George Stefanis

Getting Started with React: The very basics

10 Jan 2016

React is a, fairly, new Library created by the awesome people at Facebook. React is an excellent library for creating components and use it as the V in the MVC. React is easy to use all by itself or use it as part of the BackboneJS application, or any other way you fancy. That versatility is what makes React awesome. Also you can create mobile applications using React native, which is really great.

So how do you get started? I’m assuming here that you already know some javascript. If you don’t you’re better of with another tutorial, learning Javascript. It’s great if you have some experience with other frameworks, like underscore, JQuery or Angular, but it’s not mandatory. Also I’m assuming you have node and npm installed on your machine. If not you can find some help here.

Learn the basics

If you search google for React tutorials you’ll get all sorts of results but none of them is really simple and descriptive for beginners. I found out that the best place to start is the Facebook React Tutorial. This is really simple to start with and you’ll end up with a boilerplate of sorts that you can start expanding on. Here is the code that you’ll produce after completing the React tutorial.

Expand on the tutorial: Separating the code in an external file

This might sound trivial but it’s the very first thing i wanted to do, but strangely I didn’t get it at first. My main confusion was the type of the script. For react the type is text/babel instead of text/script that you usually would see. This isn’t just a technicality, it’s actually very important because we need to compile the JSX code to Javascript. In my case i chose Browserify and gulp to succeed that. You can also choose webpack . I’ll show you how to do it with browserify.

In your public folder create a build directory. That’s where we’re going to build our JSX to Javascript. We’ll be exporting a file named bundle.js Change your index.html file to point to the above file. Your final index.html should look like so:

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Next is creating our gulp file. In the root folder create a gulp,js file that contains the following

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Then create a gulp folder and inside that folder create a new file named browserify.js. In the file copy the following

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Now, if you’ve used gulp before you can go into the command line, navigate to your project folder and type gulp and the gulpfile will run. You’ll probably going to get some errors because you’re missing things like watchify, reactify etc. So we need to to install those. Type the following to your command line:

If you open your file at this point in the browser your should be getting the same results as before. Good!

Note: The way your gulpfile is right now has a minor issue. If something goes wrong with your file, or your code or anything around that area the bundle.js won’t be generated and gulp will not throw any error whatsoever. It can be frustrating at times. So if your bundle.js isn’t generating you’ll need to debug it.ß

Expand on the tutorial: Separating the code into multiple external files

The next logic step, that you might be thinking, is separating the classes into different files. In a big project that would make a lot of sense, and also it could help reusing code. My first thought was to just cut/paste the class in a new .jsx file and then require it from my main file. Run browserify and watch it fail.

Not to worry though, because webpack is here to save us. Webpack is similar to browserify but it has the added benefit that you can separate your different modules and use them wherever you can either with CommonJS or in AMD. This is exactly what we want and it’s not that hard either.

On your root project folder create a new file called webpack.config.js. It should contain the following:

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Note: if you run webpack for the first time you'll need to run npm install -g webpack

Next separate the classes into different files. Leave the main.jsx just for React.render function. This is how your files should look after you’re done. If you open each individual file in this repository you’ll see that we’re requiring all our different dependencies.

The final step is running the command webpack --progress. That should create a bundle.js file into your /public/build/ folder.

And that's it! There you have it. You did the basic tutorial, you then seperated the code in a different file and then splitted it into more files. You should now have an idea about react, Browserify and Webpack. In a next tutorial we'll make a new component, based on the Facebook tutorial, and next we'll see how to use it in different frameworks to enhance your existing projects.

More reading

Want to read more? Here are some nice resources I've found. Leave more in the comments down below and I'll add them.

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