A Dead-Simple Tutorial on how to use React.js for those who know HTML, CSS, and some Javascript

By: Jinesh Shah, Co-Founder at Arthur

Preface

If you’re reading this, I’m going to assume you are comfortable with HTML, CSS, and maybe some javascript and/or JQuery.

If you are not comfortable with HTML, CSS, and javascript, check out Codecademy, and maybe spend some time learning and mastering those first.

This tutorial does not necessarily take you through a practical example of React. It’s more focused on showing you that building with React doesn’t require any new tricks or magic beyond knowing HTML, CSS, and Javascript. React is just Javascript, and this tutorial aims to show that.

Introduction

In order to drive home how React works, we’re going to focus on the simplest possible React application one can build. The HTML equivalent is this:

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html lang="en">
<head>
<meta charset="UTF-8">
<title>React JS</title>
</head>
<body>
<div id="app">
<h1>Hello, World!</h1>
</div>
</body>
</html>

If we were to write this in React in the simplest possible form, here is what it would be:

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html lang="en">
<head>
<meta charset="UTF-8">
<title>React JS</title>
</head>
<body>
<div id="app"></div>
<script src="https://cdnjs.cloudflare.com/ajax/libs/react/0.14.7/react.js"></script>
<script src="https://cdnjs.cloudflare.com/ajax/libs/react/0.14.7/react-dom.js"></script>
<script src="https://cdnjs.cloudflare.com/ajax/libs/babel-core/5.8.23/browser.min.js"></script>
<script type="text/babel">
var HelloComponent = React.createClass({
render: function() {
return (
<h1>Hello, World!</h1>
)
}
})
ReactDOM.render(<HelloComponent />, document.querySelector('#app'))
</script>
</body>
</html>

Ok, this is what we want to get to, so let’s take it one step at a time.

Step by Step

Basics

The first thing you will see is that React, at it’s core, does not look wildly different from HTML. If we throw away all the logistical components of our HTML and React examples, we are left with the following:

HTML:

<div id="app">
<h1>Hello, World!</h1>
</div>

As you can see here, we have a div with an id of app, which, in CSS you would see written as #app.

Now, for the React equivalent.

React:

<div id="app"></div>
<script>
var HelloComponent = React.createClass({
render: function() {
return (
<h1>Hello, World!</h1>
)
}
})
ReactDOM.render(<HelloComponent />, document.querySelector('#app'))
</script>

Ok, let’s take this one piece at a time.

We have a <div> with an id of app, which would be denoted at #app in CSS. So, far, it’s the same as HTML. This<div> is our “mount” component because we will be mounting or inserting our React into this <div>.

<div id="app"></div>

We have a <script> tag with some Javascript inside it. This <script> tag holds our entire React application.

<script>

We have a javascript variable named HelloComponent being defined, and it is equal to React.createClass({…}). This HelloComponent variable is known in React as a component. Just like a <div>, <h1>, <p>, or <img> tag, we are defining a new tag or component called HelloComponent, and as you will see, we will use that component like this:<HelloComponent />.

In order to understand React fully, it’s important to understand what is happening when you define a new component with React.createClass({…}):

  • We have a variable called React that has other functions and variables held within it.
  • One of those functions is createClass.
  • We know that to call a function, we would call it like this: createClass().
  • Let’s say we had to pass a variable into it called foo, then we would call createClass(foo).
  • Now, let’s say we defined foo like so: var foo = {…}.
  • Then, when we pass foo to createClass, we are simply passing what it is equal to, which is {…}.

We could have written it is:

var foo = {...}
var HelloComponent = React.createClass(foo)

However, it is more convenient to write it as:

var HelloComponent = React.createClass({...})

Now, let’s see what is held inside of {…}.

Inside of every React component, there is only one requirement; That component must have a render function. The render function is charged with producing the HTML output of our component. We will see that in our render function, we are doing just that:

render: function() {...}

Finally, we are at the actual HTML of the page. This is where we return the HTML for this component. In this case, all we want to return is <h1>Hello, World!</h1>, but you can imagine very sophisticated components with blocks of HTML. This is where the power of React starts to become clear. You can create components that you can then use in multiple places with different data.

return (
<h1>Hello, World!</h1>
)

The last thing we have to do is call ReactDOM and tell it to render the component. What this command does is tell ReactDOM (which knows how to work with the DOM, see below) to render the component and put it in the div with id of app.

ReactDOM.render(<HelloComponent />, document.querySelector('#app'))

Script Tags

You may have noticed the three script tags in the React app. These are where the magic happens. Let’s go through what each one does.

React

The first script tag is the react.js script:

<script src="https://cdnjs.cloudflare.com/ajax/libs/react/0.14.7/react.js"></script>

This script is getting the actual react.js library. It makes the React variable available to us so we can callReact.createClass.

React DOM

The next script tag is the react-dom.js script:

<script src="https://cdnjs.cloudflare.com/ajax/libs/react/0.14.7/react-dom.js"></script>

This script is getting a library called React DOM. If you have worked with HTML, you might know what the DOM (Document Object Model) is. It is the structure that holds all the information about how to take the HTML on your page and display it.

Babel

The final script tag is the babel.js script:

<script src="https://cdnjs.cloudflare.com/ajax/libs/babel-core/5.8.23/browser.min.js"></script>

This script parses something called JSX. In the javascript code we wrote, we returned <h1>Hello, World!</h1> which looks a lot like HTML, but it’s actually JSX. the <HelloComponent /> is another example of JSX. It’s meant to look and feel like HTML, but what Babel will do is convert that JSX into javascript the will call document.createElement. The nice thing is that you don’t really need to worry about how this works or what is happening to get started with React, so let’s leave it at this.

Conclusion

This is just an introduction to React and an explanation of all the pieces. If you want to learn more, try taking the code at the top and adding pieces and removing pieces. Don’t be afraid to break it. Just try things out. Try adding more to the JSX. Then, start looking for some tutorials that go beyond the super simple basics I have written here. This is a great tutorial for learning React. Good luck!


About Me

I am a cofounder at a company called Arthur, a membership for women to discover the best emerging designers. We are built on Universal React, Redux, Node, Express, and MongoDB. Interested in learning more? Get in Touch!