Flutter vs Xamarin: The Complete Developer’s Guide
Can Flutter really outperform Xamarin? Or is it just another hype that is no match for Xamarin’s stability? Let’s compare two frameworks and find out which of them will become your next tool for mobile app development.
When you’re building a cross-platform mobile app, choosing a technology stack isn’t easy. With so many frameworks on the market, it’s tough to pick one. We’ve already made the Flutter vs React Native overview. And now, it’s time to watch the Flutter vs Xamarin proven showdown. Apiko is going to compare the two popular frameworks for cross-platform mobile app development. Hopefully, it will help you choose the best one for your project.
While researching proven materials for the guide, we've come up with the the most common queries of businesses and app developer that are laid out below:
1) Flutter vs Xamarin: Who provide users with Better performance?
2) What are the drawbacks and benefits of Flutter and Xamarin?
3) How to compare Flutter vs Xamarin in terms feature-set and robustness?
4) Flutter Vs Xamarin — What to choose in for the best cross-platform app development platform?
Flutter vs Xamarin: How to Choose your Perfect Fit
Flutter is an open-source cross-platform development framework created by Google. It was first introduced in 2015 as Sky at the Dart Developer Summit and made its first stable release on December 4, 2018. Despite being young, the framework has already gained lots of developers’ attention. Groupon, Hamilton, New York Times are just a few of the popular apps built with Flutter. Today, it’s among the most wanted solutions for mobile cross-platform development, and the community around Flutter continues to grow.
Xamarin was originally created by the developers who made Mono. MonoTouch and Mono for Android became the foundation for Xamarin.iOS and Xamarin.Android. The Xamarin company was founded in 2011 and focused on products for mobile application development. This makes Xamarin the oldest cross-platform development framework out there. In 2013, the company released version 2.0 of the SDK that had Xamarin Studio and integration with MS Visual Studio. In 2016, Microsoft acquired Xamarin and made the framework open-source. Today, Xamarin SDK is a part of Microsoft’s .NET platform and is fully integrated with Visual Studio IDE.
How to Compare Flutter vs Xamarin?
Now that we know their stories, let’s compare Flutter and Xamarin. We’ll take a closer look at the two frameworks and evaluate them according to 11 criteria.
- The programming language
- Developer’s tools and documentation
- Installation and initial configuration
- Convenience of development
- Code reusability and sharing
- Native libraries
The Programming Language
Xamarin is a part of Microsoft .NET platform. It supports the C# programming language, which is convenient for anyone who’s used to working with the web. Besides, you can use XAML in Xamarin.Forms. But remember that to customize the UI of an app heavily, you’ll need to use native languages as well.
Developer’s Tools and Documentation
Flutter doesn’t depend on a specific IDE. In other words, you can use any IDE and editor that supports Dart. Flutter offers several useful tools that can help you during development. First, there’s Flutter Inspector, which allows you to visualize Flutter widget trees. This could be extremely helpful in grasping the compositional structure of your project. In addition to that, Flutter offers a full-blown debugger. There are also tools that show how your app is performing: timeline view, memory view, logging view, performance view.
Using Xamarin, on the other hand, means working with Visual Studio only. It does limit you in your IDE choice, but Visual Studio has lots of different tools packed inside it. You won’t even need to use third-party services. It offers powerful solutions for code refactoring and debugging, plus you can preview apps on the go in Visual Studio. Most importantly, Xamarin offers extensive and well-written documentation, which is something that Flutter lacks.
Installation and Initial Configuration
To install Flutter, you have to download the binary for specific OS and then add Flutter to your PATH variable. True, Flutter installation could have been easier, without setting the PATH variable explicitly, but you can do it in the command line. Flutter has a well-documented getting started guide and provides you with a Flutter Doctor. This useful CLI tool inspects your computer and guides you through the configuration process.
To start your Xamarin mobile app development, you need the Visual Studio IDE installed. You’ll have to install Xamarin SDK through Visual Studio, which is a bit inconvenient. If you’re used to working with other IDEs, that may be a problem. With Xamarin, your development process will be dependent strictly on this bunch of software, unlike Flutter, that, as we said, isn’t attached to any specific IDE.
Convenience of Development
Because Xamarin is a part of Microsoft’s ecosystem, it’s convenient for development. When building an app, you don’t have to switch between different development environments.
Flutter, on the other hand, has its own way of speeding up the development: it offers a hot reload feature. Here’s how it works. When you make changes to the source code, you can immediately see them on a physical or virtual device. Flutter injects updated sources of your app right into a running Dart Virtual Machine, which usually takes less than a second. Impressive, right? Basically, you can make change after change and see the result immediately on the screen. Thanks to hot reload, you can fix bugs, redesign UI and experiment with your code quickly.
To beat Flutter’s hot reload, Xamarin has recently developed a similar feature. However, it only works in Xamarin Forms and, truth be told, is good for prototyping only. To achieve native-like performance, you still need to use Xamarin.iOS and Xamarin.Android.
Code Reusability and Sharing
Both Flutter and Xamarin allow using a single codebase for creating cross-platform apps. But there are minor differences. Flutter allows reusing 70% of Dart code across iOS and Android, while code reusing in Xamarin.Forms reaches up to 96%. But if you’re making custom native apps with Xamarin.iOS and Xamarin.Android, you can only share their business logic, data access and network communication. The UI of those apps, as we know, will be platform-specific.
Besides building apps for mobile platforms, Flutter allows making apps for the web. Meanwhile, Xamarin lets you reuse code for Windows, Android, iOS, macOS, tvOS and watchOS. If you want a cross-platform app that would cover not only mobile devices but also desktop and wearables, Xamarin is your best bet.
You can use all native APIs from packages in Flutter. On top of that, you can call native libraries using platform channels - a convenient and efficient way of managing platform-specific code. Flutter uses the message passing style of communication. The platform channel is used by Dart to send the message to the platform host - the iOS or Android part of the app. The host listens to the channel, receives the message, executes all invoked functions of the platform-specific API and sends the response back.
In Xamarin, you can bind any native libraries and access all the necessary platform-specific features. For instance, you can access jar or aar files. And when developing apps for iOS, you can use the Objective Sharpie, a tool that generates some of the API definitions for you.
A cross-platform app should look and feel like a native one. Because if it doesn’t, then choosing this approach to mobile application development is a bit pointless. Xamarin is an established cross-platform SDK with well-developed UI components to fit each platform. It provides extensive documentation along with the ability to create new UI components. But you have to keep in mind that Xamarin suites apps with simple UI. Mobile applications with heavy graphics and complex animations require tons of UI customization for each platform. Which doesn’t differ much from building two separate native apps since there’s not much code shared between platforms.
As for Flutter, it has many widgets for UI already packaged in the framework. Since you don’t have to use any third-party libraries, developing UI with a native look and feel won’t be a problem. Moreover, you can achieve consistent custom design across all platforms with minimal hassle from your side. Flutter draws the UI on Skia Canvas. Basically, your Flutter app’s UI will consist entirely of simple widgets, which eliminates the common problem of many cross-platform frameworks, Xamarin and React Native included. With Flutter, there’s no need to address the API of a specific platform to render the UI. So, you won’t have any problems with the consistency of your custom UI across the platforms.
Compiling with Flutter is super fast and easy. Thanks to Dart, Flutter supports both JIT(Just-in-Time) and AOT(Ahead-of-Time) compilation. JIT takes place during development and enables the hot reload feature. And your app is AOT compiled when you bundle it for the release.
In Xamarin, you AOT compile your iOS apps into native code. But for Android, the framework offers the compilation to an intermediate language and then the JIT compiler, making the whole process more time-consuming. Also, IDEs are generally much slower in compiling apps than editors. And since you can’t use anything else with Xamarin except for Visual Studio, Flutter is the obvious winner here.
Flutter allows building high-level performance apps that are similar to native ones. In Flutter, the whole app (not just the UI) is compiled using the C/C++ library. It guarantees performance that’s close to native since it uses neither Webview nor native device API. Flutter’s engine is efficient and утігкуі fast performance and rendering.
Xamarin app’s performance is close to native too. With Xamarin.Forms, however, your app will show a bit of performance decline because of the extra abstraction layer. However, Xamarin offers Xamarin Profiler, a tool for measuring performance issues that can help you optimize your code. Also, look here for techniques that increase the performance of apps built with Xamarin.
Flutter is free and open-source. So is Xamarin if you need it for individual or small team development only. But if you plan to use it for outsourcing app development, for instance, you’ll need to buy an extended version of the Visual Studio. VS Professional will cost you $45 per month with an annual $1,199 subscription (renewal $799). VS Enterprise is $250 per month and its first-year subscription costs $5,999.
Flutter vs Xamarin: How to Decide Which One Performs Better
As you can see, Flutter and Xamarin are quite different. Let’s go through their characteristics once again to determine the winner.
- Flutter supports the Dart programming language, which is not widely popular. Xamarin uses the common for most developers C# along with native languages.
- Flutter doesn’t require any specific IDE. Xamarin’s installation and development depend on Visual Studio.
- Flutter allows AOT compilation and an extremely useful hot reload feature, both of which speed up the development cycle. Xamarin.Forms and Xamarin.iOS apps are AOT compiled, but Android apps’ compilation takes more time with Xamarin.
- Flutter covers fewer platforms than Xamarin. But it outruns competitors in code reuse since Xamarin.iOS and Xamarin.Android both require platform-specific layers of code.
- Xamarin has well-developed UI components for many platforms. Flutter, on the other hand, offers a convenient approach to building consistent UI across platforms.
- Both Flutter and Xamarin allow building cross-platform apps with a native look and feel. And with both frameworks, you’ll end up having bulky apps.
- Xamarin is not suitable for making apps with heavy graphics. So, forget about using it in game development. Flutter copes with complex visuals better.
- Flutter is open-source and free. Xamarin is open-source and paid for commercial development.
All in all, the apparent winner in the Flutter vs Xamarin battle is Flutter. Although the framework is young, it’s easy to use. It increases development speed and allows creating native-like applications with a high level of performance. On top of that, Flutter is free and has an increasing number of supporters. So make no mistake, Flutter really does outperform Xamarin.
In case you need help with the development of your app, contact Apiko. Our team of professionals is sure to help you with your project.