Choosing React Native in 2019

As a head of mobile development, part of my role is to evaluate technologies in order for us to know what are the strengths and weaknesses of the said technology. This will inform us what we should use when a new project is starting up.

Gofore has used React Native extensively for the past two years. We have had success with it and enjoy using it. It is definitely possible to make real production grade apps, as an example, the Google play store Best of 2018 app was made using React Native. Still, there is room for improvement to be able to declare React Native 1.0 stable and ready. During 2018 there was some turbulence and uncertainty regarding the future of React Native. It made me begin closely following the future of the library. Here is a report of my findings.

TL;DR: It is looking like 2019 will be the year of React Native coming of age. There are many ongoing undertakings to make React Native even better than it is today. I am more excited for the future of React Native than I have ever been. Here are some of the (technical) reasons why.

Facebook contributions

React Native was created by Facebook and for a while, in 2018 it was a bit unclear how much Facebook was investing in the technology. After some rumours, Facebook made it clear through words and actions, that they are in it for the long haul.

One good sign that Facebook is ramping up work on React Native is the fact that they have been hiring more developers to their React Native team.

Firstly, React Native will enjoy improvements in React itself, which will have two big new features added in 2019: Hooks and Suspense. Hooks will let developers use state and other React features in functional components. After trying out hooks, I have been eagerly waiting to be able to use them everywhere! Suspense refers to Reacts new ability to “suspend” rendering while components are waiting for something and display a loading indicator. This will ease the typical pain point of having to figure out different states (init, loading, error, ready) for your component. Suspense will manage the complexity for you.

In June, Facebook published a blog post explaining that they are “working on a large-scale re-architecture of React Native to make the framework more flexible and integrate better with native infrastructure in hybrid JavaScript/native apps.”

This rework includes a JavaScript interface (JSI),UI re-architecture (called Fabric) and the new native module system (called TurboModules) but is generally referred to altogether as Fabric. This will offer significant improvements under the hood. It will also improve performance, simplify interoperability with other libraries, and set a strong foundation for the future of React Native.

In November Facebook published a roadmap for React Native. It gives an outline of their vision, including a healthy GitHub repository, stable APIs, a vibrant ecosystem and excellent documentation.

These are all areas where React Native has been criticized and I am really excited to see that Facebook has identified them and is actively working on improvements. It will lay a good foundation for the open source community to participate and contribute.

Open source community

React Native open source community got way more organized in 2018 and it seems we will reap the rewards of that in 2019. There is a new repository for transparent discussions and proposals, which facilitates changes proposed and made by the open source community.

There is an ongoing project called The Slimmening, which aims to make React Native core smaller, extracting parts of it that can be more easily maintained and developed separately. There are already two good examples of this. Jamon Holmgren (@jamonholmgren) championed extracting Webview and Mike Grabowski (@grabbou) spearheaded efforts to extract React Native CLI. Webview has already received much more love as a standalone library and it shows the potential of what The Slimmening, once done, can mean for the future of React Native.

Another ongoing project, which should be close to being finished, is updating Android JSC (which is used to run the Javascript on Android). The current version is archaic and results in differences between iOS and Android and performance issues. Having a modern runtime is crucial for the promise of a truly cross-platform development environment. Upgrading the JSC would greatly improve the performance of react native apps running on Android and allow support for x64 builds on Android apps.

Currently, there are a lot of 3rd party community libraries. The typical challenge with them is that they might not be well maintained. Expo is a company building on top of React Native. They have been pushing to be able to do React Native development without having to have knowledge of the native parts. Expo APIs look well thought of and maintained, but they have not been available out of the Expo React Native project. That is, until now. Having well-maintained community APIs available will make a significant difference for developers.

Conclusion

Hopefully, this list of ongoing technical projects and improvements in and around React Native has given you some insight into the potential that React Native has. Time will tell how well it delivers, but as of now, I am very positive and excited to be a mobile developer using React Native. I will be recommending React Native for many mobile projects at Gofore in the future as well. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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