How Do We Use React Native at Mattermost. Architecture and Design

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At Mattermost we use React Native for our app. It is a fairly complex project with more than 100.000 lines of code, with plenty of challenges, like performance, reliability or offline support.
This talk will cover some of those challenges and several design decisions we have made so far to address them, along some other decisions to keep the code base readable and navigable.

Daniel Espino García
Daniel Espino García
18 min
12 Dec, 2023

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Video Summary and Transcription

Today's talk is about how Mattermost uses React Native to develop their chat app. They faced challenges with multi-server support and offline support, but React Native's popularity and active community made it a good fit for their stack. They made decisions to improve reliability, such as using TypeScript and following coding rules. WatermelonDB brought scalability to their system, but also had challenges with a steep learning curve and database migrations. They use hooks for state management and native integration when necessary. They also implemented shared extensions and a portable device state feature.

Available in Español

1. Introduction to React Native at Mattermost

Short description:

Today's talk is about how we use React Native at Mattermost. I'll provide disclaimers and explain what Mattermost is. Our React Native app is a chat app with over 100,000 lines of code. We recently overhauled the app with a new architecture, interface, and revised code.

Welcome, everyone. Today I'm here to talk about how do we use React Native at Mattermost. My name is Daniel Espino-Garcia, and I am a software design engineer at Mattermost. If you want to contact me, feel free to drop by the office at Mattermost community server.

First of all, I want to give you some disclaimers about today's talk. What I'm going to talk, is the best solution for any project? No, of course not. Each project is different. Then is there a solution for your project? Depends on your project, but still probably not. My hope is that this talk can spark ideas that you can use in your projects. Is this the best solution for our project? I hope so, but probably not. We are not perfect. We haven't assessed all the possibilities. Every day we learn something new, and every now and then, a new technology appears. This is just what we have tried so far, and worked for us. If you think anything can be improved, please come by the office and let me know. We are always happy to do things better.

With that out of the way, let's start. Here is the agenda for today. So, just to be traditional, let's start with the first point. Why this talk? Let's start explaining what is Mattermost. Maybe just looking at the image you get a good idea of what Mattermost is, but a part of a long definition in our website, we can get a more mundane description. An open source alternative to Slack and Microsoft Teams. This is much more than that, but that gives a broad idea of the basics. And of course, we have a mobile app written in React Native. So, great, Mattermost is a chat app. What makes it interesting to talk about? Well, first of all, the React Native app has a decent size. More than 100,000 lines of code. And so, we have recently done a complete overhaul of the app. The first version was facing some challenges, and we remade the app. New architecture, new interface, and the most of the code, revised and rewritten.

2. React Native Challenges and Benefits

Short description:

We face challenges with multi-server support, data isolation, and offline support. The codebase is open for community contributions. React Native allows writing single code for iOS and Android, and tweaking the app on the native side. It's popular, with an active community. We use React Native because it uses React and fits our stack.

And we believe there's a lot to learn from that. But there are also several challenges that we hope to make the process interesting. One of the biggest ones is support for multi-server. Working with multiple versions, Mattermost is self-managed, but the app is distributed through the stores, so the app must be backwards-compatible. And with multiple servers, the data isolation becomes a huge challenge. You don't want a message meant for a family server and an in-your-works server.

And our big challenge is offline support. People don't expect to receive messages when they're on a plane, but they for sure expect to check the previous messages. And the codebase is open for community contributions, so it is even more important that new eyes are able to understand the code well. Because yes, most of the code is open source and that includes the mobile app! The complete code of the mobile app is in GitHub, so everything I will talk about today is something you can check directly in the code, learn a bit more about it, and even tinker with it, be it in your own fork, or contributing upstream. I hope these are enough reasons to stay on this talk.

Now let's talk about the basis. Here we will cover some general decisions on the project. For example, where are we using React Native? Let me start with what is React Native. You have the official description, but it can be crudely summarized to React Mobile. One of the main advantages, as many other frameworks, is that allows you to write single code that works on iOS and Android. It also allows you to tweak and extend your app on the native side. You need a super-specific native feature for your app? You can dive in the native code and create it. Another important thing is that it's pretty popular, and the community is quite active. Most of your answers are one Google search away. And finally, this will be important later, React Native is written in JavaScript.

And why do we use React Native on Matrimons? Let's see our stack. If we look at the backend, the server code is written in Golang. But on the front side, the browser code is written on React, which uses JavaScript. The desktop app uses Electron and React, that again uses JavaScript. And the mobile app uses React Native, which uses JavaScript. You may see already a pattern. I could talk about alternatives with pure Native or Flutter, but it all boils down to one big reason. Because it uses React. React Native has many other great things that pass up on this.

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