React Recipes

Use the best `setState` style for the job

setState can be invoked in many ways, and the decision to choose one over the other boils down to two questions:

Here's a cheatsheet below to help you decide on how to update the state:

Does it depend on the current state? No Yes
No notification of change setState(object) setState(function)
Notified of each change setState(object, callback) setState(function, callback)
Notified of batched changes setState(object) and implement componentDidUpdate setState(function) and implement componentDidUpdate

The flavors of setState

setState(object)

When the new state is independent of the current state, you can call setState with a plain object that will be shallowly merged into the current state. This is the simplest form:

this.setState({ count: 5 });

setState(function)

When the new state depends on the current state, always call setState with a function.

setState is an asynchronous method. It tells React to update the state eventually, but not necessarily right away. So using this.state directly to access the current state will not always give us the latest values.

When you call setState with a function, the function gets the current state as its first parameter, so you can build opon it. In the example below, a counter gets incremented with each tick():

tick() {
this.setState(
current_state => {
return {
count: current_state.count + 1
}
}
);
}

What if it turns out your new state coincides with your current state? Starting with React 16, you can return null from the updater function to cancel a pointless state update. Below, a counter which stops counting at 100:

count() {
this.setState(
current_state => {
let new_count = Math.min(current_state.myvalue + 1, 100);
return new_count !== current_state.count ? {
myvalue: new_count
} : null;
}
)
}

The setState(function) flavor also shallowly merges the new state into the current state, so you only need to return the properties you want to update.

setState(object or function, function)

If you want to know when you've updated the state, there are two main ways to know:

I mentioned earlier that setState eventually updates the state, but not right away. The example below is not accurate:

tick() {
this.setState({ count: 5 });
console.log("I've updated the state");
}

Instead setState accepts as a second parameter a callback function that gets called once the state is actually updated:

tick() {
this.setState({ count: 5 }, () => {
console.log("I've updated the state");
});
}

In addition to being asynchronous, setState calls may also be batched, in that React will take a set of setState calls and merge them together. That prevents your component from being overwhelmed with frequent state updates — you might call setState a hundred times and the component gets updated only once, with the latest state.

Future-proofing: Although right now (React 16.2) batching only happens in a handful of cases, future versions of the library may make extensive use of batching for optimizing performance. It's a good rule of thumb to assume all setState will be batched.

Gotcha: when setState calls with callback functions get batched, these callbacks will be invoked after the states have been merged, so reading this.state inside the callback may not give you the value you expect:

componentWillMount() {
this.setState({ count: 5 }, () => { console.log(this.state.count) });
this.setState({ count: 6 }, () => { console.log(this.state.count) });
}

In the example above, both console.logs will output the value 6, since setState calls inside lifecycle methods get batched, and both callbacks are invoked after the count went from 5 to 6.

The componentDidUpdate method

Another way of telling that the state has been updated is by implementing the componentDidUpdate lifecycle method. It gets invoked immediately after each render.

componentDidUpdate(previous_props, previous_state) {
if (this.state.count !== previous_state.count) {
console.log(this.state.count);
}
}

setState callback function vs. componentDidUpdate

While both the setState callback function and the componentDidUpdate method can be used to keep track of changes in the state, there are subtle differences to how they work:

The componentDidUpdate method will only be invoked once, after render, even if the update is a result of several (batched) setState calls that triggered it. As with render, it will only be invoked if shouldComponentUpdate returns true.

In contrast, callbacks on setState will always be triggered, even if the component does not update as a result. They also allow you to discern specific setState calls, something that is difficult to do with componentDidUpdate.

Favor componentDidUpdate

In general, you should use the behavior of componentDidUpdate to think about observing changes in state. It's easier to for everyone to follow along with your code if it's all in a single method, rather than scattered as callbacks to all the setState calls in your component.

It also benefits from optimizations: the batching of setState calls results in a single componentDidUpdate; and the shouldComponentUpdate method can potentially prevent pointless updates.

However, if the need arises for absolutely knowing about each and every setState call, or specific setState calls in the code, remember you can use a callback function, but be aware of its peculiarities to stay out of trouble.

Further reading