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4 React Refs Examples

ahmaman profile image Ahmed Mansour Originally published at ・3 min read

Need to access native DOM nodes in React? Ref is here to help you πŸ‘ŒπŸ½

In this tutorial we will cover some of the common Ref use-cases:

Originally posted on Nordschool.

Using useRef hook, we can use the Ref API in function components.

All the code snippets will be using React Hooks & function components. But, you can easily write the same logic in Class components.

Are you ready? Let's start with managing focus! 😎

Managing Focus

Use-case: We would like to use React to put the focus on an HTML element.

Here is a simple version of how we can focus an input field.. πŸ‘‡πŸ½

import React, { useRef } from 'react';

const RefFocus = () => {
  const inputRef = useRef(null);

  function focusTitle() {

  return (
      <label>You have 3 wishes...</label>
      <input ref={inputRef} />
      <button onClick={focusTitle}>Focus & Wish</button>

export default RefFocus;

By calling the function focusTitle we can call the native DOM's focus() function. πŸ”₯

Auto-focus using React & Ref.

Next in line is highlighting text... πŸ–‹

Text Selection

Use-case: We would like to use React to select a textarea's value.

Here is a minimal example of how you could do that:

import React, { useRef } from 'react';

const RefSelectAll = () => {
  const inputRef = useRef(null);

  function selectAll() {
    const hasText = inputRef.current.value.length > 0;

    if (hasText) {;

  return (
      <label>What is the meaning of life?</label>
      <textarea ref={inputRef} />
      <button onClick={selectAll}>Select All</button>

export default RefSelectAll;

We can extend this technique further! Let's do a bit more fancy things like auto-copy some text.

function copyMeaningOfLife() {
  const hasText = inputRef.current.value.length > 0;

  if (hasText) {;
    // ... Let user that their meaning of life answer is copied

So now you can do something like this...✨

Auto-copy using React & Ref.

Do you feel like you already have super-powers? 😁

Let's see what else you can do...what about media players? 🎡

Media playback

Use-case: We would like to use React to control HTML's native video element.

Here is how a minimal media player may look like:

import React, { useRef } from 'react';

const VideoPlayer = () => {
  const videoRef = useRef(null);

  function playVideo() {;

  function pauseVideo() {

  return (
      <video ref={this.myVideo} width="400">
        {/* Of course it's the big buck bunny! */}
        <source src="big-buck-bunny.mp4" type="video/mp4" />
        <button onClick={playVideo}>Play</button>
        <button onClick={pauseVideo}>Pause</button>

export default VideoPlayer;

Now you can play & pause your video using React.

If you read the React Docs, you will notice they mention one more use-case. It is about triggering animations.

Let's have a look...

Triggering Imperative Animations

Use-case: We would like to use React to listen to DOM's events & trigger some animations.

Here is a simple version of you can achieve this:

P.S: The code snippet itself doesn't have any animations! πŸ˜…

With that said, you can pretty much add all the animations you want following the same technique.

import React, { useEffect, useState, useRef } from 'react';

function ImperativeAnimations() {
  const [background, setBackground] = useState('white');

  const divRef = useRef();

  function onScroll(params) {
    const div = divRef.current;
    const { y } = div.getBoundingClientRect();
    const backgroundColor = y <= 0 ? 'white' : 'pink';

  useEffect(() => {
    window.addEventListener('scroll', onScroll);
    return () => {
  }, []);

  return (
    <div ref={divRef} style={{ height: '120vh', background: background }}>
      Scroll to turn background white.

export default ImperativeAnimations;

Here is how our sophisticated animations look like: 😁

Triggering imperative animations using React & Ref.

Now you know your way around the basic use-cases of Refs, rock on... πŸ™πŸ½


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