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Using Slots in React

thomasxbanks profile image Thomas Banks Updated on ・2 min read

Consider the humble Modal.jsx

We have a button that opens the modal, and some content to be displayed within.

The traditional way, using React's children property, would look something like this…

// Modal.jsx

const { triggerClasses, triggerText, children } = props

<Modal>
  <button className={triggerClasses} onClick={openModal}>{triggerText}</button>
  <article>
    <button onClick={closeModal}>Close</button>
    {children}
  </article>
</Modal>

// Footer.jsx
<Modal
  triggerText="References"
  triggerClasses="button"
>
  <ReferencesList/>
</Modal>
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Here we have a Modal component that expects a list of classes and some button text. Anything within the opening and closing tags is considered children and rendered inside the article element.

This is all very good. Pat yourself on the back, move the ticket to done - well done! 😎

Some time later, a new ticket surfaces. Now, in addition to the existing Modal, we also need a component that lets the user open a larger image in a modal.

One option is to create an ImageModal component…

// Image-Modal.jsx

const { triggerClasses, triggerImage, triggerImageAltText, children } = props

<ImageModal>
  <img 
    className={triggerClasses}
    src={triggerImage}
    alt={triggerImageAltText}
    onClick={openModal}
  />
  <article>
    <button onClick={closeModal}>Close</button>
    {children}
  </article>
</ImageModal>

// Carousel.jsx

<ImageModal
  triggerClasses="thumbnail"
  triggerImage="http://placekitten.com/300/300"
  triggerImageAltText="A kitten"
>
  <img className="full-size" src="http://placekitten.com/1920/1080" alt="A kitten" />
</ImageModal>
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But now we have two almost identical components - the only real difference here is the "trigger" element - one is a button, one is an image.

Sidenote: Look at that onClick handler on the img element. Does it look wrong to you? It should.

What do we do if we get a request for something else slightly different? Perhaps the trigger will need to be a button with an icon or a text link. Do we copy pasta TextModal.jsx or ModalWithIcon.jsx?

Having multiple almost identical components is just very bad and wrong - let's fix it properly!

The fancy thing with the children property is that there's nothing fancy about it at all - it's just a prop like all of the others. It just happens that we stuff that one with <html/> and the others with Strings.

You can put <html/> into any of the props!

// New-Modal.jsx

const { trigger, content } = props

<Modal>
  <button onClick={openModal}>{trigger}</button>
  <article>
    <button onClick={closeModal}>Close</button>
    {content}
  </article>
</Modal>

// Footer.jsx
<Modal
  trigger={<span className="button">References</span>}
  content={<ReferencesList/>}
/>

// Carousel.jsx
<Modal
  trigger={<img className="thumbnail" src="http://placekitten.com/300/300" alt="A kitten" />}
  content={<img className="full-size" src="http://placekitten.com/1920/1080" alt="A kitten" />}
/>
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Now, semantically all "trigger" elements are actually buttons (with all of the benefits of using an actual button) but visually they can be almost anything you want!

We have one component that can handle different variants. It does one job and it does it pretty well!

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