React components should read like a book

Koen van Gilst

Koen van Gilst / December 17, 2021

4 min read

Code readability can often be increased by making sure that code reads like a book, where the most important things come first.

Consider the following React component, which is adapted from the (excellent) new documentation website for React. Look closely how the code is structured, particularly in which order functions are defined and exported.

import { useReducer } from 'react';
import AddTask from './AddTask.js';
import TaskList from './TaskList.js';

let nextId = 3;

const initialTasks = [
  { id: 0, text: 'Philosopher’s Path', done: true },
  { id: 1, text: 'Visit the temple', done: false },
  { id: 2, text: 'Drink matcha', done: false }
];

function tasksReducer(tasks, action) {
  switch (action.type) {
    case 'added': {
      return [
        ...tasks,
        {
          id: action.id,
          text: action.text,
          done: false
        }
      ];
    }
    case 'changed': {
      return tasks.map((t) => {
        if (t.id === action.task.id) {
          return action.task;
        } else {
          return t;
        }
      });
    }
    case 'deleted': {
      return tasks.filter((t) => t.id !== action.id);
    }
    default: {
      throw Error('Unknown action: ' + action.type);
    }
  }
}

function TaskBoard() {
  const [tasks, dispatch] = useReducer(tasksReducer, initialTasks);

  function handleAddTask(text) {
    dispatch({
      type: 'added',
      id: nextId++,
      text: text
    });
  }

  function handleChangeTask(task) {
    dispatch({
      type: 'changed',
      task: task
    });
  }

  function handleDeleteTask(taskId) {
    dispatch({
      type: 'deleted',
      id: taskId
    });
  }

  return (
    <>
      <h1>Day off in Kyoto</h1>
      <AddTask onAddTask={handleAddTask} />
      <TaskList
        tasks={tasks}
        onChangeTask={handleChangeTask}
        onDeleteTask={handleDeleteTask}
      />
    </>
  );
}

export default Taskboard;

Next, let's see if we can improve this!

First we make sure that the most important thing comes first. In most cases when you open a file you're looking for the exported functions, or (if available) the default export. So let's move that to the top.

This will mean that we have to move some functions around. In JavaScript you might feel obligated to define functions before they are used. Technically this is not a requirement (function definitions are hoisted to the top of their scope) and to improve readability it's often a good idea to define them after they've been used.

Let's look at the improved snippet below:

import { useReducer } from 'react';
import AddTask from './AddTask.js';
import TaskList from './TaskList.js';

export default function TaskBoard() {
  const [tasks, dispatch] = useReducer(tasksReducer, initialTasks);

  function handleAddTask(text) {
    dispatch({
      type: 'added',
      id: nextId++,
      text: text
    });
  }

  function handleChangeTask(task) {
    dispatch({
      type: 'changed',
      task: task
    });
  }

  function handleDeleteTask(taskId) {
    dispatch({
      type: 'deleted',
      id: taskId
    });
  }

  return (
    <>
      <h1>Day off in Kyoto</h1>
      <AddTask onAddTask={handleAddTask} />
      <TaskList
        tasks={tasks}
        onChangeTask={handleChangeTask}
        onDeleteTask={handleDeleteTask}
      />
    </>
  );
}

function tasksReducer(tasks, action) {
  switch (action.type) {
    case 'added': {
      return [
        ...tasks,
        {
          id: action.id,
          text: action.text,
          done: false
        }
      ];
    }
    case 'changed': {
      return tasks.map((t) => {
        if (t.id === action.task.id) {
          return action.task;
        } else {
          return t;
        }
      });
    }
    case 'deleted': {
      return tasks.filter((t) => t.id !== action.id);
    }
    default: {
      throw Error('Unknown action: ' + action.type);
    }
  }
}

let nextId = 3;

const initialTasks = [
  { id: 0, text: 'Philosopher’s Path', done: true },
  { id: 1, text: 'Visit the temple', done: false },
  { id: 2, text: 'Drink matcha', done: false }
];

Notice how:

  • The most important function (the default export) is now mentioned "above the fold", i.e. immediately visible when you open the file.
  • When we start reading the component, the mentioned reducer function taskReducer is defined directly under the main component TaskBoard.
  • In the taskReducer the initial state variable is mentioned before it's defined below that function.

I think these small improvements can make React component files more readable and (therefore) easier to maintain.

Note: The code of the improved snippet above is taken from the new React documentation website.