Flutter is a UI toolkit to build beautiful native apps for multiple platforms from a single code base. It was introduced by Google in 2015 as a framework for multi-platform native mobile app development. It was recently also made available for web and desktop app development. This makes it one of its kind modern UI framework that can create apps for all major mobile, web, and desktop operating systems without compromising on quality, speed, or performance.
How does Flutter work under the hood?
The Flutter engine works like a conventional gaming engine (e.g. Unity). It has a set of core libraries that are written for each operating system it supports. These libraries implement its components such as the graphics rendering through Skia, file input-output operations, and the Dart runtime. The unified Flutter code, written in Dart is executed by this engine on all supported operating systems, which makes it cross-platform in nature.
What benefits can it offer over native development?
Conventionally, a software project is developed for one platform at a time. However, to attract users from other platforms, it soon becomes a necessity to develop the project for a new operating system from scratch. The process to develop it again costs companies almost the same cost they paid for developing it for the first time, making the total cost double up.
Flutter solves this problem. If you develop an app using Flutter, you can run it on almost any operating system you like. This gives you the flexibility of targeting a wide range of operating systems and a broader range of users that would be able to use your product.
Where it takes months to develop a native Android or iOS app, it only takes less than half the time when developing the same set of requirements in Flutter. This is due to its amazing hot reload functionality. Hot reload helps developers save development time by instantly making changes to the app in real time as they code. This is made possible by running the app in a virtualized environment during development.
Quick learning curve
This has been proved by StackOverflow’s 2021 developer survey where Flutter ranked second in the “Most Loved Technology — Other Frameworks and Libraries” category.
Vast packages eco-system
Despite being a relatively new platform, Flutter open-source community has published a great number of third-party packages that can be used directly in flutter applications for achieving various kinds of functionalities. This includes SDKs of all major cloud service providers and native UI widgets for all major platforms. The community has contributed to making up a collection of almost 29,000 Flutter packages (Source: Libraries.io) at its official packages index pub.dev.
Interestingly, the choices of UI widgets and code functionalities available off-the-shelf with Flutter are even better than the choices developers have when developing for native Android or iOS. This decreases the development effort tremendously, as a native developer has to develop most things from scratch that a Flutter developer can easily source from the Flutter packages library.
Compatibility with native code
Unlike other cross-platform app development frameworks, Flutter doesn’t use a translator bridge for communication with the core operating system. This makes it possible for developers to communicate directly with the native operating system and write native code that can run directly on the operating system, outside of the Flutter engine.
The same compatibility works the other way too, making it easy to use Flutter code and UI in an app that is already built with native code. This feature removes all limitations that cross-platform development engines usually face with implementing native features, as anything not supported by Flutter can be implemented directly using the native code.
Faster maintenance and updates
Imagine maintaining a project on six operating systems and you have got a bug to fix for users of all operating systems. That would be a nightmare for any development team. Now, imagine your product is built in a cross-platform solution like Flutter. If you have a single code base, you can fix any bugs from a single code base with just a single update. Similarly, it would be easier to implement a new feature on one code base rather than six different code bases for six operating systems. This directly means less time spent in fixing older bugs and more time left for implementing new features for your products.
This would decrease your maintenance and update times to at least 1/6 of the time you would spend if you run your product natively on six operating systems, and to at least 1/2 of the time if you run your product on two operating systems.
Where can it go wrong?
Mission critical applications
Although it has near-native performance scores, purely native apps still perform better than Flutter in most scenarios. For a mission-critical application, where even a 1% performance difference is too important to ignore, it is not recommended to use Flutter. Just like Python versus C++, with one having huge utility and the other having peak performance, Flutter has the same relation with native Kotlin or SwiftUI development.
Fortunately, such a minor performance difference is something that modern applications do not even let the users feel. However, the major difference in saving costs and time is a big advantage that makes the little performance difference insignificant for modern applications.
Maturity of the technology
Native Android and iOS development have been around for a long time. Relatively, Flutter is late to the party. Native technologies have been tried and tested in millions of mobile apps available in the app markets. Flutter is relatively less mature as a technology, which introduces a risk for businesses opting for their applications.
Despite this, there has been a huge adoption of the technology, majorly due to the trust that it has earned due to its association and development by Google. Major brands like Alibaba, BMW, eBay, Square, Groupon, and Capital one are using Flutter for their latest applications.
App developers availability
The developers of Flutter are quite scarce and most Flutter developers are new to the technology. The reason for this is that there is a lack of Flutter projects worldwide. Most companies now switching to Flutter from React Native and Native development are hiring new Flutter developers, and it would still take some years for them to get significant experience in it. For someone wanting to create a team of Flutter developers, it would take them more time in building the team as compared to building a team for native development.
At HeapStash Global, we have a team of experienced Flutter developers that have been working with Flutter since the initial days of its launch of it and have experience building successful Android, iOS, web, and desktop apps using Flutter for their clients all over the world. They can develop your dream product at the fraction of the cost of getting it done from an in-house development team. You can schedule a meeting with the team here to discuss your product idea.
With a careful analysis of the pros and cons, it is clear that the pros of switching to Flutter at this time outweigh the cons one might face in doing that. Also, the clear benefits of switching and the huge volume of companies moving their products to Flutter indicate that it is indeed the technology of the future.