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Web Frameworks

By: Cratecode

When making big websites, it can be really difficult to just use JavaScript and HTML. Code gets messy, HTML gets copied and duplicated everywhere, and bugs become nearly impossible to solve. There are some libraries that help make web development easier for developers (most notably of which might be jQuery), but they just provide tools to make things easier instead of tackling the underlying problem.

However, that doesn't mean there aren't any good solutions that exist. An interesting idea that has come up is to treat HTML as a language for computers and not people, and create languages that "compile" to HTML. There are a few reasons for doing this, but the short and simple explanation is that it lets developers improve their experience without changing how browsers work. We'll look at a popular framework called React, which brings a "JavaScript-first" mentality to web development. It uses a language called JSX, which is JavaScript + some syntax that looks a lot like HTML.


A big idea in React is that of components. They're basically like custom HTML elements made by you. Also, all of their code is contained within their own JSX file (and not laying around somewhere like it might in a pure HTML + JS project). A big selling point of components is that they can be re-used. Maybe you create a "Card" component that on the page creates a square with an image at the top, and some text below it. We can do this with HTML and CSS, but instead of copy-and-pasting our code every time, we can write all the structure and styling styling in a file like Card.jsx, then just write <Card image={...} text="Text" /> whenever we need it.

const Card = ({image, text}) => { return ( <div style={{width: "50px", height: "50px"}}> <img src={image} style={{width: "50px", height: "40px"}} /> <p style={{width: "50px", height: "10px"}}>{text}</p> </div> ); }; export default Card;

There are some ways to make this easier to write and more responsive, but we'll get to those later

In that way, components act a lot like functions. All of their complex behavior is hidden away, and they can be re-used with just one line of code. In fact, React components can be defined as functions (as shown above)!



Let's take a look at the actual way that we write React components. Before we go any further, we need to first understand that we're using a slightly different version of JavaScript here. In order to make our experience as nice as possible, many React projects make use of "transpiling". Transpiling is basically the process of taking newer and nicer-to-use JavaScript and converting it into the kind that browsers accept. For us, that means we have access to statements that start with export and import, and we use import instead of require.

For example, the export default Card; means that the Card component will be the default export and import. Then, if we want to use the Card component in another file (let's say index.jsx, in the same directory as Card.jsx), we can use import Card from "./Card";.

There's also non-default exports, and we can mix them together. We won't worry about them right now, but just keep in mind that there are a few ways to export code from one of your files so that it can be accessed from another file.


Now, there's the stuff that JSX adds. This is the HTML-like syntax. If we want to return some HTML, we can put it directly in our code (and even store HTML inside of variables). However, there are a couple of rules:

  • If you want to set an attribute to something that isn't a string literal, you'll have to surround it with curly brackets. For example, <Rectangle size=1 /> doesn't work, but <Rectangle size={1} /> does. This can also be used for expressions, like <Text content={isLoggedIn ? "Welcome user!" : "Please sign up."} />. Finally, if you want to pass true to an attribute, you can do it like <SpecialButton show={true} /> or like <SpecialButton show />.
  • You always need to close a tag. You can't write something like <Rectangle>. This can either mean self-closing tags like <Rectangle />, or using a closing tag like <Rectangle></Rectangle>. Just like with HTML, if you want to put any elements within another element, you need to use a closing tag like: <Rectangle><ChildComponent /></Rectangle>.
  • You can only have one "top-level" element. For example, <Text content="aaa" /> is valid, but <Text content="aaa" /><Text content="bbb" /> isn't. In order to do this, we need to use "React fragments", which are tags with no names (just the brackets): <><Text content="aaa" /><Text content="bbb" /></>. This is just for parsing and doesn't do anything special.
  • If you want to do things on multiple lines (like above), it's a good idea to wrap everything in parentheses. This is because of parsing issues, just like the above rule.
  • On HTML components (ones that are actual HTML elements, like div, input, and p), you can use the style object to set the element's styling.

Also, when making components, these attributes are all passed down as a single object and appears in the function's first argument. This means that you can use object destructing like above (which lets you easily extract/"destructure" certain keys from an object and store them as variables), or you can create a parameter called something like props, then do props.image and props.text. Both of these approaches do the same thing, but object destructing looks a bit cleaner.

All that aside, everything works pretty much like HTML. The real benefit though, is that you can create your own components and use them like HTML elements. For example, if we had an index.jsx file next to Card.jsx, and we wanted to use Card, we could do this:

import Card from "./Card"; const Index = () => { return ( <Card image="image url" text="Custom Card Component!!" /> ); }; export default Index;

I've gone ahead and made another example (open up index.jsx and UpdatingButton.jsx). This one shows how React can help integrate JavaScript and HTML to create dynamic content. It features a button that displays the number of times its been counted. It uses React hooks (which we'll get into later) to accomplish this. Take a look at it and see if you can change how it works (maybe count in 2s, or count downwards). Good luck!

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