React setState() in Depth

Jul 30, 2018

I was inspired by this tweet by Kent C. Dodds to dig into React’s setState a bit more:

Low and behold, I did indeed find quite a bit I wasn’t aware of. Here’s a quick breakdown:

1. Don’t depend on setState calls being executed immediately.

This one I’d heard before: React does not promise that your call to setState will be executed immediately. They may be batched, so if you set values and immediately try to read those values, they may not be what you expect:

this.setState({ myNumber: 1 })
console.log(this.state.myNumber) // 1

this.setState({ myNumber: 2 })
console.log(this.state.myNumber) // 2... or maybe 1!

2. Use an updater function if your update relies on current state values.

Up until now, I’ve always just passed in an object to setState:

this.setState({ myValue: 10 })

Turns out you can also pass in what’s called an updater function… a function that returns your update which allows us to eliminate possible surprises from batched (non-immediate) setState updates. This is especially handy if our setState call depends on the current values of this.state.

Here’s the skeleton:

this.setState(() => {})

When you pass in a function it receives two arguments by default: the current values of this.state and this.props:

this.setState((state, props) => {})

Your return value is what is used to update state. Here’s an example of calling setState with an updater function that wouldn’t actually change anything:

this.setState(state => {
  return state

Let’s pretend we have a value in state called myValue. We want to do two things:

  • set it to 10, and then
  • increment it by a value called incrementBy, which has been passed down as a prop.

This is exactly where an updater function comes in handy:

this.setState({ myValue: 10 })

// we'll use an updater function, so we can be confident
// that the setState call above has been executed.
this.setState((state, props) => {
  return {
    myValue: state.myValue + props.incrementBy,

3. setState accepts a callback!

If you want to execute a function after your setState changes have been applied, you can pass a callback as the second parameter to your setState call:

this.setState({ myValue: 23 }, () => console.log(this.state))

In the callback, you can rest assured that this.state contains the updated values. For more on this, check out this article by Michael Chan.


That’s it! And turns out Kent was right… there is a lot to be learned from actually reading the official docs! 😄

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© 2020 Mark Foster