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The problem with React Context

October 22, 2020

This is a public service announcement.

I’m here to tell you: be careful, maybe don’t replace Redux with React Context. It’s not necessarily safe.

Context on Context

One step back, some context on what I’m talking about here. React.Context is a way to share state between react components. It’s a state management solution built into React itself. And it’s dope. I love Context.

On top of React.Context, we have new(ish) hooks-based APIs for using contexts, namely React.useContext.

Throwing these two things together, along with useReducer, we have a super easy way to gain global state management in React. We can easily get a super easy, super awesome, Redux-like global store with this approach.

Here’s a common example.

import { createContext, useContext, useReducer } from 'react'

const reducer = (prev, next) => ({...prev, ...next})

const StoreContext = createContext();

export const useStore = () => useContext(StoreContext);

const initialState = {
  user: {
    name: ''
  },
  likes: {
    count: 0
  }
}

export const GlobalStoreProvider = ({ children }) => {
  
  const [globalState, dispatch] = useReducer(reducer, initialState)

  return (
    <StoreContext.Provider value={{globalState, dispatch}}>
      {children}
    </StoreContext.Provider>
  )
}

This sort of pattern is popping up in codebases all over the place. People are talking about replacing Redux with Context.

Why is this bad?

It’s not bad. Actually it’s fine. There is just one problem: the global store is global, and not memoized. When anything in the context changes, any component which used the useStore hook will update. This will cause a lot of unnecessary re-renders.

From the above example, if I have a component which uses globalState.user, and a different component uses globalState.likes, both components will be rendered if anything in the store changes.

This is why the Redux hooks API exposes this weird isEqual function as the second argument — it’s for memoizing, allowing the developer to manually judge if a re-render is needed.

const result = useSelector(selector, equalityFn)

The whole idea behind an isEqual function existing in React code is controversial, and maybe a sign that the whole abstraction is falling apart. We’re worrying about the engine when we should be focused on driving the car - best Stack Overflow answer ever. Keep your eyes on the road!

Note: For a proposed example implementation of how to memoize with useContext, check out Dan Abramov’s response on React#15156. There’s also some interesting discussion in that issue.

Key Takeaway?

Ignore the above rant. The key takeaway: it’s fine to replace Redux with React.Context, but if you choose to do so, you must memoize with an isEqual function of some kind. Do not directly subscribe to the store with useContext, otherwise performance of your React app will suffer.


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