Why Facebook, Instagram, and Airbnb All Used React Native to Build Their Mobile Apps

By Jacob Haug

React Native is a framework for developing native mobile apps for iOS and Android. Facebook created React Native, and ReactJS, as a new way to develop web apps and mobile apps more quickly. Today, Facebook, Instagram, Aribnb, Tesla, Skype, and Walmart all use React Native to build and maintain their mobile apps.

React Native’s advantage is consolidation. The idea is to learn the React platform once and then be able to write anywhere: web, iOS, or Android. One development team for all versions of your application means greater consistency, faster updates, and reduced complexity. Using React Native, it’s possible to build mobile apps for a fraction of the resources it once took.

This Isn’t an Old School Web Viewer

We all know how a mobile app is supposed to feel, with intuitive touch features and seamless navigation. Past attempts to make a unified codebase for web and mobile apps were essentially web viewers. Instead of a native app, these webview apps were a ported over version of the application’s website. The experience felt clunky and fake.

However, until React Native, web viewers like Ionic or Cordova were the only option if a company didn’t have the resources to hire native development teams for both iOS and Android. Companies had to settle for these “mobile web app” or “HTML 5 app” that worked, but didn’t provide a great user experience.

React Native changes all that.

Build a Native App Using JavaScript

As the name suggests, React Native mobile apps look and feel native to the phone’s ecosystem. You develop the app in JavaScript, and React takes care of creating the same fundamental UI building blocks that you would create using native code. If properly designed, a user shouldn’t be able to tell the difference between an app written using React Native and another written in native code like Java, Swift, or Objective-C. React Native uses a small JavaScript layer on top of the native platform that has almost no overhead if implemented correctly.

Developing in JavaScript is much more straightforward than using native languages. JavaScript is also more popular, meaning it’s easier to find developers who are well-versed in the language for your development team. Of course, React Native isn’t pure JavaScript. It uses JSX, a syntax extension, to add functionality. Learning JSX and the React components are hurdles for new developers, but overall it’s much simpler than coding in a native language.

One major advantage is React Native’s hot reloading. There’s no need to save and recompile the app every time you want to test a new feature. Instead, React Native’s environment updates the app in real time. On top of hot reloading, React Native offers pre-packaged components that mean you don’t have to start from scratch with a new app.

Pre-Packaged Components

React Native came from Facebook developers and was created for developers. It’s much faster now to create and deploy a mobile app. A significant part of this speed increase is pre-packaged, commonly used components for mobile apps. They’re ready to use straight out of the box, meaning you can have your first simple app up and running in a matter of hours. The library of such components continues to grow. As it does, React Native’s usefulness as a platform grows as well.

You can also reuse your own code components any time and from any level in the code. Reusing assets makes development more efficient. It also means updates are easier. All components are isolated. Changing one component doesn’t affect the others.

Shared Code

If you also have your web application built using ReactJS, you can have a ton of code reuse between ReactJS and React Native. Creating your mobile app is much simpler when most of the underlying work is reusable from your web app. You can reuse the same data layer and API logic for both your web and mobile versions. Then, you only need to rewrite the view layer for your new app.

Shared code also applies to iOS vs. Android. React Native compiles your JavaScript for both mobile operating systems, making native feeling apps for each. This alone saves half the development cost, as you don’t have to hire separate teams to build two versions of your mobile app.

Access to Native Components

React Native apps look and feel like native apps on iOS and Android. They also allow access to native components. You can use TouchID/FaceID, cameras, accelerometer, and other components that are unique to mobile.

Additionally, if there’s a native component that’s not yet available in React Native, you can always drop to Swift or Objective-C and write the functionality you need. As a result, React Native allows you to do anything a fully native-coded app can.

Conclusion

React Native is new and not perfect, yet. But it’s a huge step forward over the old way of developing mobile apps. Its shared code between web, iOS, and Android means developing an app takes less time and money. It’s easier to issue updates, and developers can work faster with pre-built components and hot reloading. As React Native’s open source library grows, it’ll only become more useful.