React for Data Visualization
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How to structure your app

Our app is built from components. You already know how components work. Where it gets tricky is deciding where one component ends and another beings.

One of the hardest problems in software engineering I'd say. Defining the boundaries and interfaces between objects. Entire books have been written on the subject.

You'll learn most of it with experience. Just through trying different approaches, seeing what works, and developing your taste. Like a chef gets better at improvisation the more things they try. Or a musician.

To get you started, here's a rule of thumb that I like to use: if you have to use the word "and" to describe what your component does, then it should become two components. If you build the same feature multiple times, turn it into a component.

You can then remix components into larger components where it makes sense, or you can keep them separate. It makes sense to combine when multiple small components have to work together to build a big feature.

This architecture often mimics the design of your UI.

For example: our tech salary visualization is going to use 1 very top level component, 5 major components, and a bunch of child components.

  • App is the very top level component; it keeps everything together
  • Title renders the dynamic title
  • Description renders the dynamic description
  • Histogram renders the histogram and has child components for the axis and histogram bars
  • CountyMap renders the choropleth map and uses child components for the counties
  • Controls renders the rows of buttons that let users explore our dataset

Most of these are specific to our use case, but Histogram and CountyMap have potential to be used elsewhere. We'll keep that in mind when we build them.

Histogram, CountyMap, and Controls are going to have their own folder inside src/components/ to help us group major components with their children. An index.js file will help with imports.

We'll use a Meta folder for all our metadata components like Title and Description. We don't have to do this, but import { Title, Description } from './Meta' looks better than separate imports for related-but-different components. Namespacing, if you will.

We want to access every component with import My Component from './MyComponent' and render as <MyComponent {...params} />. Something is wrong, if a parent component has to know details about the implementation of a child component.

You can read more about these ideas by Googling "leaky abstractions", "single responsibility principle", "separation of concerns", and "structured programming". Books from the late 90's and early 2000's (when object-oriented programming was The Future™) have the best curated info in my experience.

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