React Native vs. Ionic. The battle of giants in the cross-platform development field

Oct 29, 2019·7 min read

React Native and Ionic are main competitors among cross-platform app development frameworks. We overview the main differences, advantages, and disadvantages of each framework to help you make the right decision.


Imagine that you are writing a novel in your native language, let’s say it’s English. But you see, a lot of people who potentially want to read the novel don’t understand any English. So, you have to translate the whole text sentence by sentence into other languages, like Spanish, German, French, etc. This entire process takes almost as long as writing the book. Even more, you have to pay to a translator, and finding a translator for some rare languages can be a challenge.

Unfortunately, there isn’t any other way to bring your creation to a wider audience.

Now, let’s talk about apps. If you plan to build an application, you have to rewrite all the code from scratch for each platform you want to support. That takes time and requires you to hire expensive extra specialists.

However, you can cut your time and cost expenses by choosing hybrid app development. There are dozens of frameworks that allow you to build apps for various platforms reusing the code you have already written. In this article we will focus on the two most popular JavaScript cross-platform frameworks: React Native and Ionic.

React Native vs. Ionic. Differences and similarities

React Native and Ionic are two most highly rated frameworks for cross-platform app development according to GitHub. Statistics from StackOverflow and npm further prove their popularity. They both use JavaScript to create applications that can run on various devices and in various environments with the least amount of effort.

However, both frameworks are in different weight categories when it comes to app performance. React Native compiles to native code and can directly access features of the platform or device, such as camera, contacts, calendar. In addition, the framework renders using native components, which allows you to build UI that is indistinguishable from native, and results in a better user experience.

Ionic, on the other hand, uses webview, it is impossible to adjust a UI to each platform it is used on. Also, accessing native features of the platform is possible only through Cordova plugins. As a result, the app’s performance is a bit lower, the user may notice speed issues when it comes to complicated graphics, and the UI may differ slightly from platforms the users are used to.

The code written with Ionic framework is fully reusable, which allows software to be released for various platforms in the shortest amount of time.

With React Native, you will spend some time developing native components for each platform, so the development time is a bit more than with Ionic.

These are the main features of Ionic and React Native. But don’t hurry to make your decision based on just this information. We have prepared a detailed overview of both frameworks to help you choose the best solution for you.

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Learn once - write everywhere. React Native

React Native is a relatively new framework. Nevertheless, it has already won an impressive market share and can be called the most popular JavaScript framework for building mobile applications. It uses native building blocks, so apps developed with React Native are almost indistinguishable from native ones. At the same time, it allows you to use components written in native programming languages (Objective-C or Swift for iOS, Java or Kotlin for Android).

I bet you use at least one React Native application multiple times a day. Ready to guess which is it? The answer will come at the end of this block. Meanwhile, let’s take a look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of developing applications with React Native.

Advantages of React Native

  • Uses JavaScript regardless of the platform. React Native allows you to write code in JavaScript – the world’s most popular programming language. In addition, you can use native modules in Objective-C, Swift, Java or Kotlin, if necessary;
  • Native-like performance. React Native renders code components directly to native APIs, ensuring high app performance;
  • Native-like user experience. The framework offers a variety of UI components out-of-the-box, including buttons, modules, sliders, etc. This reduces the time needed to develop app UI;
  • Hot reloading. This is an extremely useful feature supported by React Native. It allows the injection of new versions to a launched application without losing the state;
  • React Native community. When returning back to our statistics from GitHub, StackOverflow and Twitter, you’ll definitely notice that React Native has an impressive community. This means that the developers are willing to share their experience and discoveries when working with the framework, so you can always find an answer to any related question;
  • Pricing. This powerful cross-platform framework is a completely open source project, which means that you can use it and its libraries at no cost.

Disadvantages of React Native

  • Longer development time. Write-Once-Run-Anywhere (WORA) doesn’t work for React Native. You will have to create a custom version of each screen for every platform you are developing for. Yes, it takes more time than a hybrid approach, but the result is a truly native experience for your customers;
  • Use of native modules. React Native allows the use of modules written in native languages to perform difficult computations. This means that developing a complex application may require cooperation with native mobile developers;
  • Android app size. Android applications developed with React Native are larger than those developed with other frameworks;
  • Lack of 64-bit support for Android. React Native for Android doesn’t support third-party 64-bit libraries. As for iOS, there is no official information about 64-bit support, though Apple requires it.

React Native allows many resources to be saved, as a single team can build an application for any platform using JavaScript. There’s no need to employ a team for each platform development. However, some modules perform better when written in native languages, so if your application requires complex computations, make sure to have some native developers to address this.

So, we are ready to reveal the secret of which React Native app you use on daily basis. You probably have guessed it already, that’s Facebook. In addition, the Instagram, Skype, and Walmart applications use React Native.

Write once - run everywhere. Ionic

Ionic is a framework for hybrid mobile app development built on top of Angular. It requires the Apache Cordova wrapper for native features of the platform. The team at Ionic follows all Angular updates so that you can benefit from the latest Angular version available. Ionic 4, which is currently in alpha version, will support Angular 6 after release.

Advantages of Ionic

  • Fully cross-platform
    Ionic is a WORA framework. This means that Ionic applications written once can be run on various platforms, including iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry, web, and PWA.
  • Native-styled UI elements
    UI elements available out-of-the-box allow you to build an application that feels native on each platform it is used on.
  • Fast development-testing cycle
    It is possible to test code in the browser without requiring heavy emulator loading.
  • Learning the technology
    Ionic doesn’t have a steep learning curve. Working with it requires the knowledge of Angular and an understanding of the principles of Apache Cordova.
  • Community
    According to the Ionic website, 4 million apps have been developed by 5 million developers using this technology. Such popularity ensures timely help from colleagues in a special Q&A Ionic forum or a channel in Slack.
  • Pricing
    Ionic is open source and allows building apps that look and feel native for free. The company also offers an Ionic Pro plan with extended features for larger teams. The subscription varies between $29 and $199 per month.

Disadvantages of Ionic

  • Performance limitations
    Ionic uses web technologies to render applications. Such an approach negatively affects the speed of the app and can cause performance issues when using multiple callbacks to native code. In addition, development of advanced graphics or interactive transitions may be a complicated task. As a result, the performance of Ionic apps is lower when compared to native apps.

Ionic is one of the most popular solutions for cross-platform app development. Hundreds of applications created with Ionic can be found in app stores and are showing good results. Among the most successful cases are Untappd, Pacifica, McDonald's Türkiye, etc.

To sum up

Cross-platform app development is strengthening its position. The number of developers that work exclusively with native technologies has decreased from 20% to 2,9% over the last two years. Hybrid approaches have become more popular - the digits rising from 24,4% to 32,7% over the same time span. A large number of developers continue combining native and hybrid development to achieve the highest price-performance ratio.

The choice of the cross-platform framework is an important step, since it defines style, duration, and cost of the app development process and outcome quality.

React Native offers the highest performance among cross-platform frameworks. Apps developed with this technology have a native look and feel. Knowledge of a single stack is enough to build an app for iOS, Android and Windows Phone. However, the usage of native languages (Swift, Objective C, Java, .Net) can also be helpful.

So, if you strive for performance and native user experiences - React Native is your choice.

Ionic uses webview. This means that a heavyweight application may have lower performance. Also, app interface may differ from native apps. However, these disadvantages are outpaced by code reusability and a write once, run everywhere approach. An application developed with Ionic is suitable for iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry, web, and PWA. The development time is dramatically reduced, which is also reflected in the budget. 

Ionic is a perfect solution for startups with limited resources that rely on development speed. Additionally, applications that don’t include heavy calculations or graphics won’t have any performance issues.

The example of Toddy, the marketplace for parents and babysitters, proves the advantages of app development with Ionic.

Also, check out our short overview of frameworks for cross-platform app development. This comparison will help you define your needs and select the most suitable solution.

If you follow the latest trends, make sure to read about Weex - a framework that is gaining traction among cross-platform developers. It has the same roots as Vue.js, which made it to the top of frontend frameworks in a short time. So, we predict tight competition between Weex and existing market leaders in the coming year!

Are you about to build an app that will be suitable for the majority of modern platforms? Then cross-platform app development is what you actually need.

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