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React Conf 2019 wrapped up last week. It was kick-started with a keynote by Tom Occhino and Yuhi Zheng from the React team who both talked about Concurrent Mode and Suspense. Then followed by Frank Yan also from the React team, who explained how they are building the “new Facebook” with React and Relay. One of the major highlights of his talk was the CSS-in-JS library that will be open-sourced once ready.

Sophie Alpert, former manager of the React team gave a talk on building a custom React renderer. To demonstrate that, she implemented a small version of ReactDOM in just 30 minutes. There were many other lightning talks and presentations on translated React, building inclusive apps by improving their accessibility, and much more.

React Conf 2019 is a two-day event that took place from Oct 24-25 at Lake Las Vegas, Nevada. This conference brought together front-end and full-stack developers to “share knowledge, skills, to network, and just to have fun.”

React’s long-term goal: “Making it easier to build great user experiences”

Tom Occhino, Engineering Director of the React group, took to the stage to talk about the goals for React and the community. He says that React’s long-term goal is to make it easier for developers to build great user experiences. “Easier to build” means improving the developer experience. The three factors that contribute to a great developer experience are a low barrier to entry, developer productivity, and ability to scale.


React is constantly working towards improving the developer experience by introducing new features. Two such features are: Concurrent Mode and Suspense.

Concurrent Mode

Concurrent Mode is a set of features to make React apps more responsive by rendering component trees without blocking the main thread. It gives React the ability to interrupt big blocks of low-priority work in order to focus on higher priority work like responding to user input. This will enable React to work on several state updates concurrently and removing jarring and too frequent DOM updates.

The team also released the first early community preview of Concurrent Mode last week.

Suspense

Suspense was introduced as an improvement to the developer experience when dealing with asynchronous data fetching within React apps. It suspends your component rendering and shows a fallback until some condition is met.

Occhino describes Suspense as a “React system for orchestrating asynchronous loading of code, data, and resources.” He adds, “Suspense lets the component wait for something before they render. This helps consolidate nested dependencies and nested spinners and things behind the single simple loading experience.”

Towards the end of his keynote, Occhino also touched upon how the team plans to make the React community more inclusive and diverse. He said, “Over the past 10 years, I have learned that diverse teams build better products and make better decisions. Everyone working on React shares my conviction about this.”

He adds, “Up until recently we have taken a pretty passive stance to building and shaping the React community. We have a responsibility to you all and I feel like we let many of you down. We are committed to doing better!” As a first step, the team has now replaced the React code of conduct with the contributor covenant.

Read also: #Reactgate forces React leaders to confront community’s toxic culture head on

What’s new the React team is working on

Yuzi Zheng, Engineering Manager for React and Relay team at Facebook gave an insight into what projects the core teams are working on. She started off by giving a recap of hooks, which was one of the most-awaited React features announced at React Conf 2018.

“Hooks are designed for the future of React in the way that it naturally encourages code that is compatible with all the plumbing features such as accessibility, server-side rendering, suspense, and concurrent mode. Since its release, the reception of Hooks has been really positive,” she shared.

If you want to understand the fundamentals of React Hooks and use them for implementing responsive design and more, check out our book, Learning Hooks.

Learn React Hooks

Another long-term project that the team is focusing on is providing developers a way to easily build accessibility features in React. Currently, developers can create accessible websites using standard HTML techniques, but it does have some limitations. To help building accessibility directly into React the team is working on two areas: managing focus and input interfaces. For managing focus, the team plans to add primitives that provide “a more structured way of making sure component flows well” for cases like React portals and Suspense fallback and are accessible by default. For input interfaces, they plan to add support for rich gestures that work across platforms and are accessible by default.

The team is also focusing on improving the initial render times. Server-side rendering helps in reducing the amount of CPU usage on the client for the initial render to some extent, but it does have some limitations. To meet these limitations, the team plans to add built-in support for server-side rendering. This will work with lazily loaded components to reduce the bytes needed on the client, support streaming down markups in chunks, and be fully-compatible with Concurrent Mode and Suspense.

The CSS-in-JS library

Frank Yan, Engineering Manager in the React group at Facebook talked about how the team has rebuilt and redesigned the Facebook website and the key lessons they have learned along the way. The new Facebook website is a single-page app with React organizing the HTML and JavaScript into components from the top down and with GraphQL and Relay colocating the queries declaratively in the components.

The only key part that the team did not reorganize was CSS. They instead created a new library to embed styles in components called CSS-in-JS. It aims to make the styles easier to read, understand, and update. Its syntax is inspired by React Native and other frameworks. Since it enables you to embed styles inside JavaScript files, you can also use JavaScript tooling like type checkers and linters.

React docs translated into 40 languages

Nat Alison is a freelance front-end developer who helped the React team coordinate translations of reactjs.org into 40 languages. She shared why and how they were able to translate the docs for this massively popular library.

She shared, “More than 80% of the world’s population does not know English. If we restrict React, one of the most popular JavaScript frameworks, we restrict who gets to create and shape the web.” Providing the officially translated docs will make it easier for several non-English speaking React developers to understand and use it in their projects. This will also prevent users from creating unofficial translations, which can be incorrect, outdated, or difficult to find.

Initially, they thought of integrating a SaaS platform that allows users to submit translations, but this was not a feasible solution. Then they decided to check out the solution used by Vue, which is maintaining separate repositories for each language forked from the original repo. Similar to Vue, the team also created a bot that periodically tracks for changes in the English repo and submits pull requests whenever there is a change.

If you want to contribute to translating React docs in your language, check out the IsReactTranslatedYet website.

Developing accessible apps

Brittany Feenstra, a developer at Formidable, took to the stage to talk about why accessibility is important and how you can approach it. Accessibility or a11y is making your apps and websites usable for everyone, including people with any kind of disabilities.  There are four types of disabilities that developers need to design for: visual, auditory, motor, and cognitive.

Feenstra mentioned that though we all are aware of the importance of accessibility, we often “end up saving it for later” because of tight deadlines. Feenstra, however, compares accessibility with marathons. It is not something that you can achieve in just one sprint, she says. You should instead look at it as a training program that you will follow when participating in a marathon. You need to take a step-by-step approach to make an accessible app. If we do that “we will be way less fatigued and well-equipped,” she adds.

Sharing some starting tips she said that we need to focus on three areas.

First, learn to run, or in accessibility context, understand the HTML semantics then explore reference patterns, navigation, and focus traps.

Second, improve nutritional habits, or in accessibility context, use environments and tools that help us write sturdier code. She recommends using axe, an accessibility checker for WCAG 2 and Section 508 accessibility. Also, check out the tools that basically simulate how people with visual impairment will see your UI such as NoCoffee and I want to see like the colour blind. She emphasizes on linting and testing your code for accessibility with the help of eslint-plugin-jsx-a11y and accessibility assessment automation tools.

Third, cross-train and stretch, or in accessibility context, learn to “interact with the UI in ways that let us understand the update we are making to our code.”

“React is Fiction”

This was a talk by Jenn Creighton, a Frontend Architect at The Wing, who comes from a creative writing background. “Writing React to me felt like coming home. It was really familiar in a way that I could not pinpoint,” she said. Then she realized that writing React reminded her of fiction and merging the two disciplines helped her write better components.

Creighton drew the similarities between developing in React and creative writing. One of the key principles of creative writing is “Show, don’t tell” that advises authors to describe a situation instead of just telling it. This will help engage the readers as they will be able to picture the situation in their heads. According to Creighton, React also has a similar principle: “Declarative, not imperative.”  React is declarative, which allows developers to describe what the final state should be, instead of listing all the steps to reach that state.

There were many other exciting talks about progressive web animations, building React-Select, and more. Check out the live streams to watch the full talks:

Day1:

Day2:

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