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README.md

README.md

Intro to JSX


Learning Objectives

Students Will Be Able To:
Explain the benefits JSX provides
Explain what JSX transpiles into
Use JSX to define a component's UI
Include props in JSX
Embed JS expressions within JSX
Explain how a component's UI gets rendered
Render a "list" of components

Roadmap

  • JSX - What and Why?
  • Transpiling JSX
  • Basic Syntax of JSX
  • Including props in JSX
  • JavaScript Expressions in JSX
  • Component Rendering
  • Essential Questions

JSX - What and Why?

What?

  • JSX is an XML-like syntax extension to JavaScript. XML is short for extensible markup language and JSX it's one of those extensions - just like HTML is.
  • Created by Facebook for use in React.
  • It provides a way to concisely define tree structures with attributes - perfect for defining a DOM tree!
  • It is transpiled into pure JavaScript. Why is this necessary?

Why?

  • Why JSX? It's simple. As compared to pure JavaScript, JSX provides a more concise and clearer (better) way to define a UI.
  • JSX resembles HTML, which allows us to more easily visualize the UI its JavaScript will create.
  • 99.99% (a guess) of React apps are developed today using JSX to define the UI, not vanilla JS.

Transpiling JSX

As discussed, developing real-world React apps requires tooling. One of the reasons tooling is necessary is for the transpiling of JSX into JavaScript that can run in the browser.

The most popular transpiler for JSX is Babel. Babel originally was created because developers got tired of waiting for ES2015 features to be implemented in browsers. Babel has become the go to tool for enabling the use of tomorrow's features of JavaScript today.

Babel's website has a REPL that enables typing in some JSX and see what its pure JS equivalent is. Click the Try it out feature tab and make sure that react is selected as one of the presets.

We type our preprocessed code on the left and the pane on the right will show the compiled version. Let's just type in something silly at first:

const student = <Student>Jose<br />jose@email.com</Student>;

You will see the above transpiled into this JS:

const student = React.createElement(
  Student,
  null,
  "Jose",
  React.createElement("br", null),
  "jose@email.com"
);

Note: In JSX, every element must be explicitly closed. Every "tag" must either have an opening and closing tag, or in the case of an empty element (a tag that has no content such as <br>, <img>, <hr>, etc.), unlike in HTML, we must include a forward slash before the closing angle bracket like we did with <br/> above.

Okay, we have the following observations regarding the JS for a component:

  • There's a call to the React.createElement method that creates an element used internally by React.
  • The first argument is a reference to the component's type (function or class). In the case of a React Element, it will be a string.
  • The second argument seems to be null so far - more on this next.
  • Any arguments after the second define the children of the component. In the case of the <br />, as an "empty" React Element, it cannot contain any children and therefore only be passed two arguments.

Now let's discuss that null second argument. It is for passing props to a component. You will learn about props in a later lesson, however, you can think of them as key/value pairs, much like the attributes we put within HTML elements.

Let's add a prop and see what happens:

const student = <Student cohortId='SEI-99'>Jose<br/>jose@email.com</Student>;

Now the transpiled JS looks like this:

const student = React.createElement(
  Student,
  { "cohortId": "SEI-99" },
  "Jose",
  React.createElement("br", null),
  "jose@email.com"
);

In summary, in React, JSX is just syntactic sugar for:

React.createElement(component, props, ...children);

So, I ask you - Which is a more clear and concise way of defining a component's UI - JSX or JavaScript?

Basic Syntax of JSX

Setting Up a React Playground

Let's use CodeSandbox to experiment further with JSX.

Be sure to create a new React sandbox, then:

  1. We need an HTML element to append our React component to. This has already been provided within the public/index.html as follows:

    <div id="root"></div>
  2. In a future lesson we'll learn a lot about styling in React - and you'll see that like most things React - it's different. CodeSandbox has already created a CSS stylesheet within the src folder. Thanks to tooling, it is able to be "imported" within the index.js like this:

    import React from "react";
    import ReactDOM from "react-dom";
    // Bring in the styling!
    import './styles.css';

    Now, let's replace the existing CSS inside of styles.css with the following:

    html, body {
      height: 100%;
      font: 1rem sans-serif;
      display: flex;
      justify-content: center;
      align-items: center;
    }
  3. Let's cleanup the <App> component in index.js as follows:

    function App() {
      return (
        <div>
          
        </div>
      );
    }
  4. Okay, let's create our own custom <Greeter> component by creating a src/Greeter.js (note that the naming convention is UpperCamelCase) and defining the component as a Function Component and exporting like this:

    import React from 'react';
    	
    function Greeter(props) {
      return (
        <div>
          <h1>Greetings Earthling {props.earthling}</h1>
        </div>
      );
    }
    
    export default Greeter;

    Note how a Function Component (a component defined as a function) accepts "props" as an argument and must return its UI (defined using JSX).

  5. Now let's modify <App> to render the new <Greeter> component instead of the built-in <h1> React element:

    function App() {
      return (
        <div>
          <Greeter />
        </div>
      );
    }

    We'll get an error because there's no Greeter defined - let's import it...

  6. Add the following import below the others:

    import React from "react";
    import ReactDOM from "react-dom";
    // Import the default export of the Greeter.js module
    import Greeter from "./Greeter";

You should now be seeing the text "Greeting Earthling" in the output:

More Syntax Rules

Besides these rules:

  • JSX uses XML syntax (elements within angle brackets) for defining components.
  • All "empty" components (components with just a start tag - no closing tag) must be self-closed using a forward slash.
  • props are camelCased like cohortId='SEI-99', never kebob-cased - why?

There are a few other syntax rules, etc.:

  • There are built-in React components, called React Elements, that correspond to each HTML element we're familiar with. These components are always lowercased - like the <h1> component used in the <Greeter /> component.

  • Our app's user-defined components are always uppercased - like the <Greeter /> component.

  • When rendering, a component must return a single node or array of nodes. However, usually we compose components from multiple components. To return multiple components from the render method they can be wrapped by a single component (like a <div>). For example, let's update the Greeter component like this:

     function Greeter(props) {
       return (
         <div>
           <h1>Greetings Earthling {props.earthling}</h1>
           <h2>We have come in peace</h2>
         </div>
       );
     }

    Removing the <div> would create a syntax error.

NEWS FLASH!

Beginning with version 16.2, react has added support for "fragments" in JSX as detailed in this blog post

Essentially, they allow for multiple components to be "wrapped" with an empty tag, called a Fragment. For example:

function MyComponent(props) {
  return (
    <React.Fragment>
      <ChildA />
      <ChildB />
      <ChildC />
    </React.Fragment>
  );
}

Previous to this enhancement, you would have had to wrap the sibling components in a React element (usually a <div>).

A brand new enhancement is a shortcut for React.Fragment:

function MyComponent(props) {
  return (
    <>
      <ChildA />
      <ChildB />
      <ChildC />
    </>
  );
}

The advantage of using a fragment is that it avoids rendering extra elements into the DOM.

Curiosity

We now know that JSX is transpiled into a method call to React.createElement(...), however, we haven't seen what that method call returns.

Let's add this after the imports in index.js

const g = <Greeter />;
console.dir(g);

An object, of course!

React internally uses a JS object to represent each component.

Including props in JSX

We will soon have a lesson dedicated to learning about props and state in React, but let's cover a few basics regarding props.

The syntax of passing props to a component is much like defining attributes in an HTML element.

Many pre-defined props map to HTML attributes. These docs list the supported HTML attributes and discuss important differences. For example, we cannot use class to assign CSS classes to a built-in HTML component, instead we must use className because class is a reserved word in JavaScript.

Many props map directly to their HTML attribute counterparts. For example, this is how you could add an id to a <div>:

<div id='todos-container'>

Of course, it would make sense to add attributes such as id to React Elements only, because they are the only components that end up generating actual DOM elements in the page.

Some props map to HTML attributes but have a slightly differently implementation, for example, the style prop is used to style a component inline, however, it must be passed an object consisting of CSS property/values, not a string like its HTML counterpart.

However, most of the props we use will be custom props that are unique to the application.

Let's pass a prop named earthlingto the <Greeter /> component:

function App() {
  return (
    <div>
      <Greeter earthling='Wilma'/>
    </div>
  );
}

Note that we can assign a string value to a prop as shown above using single or double quotes. Any other data type, including template literals, must be wrapped within curly braces. For example, the following shows how an object literal could be passed:

function App() {
  return (
    <div>
      <Greeter earthling={{name: 'Wilma', town: 'Roswell'}}/>
    </div>
  );
}

JavaScript Expressions in JSX

You can embed and render the result of any JavaScript expression in JSX by wrapping it in curly braces.

Now let's use the earthling prop that was passed:

<div>
  <h1>Greetings Earthling {props.earthling}</h1>
</div>

props.earthling is a JavaScript expression and, as you can see, its result is being render in place.

Now let's add a more interesting expression:

<div>
  <h1>Greetings Earthling, {props.earthling}</h1>
  <h2>
    We have come {new Date().getDay() === 1 ? 'on a Monday' : 'in peace'}
  </h2>
</div>

It's just a JavaScript expression, so I can use my favorite JS operator!!!

Expressions vs. Statements in JS

We can only embed expressions in JSX, not JS statements.

Let's review what JS expressions are...

JavaScript expressions evaluate to a single value/thing and can be used wherever a value can be used:

  • Assigned to a variable
  • Provided as an argument to a function call
  • Returned from a function
  • console.log'd out, etc.

Statements on the other hand, perform actions. A program consists primarily of statements.

We were able to use the ternary operator between the {} in the JSX above because it's an expression (it evaluates to a single value), however we would not be able to use an if statement.

Caveat: JavaScript allows us to write an expression when it expects a statement, however, the opposite is not true - you cannot provide a statement when JS expects an expression.

JSX itself is an Expression Too

JSX transpiles into a function call: React.createElement(...), which returns an object useful to the React library.

Because JSX results in a JS object, JSX is a JavaScript expression!

Considering that JSX is a JS expression, leads us to the fact that JSX can be:

  • Assigned to a variable
  • Provided as an argument to a function call
  • Returned from a function
  • console.log'd out, etc.

For example, here's a component that returns different JSX depending upon the value of props.user:

const Greeting = (props) => {
  if (props.user) return <h1>Hello, {formatName(props.user)}!</h1>;
  return <h1>Hello, Stranger.</h1>;
} 

Note that within the function we can write JS code just like in any other function. In the above example we are using if and return statements.

We just have to be careful not to try to write JS statements within the JSX.

Component Rendering

When & How Components Get Rendered

Components can be defined as either a class or a function.

A Function Component must return its JSX.

Class Components must include a render method which is invoked by React to render the component. It's the render method in a class-component that returns that component's JSX.

Regardless of how components are defined (as a class or function), they are rendered as follows:

  1. Initially with ReactDOM.render.
  2. Whenever a component's state is changed:
    • Due to a class component's setState method being called
    • Due to a function component's use of the useState hook (new to React 16.8)

Now, here's another key to be aware of: when a component is rendered, all of its children components are rendered as well (as well as the children of those children, etc.).

It's this cascade of rendering that results in an entire app being rendered with that single ReactDOM.render call!

Rendering Lists (Arrays) of Components

Quite often we need to render "lists" of components, for example, a list of To Dos.

How about an array of things the aliens want from Earth:

function Greeter(props) {
  const things = ["Water", "Cattle", "Plutonium", "Gold"];
  // Create an array of <li> components
  const listOfThings = things.map(thing => <li>{thing}</li>);
  return (
    <div>
      <h1>Greetings Earthling, {props.earthling}</h1>
      <h2>
        We have come {new Date().getDay() === 1 ? "on a Monday" : "in peace"}
      </h2>
      <h3>Give us your:</h3>
      {/* Render the array of <li>s */}
      <ul>{listOfThings}</ul>
    </div>
  );
}

The things array would more commonly be held in the component's state or props object, which we'll be covering in a future lesson.

Pretty cool. React automatically renders arrays of components in JSX expressions ({listOfThings}).

Because things.map(...) is an expression (it returns a new array), it's possible to put it inline within the JSX like this:

function Greeter(props) {
  const things = ["Water", "Cattle", "Plutonium", "Gold"];
  return (
    <div>
      <h1>Greetings Earthling, {props.earthling}</h1>
      <h2>
        We have come {new Date().getDay() === 1 ? "on a Monday" : "in peace"}
      </h2>
      <h3>Give us your:</h3>
      {/* Render the array of <li>s */}
      <ul>
        {things.map(thing => <li key={thing}>{thing}</li>)}
      </ul>
    </div>
  );
}

Note that a key prop has been added. Whenever React has a list of components, it wants a key prop so that it can more efficiently track changes that need to be made to the DOM. The value assigned to the key can be any primitive value, but they need to be unique within the array. It's also better to use a value from the data itself instead of an index.

Essential Questions

  1. In your own words, what is JSX and why do we use it?

  2. How many component nodes can be returned from a function component or the render method in the case of a class component?

  3. We use _______ to pass information as key/value pairs to a component.

  4. To embed JS expressions within JSX, we wrap the expressions with ________?

References

React Docs - JSX

Airbnb React/JSX Style Guide