Code and Stuff

React Hooks and Classes

by Don on September 13, 2020 underreactjavascriptprogramming

I started working with React about 4 or 5 years ago now, in the earlier days of the framework, where your main options for creating a component in React was to use React.createClass, extending the React.Component, or making stateless functional components. Some time back, they introduced the concept of Hooks into the language, as a side-by-side feature with classes (but as a likely replacement). Admittedly, I haven’t played around with hooks too much. I’ve made a few components using them, and one of the projects I’m working on I’ve used a mixture of classes and hooks. A good exercise would probably be to rewrite some of my classes as hooks.

Interestingly, I’ve seen a lot of people say that classes are difficult to understand, something which I, personally, have never felt. To me, classes are part of what makes React components easy to reason about, though I do understand they have some issues. To quote part of the motivation documentation:

In addition to making code reuse and code organization more difficult, we’ve found that classes can be a large barrier to learning React. You have to understand how this works in JavaScript, which is very different from how it works in most languages. You have to remember to bind the event handlers. Without unstable syntax proposals, the code is very verbose. People can understand props, state, and top-down data flow perfectly well but still struggle with classes. The distinction between function and class components in React and when to use each one leads to disagreements even between experienced React developers.

Personally, I don’t feel that classes make code reuse or organization more difficult. It is true that you have to remember to bind the event handlers, which can be a source of mistakes, and there are a few ways to do this in a class that can be a bit confusing, to say the least.

Method one, for instance, is to bind it in your constructor.

constructor(props) {
	this.myFunction = this.myFunction.bind(this);
}

<button onClick={this.myFunction}>Click Me</button>

Method two is to use an arrow function to bind it in the callback:

<button onClick={() => this.myFunction()}>Click Me</button>

And method three is to use the class fields syntax:

myFunction = () => {
	...
}

I can certainly see how this would create confusion for new people. After being a few years into the language, I’ve likely forgotten what it was like to first pick up binding events like this.

In any case, let’s take a look at how to make a Class component in React.

Classes

The first thing we have to do is bring in our imports - at the very least, React itself. Then we can create a simple class and export it.

import React from "react";

class Car extends React.Component {
	render() {
		return <span>Vroom</span>;
	}
}

export default Car;

This is a Car class, and the only thing it does right now is output a span with the text “Vroom”. Simple enough, right? Currently, this does nothing useful, but it does give us access to the React lifecycle methods. Within the class, we can add a constructor, which will allow us to initialize the state of the class - you can look at the state as being the various pieces of information about our class that provide details and functionality.

constructor(props) {
	super(props);

	this.state = {
		isStarted: false,
		currentSpeed: 0
	};
}

To be honest, I’m not much of a car guy, so I’m not even sure why I chose this as my example, but we’re in too deep. So let’s say our car has two pieces of information we care about - whether the car has been started, and what the current speed is. We’ll initialize these two values as above and update our render function:

return <span>The car is {this.state.isStarted ? "running" : "off"}, going {this.state.currentSpeed} mph.</span>;

If we actually use this component somewhere, we’ll see:

The car is off, going 0 mph.

We need some way to modify these two values, so we’ll create a few functions.

startCar = () => {
	this.setState({isStarted: true});
}

stopCar = () => {
	this.setState({isStarted: false});
}

increaseSpeed = () => {
	let currentSpeed = this.state.currentSpeed;
	this.setState({currentSpeed: currentSpeed + 5});
}

decreaseSpeed = () => {
	let currentSpeed = this.state.currentSpeed;
	this.setState({currentSpeed: currentSpeed > 0 ? currentSpeed - 5 : 0});
}

Now we can actually control the car, if we have the right buttons to do so. So let’s change our render method again:

return (
	<div>
		<button onClick={this.startCar}>Start</button>
		<button onClick={this.stopCar}>Stop</button>
		<button onClick={this.increaseSpeed}>Accelerate</button>
		<button onClick={this.decreaseSpeed}>Brake</button>
		<span>The car is {this.state.isStarted ? "running" : "off"}, going {this.state.currentSpeed} mph.</span>
	</div>
)

React will take care of actually updating the values in the span for us as we make changes. Now, some of these buttons don’t really make sense to have active all the time. You can’t stop a car that’s already stopped, or decelerate a car that’s not moving. So we’ll add some quick checks to disable the buttons.

<button onClick={this.startCar} disabled={this.state.isStarted}>Start</button>
<button onClick={this.stopCar} disabled={!this.state.isStarted}>Stop</button>
<button onClick={this.increaseSpeed} disabled={!this.state.isStarted}>Accelerate</button>
<button onClick={this.decreaseSpeed} disabled={!this.state.isStarted || this.state.currentSpeed === 0}>Brake</button>

We should probably also reset the speed to 0 if the car is stopped, so we’ll update our stop function.

stopCar = () => {
	this.setState({isStarted: false, currentSpeed: 0});
}

Now we have a relatively simple class component, which should look something like this:

import React from "react";

class Car extends React.Component {
	constructor(props) {
		super(props);

		this.state = {
			isStarted: false,
			currentSpeed: 0
		};
	}

	startCar = () => {
		this.setState({isStarted: true});
	}
	
	stopCar = () => {
		this.setState({isStarted: false, currentSpeed: 0});
	}
	
	increaseSpeed = () => {
		let currentSpeed = this.state.currentSpeed;
		this.setState({currentSpeed: currentSpeed + 5});
	}
	
	decreaseSpeed = () => {
		let currentSpeed = this.state.currentSpeed;
		this.setState({currentSpeed: currentSpeed > 0 ? currentSpeed - 5 : 0});
	}	

	render() {
		return (
			<div>
				<button onClick={this.startCar} disabled={this.state.isStarted}>Start</button>
				<button onClick={this.stopCar} disabled={!this.state.isStarted}>Stop</button>
				<button onClick={this.increaseSpeed} disabled={!this.state.isStarted}>Accelerate</button>
				<button onClick={this.decreaseSpeed} disabled={!this.state.isStarted || this.state.currentSpeed === 0}>Brake</button>
				<span>The car is {this.state.isStarted ? "running" : "off"}, going {this.state.currentSpeed} mph.</span>
			</div>
		)
	}
}

export default Car;

So now let’s rewrite this using Hooks.

Hooks

While I don’t have trouble understanding that class, and hopefully you don’t either, it is rather verbose. Let’s see how it looks if we rewrite it with hooks. Starting from the most basic version:

import React, {useState} from "react";

function CarHook() {

	return (
		<span>Vroom</span>
	)
}

export default CarHook;

Hooks introduces useState, which allows us to instead declare our state variables within the function like this:

const [isStarted, setStarted] = useState(false);
const [currentSpeed, setSpeed] = useState(0);

We can then change our render statement similar to when we made a Class, except now we don’t need to use this.state to access the values.

<span>The car is {isStarted ? "running" : "off"}, going {currentSpeed} mph.</span>

We should see a display similar to earlier:

The car is off, going 0 mph.

Let’s rewrite our control functions like regular functions, now using the state functions we declared above.

function startCar() {
	setStarted(true);
}
	
function stopCar() {
	setStarted(false);
	setSpeed(0);
}
	
function increaseSpeed() {
	setSpeed(currentSpeed + 5);
}
	
function decreaseSpeed() {
	setSpeed((currentSpeed > 0 ? currentSpeed - 5: 0 ));
}		

So let’s go ahead and modify the return statement to add in the buttons to control the vehicle, and modify it to no longer use this.state for the variables, and to use our new functions.

<button onClick={() => startCar()} disabled={isStarted}>Start</button>
<button onClick={() => stopCar()} disabled={!isStarted}>Stop</button>
<button onClick={() => increaseSpeed()} disabled={!isStarted}>Accelerate</button>
<button onClick={() => decreaseSpeed()} disabled={!isStarted || currentSpeed === 0}>Brake</button>	

Note the difference in the onClick events between hooks and classes. As noted earlier, you can use a similar method for classes to bind events in the onClick section, but I opted not to for this blog, as it feels cleaner to me. When using Hooks, however, don’t forget to bind it like this, otherwise you might get an error about there being too many renders.

Now, we should have two components that have identical functionality. The Hook version should look like this.

import React, {useState} from "react";

function CarHook() {
	const [isStarted, setStarted] = useState(false);
	const [currentSpeed, setSpeed] = useState(0);

	function startCar() {
		setStarted(true);
	}
	
	function stopCar() {
		setStarted(false);
		setSpeed(0);
	}
	
	function increaseSpeed() {
		setSpeed(currentSpeed + 5);
	}
	
	function decreaseSpeed() {
		setSpeed((currentSpeed > 0 ? currentSpeed - 5: 0 ));
	}		

	return (
		<div>
			<button onClick={() => startCar()} disabled={isStarted}>Start</button>
			<button onClick={() => stopCar()} disabled={!isStarted}>Stop</button>
			<button onClick={() => increaseSpeed()} disabled={!isStarted}>Accelerate</button>
			<button onClick={() => decreaseSpeed()} disabled={!isStarted || currentSpeed === 0}>Brake</button>	
			<span>The car is {isStarted ? "running" : "off"}, going {currentSpeed} mph.</span>
		</div>
	)
}

export default CarHook;

If you look at them side by side, the version with Hooks is almost ten lines shorter, and I think it does end up looking a bit simpler. Both of these could be written without the various startCar, stopCar, etc. functions, but I felt for the sake of clarity, I’d use both. So either component could be even smaller if you want them to be.

I still need to spend more time with Hooks and see how they stack up against Classes, but my feelings have often been that if you reach a point where a stateless functional component needs to be turned into a component with state, it’s a lot quicker and easier to do that by turning it into a Hook rather than a Class. Classes do give you a lot of good lifecycle methods that I think work well for more complex components. I’ll have to write another article on useEffect with React Hooks to show how that changes things. For now, at least, relatively simple components work very well using Hooks.

You can grab the code for both of these components on Github or from these links:

Car Class

Car Hook


© 2021 Don Walizer Jr