Introducing React Hooks

React Hooks are the best new thing from the popular JavaScript framework. They offer an alternative to class-based components, which I am really happy about, and, apparently, so are a lot of other people. This feature went from being in alpha at the beginning of the year to getting released in a stable version in March.

Class-based vs Functional Components

As someone who likes functional programming, I prefer functional components better over class-based components. But, what's the difference?

Functional Components

Functional components are very simple. They are React components that are just JavaScript functions. They take props as a function argument, can process those props or calculate other data needed for the render, and then return a chunk of JSX.

This is a much more straightforward and simple way to create React components. It's also my personal preference as someone who likes functional programming. It is so much cleaner and doesn't have any of the problematic characteristics of ES6 classes that I'll get to below.

Class-based Components

Here's a quick list of the characteristics of class-based components:

  • They are declared using the class keyword introduced in the ECMAScript 2015 standard.
  • They extend the React component like so: class ZenComponent extends React.Component
  • Class components that receive props must define a constructor that takes those props, call super with those props or risk inconsistencies with the React framework.
  • Class-based components also end up using thisquite a bit, which isn't exactly problematic, but it is a highly misunderstood feature in JavaScript. This leads to a lot of headaches when people think it will work exactly this this in Java or some other programming language.

And that's all well and fine. However, there's something going on in the background that I've been avoiding until now. ES6 classes are problematic at best. They were added in to make programmers from other languages feel more comfortable when they were forced to use JavaScript as they were pushed to be more "fullstack". What you get instead is a feature that looks like it does what you need until you start trying to typeofor things that rely on a classical inheritance mindset. Javascript is not a lanaguage that uses classical inheritance; it uses prototypal inheritance. Classes are just syntatic sugar on top of the old function way of creating object in JavaScript. And, thus, I would like to avoid ES6 classes whenever I can.

If you like to learn more about the problems with ES6 classes, here are some resources:

So... Why would I ever use class-based components?

Well, the main reason concerns state and life-cycle methods. Until quite recently, class-based components were the only way to have local component state or to access life-cyle methods in a React component. Functional components were relegated to the "dumb view" portion of React apps.

This leads us nicely into the main topic for today...

Nintendo's Super Smash Brother New Challenger Message

React Hooks

React Hooks are THE big new feature of React. And what do they do? They make functional components viable for use throughout your entire app. Because they finally give functional components a way to have their own local state. They also, after a fashion, give you the ability to do the same things you would do in a componentDidMountmethod in a class-based component. That comparison isn't one-to-one, but I haven't done enough research - and it's outside of the scope of this introduction - to understand and explain how things are different between things like the useEffect hook and componentDidMount. So, more to come on that in the future.

There are many hooks from React. The simplest is useState, which I'll be discussing here. React also gives you the tools to create custom hooks, which I have not explored yet, so I'll leave that for a future post.

Alright, on to the code! The next example will show a simple usage of the useStatehook:


const HookCounter = () => {
  const [count, setCount] = useState(0)

  return (
    <div>
      <p data-testid={'count-display'}>{count}</p>
      <button
        data-testid={'increment'}
        type="button"
        style={buttonStyle}
        onClick={() => setCount(count + 1)}
      >
        +
      </button>
    </div>
  )
}

Cool, so let's break that down.

  • We've create a functional component, so far so good.
  • Then we see something that may look a little weird: const [count, setCount] = useState(0)

    What's going on there? Well, we are deconstructing two objects out of the return value of the useState hook. We called useState with 0, and that sets the initial state for this component. Then we get back the current state - we're calling it count - and a function that lets us change that state, the second variable there called setCount. We just as easily could have called those things anything else we want, becase of the way JavaScript destructuring works.

  • The rest looks fairly straightforward now that we understand that. The count variable is display in the text of the paragraph tag, and the button gets the setCount function as its click handler.
  • This should create a component that acts as a simple counter: Check it out!

What you should see - besides some unrelated work I was doing to try out TypeScript with React - is a button that increments the display!

office party

Wait, hold on. What's that I hear you say?

"So you made a counter with a button, big whoop"

And... okay, yeah this isn't the most exciting example. It is pretty simple. But the point is I didn't have to use ES6 classes to create a React component with local state! And that's awesome!

Conclusion

If this was at all interesting, I highly recommend checking out React hooks. They are fantastic, and I'm already loving them. Check out the docsfor a quick start.

Oh, and if you were a little underwhelmed by the counter example, check out this form I created using hooks that uses the useState hook and also gets a good example of a closure and currying at the same time. I used NES.css to style that form, because it was fun.