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How to write a HOC (in 3 easy steps).

January 02, 2018
javascriptfront endreactprogramming

How to write a HOC (in 3 easy steps).

A lot of times when writing software we end up solving similar problems in similar ways. Sometimes we even copy-paste a chunk of code and change just a little bit of it. If you’ve done this before, don’t feel bad; every developer has done this at some point in their career. If you find yourself doing this a lot, you should look for ways to reuse code and solutions that are similar. This principle is called the DRY principle, which stands for “Don’t Repeat Yourself.” The benefit of generalizing your solution is that it allows you to not have to solve the same problem twice!

A mark of a good software developer is being able to recognize patterns in code and being able to write a generic solution for that pattern.

Step 1: Recognize a pattern.

Let’s say we have a component that displays the current user’s profile. When it mounts, it fires an xhr request to fetch a user’s details, and then displays them:

class UserProfile extends Component {
  constructor() {
    this.state = {
      loading: true,
      user: null
    };
  }
  componentDidMount() {fetch('/api/user').then(user => {this.setState({
          loading: false,
  ‎        user: user
  ‎    });
    })},
  render() {
    if(this.state.loading) {
      return (
        <div>loading</div>;
      )
    } else {
      return (
        <div>{this.state.user.username}</div>;
      )
    }
  }
}

Let’s design another similar component for fetching and displaying a list of tweets. This one will do the same thing: when it mounts, it fires an xhr request to fetch some tweets, and then displays them:

class TweetList extends Component {
  constructor() {
    this.state = {
      loading: true,
      tweets: null
    };
  }
  componentDidMount() {fetch('/api/tweets').then(tweets => {this.setState({
          loading: false,
  ‎        tweets: tweets
  ‎    });
    })},
  render() {
    if(this.state.loading) {
      return (
        <div>loading</div>;
      )
    } else {
      return (
        <div>{
          this.state.tweets.map(tweet => (
            <span>{tweet.user}: {tweet.body}</span>
          )}
        </div>
      )
    }
  }
}

These two components are very similar; they fetch some data, and then display it, showing a ‘loading’ view while the request is loading.

Let’s take a step back for a second and examine these two components.

How are they similar? They both send off a request for data, which they later render. They also both have the same ‘loading’ view for when the request is resolving.

How are they different? They both use different urls, and they both render different views once the data has been loaded.

Step 2. Put the common parts in a function.

Let’s take the common elements, and put them into a function:

const withFetch = () => {
	return class WithFetch extends Component {
	  constructor() {
	    this.state = {
	      loading: true,
	      data: null
	    };
	  }
	  componentDidMount() {fetch(....).then(data => {this.setState({
	          loading: false,
	  ‎        data: data
	  ‎    });
	    })},
	  render() {
	    if(this.state.loading) {
	      return (
	        <div>loading</div>;
	      )
	    } else {
	      return (
	        ...
	      )
	    }
	  }
	}
}

Step 3: Make the different parts parameters of that function.

Now that we have the similar code in a function, let’s make the different code (the url and view) parameters of that function:

const withFetch = (url) => (View) => {
	return class WithFetch extends Component {
	  constructor() {
	    this.state = {
	      loading: true,
	      data: null
	    };
	  }
	  componentDidMount() {fetch(url).then(data => {this.setState({
	          loading: false,
	  ‎        data: data
	  ‎    });
	    })},
	  render() {
	    if(this.state.loading) {
	      return (
	        <div>loading</div>;
	      )
	    } else {
	      return <View data={data} />
	    }
	  }
	}
}

(Notice how we pass the data down to the view).

The double parameter list ((url) => (View) => instead of (url, View) =>) might look confusing, but it’s a convention for HOC’s which makes them easier to combine with other HOC’s; it can be ignored for now.

Now, let’s re-implement our two components using this shiny new HOC:

const UserProfile = 
  withFetch('/api/user')(props => (
    <div>{props.data.username}</div>
  ));

const TweetList = 
  withFetch('/api/tweets')(props => (
    <div>
      {this.state.tweets.map(tweet => (
        <span>{tweet.user}: {tweet.body}</span>
      )}
    </div>
  ));

We’ve cut out a ton of our code duplication, making our solutions simpler and easier to manage. Also, if we find a bug in our data-fetching logic, we only have to fix it in one spot!