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CodeDancing with Milos

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React: Reasons & Possibilities

Have you ever wondered how interactive websites are built? React is a powerful JavaScript library that allows developers to create dynamic and engaging user interfaces (UIs) for websites. This article will delve into what React is, why you should use it, and the exciting possibilities it offers.

Learning Goals:
By the end of this post, you will be able to:

  • Explain what React is and the benefits it provides
  • Compare React to traditional JavaScript web development
  • Create new React projects


React.js, commonly referred to simply as React, is the most popular frontend JavaScript library today, utilized by over 5% of the top 1,000 websites. Its adoption outpaces competitors such as Angular, especially in terms of weekly package downloads via npm (Node Package Manager). Understanding React's core concepts and its advantages is crucial for developers who want to leverage modern web development techniques efficiently.

What is React?

React is a JavaScript library that revolutionizes the way developers build user interfaces. Unlike traditional frameworks, React focuses on being declarative and component-based, which brings several advantages to the development process and the final product.

Core Characteristics of React

  1. Component-Based Architecture:
    • Modularity: React applications are built using components. Each component encapsulates everything it needs to function, from logic to styling. This modular approach makes code reusable and easier to manage.
    • Isolation: Components are isolated units which can be developed and tested in isolation without affecting the rest of the application, enhancing the reliability and maintainability of applications.
  2. Declarative Nature:
    • Simplicity: React allows developers to describe their interfaces in terms of the desired target state (e.g., a logged-in view, a loading state). The library takes care of updating the DOM to match that state. This simplifies the process of building interactive UIs.
    • Predictability: By handling updates automatically, React ensures that the UI is consistent with the application state, reducing bugs and making the behavior of the app more predictable.
  3. Efficient Updates with the Virtual DOM:
    • Performance: React introduces the concept of the Virtual DOM, which is a lightweight copy of the actual DOM. It allows React to perform its updates in an efficient manner by comparing new states with the old one and calculating the optimal way to make these updates to the real DOM.
    • Optimization: This process, often called "reconciliation," helps in optimizing the updates and thus, boosts the performance of applications, especially those with complex interfaces.
  4. JSX - A Syntax Extension:
    • Readability: JSX allows developers to write HTML structures in the same file as their JavaScript code. This makes the code easier to read and debug because it visually resembles the final layout.
    • Power: Although optional, JSX is a powerful addition to React that facilitates the writing of component structures in a way that is similar to writing HTML, but with the full power of JavaScript.
  5. Strong Community and Ecosystem:
    • Support: React's popularity means it has a vast community of developers and a plethora of resources, including tutorials, forums, third-party libraries, and tools. This extensive ecosystem not only makes learning React easier but also provides numerous tools that simplify common development tasks.
    • Innovation: The active community also drives innovation in the ecosystem, continuously improving the library and expanding its capabilities through contributions and plugins.

The Problem with "Vanilla JavaScript"

Using "Vanilla JavaScript" to build user interfaces means relying solely on JavaScript without any libraries or frameworks. While it's entirely possible to create interactive and dynamic websites this way, there are significant challenges and limitations that can make development cumbersome, especially as projects grow in complexity.

Limitations of Vanilla JavaScript in Modern Web Development

  1. Increased Complexity and Boilerplate Code:
    • As applications scale and user interactions become more complex, the amount of JavaScript required to manage these interactions grows. This can lead to verbose code that is difficult to maintain and debug. Each new feature or interaction often requires additional code for DOM manipulations, event handling, and state management, which can quickly become repetitive and error-prone.
  2. Direct DOM Manipulation:
    • Vanilla JavaScript requires developers to directly manipulate the DOM for updating the user interface, which is computationally expensive. Frequent DOM updates, which are common in dynamic applications, can lead to performance bottlenecks because each manipulation can trigger reflows and repaints in the browser, slowing down the user experience.
  3. State Management Challenges:
    • Managing the state of an application (e.g., keeping track of user inputs, loaded data, UI changes) can get overly complicated in vanilla JavaScript. Developers often end up mixing the business logic with UI updates, leading to hard-to-follow code that is hard to debug and test.
  4. Lack of Structure:
    • Vanilla JavaScript does not impose any particular architecture or pattern for organizing code. This freedom can lead to inconsistent code structures, especially in teams where multiple developers work on the same project. Without a unified structure, maintaining and scaling the application can become problematic.
  5. Reinventing the Wheel:
    • Common tasks such as routing, state management, and form handling need to be implemented from scratch or with the help of third-party libraries, which may not always integrate seamlessly. This often leads to "reinventing the wheel," where developers spend significant time solving problems that have been addressed in more comprehensive and tested ways in modern frameworks like React.

The Impact on Development Efficiency

The issues with vanilla JavaScript not only impact the performance and scalability of applications but also affect development efficiency:

  • Time-consuming Development: Writing and maintaining a complex application with vanilla JavaScript takes considerable time due to the need for custom solutions for common problems.
  • Higher Potential for Bugs: With the increased complexity and manual DOM management, there is a higher likelihood of introducing bugs, which are often subtle and hard to trace in vanilla JavaScript.
  • Difficulty in Collaboration: In team environments, the lack of enforced structure and the variability in code can lead to inconsistencies that complicate collaboration and code reviews.

React and Declarative Code

React's approach to building user interfaces fundamentally shifts from the traditional imperative coding style to a more declarative paradigm. This change enhances readability, maintainability, and scalability of applications by abstracting complex behaviors into simple, declarative expressions.

Declarative vs. Imperative Programming

In imperative programming, developers instruct the computer on how to do something, specifying each step to achieve a result. In contrast, declarative programming focuses on what the outcome should be without explicitly detailing the steps to achieve it.

Example: A Simple UI Task
Consider a simple UI task where a button click changes the text displayed on the screen.
Imperative Approach:

// HTML Setup

<button id="changeButton">Change Text</button>

<p id="displayText">Original Text</p>

// JavaScript

const buttonElement = document.getElementById('changeButton');

const displayText = document.getElementById('displayText');

buttonElement.addEventListener('click', function() {

  displayText.textContent = 'Updated Text!';

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In this imperative example, each step is clearly laid out: selecting elements from the DOM, attaching an event listener, and modifying the DOM directly when the event occurs.

Declarative Approach with React:

// React Component

function TextUpdater() {

  const [text, setText] = React.useState('Original Text');

  return (


      <button onClick={() => setText('Updated Text!')}>Change Text</button>




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In the declarative example using React:

  • The UI is described as a function of state.
  • The React code focuses on defining the desired state (what the text should be), and React takes care of updating the DOM to match this state.
  • The event handling and state management are closely integrated and abstract away the direct DOM manipulation.

Benefits of React's Declarative Approach

  1. Simplified Debugging and Testing: Since components describe their state rather than perform actions directly, it becomes easier to predict their behavior and test them in isolation.
  2. Improved Readability: Code that describes what it accomplishes (rather than how) is generally easier to read and understand. New developers on a project can grasp what a component does and what its UI should look like without digging through the details of DOM manipulation.
  3. Enhanced UI Consistency: React’s reconciliation algorithm ensures that the actual DOM always matches the state described by the components, reducing the chances of inconsistencies due to manual DOM updates.
  4. Ease of Updates: As requirements change, updating a declarative codebase often involves changing the state and letting the framework handle the DOM updates, whereas imperative code might require reengineering the steps that manipulate the UI.

How React Manipulates the DOM

React's approach to DOM manipulation is innovative and efficient, fundamentally changing how updates are applied to the user interface. This process is key to React's performance and its ability to scale efficiently with application complexity.

The Virtual DOM

At the heart of React's DOM manipulation strategy is the Virtual DOM. The Virtual DOM is an abstraction of the actual browser DOM; it is a lightweight copy that allows React to do its heavy lifting offscreen without affecting the performance of the actual page.

  1. Batched Updates:
    • React performs updates to the Virtual DOM in memory, which is much faster than writing directly to the browser's DOM. After changes are made, React compares the new Virtual DOM with a snapshot of the Virtual DOM taken before the update.
    • By doing this, React can batch multiple changes into a single update cycle. This minimizes the number of reflows and repaints that the browser must perform, enhancing performance.
  2. Reconciliation:
    • The process of React comparing the old Virtual DOM with the new one is called reconciliation. During reconciliation, React calculates the most efficient way to update the browser's DOM based on the changes detected in the Virtual DOM.
    • Only the parts of the DOM that actually changed are updated, rather than re-rendering entire sections of the page. This selective updating keeps interactions smooth and responsive, even with large datasets and complex UIs.
  3. Efficient Diffing Algorithm:
    • React employs a sophisticated algorithm for diffing the old and new versions of the Virtual DOM. The algorithm assumes that elements of different types will produce different trees, and the developer can hint at stable children with a key prop.
    • This assumption allows React to quickly determine which elements have changed, need to be replaced, or can be reused. This process is fundamental in optimizing the performance of updates.

Practical Example of React's DOM Manipulation

To understand how React manipulates the DOM, consider a component that lists items. When an item is added, React does not rebuild the entire list in the actual DOM. Instead, it adds only the new item:

function ItemList({ items }) {

  return (


      { => (

        <li key={}>{item}</li>




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In this example:

  • Each li element is given a unique key prop, which helps React track each element individually across renders.
  • If an item is added to the items array, React will identify that there are no changes to the existing elements and only add a new li for the new item, rather than re-rendering the entire list.

Benefits and Implications

The Virtual DOM and React's efficient diffing algorithm significantly reduce the cost of updates, which is especially noticeable in applications with complex interfaces and frequent state changes. This system allows React applications to scale while maintaining high performance, without sacrificing reactivity or user experience.
By abstracting the direct manipulation of the DOM, React not only improves performance but also allows developers to focus more on designing the logic and structure of the user interface, rather than on performance optimizations and DOM-specific quirks. This leads to clearer, more maintainable code that aligns with modern web development practices.

Introducing SPA (Single Page Applications)

Single Page Applications (SPAs) represent a fundamental shift in web development, moving away from traditional multi-page websites to applications that load a single HTML document and dynamically update the content as the user interacts with the app. React is particularly well-suited for building these types of applications due to its efficient update mechanisms and component-based architecture.

Characteristics of SPAs

  1. Single HTML Page:
    • In a SPA, the entire application is loaded from a single HTML file. Once loaded, the SPA does not require additional page reloads during its use. Instead, it dynamically updates the content on the client-side as users interact with the application, leading to a smoother user experience that mimics that of a desktop application.
  2. Client-Side Rendering:
    • SPAs typically render pages directly in the browser using JavaScript. This means that most of the application logic, data processing, and even routing are handled in the client rather than on the server. This can reduce server load and network latency, improving the responsiveness of the application.
  3. Decoupling Frontend from Backend:
    • SPAs often communicate with backends using APIs (usually RESTful APIs) for data, which clearly separates frontend from backend responsibilities. This separation allows developers to work on both ends independently and also simplifies the deployment and scaling of each component.

Advantages of Using React for SPAs

  1. Component-Based:
    • React’s component-based architecture is ideal for SPAs as it allows developers to build encapsulated components that manage their own state, then compose them to make complex UIs. This modular structure makes it easy to manage and scale the application as it grows.
  2. State and Lifecycle Management:
    • React provides sophisticated mechanisms for managing state and the lifecycle of components, which are crucial in SPAs where the state needs to be updated dynamically without reloading the page. Built-in hooks (useState, useEffect) and context provide ways to handle shared state and side effects efficiently.
  3. Routing:
    • React Router is a standard library for routing in React SPAs. It enables the creation of navigable components that reflect the URL changes without reloading the page. This makes it easy to handle navigation and ensures that users can use browser features like the back button and bookmarks, just as they would in a traditional multi-page website.

Challenges and Considerations

While SPAs can offer significant advantages in terms of user experience and performance, there are also challenges to consider:

  1. SEO Optimization:
    • Because content is loaded dynamically, SPAs might face challenges with search engine optimization (SEO). Search engines have traditionally favored content that is fully loaded on the initial page load. However, advances in search engine technology and server-side rendering (SSR) solutions like Next.js (built on top of React) have helped alleviate these issues.
  2. Initial Load Performance:
    • SPAs load most of the necessary JavaScript upfront, which can lead to longer initial loading times compared to traditional multi-page apps where pages load one at a time. Effective use of code splitting and lazy loading can help improve the loading time and performance of SPAs.
  3. Complex State Management:
    • Managing the state across different components and workflows can become complex as the SPA grows. State management libraries like Redux or Recoil can help manage state more effectively across large React applications.

Summary and Key Takeaways

This article has explored the React JavaScript library, shedding light on why it has become a preferred choice for developers building dynamic user interfaces. Below are the key learnings and takeaways:

  1. Understanding React:
    • What it is: React is a declarative, efficient, and flexible JavaScript library for building user interfaces. It enables developers to create complex UIs from small, encapsulated components that manage their own state.
    • How it works: React uses a virtual DOM to manage updates to the user interface in a performance-efficient manner. This approach minimizes direct interactions with the actual DOM, leading to improved application performance.
  2. The Problem with Vanilla JavaScript:
    • Challenges: While pure JavaScript (often called "vanilla JavaScript") is powerful, managing complex UIs with it can lead to verbose, error-prone code. The lack of a structured approach to managing the state and the DOM can make applications difficult to scale and maintain.
    • Comparison: React abstracts many of the tedious aspects of DOM manipulation and event handling, allowing developers to focus on higher-level application logic.
  3. Declarative Nature of React:
    • React promotes a declarative approach to building UIs, where developers describe the state of the UI and let the library handle the actual rendering. This not only simplifies the development process but also enhances the predictability and maintainability of the code.
  4. Single Page Applications (SPAs):
    • Benefits: SPAs load a single HTML page and dynamically update that page as the user interacts with the app. React’s efficient update mechanism and component-based architecture make it an ideal choice for SPAs.
    • Routing and State Management: Tools like React Router enhance SPA capabilities by handling complex routing requirements without a page refresh. State management tools like Redux or React’s own Context API help manage an application’s state across many components.
  5. Practical Benefits:
    • Scalability: React’s component-based structure helps in building scalable applications where components can be reused and managed independently.
    • Community and Ecosystem: A robust community and a wealth of libraries and tools make React a sustainable choice for long-term projects.

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