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Beginner's Guide to React

jenkens profile image Jen Kennedy Updated on ・3 min read

Beginner’s Guide to React

React is a JavaScript library, created by Facebook and open-sourced in 2013. React was created to help build simple and reusable interfaces. The main idea was to divide the UI into small individual components. These individual and reusable components are the core feature of React. The important pieces to understand about React are Components, JSX, State, and Props.

Components

React interfaces are made up of small components that all have just one purpose. These components are translated into HTML and then added onto the DOM to be rendered. React components come in two different styles, class-based components, and functional components.

class Welcome extends React.Component {
  render() {
    return <h1>Hello</h1>
  }
}

The main difference between the two is Class components can hold state (note this was changed with the addition of React Hooks, check out my other post to learn about hooks). Although we will talk about state later, think of it as a parameter. State allows your components to be dynamic and flexible. Functional components cannot hold their own state. What Functional components do well is their simpleness and readability.

function Welcome() {
  return <h1>Hello</h1>
}

JSX

JSX is an extension of JavaScript that is used to tell React what the UI will look like. Although it looks like HTML, JSX allows us to create what the UI and logic should look like in one place. By using JSX we can embed JavaScript logic right into our UI. JSX is similar to Ruby's ERB, we can use them to create a layout with variable flexibility.

const name = 'Jen';
const element = <h1>My name is {name}</h1>; 

State

State is an object that is tied to a Class component. It can be initialized or changed through user input or APIs. State is held by a parent component and can be passed to its children through props. This Unidirectional Flow is a key feature of React. A component's state must be stored high enough in the component hierarchy to pass it to all its children, without having to pass it through unnecessary components. State can only be passed down and not laterally to sibling components. Whenever a components' state is altered, the component, as well as all its children, will update and reflect this new state.

class FetchData extends React.Component {
   constructor(props) {
      super(props);
      this.state = {
         isLoading: false,
      };
   }
}

Props

Props are objects given to components by their parents. Props are passed to create dynamic components. We won't always want to render static data, and that's where props come in. Props are passed to different components because the main goal of React is to create small pure components. Sure we could create a large class component with state and have it render every piece of the UI, but this would be hard to read and hard to reuse. If we ever wanted to render just a small piece on a different page, we would need to render the whole large component again!

const KanjiData = props => {
   return (
      <div>
         <p>Character: {props.character}</p>
         <p>Meaning: {props.meaning}</p>
         <p>Kunyomi Reading: {props.kunyomi}</p>
         <p>Onyomi Reading: {props.onyomi}</p>
      </div>
   );
};

Remember a library is just a tool to help make developers' lives easier. If you find yourself wanting to learn more React I highly encourage you to take a look at the React Docs, they are my favorite resource or look through the small Kanji App I made. Everything you do in React can be done with vanilla JavaScript. React and other JavaScript libraries like Angular, Vue, and Ember are be no means required tools.

Discussion (6)

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devshehata profile image
Mahmoud Shehata

Thanks for the post.
I also want to highlight that functional components can hold 'state' variables with hooks. They won't be called state. But they can act as state...
Add to that using useReducer hook and you get a much readable 'stateful' code.

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jenkens profile image
Jen Kennedy Author

Thank you for the comment! I've heard of hooks but don't know too much about them. This blog post was motivation for me to write a beginner post and then try and teach myself Hooks and write another blog post with more advanced React features.

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devshehata profile image
Mahmoud Shehata

Take a look at them.
I'm a beginner and started learning after hooks was released. I rarely write class components now.
Functional components FTW... far much readable and no 'this.' mess anymore

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ahmedalalmi profile image
Ahmed Elalmi

Thanks, your blog is very benefits, but I think you should add some points.
The first is: react.js rendered from the virtual DOM, not from the DOM that makes react.js very fast, and this is the deferent between React and other libraries or frameworks (like angular render from the DOM).
the second point is: the difference between component and function is the component is stateful (take a state) and the function is stateless (not take a state).
you said that but you did not talk about stateful and stateless and these are very important in react.
and thank you again for your time and your effort. :)

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ajmalhassan profile image
Ajmal Hassan

Except that now functional components can use state with hooks.

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ahmedalalmi profile image
Ahmed Elalmi

Exactly but this, when you master react not a beggar.