Evan X. Merz

musician / technologist / human being

Tagged "react"

Redux in one sentence

Redux is a very simple tool that is very poorly explained. In this article, I will explain Redux in a single sentence that is sorely missing from the Redux documentation.

Redux is a pattern for modifying state using events.

That's it. It's a dedicated event bus for managing application state. Read on for a more detailed explanation, and for a specific explanation of the vocabulary used in Redux.

1. Redux is a design pattern.

The first thing you need to know is that Redux is not really software per se. True, you can download a Redux "library", but this is just a library of convenience functions and definitions. You could implement a Redux architecture without using Redux software.

In this sense, Redux is not like jQuery, or React, or most of the libraries you get from npm or yarn. When you learn Redux, you aren't learning one specific thing, but really just a group of concepts. In computer science, we call concepts like this a design pattern. A design pattern is a group of concepts that simplify an archetypal task (a task that re-occurs in software development). Redux is a design pattern for managing data in a javascript application.

2. Redux is an extension of the Observer Pattern.

I think this is the only bullet point needed to explain Redux to experienced developers.

The observer pattern is the abstract definition of what programmers refer to as events and event listeners. The observer pattern defines a situation where one object is listening to events triggered by another object.

In javascript, we commonly use the observer pattern when we wire up onClick events. When you set up an onClick event, you are saying that an object should listen to an HTML element, and respond when it is clicked. In this scenario, we are usually managing the visual state of the page using events. For example, a switch is clicked and it must respond by changing color.

Redux is a dedicated event bus for managing internal application state using events.

So redux is a way of triggering pre-defined events to modify state in pre-determined ways. This allows us to ensure that state isn't being modified in ad hoc ways and it allows us to examine the history of application state by looking at the sequence of events that led to that state.

3. Actions are event definitions. Reducers are state modifiers.

The new vocabulary used by Redux makes it seem like it's something new, when it's really just a slight twist on existing technology and patterns.

Action = Event definition. Like events in any language, events in Redux have a name and a payload. Events are not active like classes or methods. They are (usually) passive structures that can be contained or transmitted in json.

Reducer = Event listener. A reducer changes application state in response to an action. It's called a Reducer because it literally works like something you would pass to the reduce function.

Dispatch = Trigger event. The dispatch method can be confusing at first, but it is just a way of triggering the event/action. You should think of it like the methods used to trigger exceptions in most languages. After all, exceptions are just another variation on the Observer pattern. So dispatch is like throw in Java or raise in Ruby.

4. Redux manages local state separately from the backend.

Redux is a pattern for managing only the internal state of the application. It does not dictate anything about how you talk to your API, nor does it dictate the way that your internal state should be connected to the backend state.

It's a common mistake to put the backend code directly into the Redux action or reducer. Although this can seem sensible at times, tightly coupling the local application state with backend interactions is dangerous and often undesirable. For instance, a user may toggle a switch three or four times just to see what it does. Usually you want to update local state immediately when they hit the switch, but you only want to update the backend after they have stopped.


Redux is not complex. It is a dedicated event bus for managing local application state. Actions are events. Reducers modify state. That's it. I hope that helps.

Here are a few other useful links:

https://alligator.io/redux/redux-intro/ https://www.tutorialspoint.com/redux/redux_core_concepts.htm https://redux.js.org/introduction/core-concepts/

Evan's React Interview Cheat Sheet

In this article I'm going to list some of the things that are useful in React coding interviews, but are easily forgotten or overlooked. Most of the techniques here are useful for solving problems that often arise in coding interviews.

Table of contents

Imitating componentDidMount using React hooks

The useEffect hook is one of the more popular additions to the React hooks API. The problem with it is that it replaces a handful of critical lifecycle methods that were much easier to understand.

It's much easier to understand the meaning of "componentDidMount" than "useEffect({}, [])", especially when useEffect replaces componentDidMount, componentDidUpdate, and componentWillUnmount.

The most common use of the useEffect hook in interviews is to replace componentDidMount. The componentDidMount method is often used for loading whatever data is needed by the component. In fact, the reason it's called useEffect is because you are using a side effect.

The default behavior of useEffect is to run after ever render, but it can also be run conditionally using a second argument that triggers the effect when it changes.

In this example, we use the useEffect hook to load data from the omdb api.

  // fetch movies. Notice the use of async
  const fetchMovies = (newSearchTerm = searchTerm) => {
    // See http://www.omdbapi.com/
    fetch(`http://www.omdbapi.com/?apikey=${apikey}&s=${newSearchTerm}&page=${pageNumber}`).then(async (response) => {
      const responseJson = await response.json();

      // if this is a new search term, then replace the movies
      if(newSearchTerm != previousSearchTerm) {
      } else {
        // if the search term is the same, then append the new page to the end of movies
        setMovies([...movies, ...responseJson.Search]);
    }).catch((error) => {

  // imitate componentDidMount
  useEffect(fetchMovies, []);

Note that this syntax for using asynchronous code in useEffect is the suggested way to do so.

Using the previous state in the useState hook

The useState hook is probably the easiest and most natural hook, but it does obscure one common use case. For instance, do you know how to use the previous state in the useState hook?

It turns out that you can pass a function into the useState set method and that function can take the previous state as an argument.

Here's a simple counter example.

const [count, setCount] = useState({});
setCount(prevState => {
  return prevState + 1;

Using useRef to refer to an element

The useRef hook is used to store any mutable value across calls to the component render method. The most common use is to use it to access an element in the DOM.

Initialize the reference using the useRef hook.

// use useRef hook to keep track of a specific element
const movieContainerRef = useRef();

Then attach it to an element in the render return.

<div className={MovieListStyles.movieContainer} ref={movieContainerRef}>
  {movies && movies.length > 0 && 

Then you can use the .current property to access the current DOM element for that div, and attach listeners or do anything else you need to do with a div.

// set up a scroll handler
useEffect(() => {
  const handleScroll = debounce(() => {
    const scrollTop = movieContainerRef.current.scrollTop;
    const scrollHeight = movieContainerRef.current.scrollHeight;
    // do something with the scrolling properties here...
  }, 150);

  // add the handler to the movie container
  movieContainerRef.current.addEventListener("scroll", handleScroll, { passive: true });

  // remove the handler from the movie container
  return () => movieContainerRef.current.removeEventListener("scroll", handleScroll);
}, []);

Custom usePrevious hook to simplify a common useRef use case

The useRef hook can be used to store any mutable value. So it's a great choice when you want to look at the previous value in a state variable. Unfortunately, the logic to do so is somewhat tortuous and can get repetitive. I prefer to use a custom usePrevious hook from usehooks.com.

import {useEffect, useRef} from 'react';

// See https://usehooks.com/usePrevious/
function usePrevious(value) {
  // The ref object is a generic container whose current property is mutable ...
  // ... and can hold any value, similar to an instance property on a class
  const ref = useRef();
  // Store current value in ref
  useEffect(() => {
    ref.current = value;
  }, [value]); // Only re-run if value changes
  // Return previous value (happens before update in useEffect above)
  return ref.current;

export default usePrevious;

Using it is as simple as one extra line when setting up a functional component.

// use the useState hook to store the search term
const [searchTerm, setSearchTerm] = useState('orange');

// use custom usePrevious hook
const previousSearchTerm = usePrevious(searchTerm);

Vanilla js debounce method

Okay, this next one has nothing to do with React, except for the fact that it's a commonly needed helper method. Yes, I'm talking about "debounce". If you want to reduce the jittery quality of a user interface, but you still want to respond to actions by the user, then it's important to throttle the rate of events your code responds to. Debounce is the name of a method for doing this from the lodash library.

The debounce method waits a preset interval until after the last call to debounce to call a callback method. Effectively, it waits until it stops receiving events to call the callback. This is commonly needed when responding to scroll or mouse events.

The problem is that you don't want to install lodash in a coding interview just to use one method. So here's a vanilla javascript debounce method from Josh Comeau.

const debounce = (callback, wait) => {
  let timeoutId = null;
  return (...args) => {
    timeoutId = window.setTimeout(() => {
      callback.apply(null, args);
    }, wait);

export default debounce;

Here's an example of how to use it to update a movie list when a new search term is entered.

// handle text input
const handleSearchChange = debounce((event) => {
}, 150);

return (
  <div className={MovieListStyles.movieList}>
    <h2>Movie List</h2>
    <div className={MovieListStyles.searchTermContainer}>
        <input type="text" defaultValue={searchTerm} onChange={handleSearchChange} />
      {movies && movies.length > 0 && 

Use useContext to avoid prop-drilling

The last thing an interviewer wants to see during a React coding interview is prop drilling. Prop drilling occurs when you need to pass a piece of data from one parent component, through several intervening components, to a child component. Prop drilling results in a bunch of repeated code where we are piping a variable through many unrelated components.

To avoid prop drilling, you should use the useContext hook.

The useContext hook is a React implementation of the provider pattern. The provider pattern is a way of providing system wide access to some resource.

It takes three code changes to implement the useContext hook. You've got to call createContext in the parent component that will maintain the data. Then you've got to wrap your app with a special tag.

export const DataContext = React.createContext()

function App() {
  const data = { ... }

  return (
      <DataContext.Provider value={data}>
        <SideBar />
        <Content />

Then you've got to import the context in the child component, and call useContext to get the current value.

import DataContext from '../app.js';


const { data } = React.useContext(DataContext);

What has made you stumble in React interviews?

What are some other common ways to make mistakes in React coding interviews? Send me your biggest React coding headaches on Twitter @EvanXMerz.