Recent innovations in the Mobile Development world have opened up limitless possibilities for the use of phones. Google’s Android enjoys the lion’s share of the mobile market. This is followed by Apple’s iOS and Microsoft’s Windows comes third.
A lot of newbie mobile developers find it difficult to perform outside the native platforms their app was built for. This is because learning a new language, APIs, and other important things can be pretty challenging. So, they would rather stick to their native platform.
The good news is, that doesn’t have to happen anymore. Xamarin can help you develop cross-platform mobile apps. These can perform in a similar way to the platform native applications.
What Is Xamarin?
Xamarin is a web development framework that supports cross-platform mobile applications through C#. The company was founded in 2011. Five years later, Windows acquired it. The applications can have all the native features. They can also share the similar codebase at the same time. According to Xamarin, more than 15000 companies rely on their tools. This includes some of the biggest shots out there.
This is a long and time-consuming process for app developers. This is aside from other challenges, such as lack of access to the native UI elements. Worse, apps developed through this process are slow and inefficient. This is a big turnoff for many developers.
Xamarin takes a different approach. It is developed on the same C# programming language. But, it works well on several mobile platforms. Developers can create apps that can work on iOS, Android, and Windows. This explains the growing popularity of the framework among app developers.
The platform encourages cross-platform mobile applications with all native features. It also enables the apps to use a common codebase. A codebase is a collection of source codes. They are great for creating backups and different app versions. This makes app development a lot easier for developers.
Xamarin tools are great for new developers. Most of its codes are written in C#. Hence, it is not mandatory for new developers to learn other web development tools. With zero knowledge of Objective-C, Java, or Swift, you can build any app of your choice. You must understand C#, though. This makes the learning process a lot easier for beginners.
If you don’t want to miss out on some native functionality, you won’t. Xamarin has features that cover everything you need to develop a great app. You can download the tools in Visual Studio and create apps for any of the supported platforms.
Xamarin has some awesome features that are on par with what other platforms offer. It has some additional attributes too. Some of these are:
1. Java, Objective-C, C++, and C Integration
While people learn several web development languages, with Xamarin, you don’t have to. It already provides a convenient way to invoke the libraries of other tools for use. So, a developer can use third-party codes from Objective-C, Java, C, and C++ platforms with ease. They don’t have to reinvent the wheel during app development. It also allows them to use existing Android and iOS libraries written in these languages. Through its declarative syntax, you can bind native Java and Objective-C libraries too. This allows developers to use these programming languages without knowing or learning them.
2. Binding for Software Development Kit
Android and iOS use different underlying Software Development Kits (SKDs). Xamarin ensures that users don’t have issues with these SDKs. It provides a complete binding for most of them. The strongly-typed binding it provides makes it easy to use the development kits. So, they can detect errors during development or compile time. This results in high-quality apps devoid of runtime or other errors.
3. Awesome Base Class Library (BCL)
Xamarin applications use .NET Base Class Library. The BCL is a collection of classes. They have impressive and comprehensive features that support easy web development. String, XML, Networking Support, and Serialization are some of the attributes. You can compile existing C# code if you want to use it in the app. .NET BCL offers you access to an impressive collection of libraries. They make up for whatever the traditional BCL doesn’t cover.
4. Cross-Platform Support
Xamarin allows developers to build apps for three platforms as discussed above. The platform doesn’t leave them on their own to sort themselves out. Rather, it provides the needed support to make the journey smooth and easy.
Its unified Application Programming Interface (API) is one of such support measures. The API gives developers access to all the resources they need on the three platforms. This helps them to save time and money.
5. Modern IDEs
Xamarin also provides the needed Integrated Development Environments for the platforms it supports. For Windows, users can use its Visual Studio IDE. There is also Visual Studio for Mac for developers on macOS.
These are powerful tools for developers. The IDES include some amazing features that support easy web development. This includes a Project and Solution management system and an integrated source control. It also includes a project template library and more.
6. Flawless UI
With the several design tools in Xamarin, developers can’t run out of tools. They have what they need to create amazing apps with a flawless user interface. Xamarin ensures an appealing user experience too.
7. Integrated testing environment
Before you release your application into the market, you must test all its components and functionality. You don’t want to wake up to a barrage of complaints from users once it goes live.
Xamarin offers a Test Cloud. Developers can leverage this testing tool to identify flaws and fix them. This is usually before releasing their applications to the public.
You will learn more about the Xamarin Test Cloud later in this article.
These features make Xamarin an important tool for web application developers. They allow them to develop apps faster without learning tons of programming languages.
How Does Xamarin Work?
Xamarin is available as Xamarin.Android and Xamarin.iOS. Both versions are built on Mono. This is .NET Framework’s open-source version that runs on a wide range of platforms. Such platforms include Unix, Linux, macOS, and FreeBSD.
The framework has a C# source. This is compiled into a custom made native app for the platforms.
This is how it works on each platform:
Xamarin.iOS is used for compiling the source code for iOS platform. The framework contains a special subset version. It has some extra libraries for the compilation. More so, the framework gives access to some features that are specific to iOS. These include Augmented Reality, Dark Mode, Siri, and Messages.
The Xamarin.iOS compiler first goes into action. It compiles the source code into Common Intermediate Language (ECMA CIL). The European Computer Manufacturer’s Association (ECMA) is a standard for scripting client-side on the World Wide Web (WWW). Once it’s done with the compilation, it recompiles it. This time, it does the compilation to make it compatible with iOS devices such as iPad and iPhone.
It uses Mtouch, an SDK tool, to convert CIL into native code. Since it runs within the Mono execution environment, Ahead Of Time (AOT) compiler handles the conversion. It compiles the .NET Framework Common Intermediate Language code into machine code. The binary file from the compilation can execute as a native.
With the tool, the converted code can work on an iOS device or simulator. Xamarin.iOS provides access to a wide range of .NET and ECM CIL APIs. It also ensures that C#/CIL binding is exposed to Cocoa Touch API. These are necessary for Xamarin to work on iOS devices.
On Windows, C# code is also compiled into intermediate language. The compiled code will undergo execution in runtime. You don’t need the Xamarin tools for it.
On Android, Xamarin uses Just In Time (JIT ) and MonoVM package for compilation. The resulting file in an intermediate language is the executable form of the code. It removes any unused classes of the framework to create room for smooth interaction between the application and Java native. Java Native Invoke is the intermediary.
Xamarin.Android applications work within the Mono execution environment. The execution runs alongside the (Android Run Time) virtual machine. This enables the tool to run on the user’s device without hassle.
The application also has the Android Callable Wrappers (ACW). This allows Android to establish communication with managed code by calling into it. There is also the Managed Callable Wrappers (MCW), which comes into use whenever the Android and managed code must communicate. It makes communication possible.
Once you have an idea of how Xamarin works, you can then proceed and use it to develop any application of your choice.
But before then, you must set it up on your device.
Setting Up Xamarin
Before you can use this awesome framework, you need to set it up on your device. This enables you to have full access to all its features, which guarantees an easy app development process.
These are the four steps to set up the tool:
1. Download the Installer
Without the installer, you can’t have the tool on your device. Visit Xamarin’s official website to download it.
Before the installation begins, you must provide some information. Once you do this, the system will proceed with the installation. Click “Get Started” to start.
2. Run the Installer
After you have downloaded the installer, run it. Click “Continue” once the Xamarin Installer window comes up.
Click “Next” and select a location for the tool. The “Choose new location” button allows you to choose a location for the Installer. Click “Next” when you are done.
Another window will display. It contains a list of other items you must download and install for the Installer to function well. Click “Next.”
Next, you will receive a message that the installation process will begin. The message will give you a list of some software programs it will install. It will inform you that during the installation, you may have to confirm if the installation should proceed at different stages. Click “Next.” The installation will begin after this.
3. Configure It
After the installation, you must configure the installer to work on your device. The configuration is necessary to inform the Installer of the specific locations of the Android and Java SDKs.
It also allows each component in the installer to be placed in their default location. You need the default path to configure the development environment too. Without this, you can’t have access to the environment, meaning you can’t use the tool.
If you already have the components in your system, change the path. To do this,
- Go to Xamarin Studio
- Select “Tools”
- Select “Options”
- Choose “SDK Locations”
Choose the appropriate location and click “OK” when you are done.
After you have configured the location, configure the Visual Studio too.
- Go to Visual Studio
- Choose “Tools”
- Choose “Options”
- Choose “Xamarin”
- Click “OK” to move to the next stage
4. Activate the Tool
The next step after the Visual Studio configuration is your account activation. To do this,
- Go to Xamarin Studio
- Click “Login”
- Create an account.
You can use the login details you get during the account creation to access it anytime.
A very efficient way to use Xamarin is through its .Forms feature. Xamarin.Forms provides developers with a cross-platform UI toolkit. This feature is an extension of the .NET developer platform. It contains libraries and tools for mobile apps development.
Xamarin.Forms is an open-source framework that supports cross-platform app development. Developers can use it to build applications for Android, iOS, and Windows. It also offers layouts, pages, and controls. Developers need these for building and designing mobile apps.
They can use it to create native user interface layouts. Developers across different platforms can share layouts on their apps.
Xamarin.Forms allows potential developers to learn the fundamentals of mobile application development. This includes:
- App Class
- App Lifecycle
- Application Indexing and Deep Linking
- Custom Renderers and other features
Xamarin.Forms goes beyond a cross-Platform UI tool. It is a full application framework with amazing features for application developers. These features include:
- Animation APIs.
- Cross-platform navigation.
- Messaging Center.
- Dependency Service, and more.
A big challenge for developers is meeting the huge demand for high-performance applications. Considering the competition in the market, Xamarin offers developers its Test Cloud.
Xamarin Test Cloud is a platform for app developers to test their applications. It provides a wide range of devices to test them simultaneously on multiple devices.
Once you complete the development, upload the application to the Xamarin Test Cloud. It will host the application and test it on thousands of devices. This is an easier and more convenient way to test run applications than manual testing that is prone to error.
You can use this tool to perform different tests on the platform. Some of these tests are:
- Unit Tests: Developers can test a small unit of their application. This enables them to know if the unit is working as expected or not. This is usually the most expensive test.
- Integration tests: Integration testing helps to find out whether classes are well integrated. For instance, the test can determine whether the “Shopping” class of an eCommerce app works well with the “Cost” class. It is a viable way to ensure that all classes are in good condition.
- Components Tests: An app may have a variety of components. During the components tests, test the entire components to know if there are issues with them or not.
- UI Tests: A Quality Assurance (QA) team usually handles this test. They check the user interface to look for potential problems so that you can fix them. This involves testing the flows. They also click the different buttons on the interface to know their real condition.
- Acceptance Tests: This test helps the developer determine how the app functions. They should compare the app functionality with the expected result. The test will show if the app works according to expectations or not.
- Regression Tests: The regression test helps to check a current code to see if it works well with earlier versions. For instance, if you create a new class, the test will check its compatibility with previous classes.
A developer must carry out these tests for the following reasons:
- The Xamarin Test Cloud makes testing faster than manual testing. You can get your testing done within a couple of hours. That is almost impossible if you handle it manually.
- Reduced overhead and expenses. When you are developing a mobile app on Xamarin, the platform allows you to reuse 96% of the source code. So, you save money by creating an app for many platforms rather than create an app for each platform.
- It makes app performance analysis possible. During the testing, you will check different components. This includes the app’s functionality. So, you can analyze the app’s performance without hassle.
- It offers the opportunity to test the app over more than a thousand devices. Imagine how you would feel if you had to buy all the devices you needed to test your application? Test Cloud allows you to do that for free.
Xamarin currently ranks among the most popular cross-platform app development platforms for developers. As the need for mobile apps continues to grow smart developers, both experienced and newbies are taking advantage of this web development platform to create amazing applications that can run smoothly on different platforms.