Outskirt development

Why react?

October 30, 2019


In this post I’ll go through the history behind the library and my personal view of its pros.

Nowadays react is probably the most famous library for client side application,
like anything else to understand it better we need to look where it comes from, here’s the story:

The problem react is trying to solve is to tame the high level of complexity which is inherit in client side apps.
In this regards it was certainly not the first project to try to do this…

At the beginning the browser was JQuery’s reign, with cross browser solution for just about anything;
through other things there was the $.ajax() method, from there the step to creating something that could be called client side was short.

Soon many specialized libraries with the goal to make client side apps easy were born (Backbone, Ember, Knockout, Mustache, Bacon, etc.);
and in 2010 AngularJS was released and suddenly took the lead, the fact that it offered a pattern similar to MVC(MVVM) is something that attracted many old school programmers needing to get into the client side business; furthermore it was backup up by Google, that too helped its diffusion too.

In the meanwhile the general JS ecosystem and node was flourishing,
it was at this point that the bundler revolution took place.
This is actually another story, but just keep in mind that through bundlers and pm you can build modular application for the browser.
Another set of tools which came out in that period were transpilers, people would build supersets of JS to address the language quirks or specialize in a specific domain.

This is a synthetic picture of the client side/js ecosystem in 2013 when react was released by Facebook.

It took me a while to really understand it…
When I started to play with it, a couple of years later, I was blown away.
Looking at it know, react revolutionized the way I build and think about UIs.

There it is, in one project you have:

  • Functional programming to describe the interface.

    In fact react, as a library, is a set of utility tools
    with the purpose to model rendering components at the low-level inside the most unoppinioneted JS runtime.
    Don’t get me wrong react is not low level, but you can actually plug it in inside any possible pattern.

  • JSX - Templating language on steriods,

    With this baby you can switch from high level JS logic to rendering markup;
    I can express complicated logics with terness,
    for me this is an important added value, and it also compliments well with functional programming.

  • Component based

    Nowadays it’s normal, but if you’ve ever maintained legacy projects you know it’s not always been that way.
    Bundlers give you the possibility to build your apps in modular and extensive manner,
    through npm you get a bunch of reliable modules, ready for use.
    And react and compenents are bread and butter with this pattern.

  • Performance

    I won’t go too deep into performance, but when it came out that was one of its main arguments.
    The fact that a lightweight copy of your application is stored in a virtual dom implementation,
    can optimize quite a bit real dom rerenders.
    Unless you go looking for them you have few probabilities to reach its limit.

  • Freedom

    From my perspective, the library is a thin layer for the rendering logic. So as a developer I can choose:
    tools such as JSS (various implementations),
    state management and utility libraries,
    you can use it outside brower environment,
    bundlers and packaging tools (easy to integrate with anything),
    Typescript, ReasonML, Elm, Xstate,
    you can use Web-components as leaf nodes,
    and much more…

  • Community

    Being popular, you get to have a lot of friends, cool people help you out, and the network of contributers grows.
    That’s the way it’s going with react, there is a bunch of documention;
    intelligent people discuss best practices,
    a bunch of tools are being built to solve common issues.

I Currently work as front-end developer with react,
my growth as a frontend dev has been influenced by this library,
so I’m opinionated on this subject because it has positively shaped the way I work.

Lately I’ve also used Vue, which, at the time of writing is react’s main contendent;
the way it uses observable patterns to create bindings between component props was kind of disturbing to me,
I’ve met some counter intuitive scenarios of state recomposition in nested maps/lists if compared to the functional approach I usually follow in react.
Also those vue files (which are the components unit) seem a too high abstraction for me.
But still maybe it’s just a matter of habit..

Want to share opinions or give me feedback on this subject?
I’ll be happy if you reach out to me, keep care and thanks for passing by.

Francesco Calo

Francesco Calo developing on linux in La Spezia.
Just a programming journey.