As web developers, we love to build our little fun projects in our free time. But most serious web development requires a team of devs, designers, testers, managers and many others’ work to create a useful web application. There are billions of internet users, so it’s not unlikely that a web application is going to be used by several millions of people every month. In some cases, every day.
That’s why scalability is important. Web developers need to account for the possibility of their application used millions of times every day. A minor bug can cause inconvenience or a downtime for thousands of users, who might be turned off from making a transaction or investing time in using the app. As web developers, we face a lot of pressure to build interactive UIs that can handle a lot of traffic and various use cases.
In this article, I want to discuss why React is the best (and most popular) tool to accomplish the difficult task of building scalable web applications.
React has pioneered an efficient rendering mechanism called virtual DOM. This feature alone is a primary reason why React has become and remains the most popular library for building user interfaces. Virtual DOM is a lightweight copy of real DOM that represents structure of the page. Because it is lightweight, virtual DOM is easier to re-render whenever there are changes to web application’s internal state. Then React reconciles changes with the real DOM. The library updates only parts that were changed, not the entire DOM.
This process is very efficient and allows React to seamlessly maintain an internal state of the UI.
Components and their reusability is one of the foundational principles of React. You can think of components as smallest mechanisms in a clockwork. Or as a brick necessary for building a wall. Except child components can have more component children of their own. React web apps are essentially component trees, with different branches and sub-branches. Reusability of components is an important factor. Developers can also extend upon basic components later on. The ability to reuse components can save scale projects a lot of time. You can even use built-in dynamic features to render a component in response to user events, such as a click. Read this guide to learn more.
Modular nature of React components also saves time on making changes and/or fixing errors. Bugs are usually contained within one component, so developers can easily go back and fix them. Separate nature of components also allows teams to work on an individual component according to specs. Finally, everything comes together to achieve the desired result.
Reusability – reusable nature of components is useful and efficient. Developers don’t have to copy paste. Instead they can use component skeletons and pass them different bits of data via props. Most of the work of designing and structuring a component is avoided and developers still have some options to modify component’s contents, appearance or even functionality on a case by case basis. Composition of components further allows developers to build impressive web applications while reusing most of the code.
Modularity: Components in component-based architecture are self-contained modules that encapsulate their own logic and behavior.
Teamwork - Component-based approach is also great for abstraction and team work. If properly documented, other developers can use your components without having to understand its underlying code. This can save a lot of time. Many React libraries utilize abstraction to a great extent. For example, react-select is a library that provides custom component for building advanced dropdowns. Beginner React developers don’t have to know what goes on in the custom component. They can use props to customize its behavior, like expand or collapse a container in React.
This way, everyone can effectively contribute to building a large scale web applications, even if they don’t understand everything going on under the hood.
Flexibility – Previously we compared components to a mechanism in a clockwork. This is true, except components are even better. They don’t have to be designed to fit a specific pattern or mold. Instead, a team can create several components that can be reused throughout different applications. Components can receive data from other components, and pass data to their children. Thus it’s easy to mix and match different components to get the desired effect.
All of the aforementioned features promote scalability. Reusing components saves time, and React has built its entire ecosystem about the concept of reusable components. It is also remarkably easy to build additional features or pages on top of existing React apps. Developers can even change one component and see those changes reflected in hundreds of instances where that component is reused.
Thanks to its popularity, there are many supporting libraries with a specific purpose to enhance capabilities of React. For example, React doesn’t have a built-in routing, but react-router is there to save the day. Anyone trying to build an app in React has a wealth of options at their disposal. There are also utilities like classname that provide essential functions that React doesn’t have (in this case, dynamic classes).
Finally, React has a large and supportive community of developers who can answer beginners’ questions. Platforms like Stack Overflow and reddit have plenty of developers ready to help.
In this article, we described all the ways in which React can enhance web development process. Virtual DOM and reusable components are two foundational features that greatly improve scalability of large scale apps built in React. I currently do not see a viable alternative to this library for building interactive user interfaces. If anything comes up, I will be happy to give it a try.