What we will cover:
- What is Capacitor?
- What is React Native?
- What do both frameworks have in common?
- React Native vs. Capacitor: Functionality
- React Native vs. Capacitor: Performance
- React Native vs. Capacitor: Community
- React Native vs. Capacitor: Learning curve
- React Native vs. Capacitor: Demand for skills
- Should you use React and Capacitor or React Native?
What is Capacitor?
Capacitor is a cross-platform tool built by the Ionic team. It allows you to convert your web application into an iOS or Android application.
What is React Native?
React Native is essentially React for mobile applications. It enables you to create apps for Android and iOS using React syntax.
The React code you write interacts with native APIs on mobile devices. React Native provides developers with native components like
View as building blocks for a native UI.
React Native, which is open source, was created and is maintained by Facebook.
What do both frameworks have in common?
Cross-platform tools like React Native and Capacitor can save you a lot of time and money.
Both frameworks eliminate the need to learn native languages like Java, Kotlin, Swift, and Objective C to build mobile apps for specific platforms. Instead of building an Android application with one codebase and an iOS application with another, you can create mobile apps for both platforms using the same codebase.
This also means companies building cross-platform applications can hire just one React Native or Capacitor team to build both versions rather than requiring two different teams — one for iOS and one for Android — thus reducing the number of developers on payroll.
Capacitor and React Native share a common approach to integrating custom native code into their projects as modules or plugins. In both frameworks, you are given the ability to write custom native code in Java, Kotlin, Objective C, or Swift for accessing native features that the frameworks do not provide out of the box.
Like React Native, Capacitor uses the native features of mobile phones. The main difference is in rendering. While React Native mobile applications use each device’s native view, Capacitor renders applications using the native WebView of devices.
Both frameworks are open source for anyone to contribute their source code to and use.
React Native vs. Capacitor: Functionality
When working in React Native, developers can build native apps using React’s syntax and core principles. It is often referred to as an unopinionated framework, meaning it comes with very few official libraries and functionalities.
React Native’s creators preferred to give developers freedom when structuring apps and solving different problems, letting developers who do not want to write code from scratch build different functionalities using community-developed third-party libraries.
Some of these libraries include:
- React Hook Form or Formik to create and validate forms
- React Testing Library and Jest to test applications
- Fetch API and Axios to make network requests
However, even with third-party libraries that can be seen as an advantage, these libraries often become outdated. If community support for a particular library isn’t strong enough and doesn’t update often, incompatibility issues can arise.
Capacitor was built on top of Cordova and is backwards-compatible with most Cordova plugins. Capacitor, however, is more modern and better-maintained, while Cordova has been deprecated. Capacitor also supports PWA and is faster than Cordova was, giving your app better startup time.
With that said, using Ionic with Capacitor can make your work easier, as Ionic can help you implement native UI and configure some necessary tooling for mobile development.
Capacitor is perfect for web developers to hit the ground running building mobile applications. It can even generate mobile applications from web apps built with React frameworks like MUI and Chakra. You cannot do the same with React Native; you have to build your apps from scratch.
One advantage that Capacitor has over React Native is that it can be used to create progressive web apps, as it can access native APIs from the web. Capacitor is also very lightweight compared to other cross-platform tools like Xamarin, Cordova, and NativeScript.
If you were a fan of Cordova, you should consider using Capacitor. It is well-maintained by the Ionic team, which provides fixes to issues regularly.
React Native vs. Capacitor: Performance
Let’s take a look at the design philosophies of these two tools and how they differ from each other.
Capacitor takes a web-based approach to mobile development. It renders apps on phones using the devices’ native WebView and it comes with plugins out of the box that convert your web code into APIs that interact with devices’ native features.
With React Native, on the other hand, developers skip web code and go straight to mobile.
Unlike hybrid applications that use WebViews, React Native applications interact directly with a platform’s native components. Because of this, native apps like React Native’s are usually faster and more efficient, since they are tailored to the platform they run on.
One common issue with tools like Capacitor that use WebView to render apps is difficulty in rendering animations, CSS effects, and complex layouts with gradients — anything that is complex or heavy. Displaying video can be an issue too.
Capacitor apps may struggle on low-end devices or devices with old hardware. This is because usually, some resources have to be loaded from the web before the app’s UI can be rendered.
Also, when apps aren’t rendered on the native view of devices, they cannot fully leverage the devices’ hardware capabilities, resulting in sluggish performance.
Testing is easier with Capacitor, as it permits running apps in a web browser. With React Native, compiling, running, and testing apps requires installing Xcode or Android Studio, adding another step to the compilation process.
A hybrid WebView tool like Capacitor saves you cost and a lot of time. But if high performance is very important to you, or if you’re building a complex application that might be run on cheap devices and devices with old hardware, then React Native might be a better option.
React Native apps are likely to be faster and more performant, as they are converted into the native languages of devices and work directly with the native features of those devices as opposed to running in a WebView.
With over 2,000 contributors and just under 700,000 users on GitHub, as well as a large community on Stack Overflow, React Native has the support developers need to learn and grow in the framework.
React Native also became popular because Facebook created it. Facebook is currently using React Native in many of its apps and investing heavily in the framework.
Other companies that use the React Native framework include:
Since Capacitor is still fairly new, there aren’t as many resources and materials online for developers to consume. It only has under 300 contributors on GitHub and a small community on Stack Overflow. However, it does have comprehensive documentation.
Companies that currently use Capacitor include:
- Burger King
Since React Native has been around for longer and has support from Facebook, more developers and large companies use it, so it clearly takes the win here.
Capacitor is open source and MIT licensed, just like other Ionic tools. However, the Ionic team provides paid support for enterprise users of Capacitor.
With Capacitor’s paid support service, you can get on phone conversations with the Ionic team (including engineers) to get your problems solved, usually in a matter of hours or days, and even on weekends.
If premium support is top priority for you and your team, then Capacitor might be the better option for you.
React Native vs. Capacitor: Learning curve
React Native uses JSX as its templating language. Rather than separate markup from logic by putting them in different files, React Native uses separate components that contain the markup and the logic belonging to a component in the same file, achieved through JSX.
This component-oriented approach allows developers to create components once and reuse them as many times as they need by combining markup, styling, and logic.
JSX makes creating these components simple, and since it is statically typed, developers can catch errors early, improving debugging and development quality.
While JSX isn’t particularly difficult, most developers use HTML and CSS for markup and styling, and adapting to this new paradigm might take some time.
Here’s an example of JSX and styling in React Native:
In the example above, we import the necessary components from React Native, create a functional component, and use the
StyleSheet API to create styles for the components.
Here’s an example of a simple app using Capacitor with React:
And the corresponding CSS file:
In this example, we use standard HTML and CSS to create and style the components, making it easier for web developers to transition to mobile app development with Capacitor.
In summary, if you’re already familiar with web development and prefer using HTML and CSS for styling, Capacitor will have a lower learning curve. However, if you’re comfortable with React and JSX, React Native might be a better fit.
React Native vs. Capacitor: Demand for skills
React Native has been around for longer and is used by many large companies, making it a more in-demand skill in the job market. According to Indeed, there are thousands of job openings for React Native developers.
Capacitor, being a newer and less popular technology, has fewer job openings. However, as more companies adopt Capacitor for their mobile app development, the demand for Capacitor developers may increase.
If you’re looking to maximize your job opportunities, learning React Native might be a better choice. However, if you’re interested in working with a newer technology and potentially being at the forefront of its growth, Capacitor could be an exciting option.
Should you use React and Capacitor or React Native?
The choice between React and Capacitor or React Native depends on your specific needs and preferences. Here are some factors to consider when making your decision:
- If you’re already familiar with web development and prefer using HTML and CSS for styling, Capacitor is an excellent choice that allows for a seamless transition.
- If you’re interested in working with a newer technology that is gaining traction and has the potential for growth, Capacitor is an exciting option to consider.
- If you want to build progressive web apps in addition to mobile apps, Capacitor offers this flexibility, making it a more versatile choice.
Consider your specific needs, preferences, and goals when choosing the right framework for your project. Capacitor offers many benefits that make it an attractive option for developers looking to build high-quality mobile apps with a familiar web development workflow.
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