20 Essential React Tools


20 Essential React Tools for 2020

The React ecosystem has evolved into a growing list of dev tools and libraries. The plethora of tools is a true testament to React’s popularity. For devs, it can be a dizzying exercise to navigate this maze that changes at neck-breaking speed. To help navigate your course, below is a list of essential React tools, techniques and skills for 2020.

Hooks

While not strictly a tool, any developer working with React in 2020 needs to be familiar with hooks. These are a new addition to React as of version 16.8 which unlock useful features in function components. For example, the useState hook allows a function component to have its own state, whereas useEffect allows you to perform side effects after the initial render — for example, manipulating the DOM or data fetching. Hooks can be used to replicate lifecycle methods in functional components and allow you to share code between components.

The following basic hooks are available:

  • useState: for mutating state in a function component without lifecycle methods
  • useEffect: for executing functions post-render, useful for firing Ajax requests
  • useContext: for accessing component context data, even outside component props

Pros:

  • mitigates state management complexity
  • supports function components
  • encourages separation of concerns

Cons:

  • context data switching can increase cognitive load

If you’d like to find out more about hooks, then check out our tutorial, “React Hooks: How to Get Started & Build Your Own”.

Function Components

With the advent of hooks, function components — a declarative way to create JSX markup without using a class — are becoming more popular than ever. They embrace the functional paradigm because they don’t manage state in lifecycle methods. This emphasizes focus on the UI markup without much logic. Because the component relies on props, it becomes easier to test. Props have a one-to-one relationship with the rendered output.

This is what a functional component looks like in React:

function Welcome(props) {
  return <h1>Hello, {props.name}</h1>;
}

Pros:

  • focuses on the UI
  • testable component
  • less cognitive load when thinking about the component

Cons:

  • no lifecycle methods

Create React App

Create React App is the quintessential tool for firing up a new React project. It manages all React dependencies via a single npm package. No more dealing with Babel, webpack, and the rest. All it takes is one command to set up a local development environment, with React, JSX, and ES6 support. But that’s not all. Create React App also offers hot module reloading (your changes are immediately reflected in the browser when developing), automatic code linting, a test runner and a build script to bundle JS, CSS, and images for production.

It’s easy to get started:

npx create-react-app my-killer-app

And it’s even easier to upgrade later. The entire dependency tool chain gets upgraded with react-scripts in package.json:

npm i react-scripts@latest

Pros:

  • easy to get started
  • easy to upgrade
  • single meta-dependency

Cons:

  • no server-side rendering, but allows for integration

If you’d like to find out more about using Create React App, please consult our tutorial, “Create React App – Get React Projects Ready Fast”.

Proxy Server

Starting from version react-scripts@0.2.3 or higher, it’s possible to proxy API requests. This allows the back-end API and local Create React App project to co-exist. From the client side, making a request to /my-killer-api/get-data routes the request through the proxy server. This seamless integration works both in local dev and post-build. If local dev runs on port localhost:3000, then API requests go through the proxy server. Once you deploy static assets, it goes through whatever back end hosts these assets.

To set a proxy server in package.json:

"proxy": "http://localhost/my-killer-api-base-url"

If the back-end API is hosted with a relative path, set the home page:

"homepage": "/relative-path"

Pros:

  • seamless integration with back-end API
  • eliminates CORS issues
  • easy set up

Con

  • might need a server-side proxy layer with multiple APIs

PropTypes

PropTypes declares the type intended for the React component and documents its intent. This shows a warning in local dev if the types don’t match. It supports all JavaScript primitives such as Boolean, Number, and String. It can document which props are required via isRequired.

For example:

import PropTypes;

MyComponent.propTypes = {
  boolProperty: PropTypes.bool,
  numberProperty: PropTypes.number,
  requiredProperty: PropTypes.string.isRequired
};

Pros:

  • documents component’s intent
  • shows warnings in local dev
  • supports all JavaScript primitives

Cons:

  • no compile type checking

TypeScript

JavaScript that scales for React projects with compile type checking. This supports all React libraries and tools with type declarations. It’s a superset of JavaScript, so it’s possible to opt out of the type checker. This both documents intent and fails the build when it doesn’t match. In Create React App projects, turn it on by passing in --template typescript when creating your app. TypeScript support is available starting from version react-script@2.1.0.

To declare a prop type:

interface MyComponentProps {
  boolProp?: boolean; // optional
  numberProp?: number; // optional
  requiredProp: string;
}

Pros:

  • compile type checking
  • supports all React tools and libraries, including Create React App
  • nice way to up your JavaScript skills

Cons:

  • has a learning curve, but opt out is possible

If you’d like to find out more about using TypeScript with React, check out “React with TypeScript: Best Practices”.

Redux

Predictable state management container for JavaScript apps. This tool comes with a store that manages state data. State mutation is only possible via a dispatch message. The message object contains a type that signals to the reducer which mutation to fire. The recommendation is to keep everything in the app in a single store. Redux supports multiple reducers in a single store. Reducers have a one-to-one relationship between input parameters and output state. This makes reducers pure functions.

A typical reducer that mutates state might look like this:

const simpleReducer = (state = {}, action) => {
  switch (action.type) {
    case 'SIMPLE_UPDATE_DATA':
      return {...state, data: action.payload};

    default:
      return state;
  }
};

Pros:

  • predictable state management
  • multiple reducers in a single store
  • reducers are pure functions

Cons:

  • set up from scratch can be a bit painful

React-Redux

If you want to use Redux in your React apps, you’ll soon discover the official React bindings for Redux. This comes in two main modules: Provider and connect. The Provider is a React component with a store prop. This prop is how a single store hooks up to the JSX markup. The connect function takes in two parameters: mapStateToProps, and mapDispatchToProps. This is where state management from Redux ties into component props. As state mutates, or dispatches fire, bindings take care of setting state in React.

This is how a connect might look:

import { bindActionCreators } from 'redux';
import { connect } from 'react-redux';

const mapStateToProps = (state) => state.simple;
const mapDispatchToProps = (dispatch) =>
  bindActionCreators({() => ({type: 'SIMPLE_UPDATE_DATA'})}, dispatch);

connect(mapStateToProps, mapDispatchToProps)(SimpleComponent);

Pros:

  • official React bindings for Redux
  • binds with JSX markup
  • connects components to a single store

Cons:

  • learning curve is somewhat steep

It should also be noted that, with the introduction of hooks and React’s Context API, it’s possible to replace Redux in some React applications. You can read more about that in “How to Replace Redux with React Hooks and the Context API”.

React Router

React Router is the de facto standard routing library for React. When you need to navigate through a React application with multiple views, you’ll need a router to manage the URLs. React Router takes care of that, keeping your application UI and the URL in sync.

The library comprises three packages: react-router, react-router-dom, and react-router-native. The core package for the router is react-router, whereas the other two are environment specific. You should use react-router-dom if you’re building a website, and react-router-native if you’re building a React Native app.

Recent versions of React Router have introduced hooks, which let you access the state of the router and perform navigation from inside your components, as well as a newer route rendering pattern:

<Route path="/">
  <Home />
</Route>

If you’d like to find out more about what React Router can do, please see “React Router v5: The Complete Guide”.

Pros:

  • routing between components is fast
  • animations and transitions can be easily implemented
  • connects components to a single store

Cons:

  • without additional configuration, data is downloaded for views a user might not visit
  • client-side routing (whereby JavaScript is converted to HTML) has SEO implications

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