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MAUI vs React Native: What Does Each Have to Offer App Developers?

MAUI and React Native are two of the most popular cross platform development environments available today. Together, they represent both major app development paradigms: Microsoft’s internal stack, and the best of the JavaScript open source, community driven philosophy. What are they? How to choose MAUI vs React Native? Why even use a cross platform development framework for your mobile user interface at all?

Intro: Why Do We Optimize Cross Platform Development?

Writing a custom mobile application is an intensive process. You must develop it, test it, and create deployment processes for various walled gardens. Even after you’re done, you need to continue support for the application to ensure that it remains secure and up to date in an evolving security and hardware environment.

If you want to reach the most people, the application needs to run on both iOS and Android devices. These two environments are very different and have very different  requirements to run on each. There are two solutions to getting an application running on both environments, and they are both very popular.

The first is to write two completely different applications, each in their native programming language: Swift for iOS or Java for Android. This allows developers to optimize security and performance on the targeted app and ensure that the codebase is perfectly aligned with the OS, as well as support device-specific APIs. The solution forces you to write the same app twice, you must worry about feature divergence over time, and your team must be experts in two completely different development models.

Enter cross platform frameworks like .NET MAUI and React Native. These solutions allow you to write once and compile to a variety of different target devices, including iOS and Android mobile devices.

What is .NET MAUI?

In 2020, Microsoft previewed its new Mobile Application User Interface, intended as a replacement for the Xamarin framework, although Xamarin still makes up the bones of MAUI. In May 2022, MAUI was officially released to the public, although some Xamarin code is still used as a primary source of online examples and documentation for Maui.

The MAUI Framework is Microsoft’s primary .NET cross-platform development model. This allows you to share a single codebase and user interface across all three major mobile platforms.

The user interface for MAUI is a MVVM design using .NET languages. The UI layout is XAML based, so it all looks familiar if you are experienced with UWP, WPF, or other Microsoft technologies. In addition, with Blazor Hybrid, you can get a more HTML like experience. The controls library for  MAUI feel the same as any other Microsoft system, and all the big controls vendors have custom libraries containing specific .NET MAUI components.

So, What is React Native?

Much like MAUI, React Native is a framework designed to allow cross platform development in a single universal language. In this case, JavaScript, and the uber popular React Framework model, serves as the core for React Native.

Originally developed by Facebook, the React Native project is completely open source, and has one of the largest contributor bases in the world. It has been around longer than MAUI, and thus the available documentation is markedly better than the current .NET MAUI documentation and example base in its current state.

The primary selling point of React Native is that it makes building your cross platform mobile apps very similar to building a regular web app, using many of the same design patterns as the React Framework.

MAUI vs React Native

Brass tacks, why pick one over the other? There are three major factors to consider: Language, Components, and Support.

The first and foremost consideration is which language you want to have your language written in. C# and the other languages in the .NET family are popular and ubiquitous languages for business applications. If you’ve already got an in-house library of code you’re maintaining, keeping the same language is a powerful motivator. Additionally, being able to import validation or other business logic from your existing libraries is a big plus.

The same is also true of React Native. If your team is using JavaScript or Node.js internally, keeping that trend is of high value. So, if you’re already doing a lot of web UI work in React, React Native is probably the tool for you.

For personal preference, I would go with MAUI for the win on this one. I like C# and it is a true type safe language.

The second major consideration is the available components. MAUI and React Native both follow their traditional models here, with React Native having a wide variety of importable UI libraries to add additional functionality to your UI, while .NET MAUI has both the classic UI library Microsoft is known for, as well as a wide range of companies offering full featured frameworks for sale. These paid frameworks often have massive amounts of built-in logic support, allowing you to avoid the expense of composing your own complex grid and layouts out of the simpler React Native components. Assuming you want to use the complex functionality that already exists, of course, and not do something unique.

In this case, I think it’s a tie. Both environments have fully functional internal libraries, and comparing paid support libraries to open-source imports is bound to be a wash.

The final consideration to make when comparing MAUI vs React Native is the level of support. Unfortunately for MAUI, this one is a no brainer. While the .NET MAUI documentation is out there and complete, React Native has a much high install base and far greater public support. By all appearances, there are more people contributing to React Native than are writing deployed MAUI apps. This is largely due to the newness of MAUI, however, and I fully expect this to change as MAUI resolves its initial launch bugs, gains traction, user base, and most importantly, more expert users posted example code and architectural design patterns.

MAUI vs React Native: Verdict

By the math, this one came out as a tie, but I’ll avoid copping out and give the award to React Native. For any use case other than an organization with an ingrained preference for writing within the .NET framework, the public support and available documentation and extensions for React Native are going to make it the obvious recommendation for any greenfield mobile app project.

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