What is React Native? How does it work?

Mobile Programming with React Native

The thing with React is that it came at just the right time, when developers needed a solution for problems with heavy and scalable apps. React was created at Facebook in response to the load times for their advertising pages. A few changes, resulted in having to rewrite a lot of code and dumping it into the DOM. React changed this, allowing developers modify only segments of a code that was required, also drastically lowering the render rate on the server side. React hit the markets in 2013.

Since it’s introduction, React has quickly climbed the popularity ranks. But, that’s not the last of it. In 2015, Facebook took it a step further. This brilliant JavaScript library that allowed developers to write declarative coding was limited to just the browser and apps built for the browser. React was not on the mobile and app development scene.

With mobile development taking the center stage and people shifting their usage to smartphones and tablets, rather than computers — it was becoming crucial to focus on mobile development as well. But there was another problem that needed tackling. Developing apps for the different OSes available was becoming tedious. Developers required to learn, master, write and maintain code for each individual OS. So, they would have create four versions of the same app, and they would differ across OSes. Apps built like this would differ from each other and/or compromised experience performance drastically.

The React team at Facebook found another solution, which was made public in 2015. React Native was introduced and it promised to change mobile development for the better. React Native was built on top of React JS and integrated React JS for mobile development. It allowed developers to do something no framework had accomplished — write codes for all operating systems in JavaScript and give them a native look and feel.

What exactly is React Native?

React Native is a JavaScript framework that uses the JavaScript syntax, runs on the core JavaScript VM of mobile devices and uses the React Platform to create a bridge between the JavaScript syntax and the host platform.

Developers can now use JavaScript to write real, natively rendered mobile applications without have to change the language, the syntax or even the framework. All the developer has to do is write the code in JavaScript and React Native will do the rest.

Native forgoes the old ‘write once, run anywhere’ mantra and instead opts for ‘learn once, write anywhere.’

How Does it Work?

While the idea of writing Android and iOS apps sounds a little odd, it is quite possible in React because of the Virtual DOM feature. The Virtual DOM acts as a layer between the developer’s version of how it should look and the work done to actually render it on to the page. In order to render interactive user interfaces, the developer must actually edit the browser’s DOM, a step that is not only expensive but also requires a lot of time and energy.

This is how React Native simplifies things. Instead of rendering the entire website, it makes a note of the changes made to the website in its in-memory version of the DOM and then uses the minimal amount of application to render only the limited changes.

This saved up a lot of time and memory in performance and also made reloading faster. React Native took this a step further. The abstraction layer between the code and host platform opened up questions such as “what if React could render to a target other than the browser DOM?” Since, it already understands what the application looks like, developers tried to apply this strategy to smartphone apps.

While a lot of companies such as Netflix and Flipboard were already modifying React for multiple platforms, Facebook opened up this possibility for the general public in 2015. At the 2015 React

Conf, Facebook announced that React could now render natively to mobile platforms.

React Native used native APIs to create a gap between the coding and the rendered app, allowing developers to code in JavaScript and have the output rendered in the Java or Objective-C for different operating systems. It also allows access to platform-specific UI components such as maps, switches, pickers and even navigation stacks.

React is making huge waves in the development industry with many apps on the Google’s Play Store and Apple Play Store being development using React Native. If you are already fluent in JavaScript and other JavaScript frameworks and would like to get started with React Native, you can check out this blog that will show you how to download, install and set up the React Native environment.

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