The Ultimate Guide to React.JS in 2021
React.JS, often referred to simply as React, is one of the industry's leading front-end development libraries. Backed by Facebook and supported by an extensive user community, React.JS developers have risen to become a go-to solution when it comes to front-end development. But why?
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What sets React apart from related frontend frameworks such as Angular or Vue? Why should developers choose React.JS, and what makes the platform’s advantages worthy of its disadvantages and drawbacks?
In one word: components. React features a strong component-based design central to its philosophy. Architecture, tooling, and features of the library all link back to the choice to make components front and centre in the React ecosystem.
This aspect of React makes it more performant, capable, and maintainable than comparable platforms, but there’s so much more to the library just beneath the surface. However if you are interested in more information on what separates React.JS from Angular.JS specifically, our article on The Difference Between Angular.JS and React.JS details this comparison.
Advantages of a Component-Based Design
Separation of concerns(SoC) has been at the heart of software engineering and IT for more than three decades now. It was fundamental to the design and implementation of object-oriented programming languages such as Java and C++. It was also fundamental to the creation of design patterns such as model-view-controller (MVC). Yet, surprisingly few web frameworks and libraries have gone as far as React to separate the responsibilities of their modules.
Components, when implemented well, allow for easier management, maintenance, and reuse of existing code. They make adding to and extending features that much more simple, saving time and costs over the lifetime of a service.
Self-sufficient components, the kind that are implemented in React, mean being able to create plug and play code that can be used, alongside their tests, with little to no refactoring at all. Many companies benefit from reusing critical components across multiple services to decrease development time and improve the user experience.
Some of the advantages to React.JS’s component-based design include improvements in:
- Development efficiency
Key features that often separate professional application development from enthusiast projects.
Using React: JSX
Far from a prescribed part of the library, a developer could produce a React app without using it at all. JSX merely provides a performance boost to React application development.
Another major advantage that JSX provides from the beginning is static analysis tools that engineers can put to use against project code. By giving React visibility over more project files, JSX enables React tools to catch errors and warnings that may have gone entirely unnoticed in another implementation. These errors and warnings may range from innocuous slip-ups in style and structure to app-breaking mistakes.
Using React: Flux
Another key component to the library, Flux is a modern architecture implemented for use with React. It’s designed with the library in mind to create applications that are more stable and reliable at scale than what can be achieved with more traditional approaches such as MVC.
Perhaps a departure from what many developers already know, it’s an architecture that richly rewards the time and resource investment put in to learn it.
Flux is designed to work with one of React’s most defining architectural features—its application-agnostic design. Built to provide a frontend only, React should be unaffected by which application is used in the backend. In more conventional terms, React provides only the view component of the traditional MVC structure.
Flux complements this approach by using unidirectional data flow. Based around a central data store and view-actions to modify it, the Flux pattern should give guarantees about its data while decoupling application components from each other.
Components within the flux architecture interact in a way that is more similar to an EventBus than an MVC design. Having one authoritative source guards carefully against many of the issues that can arise with scaling an application or service—one of the primary reasons Facebook looked ahead to invest in the technology.
Unique Advantages of React.JS
With two of React’s strongest technical allies discussed in JSX and Flux, it’s worth taking a closer look at the advantages of React that make it such a powerful frontend development tool today.
The technical advantages that React imparts to projects and developers can be truly game-changing in scope. Our article on the pros and cons of ReactJS development goes into greater detail about the advantages React can impart into your business.
Components, Components, Components
The central design aspect of React is stated so often simply because it’s impossible to overstate its importance in the library—or the advantages that it can impart.
Truly independent application components promote abundant code reuse, simplify maintenance, reduce complexity, and promote consistency across the lifetime of a service. They are, in effect, the reason the React.JS library exists at all and the answer to the question: “why choose React?”
Virtual DOM—Faster Rendering
Another of React’s headline features, the Virtual DOM (document object model), improves performance by removing one of web development's largest bottlenecks.
The DOM is a tree-based structure that represents XML components used within an application. The major drawback of its design, and one that has become more significant in recent years, is that changes to its upper layers have to ripple down through the entire structure.
React’s virtual DOM solves this issue by maintaining its own representation from which it can publish isolated changes that don’t affect the entire structure.
With search engine optimisation (SEO) at the heart of many web-bound projects today, one of the major advantages of React is its ability to render pages that can be easily indexed and found by users.
Disadvantages of React.JS
As is true of any service or tool, React comes with trade-offs that should be taken into careful consideration when evaluating the library for future use. Whether these are deal-breakers, merely inconvenient, or entirely avoidable will depend on each and every use case and deployment.
Both a benefit and a drawback, React is still evolving at a relatively rapid pace. The library is fast-moving, even in comparison to other web technologies. For developers, this can mean the platform doesn’t feel as stable or as consistent as other solutions.
With new features being released and updated regularly, React.JS can feel like it’s in a state of perpetual change.
This can mean placing additional testing and QA requirements on projects to ensure they remain stable throughout their lifetime. For developers, it can mean extra time spent keeping on top of the changes and additions being made to the platform.
Steep Learning Curve
As React continues to grow and expand, so too does the number of tools and technologies a developer has to learn to get to grips with many of its features.
Documentation, throughout the library, continues to lag behind implementation in many cases. Newer libraries appear to suffer from these issues more than most, but it’s a problem slowly improving over time.
A major part of React’s popularity today is its extension into mobile application development over the past few years. React native is enabling mobile application developers to bring the power of the React framework to this technology too.
Using the same JSX as ReactJS, React native utilises a “bridge” to take code from React to a platform’s native language and tools. By expanding the potential for code reuse even further, React Native makes React-based skills and technologies even more valuable still.
Using modern tools, React Native developers can now target web, iOS, and Android devices using the same skill-sets and, very often, the same code too.
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When to use React
With a powerful set of features and a wide range of targets, React.JS is most certainly worth your time and consideration for future development projects.
React shines particularly well in single-page applications, even more so when speed, responsiveness, and user-friendliness are high-priority features. These are the key advantages of the platform, enabled by a component-based and forward-thinking design philosophy and architecture.
If there were three words to describe ReactJS in 2021, they would be: advanced, responsive, and safe. For applications deployed at scale, in particular, there are few technologies that can offer as much. This, along with the advantages and features included above, make it an ideal platform for both large scale enterprise use and small startups alike.
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