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Electron vs PhoneGap: What are the differences?

Developers describe Electron as "Build cross platform desktop apps with web technologies. Formerly known as Atom Shell, made by GitHub". With Electron, creating a desktop application for your company or idea is easy. Initially developed for GitHub's Atom editor, Electron has since been used to create applications by companies like Microsoft, Facebook, Slack, and Docker. The Electron framework lets you write cross-platform desktop applications using JavaScript, HTML and CSS. It is based on io.js and Chromium and is used in the Atom editor. On the other hand, PhoneGap is detailed as "Easilily create mobile apps using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript". PhoneGap is a web platform that exposes native mobile device apis and data to JavaScript. PhoneGap is a distribution of Apache Cordova. PhoneGap allows you to use standard web technologies such as HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript for cross-platform development, avoiding each mobile platforms' native development language. Applications execute within wrappers targeted to each platform, and rely on standards-compliant API bindings to access each device's sensors, data, and network status.

Electron can be classified as a tool in the "Cross-Platform Desktop Development" category, while PhoneGap is grouped under "Cross-Platform Mobile Development".

Some of the features offered by Electron are:

  • Use HTML, CSS, and JavaScript with Chromium and Node.js to build your app.
  • Electron is open source
  • maintained by GitHub and an active community.

On the other hand, PhoneGap provides the following key features:

  • Android
  • Blackberry
  • iOS

"Easy to make rich cross platform desktop applications" is the primary reason why developers consider Electron over the competitors, whereas "Javascript" was stated as the key factor in picking PhoneGap.

Electron and PhoneGap are both open source tools. Electron with 74.4K GitHub stars and 9.72K forks on GitHub appears to be more popular than PhoneGap with 4.15K GitHub stars and 974 GitHub forks.

Slack, WebbyLab, and triGo GmbH are some of the popular companies that use Electron, whereas PhoneGap is used by WebbyLab, Binary.com, and Infoshare. Electron has a broader approval, being mentioned in 213 company stacks & 366 developers stacks; compared to PhoneGap, which is listed in 86 company stacks and 34 developer stacks.

What is Electron?

With Electron, creating a desktop application for your company or idea is easy. Initially developed for GitHub's Atom editor, Electron has since been used to create applications by companies like Microsoft, Facebook, Slack, and Docker. The Electron framework lets you write cross-platform desktop applications using JavaScript, HTML and CSS. It is based on io.js and Chromium and is used in the Atom editor.

What is PhoneGap?

PhoneGap is a web platform that exposes native mobile device apis and data to JavaScript. PhoneGap is a distribution of Apache Cordova. PhoneGap allows you to use standard web technologies such as HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript for cross-platform development, avoiding each mobile platforms' native development language. Applications execute within wrappers targeted to each platform, and rely on standards-compliant API bindings to access each device's sensors, data, and network status.
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What are some alternatives to Electron and PhoneGap?
Photon
The fastest way to build beautiful Electron apps using simple HTML and CSS. Underneath it all is Electron. Originally built for GitHub's Atom text editor, Electron is the easiest way to build cross-platform desktop applications.
React Native Desktop
Build OS X desktop apps using React Native.
React Native
React Native enables you to build world-class application experiences on native platforms using a consistent developer experience based on JavaScript and React. The focus of React Native is on developer efficiency across all the platforms you care about - learn once, write anywhere. Facebook uses React Native in multiple production apps and will continue investing in React Native.
JavaFX
It is a set of graphics and media packages that enables developers to design, create, test, debug, and deploy rich client applications that operate consistently across diverse platforms.
Element
Element is a Vue 2.0 based component library for developers, designers and product managers, with a set of design resources.
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Decisions about Electron and PhoneGap
StackShare Editors
StackShare Editors
Chromium
Chromium
MacGap
MacGap
ES6
ES6
Electron
Electron
React
React
Node.js
Node.js

The Slack desktop app was originally written us the MacGap framework, which used Apple鈥檚 WebView to host web content inside of a native app frame. As this approach continued to present product limitations, Slack decided to migrate the desktop app to Electron. Electron is a platform that combines the rendering engine from Chromium and the Node.js runtime and module system. The desktop app is written as a modern ES6 + async/await React application.

For the desktop app, Slack takes a hybrid approach, wherein some of the assets ship as part of the app, but most of their assets and code are loaded remotely.

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StackShare Editors
StackShare Editors
Chromium
Chromium
MacGap
MacGap
ES6
ES6
Electron
Electron
TypeScript
TypeScript
React
React
Node.js
Node.js

Slack's new desktop application was launched for macOS. It was built using Electron for a faster, frameless look with a host of background improvements for a superior Slack experience. Instead of adopting a complete-in-box approach taken by other apps, Slack prefers a hybrid approach where some of the assets are loaded as part of the app, while others are made available remotely. Slack's original desktop app was written using the MacGap v1 framework using WebView to host web content within the native app frame. But it was difficult to upgrade with new features only available to Apple's WKWebView and moving to this view called for a total application rewrite.

Electron brings together Chromium's rendering engine with the Node.js runtime and module system. The new desktop app is now based on an ES6 + async/await React application is currently being moved gradually to TypeScript. Electron functions on Chromium's multi-process model, with each Slack team signed into a separate process and memory space. It also helps prevent remote content to directly access desktop features using a feature called WebView Element which creates a fresh Chromium renderer process and assigns rendering of content for its hosting renderer. Additional security can be ensured by preventing Node.js modules from leaking into the API surface and watching out for APIs with file paths. Communication between processes on Electron is carried out via electron-remote, a pared-down, zippy version of Electron's remote module, which makes implementing the web apps UI much easier.

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Sezgi Ulu莽am
Sezgi Ulu莽am
Sr. Software Engineer at StackShare | 6 upvotes 59.9K views
Flutter
Flutter
React Native
React Native
PhoneGap
PhoneGap
Apache Cordova
Apache Cordova
#JavaScript
#MobileFrameworks
#NativeApps

For a front end dev like me, using a mobile framework for side projects makes more sense than writing a native app. I had used Apache Cordova (formerly PhoneGap) before (because React Native didn't exist yet), and was happy with it. But once React Native came out, it made more sense to go that way instead. It's more efficient and smooth, since it doesn't have the simulation overhead, and has more access to hardware features. It feels cleaner since you don't need to deal with #WebView, using native UI widgets directly. I also considered Flutter . It looks promising, but is relatively new to the game, and React Native seems more stable for now.

MobileFrameworks #JavaScript NativeApps

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Jonathan Pugh
Jonathan Pugh
Software Engineer / Project Manager / Technical Architect | 19 upvotes 198.4K views
Pouchdb
Pouchdb
CouchDB
CouchDB
Font Awesome
Font Awesome
CSS 3
CSS 3
Apache Cordova
Apache Cordova
PhoneGap
PhoneGap
HTML5
HTML5
Ruby
Ruby
Babel
Babel
Webpack
Webpack
Visual Studio Code
Visual Studio Code
Figma
Figma
TypeScript
TypeScript
JavaScript
JavaScript
Framework7
Framework7
#Css
#CSS3
#SCSS
#Sass
#Less
#Electron
#HandleBars
#Template7
#Sketch
#GraphQL
#HTML5
#GraphCool

I needed to choose a full stack of tools for cross platform mobile application design & development. After much research and trying different tools, these are what I came up with that work for me today:

For the client coding I chose Framework7 because of its performance, easy learning curve, and very well designed, beautiful UI widgets. I think it's perfect for solo development or small teams. I didn't like React Native. It felt heavy to me and rigid. Framework7 allows the use of #CSS3, which I think is the best technology to come out of the #WWW movement. No other tech has been able to allow designers and developers to develop such flexible, high performance, customisable user interface elements that are highly responsive and hardware accelerated before. Now #CSS3 includes variables and flexboxes it is truly a powerful language and there is no longer a need for preprocessors such as #SCSS / #Sass / #less. React Native contains a very limited interpretation of #CSS3 which I found very frustrating after using #CSS3 for some years already and knowing its powerful features. The other very nice feature of Framework7 is that you can even build for the browser if you want your app to be available for desktop web browsers. The latest release also includes the ability to build for #Electron so you can have MacOS, Windows and Linux desktop apps. This is not possible with React Native yet.

Framework7 runs on top of Apache Cordova. Cordova and webviews have been slated as being slow in the past. Having a game developer background I found the tweeks to make it run as smooth as silk. One of those tweeks is to use WKWebView. Another important one was using srcset on images.

I use #Template7 for the for the templating system which is a no-nonsense mobile-centric #HandleBars style extensible templating system. It's easy to write custom helpers for, is fast and has a small footprint. I'm not forced into a new paradigm or learning some new syntax. It operates with standard JavaScript, HTML5 and CSS 3. It's written by the developer of Framework7 and so dovetails with it as expected.

I configured TypeScript to work with the latest version of Framework7. I consider TypeScript to be one of the best creations to come out of Microsoft in some time. They must have an amazing team working on it. It's very powerful and flexible. It helps you catch a lot of bugs and also provides code completion in supporting IDEs. So for my IDE I use Visual Studio Code which is a blazingly fast and silky smooth editor that integrates seamlessly with TypeScript for the ultimate type checking setup (both products are produced by Microsoft).

I use Webpack and Babel to compile the JavaScript. TypeScript can compile to JavaScript directly but Babel offers a few more options and polyfills so you can use the latest (and even prerelease) JavaScript features today and compile to be backwards compatible with virtually any browser. My favorite recent addition is "optional chaining" which greatly simplifies and increases readability of a number of sections of my code dealing with getting and setting data in nested objects.

I use some Ruby scripts to process images with ImageMagick and pngquant to optimise for size and even auto insert responsive image code into the HTML5. Ruby is the ultimate cross platform scripting language. Even as your scripts become large, Ruby allows you to refactor your code easily and make it Object Oriented if necessary. I find it the quickest and easiest way to maintain certain aspects of my build process.

For the user interface design and prototyping I use Figma. Figma has an almost identical user interface to #Sketch but has the added advantage of being cross platform (MacOS and Windows). Its real-time collaboration features are outstanding and I use them a often as I work mostly on remote projects. Clients can collaborate in real-time and see changes I make as I make them. The clickable prototyping features in Figma are also very well designed and mean I can send clickable prototypes to clients to try user interface updates as they are made and get immediate feedback. I'm currently also evaluating the latest version of #AdobeXD as an alternative to Figma as it has the very cool auto-animate feature. It doesn't have real-time collaboration yet, but I heard it is proposed for 2019.

For the UI icons I use Font Awesome Pro. They have the largest selection and best looking icons you can find on the internet with several variations in styles so you can find most of the icons you want for standard projects.

For the backend I was using the #GraphCool Framework. As I later found out, #GraphQL still has some way to go in order to provide the full power of a mature graph query language so later in my project I ripped out #GraphCool and replaced it with CouchDB and Pouchdb. Primarily so I could provide good offline app support. CouchDB with Pouchdb is very flexible and efficient combination and overcomes some of the restrictions I found in #GraphQL and hence #GraphCool also. The most impressive and important feature of CouchDB is its replication. You can configure it in various ways for backups, fault tolerance, caching or conditional merging of databases. CouchDB and Pouchdb even supports storing, retrieving and serving binary or image data or other mime types. This removes a level of complexity usually present in database implementations where binary or image data is usually referenced through an #HTML5 link. With CouchDB and Pouchdb apps can operate offline and sync later, very efficiently, when the network connection is good.

I use PhoneGap when testing the app. It auto-reloads your app when its code is changed and you can also install it on Android phones to preview your app instantly. iOS is a bit more tricky cause of Apple's policies so it's not available on the App Store, but you can build it and install it yourself to your device.

So that's my latest mobile stack. What tools do you use? Have you tried these ones?

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Reviews of Electron and PhoneGap
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How developers use Electron and PhoneGap
Avatar of Chris Saylor
Chris Saylor uses ElectronElectron

Our application began as an HTML5 browser game, however we decided to leverage certain native parts of desktop applications by wrapping our client code into Electron. This also allowed us to not have to worry about compatibility across all the various browsers.

Avatar of HyVive
HyVive uses ElectronElectron

Our Web Applications are served on our Desktops by Electron. This allows us to have native apps running on our Workstations without having too many Browser Tabs open at the same time.

Avatar of PawByte
PawByte uses ElectronElectron

Electron is the current preferred method to convert games made in the Game Pencil Editor for desktop support.

Avatar of Metrix Financial Reporting Solutions UG
Metrix Financial Reporting Solutions UG uses ElectronElectron

Implement a web-service using your favorite tools but sell a desktop application for oblivious windows users.

Avatar of Trading Log
Trading Log uses PhoneGapPhoneGap

We used phonegap best practices to compile and deploy our hybrid to android and ios markets.

Avatar of Ralic Lo
Ralic Lo uses ElectronElectron

Used Electron to package single page web application as a desktop application.

Avatar of William Baker
William Baker uses PhoneGapPhoneGap

To release the JavaScript game Whack-A-Mol http://www.ethertear.com/apps.html

Avatar of Smileupps
Smileupps uses PhoneGapPhoneGap

to let web apps benefit of native device features

Avatar of Eyal El.
Eyal El. uses PhoneGapPhoneGap

Our Apps are wrapped with PhoneGap 7 & 8

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