Why React JS matters for developers

It can be tempting to think of React JS as just another JavaScript framework, along the lines of Angular JS and Ember JS. This entirely misses why it was created and the problems it solves.

React is not designed to solve problems specific to web applications. Rather, it is designed to solve problems for all applications.

This sounds like buzz until you look at where React is going. Its first uses were in web applications, specifically Facebook and Instagram. Now, though, it’s rapidly moving past that:

  1. Facebook used it to build a native iOS mobile app, and is open sourcing react-native to allow anyone to do the same for iOS and Android. Learn more from Facebook’s recent React conference: overview, deep dive.
  2. Flipboard used it to power canvas graphics on its web site, which unlike the traditional browser DOM can operate with video-like smoothness. They open sourced this add-on to React.
  3. Netflix uses it to create TV interfaces. Hear about it in their own words.
  4. It’s used on both the server-side and the client-side. React doesn’t need a web browser to work.

Why is React gaining traction on so many platforms, unlike other JavaScript frameworks?

It’s simple: React presents a better model for development, generally.

React’s impact is best explained by its side effects:

  1. Your code is clear. It is arranged into components, each with its own defined responsibility.  Learn more about structure.
  2. Your app is predictable. It’s very clear where data flows, and what happens when a user does something. Learn more about data flow.
  3. Your app is fast. React is really, really fast, creating a better experience for users, even if you have a ton of data. See this example.
  4. Your app is standards-based. React adds layers only when it needs to. You feel like you are actually writing JavaScript and HTML, not some magic template language.
  5. Surprise, you’re an app developer. React breaks down barriers across platforms, by applying its same model across the board. This means that once you learn the React way of structuring an web application, you have a huge head start on developing a native iOS or Android app, thanks to react-native. Surely this will happen to other platforms.

So, get to know React, even if you don’t see a need for it in your current projects. Far more than a shiny new JavaScript framework,  it could represent a new standard for structuring applications.

See also, the benefits of adding React to a real-world Rails app, and a deep dive into React in Rails.

Finally, check out the React JS Conf 2015 videos.

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