React for Data Visualization
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Super simplicity with React Hooks

Hooks launched with great fanfare and community excitement in February 2019. A whole new way to write React components.

Not a fundamental change, the React team would say, but a mind shift after all. A change in how you think about state, side effects, and component structure. You might not like hooks at first. With a little practice they're going to feel more natural than the component lifecycle model you're used to now.

Hooks exist to:

  • help you write less code for little bits of logic
  • help you move logic out of your components
  • help you reuse logic between components

Some say it removes complexity around the this keyword in JavaScript and I'm not sure that it does. Yes, there's no more this because everything is a function, that's true. But you replace that with passing a lot of function arguments around and being careful about function scope.

My favorite React Hooks magic trick is that you can and should write your own. Reusable or not, a custom hook almost always cleans up your code.

Oh and good news! Hooks are backwards compatible. You can write new stuff with hooks and keep your old stuff unchanged. 👌

In this section we're going to look at the core React hooks, talk about the most important hook for dataviz, then refactor our big example from earlier to use hooks.

useState, useEffect, and useContext

React comes with a bunch of basic and advanced hooks.

The core hooks are:

  • useState for managing state
  • useEffect for side-effects
  • useContext for React's context API

Here's how to think about them in a nutshell 👇

useState

The useState hook replaces pairs of state getters and setters.

class myComponent extends React.Component {
state = {
value: "default",
}
handleChange = (e) =>
this.setState({
value: e.target.value,
})
render() {
const { value } = this.state
return <input value={value} onChange={handleChange} />
}
}

👇

const myComponent = () => {
const [value, setValue] = useState("default")
const handleChange = (e) => setValue(e.target.value)
return <input value={value} onChange={handleChange} />
}

Less code to write and understand.

In a class component you:

  • set a default value
  • create an onChange callback that fires setState
  • read value from state before rendering etc.

Without modern fat arrow syntax you might run into trouble with binds.

The hook approach moves that boilerplate to React's plate. You call useState. It takes a default value and returns a getter and a setter.

You call that setter in your change handler.

Behind the scenes React subscribes your component to that change. Your component re-renders.

useEffect

useEffect replaces the componentDidMount, componentDidUpdate, shouldComponentUpdate, componentWillUnmount quadfecta. It's like a trifecta, but four.

Say you want a side-effect when your component updates, like make an API call. Gotta run it on mount and update. Want to subscribe to a DOM event? Gotta unsubscribe on unmount.

Wanna do all this only when certain props change? Gotta check for that.

Class:

class myComp extends Component {
state = {
value: 'default'
}
handleChange = (e) => this.setState({
value: e.target.value
})
saveValue = () => fetch('/my/endpoint', {
method: 'POST'
body: this.state.value
})
componentDidMount() {
this.saveValue();
}
componentDidUpdate(prevProps, prevState) {
if (prevState.value !== this.state.value) {
this.saveValue()
}
}
render() {
const { value } = this.state;
return <input value={value} onChange={handleChange} />
}
}

👇

const myComponent = () => {
const [value, setValue] = useState('default');
const handleChange = (e) => setValue(e.target.value)
const saveValue = () => fetch('/my/endpoint', {
method: 'POST'
body: value
})
useEffect(saveValue, [value]);
return <input value={value} onChange={handleChange} />
}

So much less code!

useEffect runs your function on componentDidMount and componentDidUpdate. And that second argument, the [value] part, tells it to run only when value changes.

No need to double check with a conditional. If your effect updates the component itself through a state setter, the second argument acts as a shouldComponentUpdate of sorts.

When you return a method from useEffect, it acts as a componentWillUnmount. Listening to, say, your mouse position looks like this:

const [mouseX, setMouseX] = useState()
const handleMouse = (e) => setMouseX(e.screenX)
useEffect(() => {
window.addEventListener("mousemove", handleMouse)
return () => window.removeEventListener(handleMouse)
})

Neat 👌

useContext

useContext cleans up your render prop callbacky hell.

const SomeContext = React.createContext()
// ...
<SomeContext.Consumer>
{state => ...}
</SomeContext.Consumer>

👇

const state = useContext(SomeContext)

Context state becomes just a value in your function. React auto subscribes to all updates.

And those are the core hooks. useState, useEffect, and useContext. You can use them to build almost everything. 👌

React, D3, and hooks

Now that you know the basics of hooks, and you've got the mental models of combining D3 and React for modern dataviz, let's try an exercise. Learn how to combine that knowledge into using React, D3, and hooks for dataviz.

Blackbox components with hooks

We'll start with blackbox components. Take the final blackbox example below and refactor it to using hooks.

You'll need the useRef hook to reference a rendered <g> element and the useEffect hook to trigger D3 rendering when the component changes. Don't forget to update React version to latest.

Try solving it yourself before watching my video. Helps you learn :)

My solution

my useD3 hook for blackbox components

Even better than doing it yourself is using the ready-made useD3 hook I opensourced for you :)

Read the full docs at d3blackbox.com

It works as a combination of useRef and useEffect. Hooks into component re-renders, gives you control of the anchor element, and re-runs your D3 render function on every component render.

You use it like this:

import { useD3 } from "d3blackbox"
function renderSomeD3(anchor) {
d3.select(anchor)
// ...
}
const MyD3Component = ({ x, y }) => {
const refAnchor = useD3((anchor) => renderSomeD3(anchor))
return <g ref={refAnchor} transform={`translate(${x}, ${y})`} />
}

You'll see how this works in more detail when we build the big example project. We'll use useD3 to build axes.

Here's how the above example looks when you use useD3 ✌️

Full integration components with hooks

The core mental shift with hooks comes in where your D3 code lives 👉 in the main render.

Where we used to spread D3 code around the whole component class, hooks let us do it all in the main render method. Because that's all there is to our component - the main render method.

Anything bound to component lifecycle goes into useEffect, anything we need every time, goes in the function body. When a lot of logic builds up, extract it to a custom hook.

If you're worried about performance or have a large dataset 👉 wrap in useMemo.

Take this Scatterplot example from before and try to refactor it using hooks. After you gave it a shot, watch the video to check my solution.

useMemo is your new best dataviz friend

My favorite hook for making React and D3 work together is useMemo. It's like a combination of useEffect and useState.

Remember how the rest of this course focused on syncing D3's internal state with React's internal state and complications around large datasets and speeding up your D3 code to avoid recomputing on every render?

All that goes away with useMemo – it memoizes values returned from a function and recomputes them when particular props change. Think of it like a cache.

Say you have a D3 linear scale. You want to update its range when your component's width changes.

function MyComponent({ data, width }) {
const scale = useMemo(() =>
d3.scaleLinear()
.domain([0, 1])
.range([0, width])
), [width])
return <g> ... </g>
}

useMemo takes a function that returns a value to be memoized. In this case that's the linear scale.

You create the scale same way you always would. Initiate a scale, set the domain, update the range. No fancypants trickery.

useMemo's second argument works much like useEffect's does: It tells React which values to observe for change. When that value changes, useMemo reruns your function and gets a new scale.

Don't rely on useMemo running only once however. Memoization is meant as a performance optimization, a hint if you will, not as a syntactical guarantee of uniqueness.

And that's exactly what we want. No more futzing around with getDerivedStateFromProps and this.state. Just useMemo and leave the rest to React. ✌️

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Extra flexibility with render props (6:36)
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A note about state and app structure
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