a mobile app, with the look and feel of a native app, then React Native is a better choice. If you want the look and feel of your mobile app to reflect your website, or you want to build a mobile app with a web framework, then Ionic is for you.

React Native vs. Ionic: Compatibility

React Native targets the iOS and Android platforms. You can build an app for both platforms with the same codebase. Plus, React Native is similar enough to React that you can then re-use some of that same code to build a web app with React, but the practical value is limited.

Ionic, on the other hand, is truly cross-platform. It supports iOS, Android, Electron (desktop apps), and the web. With a few minor modifications, a single codebase can be compiled to target any or all of these platforms.

Ionic's cross-platform ability to support desktop apps (leveraging Electron) and web apps makes it the winner in this category.

Ionic vs. React Native: Expertise & Difficulty

Understanding the difficulty level of a framework is essential since you need to be able 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, therefore, is also based on the Javascript programming language. Ionic, while web framework-agnostic, only allows the web-standard programming languages: HTML, CSS, and Javascript.

If you're familiar with Javascript, as most web developers are, you'll be able to pick up and use either framework quite easily.

Framework Complexity

It's hard to fairly compare the complexity levels of React Native vs. Ionic since you can write an Ionic app using multiple different types of web frameworks.

If you're coming from a web-development background, Ionic will be easier to learn since you'll be developing with typical web technologies that you may already be familiar with. But even then, React Native isn't hard to learn if you're comfortable with Javascript and even more so if you're familiar with the web-based React framework.

Ionic or React Native: Which Is Easier To Learn?

The difficulty levels of Ionic and React Native are very similar. They both predominantly use Javascript as a programming language. However, since Ionic uses standard web technologies, a web developer will likely be more comfortable working with Ionic.

React Native vs. Ionic: Developer Experience

Developer experience, or the interactions and feelings that a developer has when working with a particular technology, dictates how enjoyable it is to work with that technology (or, in this case, framework). Factors such as documentation and development environment come into play here.

Documentation

Documentation is one of the most important aspects of a developer-friendly framework. Good documentation enables developers to quickly find answers to any questions they have and troubleshoot any problems that arise.

Both React Native and Ionic have amazing documentation. React Native's documentation even includes editable code examples with outputs. And, while Ionic's documentation lacks editable code examples, it makes up for it with the depth of knowledge provided. Ionic's documentation even includes best practices for incorporating your web framework of choice into Ionic.

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

Development Environment

The development environment for each framework is different.

Since Ionic uses web-standard technologies, the development environment isn't too different from web development. You can develop your mobile apps right in the browser of your choice.

On the other hand, React Native does not use traditional web development tools. While you can still use the chrome debugger with extra plugins, you can't develop in your browser. React Native requires development to take place on either an emulator or a mobile device.

Ionic wins this category because of the familiarity and simplicity of developing in a browser.

Ionic vs. React: Which Has a Better Developer Experience?

If you're a web developer, you'll be much more comfortable with the Ionic development experience. 

If you're a mobile developer, you'll be more comfortable with the React Native development experience since the React Native development experience isn't much different than developing an app natively. 

Both frameworks have great documentation and plenty of resources if you get stuck. Which framework has a better developer experience will come down to personal preference.

React Native vs. Ionic: Performance

When it comes to Ionic’s performance vs React Native’s, React Native is the clear winner.

Any framework that uses WebView rather than leveraging native components, such as Ionic, will face UX/UI performance issues. Native built-in components outperform any other type of implementation, which is why a native app will always be the most performant option. While React Native isn't 100% native, it does leverage native components, making it faster than Ionic.

FPS (Frames Per Second) is a benchmark stat used to compare performance. The higher the frame rate, the more fluid and seamless the app will feel to the user. It would take an immense amount of optimization to get an Ionic app to 60 FPS (a good baseline), while React Native apps can sometimes reach 60 FPS without any kind of optimization.

React Native or Ionic: Which Is Faster?

For simple apps, those without many complex components, both Ionic and React Native will perform just fine. But if you're planning on building complex animations with large amounts of data, React Native will provide better performance out-of-the-box.

React Native vs. Ionic: Community

The developer community surrounding an open-source project, such as Ionic or React Native, is a great litmus test for the health and expected longevity of the project. The larger and more involved the community is, the more likely it is that someone has posted a solution to your problem or answered relevant questions on Stack Overflow.

We are going to take a look at multiple different indicators that can give us an idea as to how strong the developer community of each framework is:

  • First, let's take a look at Stack Overflow tag trends. Tag trends measure how many questions get asked about each framework on Stack Overflow over time. Comparing React Native vs. Ionic, we see that Ionic started off strong (it was released earlier than React Native) but was overtaken by React Native in 2017. Since then, React Native has blown up while Ionic has slowly declined.
  • 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. Ionic has 45k stars.

Given these data points, it's clear that React Native has a larger (or at least, louder) developer community.

Ionic vs. React Native: Which Is More Popular?

Even though Ionic is older than React Native, the latter has grown a healthy developer community at a much faster pace. This is most likely because React Native was created and popularized by Facebook.

Ionic vs. React Native: The Future

A comparison of React Native vs. Ionic wouldn't be complete without taking a few educated guesses on what's to come.

React Native is currently undergoing some massive architectural changes, and the React Native team is allowing the developer community to have a say. The React Native team also recently announced that they're adding desktop app support with the help of Microsoft. 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.

Ionic has proven to be agile and responsive to its user base while consistently improving the framework and pushing version updates. Implementing additional features, such as Ionic Payments, is an excellent indicator that the team behind Ionic is looking to expand and add new and improved functionality.

Both Ionic and React seem to have bright futures ahead.

Ionic vs. React Native: The Bottom Line

To summarize, here's an overview of Ionic vs. React Native:

React Native Ionic
Programming Language Javascript HTML/CSS/Javascript
Official Release Date 2015 2013
Created By Facebook Drifty Co.
Open-source? Yes Yes
Popular apps built with this framework Pinterest, Skype, Instagram, Facebook Target, The Home Depot, Electronic Arts
Platforms Supported iOS, Android, tvOS, macOS, Windows, and Web iOS, Android, Electron, Web
Stars on Github repo 66k stars 34k stars

So, how do you decide which framework is best for your project?

Choose React Native, if:

  • Your development team is familiar with React.
  • Native platform dependency is critical to your project.
  • You are not planning on building a web app.
  • Performance optimization is important to your project.

Choose Ionic, if:

  • You're also planning on building a web or desktop app.
  • Your development team is most comfortable with web technologies.
  • Performance optimization isn't critical to your project.

We hope this helps you identify which framework is best for you. Keep in mind that at the end of the day, a successful cross-platform app can be built with either framework.

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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