In the world of cross-platform .NET development, two popular frameworks have emerged as strong contenders: Avalonia UI and .NET MAUI (Multi-platform App UI). Both are powerful tools designed to solve different problems, making it essential to understand their key differences to make an informed choice for your project.
This blog post will delve into the primary distinction between these two technologies and the benefits of each approach.
Let's start with a brief overview of both Avalonia UI and MAUI.
Avalonia UI is an open-source, cross-platform UI framework that allows developers to create beautiful, responsive applications using a single codebase for multiple platforms, including Windows, macOS, Linux (desktop and embedded), WebAssembly and even mobile platforms. Avalonia UI leverages XAML for creating the UI, making it familiar to those with experience in WPF, UWP, WinUI or Xamarin.Forms.
While Avalonia UI is free and OSS, it is backed by a small, independent company formed by the core team responsible for the development of Avalonia UI. We offer development services, support agreements and recently announced our first product, Avalonia XPF. The goal of the company is to generate revenue to enable the core team to work on Avalonia UI full-time and to better serve enterprises building apps with Avalonia.
MAUI (Multi-platform App UI) is an evolution of Xamarin.Forms. It's an open-source, cross-platform framework for building native UIs for iOS, Android, macOS, and Windows. MAUI simplifies creating apps with native user interfaces by enabling developers to develop in a single project. It uses the native UI toolkit of each platform, which allows developers to leverage platform-specific capabilities and build applications that feel native to each platform.
Developed by Microsoft, it has a large and dedicated community of users to lean on for support.
Now that we have a basic understanding of Avalonia UI and MAUI, let's dive deeper into their differences.
The primary difference between Avalonia UI and MAUI lies in how they draw the user interface. Avalonia UI employs a custom drawing engine powered by Skia (like Flutter), while MAUI uses native UI toolkits for each platform.
Let's explore these approaches in more detail.
MAUI uses the native UI toolkit of each platform, resulting in an application that feels native to the platform it's running on. This means that a MAUI app on Android will use the native Android UI toolkit, while on iOS, it will use UIKit. This approach ensures that your application will have a look and feel that users expect on their devices. This approach offers several benefits:
Performance: By utilising native UI toolkits, MAUI can offer good performance, especially on mobile devices. It should be noted that on some platforms, objects will exist in both the .NET memory space and the platform UI toolkits memory. This can have a noticeable effect on performance compared to an app developed purely with the native technology. For example, on Android you will have two Garbage Collectors, one for the ART Runtime and one for the .NET runtime.
Platform-Specific Animations and Transitions: MAUI allows developers to harness platform-specific animations and transitions, giving applications a polished and native feel. By utilising the animations provided by the native UI toolkits, developers can create applications that are consistent with the design language of each platform and provide a familiar user experience.
Rapid Adoption of New Platform Features: As new features and UI components are introduced in native platforms, MAUI applications can quickly adopt these updates, ensuring that applications stay up-to-date with the latest design trends and platform improvements. This helps maintain a modern and consistent user experience while also reducing the time and effort needed to implement new features manually.
Unlike MAUI, Avalonia UI uses a custom rendering engine that draws UI elements consistently across all platforms. This means that your application will have the same appearance and behaviour regardless of the platform it's running on. Avalonia UI's custom rendering approach allows for greater control over the UI design and a consistent user experience across different platforms. This approach comes with its own set of benefits:
Consistency: Applications built with Avalonia UI have a consistent look and feel across platforms, which can be valuable for branding and user experience.
Flexibility: The custom drawing engine gives developers more control over their application's appearance and behaviour. They can create custom UI elements and styles that might not be possible or would require more effort using native UI toolkits.
Simplified Maintenance: Using a custom drawing engine means the UI code is the same across all platforms, simplifying maintenance and updates. Developers only need to change the shared codebase, reducing the time and effort required to maintain the application across multiple platforms.
Independent Evolution: Avalonia UI's custom drawing engine allows the framework to evolve independently of the native platforms it targets. This means that improvements, bug fixes, and new features can be implemented faster without having to wait for native platforms to catch up or maintain compatibility. As a result, Avalonia UI applications can benefit from continuous innovation and stay ahead of the curve in terms of UI and UX advancements.
While both technologies are both versatile and powerful UI frameworks, their platform support differs in some key areas.
MAUI provides support for Windows 10 and 11, depending on WinUI3, while Avalonia UI can target Windows 7 and higher.
As MAUI relies on Mac Catalyst, it supports macOS 10.15 (Catalina) and newer. Avalonia, on the other hand, supports macOS 10.13 (High Sierra) and higher.
At this time, MAUI doesn’t have any official support for Linux, though a community effort exists to enable MAUI to run on desktop Linux. Avalonia UI supports both desktop and embedded distributions of Linux, requiring no desktop environment to be installed. Officially supported distributions include Debian 9, Ubuntu 16.04 and Fedora 30 and higher.
MAUI supports iOS 11 and higher, while Avalonia UI supports iOS 13.
MAUI supports Android 7.0 (API 24) and higher, while Avalonia UI supports Android 5 (API 21)
It was recently announced that MAUI could be getting Web support after .NET 8, but at this time, there are no options to deploy your MAUI applications to the web. Avalonia UI supports WebAssembly today and has a fully interactive playground for exploring Avalonia UI on the web.
While both Avalonia UI and MAUI are powerful frameworks for cross-platform development, they are designed to address different concerns:
Avalonia UI is an excellent choice for developers who prioritise consistent branding and a uniform user experience across platforms. Its custom drawing engine provides flexibility in designing custom UI components and styles, making it perfect for creating unique and visually rich applications. Avalonia UI excels on desktop focused applications, with mobile and WebAssembly being new additions to the platform.
On the other hand, MAUI is the go-to choice for developers who need their applications to adhere to platform-specific design guidelines and provide a native look and feel. Its use of native UI toolkits ensures fantastic performance on various devices, and direct access to platform-specific APIs allows for seamless integration of native functionality. MAUI is a great choice for developing mobile centric applications, where desktop is a secondary or lower priority.
Avalonia UI and MAUI are both outstanding options for cross-platform development, each offering unique benefits depending on your project's requirements. The strength of the .NET ecosystem lies in its ability to provide developers with an array of options to choose from, ensuring they can select the most suitable approach for their specific project. The beauty of .NET is that a well architected application can reuse a huge amount of code, regardless of the UI framework used.
If you want to learn more about Avalonia UI and how it can help you develop visually stunning, high-performance applications for Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS and WebAssembly then check out our getting started.