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What Is React Native?


React Native is a JavaScript framework for writing real, natively rendering mobile applications for iOS and Android. It’s based on React, Facebook’s JavaScript library for building user interfaces, but instead of targeting the browser, it targets mobile platforms. In other words: web developers can now write mobile applications that look and feel truly “native,” all from the comfort of a JavaScript library that we already know and love. Plus, because most of the code you write can be shared between platforms, React Native makes it easy to simultaneously develop for both Android and iOS.

Similar to React for the Web, React Native applications are written using a mixture of JavaScript and XML-esque markup, known as JSX. Then, under the hood, the React Native “bridge” invokes the native rendering APIs in Objective-C (for iOS) or Java (for Android). Thus, your application will render using real mobile UI components, not webviews, and will look and feel like any other mobile application. React Native also exposes JavaScript interfaces for platform APIs, so your React Native apps can access platform features like the phone camera, or the user’s location.

React Native currently supports both iOS and Android, and has the potential to expand to future platforms as well. In this book, we’ll cover both iOS and Android. The vast majority of the code we write will be cross-platform. And yes: you can really use React Native to build production-ready mobile applications!


Advantages of React Native

The fact that React Native actually renders using its host platform’s standard rendering APIs enables it to stand out from most existing methods of cross-platform application development, like Cordova or Ionic. Existing methods of writing mobile applications using combinations of JavaScript, HTML, and CSS typically render using webviews. While this approach can work, it also comes with drawbacks, especially around performance. Additionally, they do not usually have access to the host platform’s set of native UI elements. When these frameworks do try to mimic native UI elements, the results usually “feel” just a little off; reverse-engineering all the fine details of things like animations takes an enormous amount of effort, and they can quickly become out of date.

In contrast, React Native actually translates your markup to real, native UI elements, leveraging existing means of rendering views on whatever platform you are working with. Additionally, React works separately from the main UI thread, so your application can maintain high performance without sacrificing capability. The update cycle in React Native is the same as in React: when props or state change, React Native re-renders the views. The major difference between React Native and React in the browser is that React Native does this by leveraging the UI libraries of its host platform, rather than using HTML and CSS markup.

For developers accustomed to working on the Web with React, this means you can write mobile apps with the performance and look and feel of a native application, while using familiar tools. React Native also represents an improvement over normal mobile development in two other areas: the developer experience and cross-platform development potential.


Developer Experience

If you’ve ever developed for mobile before, you might be surprised by how easy React Native is to work with. The React Native team has baked strong developer tools and meaningful error messages into the framework, so working with robust tools is a natural part of your development experience.

For instance, because React Native is “just” JavaScript, you don’t need to rebuild your application in order to see your changes reflected; instead, you can hit Command+R to refresh your application just as you would any other web page. All of those minutes spent waiting for your application to build can really add up, and in contrast React Native’s quick iteration cycle feels like a godsend.

Official Website: https://reactnative.dev

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