Are you a novice programmer and want to find out what React really is? Do you want to know its strengths in order to decide to work with this library? Or maybe, as a software house client, you would like to know why this front-end technology was proposed for your website or web application? You've come to the right place. This article was created to explain what React.js is, describe its strengths, and show you why and when to use it.

While there will still be those in online groups and forums who will defend the claim that React is a framework, the overwhelming majority of developers will tell you that it is a JavaScript library. Its history dates back to 2011 and begins... on Facebook. It was created by Jordan Walke, a software engineer working there and looking for a way to build dynamic and efficient interfaces. It was first deployed on Facebook's News Feed in 2011 and later on Instagram in 2012. A year later, React was made available to a wide audience on an open-source basis. It found that the innovative approach was quickly gaining ground. Developers more and more willingly used React due to its great flexibility and responsiveness. 

What has changed with the React revolution?

Before we move on to the advantages and the most important reasons why you should use React, it is worth going back a bit in time and explaining first what the revolutionary nature of this solution is in the context of the trends and technologies that were available when this new library entered the game and began to be used by programmers. In the past, for many years, static pages relied on HTML and CSS in the frontend and PHP in the backend. Javascript appeared over time, but in most cases, it was necessary to run on the client-side. React has revolutionized this practice. Eventually, a library emerged that allowed you to create dynamic and engaging server-side rendering interfaces. Developers were able to save the time needed for coding, and the solution called Virtual DOM (Document Object Model, which you will read more about in a moment) made it easier to update components during user interaction without affecting other interface elements. This is how React shines in a way against the previously known javascript frameworks such as Angular and Ember. Server-side rendering has become possible without having to update the entire view with each change. Therefore, programmers gained the ability to create independent, reusable components. No wonder React has made a permanent home in the world of coding. Today it is used by giants such as Netflix, Skype, Dropbox, Airbnb, PayPal or Pinterest, and the community of people developing the library is constantly growing.

Why choose React for your project?

That's a lot of information for a short introduction, but don't worry. If you do not fully understand what makes React.js unique, it's time to get down to business. Here are the 5 most important advantages of this solution, which will help you understand exactly how the use of this library affects the convenience of coding, introducing changes and the finished product, as well as how it stands out from the competition in terms of ease of work and acquiring the necessary knowledge. Actually, we will start with this last benefit.

Technology that you can learn quickly

We all love solutions that can quickly bring us satisfaction from their use. In other words, those that offer visible results even to beginners. One of the biggest advantages of React is its very low entry threshold. If you already have knowledge of Javascript, you don't need much time to master this library. From week to week, you will be overcoming new milestones, and the effects of your work will be more and more advanced (and thus very satisfying). Even a person who has never worked with React will, within a few days, be able to use the library on a given project. Of course, it's not that entering the world of React is a never-ending success story, but if you compare it to Angular, for example, the amount of information that needs to be assimilated at the very beginning will be significantly smaller. React will be a great library for novice developers who want to quickly see the effects of their work with the frontend part of the code. Of course, if you want to be good at something, you must constantly train and raise your level of competence. With React it is really nice because entering the next levels of development will be rewarded with visible effects of work.

The efficiency provided by Virtual DOM

The Virtual DOM mentioned earlier in this article is the distinguishing feature of React, which is probably most often mentioned as the greatest advantage of this library. It's time to explain the advantages of this solution over the traditional DOM model. When we load a website, a Document Object Model is created. It requires the entire HTML structure to be reloaded when changes are made. In the case of complex models, the web browser has to perform a lot of calculations, which is not beneficial for the optimal page loading time. This is where the Virtual Document Object Model comes in handy. In this case, a virtual representation of the code is stored in memory. When changes are made, React compares documents and updates only what has been modified. Virtual DOM finds the best ways to make all the changes to the page, which limits the number of references through the regular DOM. This solution increases efficiency and allows you to use hot reloading, i.e. reloading the interface in real-time. The performance optimization provided by Virtual DOM allows us to believe that this technology has a very promising future in the most popular frameworks.

The power of reusable components

Code full of duplicate elements can be a source of frustration when it turns out that introducing a small change leads to the fact that the whole thing has to be analyzed for corrections. React is a remedy for similar situations. And all because the UI is made of smaller components. These are individual elements of an interface that fulfill specific functions (e.g. labels or buttons). The interconnected components grow into larger and more complex elements, ultimately creating the entire UI. React saves time that you would spend on repeating small pieces of code endlessly. Reusability of components allows them to be used many times (both within one, but also completely different projects). It is enough to have in mind how to effectively combine them together. And speaking of ready-made elements of an open-source library, you can probably guess that there is one more perk behind it, which are ready-made "blocks" or their entire "sets" created by the constantly growing React community.

You'll love the React community

There is a good chance that during your adventure with React there will be many components that you won't have to write at all. Developers around the world create ready-made UI elements and share them with others. Very often you will be able to use them for free, saving you not only money but also time. Another advantage of a large growing community is frequent updates. The library offers a lot of up-to-date solutions that you can use in your projects.

The huge community is not only the benefit of the fact that someone has already written the code and you can use it. After all, a developer's work is about continuous development. This one will provide tremendous support from other React users. If you have a problem with something, almost one hundred percent will be someone on the forum or group to help you solve it. In addition, there are also a huge amount of tutorials, guides, and FAQ series that will allow you to gain new competencies and develop your skills.

At this point, it is worth adding that the huge community of React users also translates into hundreds of well-known brands for which developers using this technology work. The use of the library by tech giants such as Facebook, Netflix, or UberEats is a kind of guarantee that it is a top solution that can be trusted.

Let's not forget about React Native

When writing about React.js, React Native cannot be omitted. The knowledge of this library also allows you to create mobile applications for iOS and Android! That's right. React Native is a toolkit for building cross-platform applications using JavaScript. All thanks to the use of bridges that translate this language into native components. But that's still not the end of React's versatility. It's worth adding that React code can be rendered on the server with Node or Next.js. Knowing this library, you can also create VR applications with React VR! This proves even better that when looking for new competencies, it is definitely worth considering this library! Its versatility means that projects that will allow you to use new skills in practice will be quickly found.

Projects worth using React

We've already mentioned a few big players who use React, so this gives some idea of what projects this might work for. This library is a great solution for various types of web applications, and with React Native, also for mobile applications. The technology ensures responsiveness, i.e. adaptation to different devices on which the website is run. By itself, it is perfect wherever simplicity, ease of use, and speed are important. In the case of more complex projects, it will be a perfect complement to a set of other technological solutions. 

PWA as a new mobile web experience

Finally, we would like to share with you a case study of one of our projects, where React was of key importance for the optimization of the Saveur Bière online store in terms of mobile traffic. The client wanted to avoid wasting the traffic conversion that came from them with the growing activity of smartphone users. For the user experience related to accessing the website from mobile devices, we decided to introduce Progressive Web App (PWA). Users can also download a mobile app that provides native smartphone experiences. For this project, we created a fast and clean code that we integrated with the original e-commerce platform. It was the React library that helped, as well as Redux. The successful completion of the project is evidenced by the reduced number of abandoned shopping carts and the increase in Saveur Bière's revenues. The entire case study describing the problem with which the client came to us and the implemented solutions can be found at this link.