Reactnative

REACT NATIVE: Innovating a Mobile Application in Four Weeks

In today’s world, there’s an increasing demand for mobile applications, with people using their smartphones and devices minute-by-minute, and hour-by-hour to order shopping, book holidays and access games, services and information. Consumers are beginning to expect companies and brands to have killer apps to make the mobile experience more efficient and user-friendly, and little patience is spared for the companies that do not get it right. It’s a tough reality that puts businesses in competition with one another, not only in the race to launch their products and services, but also to launch the superior app. Thus, the main objective for mobile app developers is to not only provide a better user experience, and amazing design and functionality, but to also reduce the duration of the app development lifecycle and cut down the time gap that lies between ideation and launch. React Native – from Facebook – can help as it bridges the gap between the performance of a native app and the ease of development of a web app. And it is great for building quality, native and powerful mobile applications for iOS and Android within shorter development cycles.

This article provides an overview of the React Native framework, highlights some of its best features, and discusses how the Mitra Innovation team recently used it to innovate a mobile application for one of our clients, within a timeframe of four weeks.

What is React and React Native?

React is a JavaScript library utilised to create user interfaces in web applications. React is used to create the ‘View’ in applications based on the Model View Controller pattern (MVC). React is an open source project that was initiated and is currently maintained by the Facebook team and there is a widespread community helping to contribute towards React’s development.

With React Native, the React framework has been brought to mobile. React Native is a great option for creating efficient iOS and Android apps that feel at home on their respective platforms, all the while building on any previous web development experience.

React Benefits

One of the foremost advantages of React is that it uses the high speed Virtual Document Object Model (DOM) which allows developers to improve the performance of apps by selectively rendering nodes of information, to keep the app up-to-date, and avoiding the direct/complete manipulations associated with DOM.

React pulls everything into JavaScript: HTML (in the form of JSX) and CSS (in the form of CSS Modules and inline CSS). Its clean JSX syntax makes it easy for developers and designers to learn and understand, and makes writing JavaScript easier by allowing users to mix HTML with JavaScript. Users can insert some HTML in the render function without needing to concatenate strings. React then transforms those bits of HTML into functions with a special JSXTransformer.

React also provides out of the box developer tools. By installing the React chrome extension, debugging applications becomes easier and users can look directly into the virtual DOM as though they are browsing a regular DOM tree in the elements panel.

React is very good for SEO (Search Engine Optimisation). Usually, JavaScript heavy applications are difficult for search engines to read. React is unique because it can be run on the server and the virtual DOM will be rendered to the browser as a regular web page.

Finally, React simplifies the writing of UI test cases because the virtual DOM system is implemented entirely in JavaScript.

React Native Benefits:

The key point with React Native is that it aims to primarily bring the power of the React programming model to mobile app development. React Native focuses solely on allowing users to build a rich mobile UI using the same design as React. The bulk of the React Native code for building mobile apps is regular JavaScript, making it more understandable and maintainable to newcomers.

By putting the same fundamental UI building blocks of regular iOS and Android apps together using JavaScript and React, React Native builds mobile applications that are indistinguishable from apps built using Objective-C or Java.

An important distinction to make is that React Native does not aim to be a cross platform, write-once run-anywhere, tool, but rather, a learn-once write-anywhere tool.

Because it is more UI-focused, React Native is more like a JavaScript library than a framework. The resulting UI is highly responsive and feels fluid thanks to asynchronous JavaScript interactions with the native environment. This means the app will have quicker load times, and a smoother feel.

Advantages of React Native Over Other Mobile Technologies.

One of the most important aspects in a mobile application is a native look and feel. In comparison to other mobile application development technologies, React Native is known to be one of the best hybrid technologies that focuses on the native look and feel of a mobile application. The constraints that we face as developers when using other technologies, is that they require extra effort to make the application feel and look like native applications. With React Native there is a wide range of access to native controls and interactions and these attributes will work like you would expect out of the box. The more we want our applications to have the native look and feel, the more we will opt to use components that are available for a specific platform.

When it comes to optimising performance, React Native scores high compared to technologies like Cordova (which uses WebView to run the application) since it utilises multiple threads. For this reason, rendering UI elements run in their own thread. With technologies that use WebView, we may run into limitations since JavaScript is single threaded. This could result in slow performance and the application will not be as responsive as expected.

Tools and Technologies Associated with React Native Development

To start developing React Native applications, it’s important to be equipped with basic knowledge in React and JavaScript.

React Native provides a command-line interface and offers a development workflow which is familiar to web developers. It provides live reloading out of the box. Every time a change is made to a React component, the application partially reloads the changes in the component created. An emulator or an actual device can be used for validation to ensure the changes work as expected. React Native also provides the ability to debug the application remotely with Chrome for Desktop. If the application happens to run into an error, the application would display the specific error in a red background with the stack trace which makes the debugging much easier.

Our use of React Native for a Fast Food Industry Client

Mitra Innovation recently used React Native to invent a unique mobile application for a client. The client belongs to the fast food industry where mobile ordering is gradually taking over in terms of consumer transactions. As a brand that relies heavily on the providing door-to-door deliveries, the ability for the customer to order via mobile was important for our client. Furthermore, with the given competitive nature of the industry, fast food companies are constantly looking for ways to provide better customer service for placing orders. Rather than providing customers with a standard mobile application, our client requested a solution that would help customers place orders in less time, less steps and with an app that is rich in user friendly features. In order to cater to these requirements, we knew the best the best approach was to choose React Native.

Additional Reasons for Selecting React Native

During the selection process for the best technology for our client’s project, we decided that apart from React Native being one of the best hybrid mobile application development technologies available, it is also the best option to develop and deliver the mobile order application to the market in a comparatively short period of time. React Native also requires significantly less development time and effort to adapt new features. This in return adds businesses value for businesses such as fast food establishments to run new promotions rapidly and adjust marketing strategies dynamically.

Because React Native shares the same code logic to build both android and iOS applications with native components specific to each platform, the features look and behave the same way in both platforms by maintaining the native look and feel alike across each platform.

Redux is the Preferred Architecture When Using React Native.

Managing the state of an application is important. Redux is an architecture application that provides support to React Native by keeping the application model in one place and maintaining the application data in a more organised manner. Redux provides a state container for JavaScript applications that helps applications to behave consistently. If an architecture such as Redux is not being used, managing the state of the application gets complicated when the application expands.

Facebook provides a similar approach to Redux, called Flux. Redux is an evolution of Flux, and it was built to minimise the complexity discovered in Flux. Throughout the development process of our client’s new the application, we observed that the Redux architecture is much simpler than the architecture of Flux. Redux is most used across the React and React Native community and it is the standard tool to use for the uni-directional data flow.

How React Native Helped Us to Build the Mobile App in Four Weeks.

When it comes to mobile application development we always look for an option that helps to develop an application with less time and with improved app performance. React Native provides a user experience and ease of development which supports finding a middle ground in achieving the above targets.

Apart from the built-in components provided by the React Native community we could use third party native models. Using third party modules made our development easy, however, they are not always easy to work with. Therefore, it is always recommended to use third party native models only if necessary. Third party native models also limit the customisability as needed and increase the likelihood of running into issues since React Native comes up with updated versions in regular intervals. However, being open sourced with a vast group of developers, React Native allows us to benefit from regular upgraded version releases with new components, plugins, and fixed bugs.

As mentioned earlier, if the application runs into an error during the development process, it stretches the ability to easily debug with its given stack trace. React Native also supports test driven strategy. Therefore, we can ensure that already developed, functional code is not modified in a way that would introduce bugs. Jest is one the framework used by Facebook to provide unit testing for JavaScript which works well with React Native applications. With these advantages React Native is an easy tool to get started with and build hybrid mobile applications with shorter development cycles.

Who Currently Uses React Native?

React native-users

Conclusion

The React Native framework has proved immensely successful whilst working on the mobile application development project for our client at Mitra Innovation. It is a great option for creating iOS and Android apps that can feel at home on their respective platforms, all while building on any previous web development experience. We recommend the use of React Native to anyone looking for ease of development, building good quality apps, and a rich platform and ecosystem.

Nirodha Perera

About the Author

Nirodha Perera is an Associate Software Engineer at Mitra Innovation, a technology company that specialises in product and company incubation, systems integration, and digital innovation and transformation. Find out how Nirodha and the rest of the Mitra Innovation team can help you make the most out of app development using React Native.