How to Debug Encrypted Network Traffic in React Native

How to Debug Encrypted Network Traffic in React Native

Learn how to debug encrypted network traffic in React Native. Learn how you can extend the shipped React Native toolbox with sophisticated utilities for debugging encrypted network traffic.

Learn how you can extend the shipped React Native toolbox with sophisticated utilities for debugging encrypted network traffic.

Although it has the potential to provide the best UX for users, developing iOS and Android apps natively usually isn’t an option for JavaScript developers. This is where React Native comes into play.

React Native application code can be analyzed with the inspector, profiler, and remote debugger, all accessed by the in-app development menu. You can combine this with the stand-alone React Developer Tools. In contrast to native development, however, this approach has its limits with regards to debugging network communication.

This article covers additional tools for React Native that enable debugging capabilities the shipped React Native Developer Tools don’t offer. The focus is on inspecting and rewriting network traffic between your app and server.

At the end of this article, you will have learned that debugging network traffic for Android apps has its limits depending on the selected development approaches, such as Expo managed workflow, ejecting from the Expo managed approach, or React Native CLI.

This article describes the handy local proxy tools Charles Proxy, HTTP Toolkit, and Proxyman. For debugging encrypted network traffic for iOS, I cover Proxyman and Charles Proxy, and for Android, HTTP Toolkit and Proxyman (I skip Charles Proxy even though this is supported).

My goal is not to cover every possible use case with every tool, but to show you different scenarios with different tools in order not to drag out the article unnecessarily. I only cover how to debug the traffic of your connected iOS tool with Proxyman, for example, and not with Charles Proxy (though it’s possible).

Additionally, some debugging use cases are only possible on real devices; thus, I’ll show you two handy tools for iOS and Android development to mirror the device screens on your machine. This is a lifesaver in a remote pair programming session.

React Native environments and their network debugging capabilities

There are several ways to develop a React Native app. The most common options are:

  1. The default method recommended by Facebook with the React Native CLI
  2. A managed workflow with Expo, which represents the lowest initial hurdle
  3. A hybrid approach with native code components and components written in React Native

There are many differences between these three approaches, but the most important distinction in terms debugging network traffic is whether you have access to the native Android code or not.

As you will see later, to enable all capabilities of network debugging, you need to define some security settings in native Android code. This is possible with options 1 and 3, but not with 2 — except if you eject from the managed workflow.

Your ability to inspect HTTPS network calls comes down to whether it’s possible to establish an HTTP(S) proxy in your development setup with a local proxy tool like Charles Proxy or Proxyman. They install SSL certificates that enable you to view encrypted HTTPS contents. For Android in particular, it boils down to whether you can customize the native network security configuration.

Below is an overview of whether encrypted requests and responses can be inspected for each of the three options reviewed above:

  1. iOS, Android
  2. iOS; but if ejected from managed workflow, Android as well
  3. iOS, Android

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