Writing React Components that Support the LinkedStateMixin and the valueLink Property

Posted Wednesday, September 24, 2014

In a React application, it’s very common for a component to contain state that should be editable by a child component. The most basic example uses a text input with a value and onChange handler to display and update the text.

Doing this over and over, especially in a component with a lot of controlled inputs, can get repetitive. The React addons (available when you use the “React with Add-Ons” download, or via require("react/addons") when using a CommonJS bundler) provide the LinkedStateMixin to simplify situations where an input should remain in lockstep with a given piece of state.

Now the input and the text state will remain synchronized; changing the state via setState will update the input, and changing the input will automatically call setState, updating the text key.

But what does this.linkState(key), a function provided to our component by LinkedStateMixin, actually return? It’s actually a very simple object created by React’s ReactLink module:

The value property contains the current value of this.state[key], and the requestChange property is a function we can call with a new value for this.state[key] to update it.

That means our above example could more verbosely be written like this:

Written this way, it’s easy to see that the valueLink property is very straightforward: it simply uses the object’s value property as the current value of the form and the object’s requestChange property as the callback to change that value. We now have all the information we need to implement a valueLink-style property on any component we write.

Extrapolating to Custom Components

Let’s build a simple React component that wraps a simple jQuery color picker. The component wraps a single div, and we utilize React component lifecycle hooks to call appropriate plugin methods when the incoming properties change.

We can use the color picker by passing it value and onChange properties, like so:

It would be nice if our component also supported use of the LinkedStateMixin. Let’s change our application to use valueLink:

Since we know that the valueLink property contains an object with value and requestChange properties, we can easily modify the ColorPicker component:

However, we’ve lost the ability to use value and onChange with our component, since we’ve hard-coded it to use this.props.valueLink everywhere. We could litter the component with if statements checking for the existence of this.props.valueLink, but instead let’s write a simple abstraction so we don’t have to worry about it:

This getValueLink function takes a properties object and either returns its valueLink property, if it has one, or creates one from the value and onChange properties. Now, we can write our component as if we always have a valueLink property:

And that’s it! We now have a React component that works both with and without valueLink. Here’s an example: