Ionic vs. React Native: Choosing the Best Framework for Your Chat App
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.
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?
Quite a few popular apps are built with React Native, including:
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:
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
The architectural differences of a React Native app vs. an Ionic app can be summed up as "nearly native" vs. "web-first."
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.
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.
Ionic or React Native: Which Is Easier To Learn?
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 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.
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.
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:
Official Release Date
Popular apps built with this framework
Pinterest, Skype, Instagram, Facebook
Target, The Home Depot, Electronic Arts
iOS, Android, tvOS, macOS, Windows, and Web
iOS, Android, Electron, Web
Stars on Github repo
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.
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.