aka. How to reduce plumbing in React apps?

Plumbing in programming is something you have to do to make things work. It’s sometimes repetitive or looks like a boilerplate you would usually remove. It’s also crucial because it connects different layers of the application. In this post, I’ll show you a typical example of plumbing inside a React application and a way to fix it.

Let’s take a look at a pretty standard, table-sidebar layout:

You can find the complete project here, without using hooks (this is not the recommended approach).

The table contains a list of products. When one of them, is clicked, the sidebar shows the details of the product and highlights the row clicked. Both Table and Sidebar need to know about the selected product.

Table needs to highlight the row:

and Sidebar displays additional information about the selected product:

Later we decide to extend the sidebar with some sections:

As the application grows, we create wrapper components like Sidebar. These components don’t immediately use product, only pass it down to child components.


useContext is one of the three basic React hooks.

The great thing about Contexts is that the component subscribed to it automatically re-renders when the Context value changes. Our Table/Sidebar layout sounds like an ideal use case for this.

Creating a context is as simple as:

and to subscribe to it:

Use <TableContext.Provider> to set the value of the context. We wrap both Table and Sidebar components with this component because we want both of them to update when the context value changes:

Now instead of passing the selected product to the Sidebar component, we set it as the current value of <TableContext.Provider>. Finally, we subscribe Sidebar to context updates:

The use of context allowed us to remove the product prop from the Sidebar component. We see the real benefit of useContext as our application grows. Earlier we presented how the Sidebar would look like after some development and how different Sidebar panels would need a reference to the current product. With the use of React.useContext passing down this selection through multiple layers of components is not required anymore. We subscribe to product updates with each panel as we did above with the Sidebar and this simplifies the component:

See this code in action here.

Another benefit of not passing down the same object to multiple components is avoiding repeated PropTypes declarations. Googling for “react PropTypes repeated” this looks like a problem React developers encounter. With the above approach, there is one place left to define the shape of the product:

Did you find React Context useful in some other scenarios? Let me hear your story in the comment section below!

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