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React Native Vs. Ionic: What Cross-Platform Framework Is The Best?

Katarina Harbuzava
Writing about React, Vue, Angular and React Native.
Originally published at flatlogic.com ・13 min read

We have decided to try our best in putting to rest the question “Which one is a better framework: React Native or Ionic?”

And to do that, first and foremost we need to take a bit deeper look into each one of them. So, without further ado, let’s start with React Native.

A brief guide into React Native

So, what is, in broad terms, React Native?

React Native is an open-source mobile application framework created by Facebook, Inc. Its usability lies in the sphere of app development for such operational systems and platforms as Android, Android TV, iOS, macOS, tvOS, Web, Windows and UWP. Basically, it is a framework that allows you to build different kinds of apps using nothing more than the ever-universal programming language, known as JavaScript. And, as it is based on the same design as React, it also makes it possible to compose a rich mobile UI from declarative components by using the same fundamental UI building blocks as regular iOS and Android apps. The end result, if built correctly, is hardly distinguishable from any apps built with Java or Objective-C.

Now, let’s take a closer look on the advantages that React Native has (not comparing it to Ionic in any way for now).

React Native saves time and money

The justification for this advantage is the fact that, by having its code as cross-platform as it can be, React Native allows maximum compatibility between different operational systems, mainly – Android and iOS. So, in practical meaning, it allows you to save both time and money by not redeveloping the same app to suit the OS. React Native also helps to optimize maintenance and updating of the product, which can be twice as hard when done other ways.

React Native apps generally perform at a faster rate

The reason for that is the fact that due to the programming language optimization for mobile devices. Also, React Native apps mostly use the power of the graphic processing unit, also known as GPU, instead of using the central processing unit, also known as CPU. The combination of the two upper-mentioned facts allows React Native-built apps to work at a faster rate than the ones built with cross-platform hybrid technologies. To get more in depth about React Native’s overall performance – follow the link.

React Native has a low learning curve, if you’ve ever used React

We have already touched upon this advantage a little, but let us elaborate. As it has the same design and interface of React, React Native eases the process of acclimatization for developers, who haven’t worked with it before. It also simplifies the work inside the developer team in case one developer forwards the project to his or her colleague.

React Native’s code is movable and copyable

In case React Native is, after all, not your particular cup of tea or it is necessary to move your app to another development framework, there is no problem in doing so. Codes, started in React Native, are easily movable and copyable. This fact only increases React Native’s flexibility and usefulness as a tool.

React Native allows for high code changing visibility

This framework has a very useful feature, called “live reloading” / “hot reloading” that allows a developer to see the changes made to the code in a separate window simultaneously with changing it. Thus, React Native creates a real-time feedback tool, which can be extremely useful.

Now, let’s take a look at some disadvantages that React Native has (once again, not comparing it to Ionic. That we will do a little bit later).

React Native is still in beta

Mainly, this means that, although, being used by many top tech players, React Native has quite a number of various issues with package compatibility or debugging tools. So, in a way, it can take much more time using it for developers who are not acquainted with this framework, as it will require time for troubleshooting.

React Native lacks a number of custom modules

Although the majority of the most popular and used modules are available and ready-to-use, there is still a possibility that you want to find a custom module, needed for particular tasks. Or, you would find them, but they would be underdeveloped and unfit for use. Fortunately, such occasions are a rarity.

And now, having discussed the pros and cons of the React Native, let’s move on and do the same honors for its adversary in this pairing – Ionic.

A brief guide into Ionic

So, once again, the first question to answer here is what exactly is Ionic? The answer is ever simple: Ionic is an open-source software development kit that was created in 2013. Its main purpose is hybrid mobile apps development and, at the point of us writing this article, there has been more than five million different apps built using Ionic. The peculiar thing here is that being, in layman terms, a Node Package Manager module in its heart, Ionic requires Node.js to be installed to function fully. Basically, it is a part of a grand JavaScript ecosystem, which also means that it’s able to allow the use of a library of native iOS and Android components. Thus, Ionic is able to provide developers with UI elements that are platform-specific.

That being said, let’s now discuss the pros and cons of Ionic outside of any comparisons. Firstly, to turn the standard order upside down and keep it fresh, let’s start with the disadvantages of this software development kit.

Ionic may lack suitability, when it comes to heavy apps performance

The reason for such a con is the fact that Ionic uses WebView to render any applications. This way, when dealing with native apps and heavier apps (here, Snapchat would be a great example, as it uses augmented reality), Ionic would take a hit and your apps would be cordially slower. The major player in this instance is the process of rendering any and all graphic elements via a browser, which makes several steps to start. The more steps taken – the slower the loading time will be. And, after that, we should also take into consideration Cordova callbacks and CSS animations loading. But, nonetheless, Ionic deals with standard programs just fine, so, if your app does not use any heavy-to-render aspects, you might not even come face to face with this con.

Ionic is a software development kit that is dependent on plugins

As it has been already mentioned, Ionic is, all and all, a part of the JavaScript ecosystem. This means that to access the full native functionality of this kit you would have to use plugins, such as Cordova and Capacitor. But there is just no way that all the needed plugins already exist, also the plugin library is quite humongous. So, there might come a day when instead of simply finding the needed plugin, you would have to develop the plugin on your own. The reason is that Ionic is not capable of implementing native plugins without transforming it in JavaScript. So, there is no possibility of native code in its initial appearance.

Ionic does not feature any “hot reloading” possibilities

Although, as of now, such a feature is considered standard in software engineering, Ionic simply doesn’t have it. It takes time to implement the changes, refreshing the whole app to show you the changes made. This fact, even though seemingly innocuous, can drastically slow down the speed of development.

Ionic might not be the most secure system

This con may not be considered a con in itself, but as a possibility of a pitfall. Since its fourth version, Ionic does not contain any built-in code uglificators, thus making it easy for hackers to read. But, as we’ve already said, this problem might not even be a problem if your app is not possible to reverse engineer or if you use Angular CLI or older versions of Ionic.

Ionic is sizable

This software development kit allows you to write your app using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, which is nice. It also means that there is a lot of code and additional libraries, and plugins, and dependencies and other needed stuff. This makes your apps much heavier than they would be if they were native. But, as always, if you are willing to do a little tinkering around and delete the unnecessary things, such as unused styles, fonts, and images, you would be able to make Ionic smaller in size.

That’s a short list of the most important drawbacks Ionic possesses. Now, let’s take a closer look at the pros of this SDK.

Ionic has quite a wide range of plugins and integration capabilities

There is always a possibility of integrating a number of tools with Ionic, if you think that what you gain from it is not enough. If you want to know what type of plugins and technologies could possibly be integrated into the SDK – look no further than its official website. Moreover, the site gives you the ability to access the upper-mentioned editions right from it. Although, there is a little catch to consider: some of the tools could only be accessed with the Enterprise version of Ionic, and that requires payments to use Premier plugins and tools. But, on the other hand, there is a list of the Cordova plugins, that are also integrable and conveniently sorted into the platform availability list (you can find it following this link). Or, if you prefer Capacitor to Cordova or you cannot find the plugin needed, you can also use those. Also, the full procedure can be a little trickier at times.

Ionic is a single codebase across various platforms

Angular framework, Apache Cordova, as well as using HTML 5, CSS, and JavaScript – those are the basis of Ionic’s built. That’s why it allows developers to build mobile apps by themselves, without side help from native devs, as anyone remotely knowledgeable about such things as web technologies and Angular would be able to create fully functional applications with Ionic. Thus, the cost of development and codebase maintenance are reduced. But wait, there is more. Ionic’s nature also quickens the development-to-market gap on both iOS and Android, eases the maintenance by having built-in browser instruments and debugging tools and raises the transformational availability of your app. The conclusion to have considering this particular advantage is as follows: it is cheaper and faster to develop apps within a single codebase, compared to native development.

Ionic’s learning curve is quite low

JavaScript is, no doubt, one of the most widely spread and popular programming languages. Thus, by having it as a basis, Ionic is easy to learn and use if you are already acquainted with JavaScript. And, moreover, the process of hiring outsource devs also simplifies due to simpler hiring criteria. Although, there is no doubt that having an outsource native developer would be a big plus, as Ionic doesn’t compile the whole app into a native language, but instead compiles UI elements, using Cordova or Capacitor plugins for the rest of the functionality.

Ionic has a wide range of UI elements and quick prototyping

Ionic is quite successful in mimicking the overall feel, look and flair of native apps. The reason for this is the UI component library, full of ready-made elements and components to build GUIs or for the purpose of customization. And when you add web components to this already-awesome brew you get a quickened UI logic developing process as well as native look retention with no additional costs.

And with this we finish looking at React Native and Ionic separately. Now we get to the all-out war! Well, there will be no violence involved, but, nonetheless, we would use sheer comparison to declare which framework would emerge victorious, when meeting face-to-face.

Pros of React Native in comparison to Ionic

In this part of the article, we will discuss the spheres, where React Native outshines Ionic and explain why we declared so. Enough introductions, let’s get down to it.

Set of languages

Ionic uses the following set of languages: HTML5, CSS, JS. It also needs Cordova to gain access to management on native platforms.

React Native, on the other side of the scale, uses JavaScript and allows developers to write some of the components on Swift, Objective-C and Java, when it is necessary. By using some native modules and libraries in React Native apps it is possible to deal with operations such as visual or video editing.

Thus, we can speak of broader functionality of React Native before Ionic and a better overall language set.

Performance and productivity

When we’ve discussed the cons of Ionic, we’ve already touched upon one of its biggest – slow productivity, which results from rendering applications using WebView. React Native does not have such a flaw, and is quite similar to native frameworks in that regard, as it renders all the elements of the code into a native API. It also allows using native modules that, also unable to be used between different platforms, provide high performance.

And although it can be said that Ionic quickens the testing process in the browser, Ionic has much lower performance overall due to using web-technologies. It should also be said that it can be considered slow only in comparison to React Native.

But, in the end of the day, if we compare bare productivity, React Native wins with ease.

Graphic User Interface

There is a saying that goes: “greeted by clothes – escorted by the mind”. And, no matter how unjust it might seem, this is also true to our discussion. GUI of the app should be easy to use and eye-pleasing, as users start judging as soon as they click on the app’s icon.

Ionic loses pretty hard to React Native in that regard, as it doesn’t use any native elements at all and just renders everything into HTML and CSS, using Cordova after that to polish the feel of nativity. Angular components should also be mentioned in that regard.

React Native, on the other hand, has modules tied to the native UI controllers. That makes them just as convenient for the users, as native applications do. In addition to that this framework uses ReactJS’ library. And that marginally simplifies the UI development process.

So, when it comes to GUI, React Native gets the cake and eats it too.

Marketability and community

Even though it can be hard to imagine, marketing also concerns our theme. And, in that regard, React Native once again topples Ionic.

But, to be honest, React Native, probably, topples each and every opponent when it comes to market recognition and community. And Ionic comes in the strong second place. Although Ionic gives the developers the ability to make native mobile apps the fastest way possible and has strong community support, as well as a great marketplace, React Native marginally eases launching React-based projects. It also uses the ever popular React library and JavaScript programming language.

These facts allow React Native to take the top spot in this category.

Access to native device functions

This category is an important one if we talk about our current world, because most modern apps use a ton of native functions, such as camera or GPS. And if your framework allows for easier and more convenient access to native functions – you have a leading spot.

Thus, we can declare React Native a winner of this category on the basis of its huge set of third-party packages and built-in APIs for accessing platform functionality and, also the overreliance on those third-parties can be perceived as a drawback, the sheer quantity unexpectedly overweighs the quality in this aspect.

Ionic, on the other hand, relies heavily on Cordova and Capacitor for native functions’ access. They do give a great number of packages and they do allow the access to, for example, the phone’s camera. But the functionality might be somewhat lacking.

In conclusion to this point, sometimes the more – the merrier.

Popular apps on the framework’s basis

Nice and simple category. React Native is used by Facebook, Instagram, UberEats, AirBNB at the beginning and many more. Ionic is used by JustWatch, Pacifica, Nationwide, etc.

And, also subjective, we cannot but give this category to React Native, as brand-wise they win.

Cons of React Native in comparison to Ionic

Now let’s talk about the points, where Ionic takes the crown, compared to React Native

Multifunctionality

When it comes to code reusability Ionic is a beast. The whole idea of the packed web-applications provides the upper-mentioned reusability. And that’s not mentioning the library of adaptable components that automatically adjust to the platform on which the app is launched at the time.

React Native provides only a basic set of components, although also compiling for native conditional settings. But it is only a basic set, which means that there would be a lot of additional work adjusting the app for the style of both platforms.

That’s why React Native loses this round to Ionic.

Template libraries

React Native has a good set of embedded components, but time to stylize them manually should also be added to the mix. And that’s not mentioning their non-adaptability. This fact constitutes the need of fitting into your code, where you already have to choose styles and widgets according to the conditions.

Ionic wins in this aspect by being a huge set of pre-created and pre-styled components by itself. It also should be mentioned that the compiler, responsible for the native apps, is a part of the Ionic set.

One more point into the Ionic’s pocket.

Ecosystem and Third Party Libraries

React Native is built on JavaScript and React and that’s an ecosystem by itself. It also has quite a viable system and community. But there is a downside – you would be reliable from the system as React Native only includes basic functions. Its ecosystem is not as good as other’s and tends to be volatile.

Ionic also uses JavaScript, which means you can use any frameworks that also use it. It is especially visible in its connection to Angular, though it does just as well, if not better, in connection with Vue and React. And as all of them are quite popular, you would be able to find thousands and thousands of threads on Stack Overflow or directly on Ionic’s site (or many other resources for that matter) that would be helpful when dealing with any problem.

Ionic takes this category by storm.

Summarizing the pros and cons and conclusions to have

What we conclude with might be considered cliché. But all and all there is no clear winner between React Native and Ionic. If you need to create an app that looks and feels native, but is not in reality – React Native is your guy. If you need to create a maximum productivity app that only looks native – Ionic is here for you. It all depends on what your product needs.


About Flatlogic

At Flatlogic, we help businesses to speed up web development with our beautifully designed web & mobile application templates built with React, Vue, Angular, React Native, and Bootstrap. During the last several years we have successfully delivered more than 100 custom dashboards and data management solutions to various clients starting from innovative startups to established and respected enterprises.


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Discussion (1)

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arnabxd profile image
Arnab Paryali

As far as I remember ionic had live reloading , but it was a pain to make it work properly. And performance isn't that great.