React

Fetching Data In React

React Course

Introduction

Up to this point, we have been using React to build client-side applications with interactive user interfaces, but what if we want to fetch data from the internet? In order to create full-fledged web applications, we need some way to get data from external sources and dynamically display it.

In this lesson, we’ll explore the ins and outs of fetching data in React, starting with the basics of making API calls, managing component state, and handling asynchronous operations using JavaScript’s fetch function. You’ve already performed data fetching in earlier projects, so some material covered in the lesson will be familiar to you. Revision doesn’t hurt!

Lesson overview

This section contains a general overview of topics that you will learn in this lesson.

  • Understand how to make fetch requests in React components.
  • Catching and handling errors.
  • Lifting requests up the component hierarchy.

A basic fetch request

Before we dive into the specifics of fetching data in React, let’s briefly revisit how we can use the fetch API to get data from a server.

const image = document.querySelector("img");
fetch("https://jsonplaceholder.typicode.com/photos", {
  mode: "cors",
})
  .then((response) => response.json())
  .then((response) => {
    image.src = response[0].url;
  })
  .catch((error) => console.error(error));

We’re making a request to the JSONPlaceholder API to retrieve an image, and then setting that URL to the src of an <img> element.

Using fetch in React components

Now, let’s take a look at how we can incorporate fetch into a similar React component. One common use case is to fetch data from an API when a component mounts, so that the data can be displayed on screen.

Whenever a component needs to make a request as it renders, it’s often best to wrap that fetch inside of an effect.

import { useEffect, useState } from "react";

const Image = () => {
  const [imageURL, setImageURL] = useState(null);

  useEffect(() => {
    fetch("https://jsonplaceholder.typicode.com/photos", { mode: "cors" })
      .then((response) => response.json())
      .then((response) => setImageURL(response[0].url))
      .catch((error) => console.error(error));
  }, []);

  return (
    imageURL && (
      <>
        <h1>An image</h1>
        <img src={imageURL} alt={"placeholder text"} />
      </>
    )
  );
};

export default Image;

useState lets us add the imageURL state, whereas useEffect allows us to perform side effects. In this case, the side effect is fetching data from an external API. Since we need to fetch the data only once when the component mounts, we pass an empty dependency array.

Handling errors

Working over the network is inherently unreliable. The API you’re making a request to might be down, there could be network connectivity issues, or the response you receive could contain errors. A multitude of things can go wrong, and if you don’t preemptively plan for errors, your website can break or appear unresponsive to users.

To simulate a network error, scroll up to the previous code snippet and change the fetch URL to something random. After a refresh of your browser window, the page will remain a blank white screen, without giving the user any indication that the page has finished loading or that there was an error.

To fix this, we need to check for something before Image component returns JSX. We’ll call it: error.

if (error) return <p>A network error was encountered</p>

return (
  imageURL && (
    <>
      <h1>An image</h1>
      <img src={imageURL} alt={"placeholder text"} />
    </>
  )
);

To set this error, we’ll add it to the component’s state.

const [imageURL, setImageURL] = useState(null);
const [error, setError] = useState(null);

And finally, to assign error a value when a request fails, we’ll add a conditional to check the response status, and set it where our console.error line was.

useEffect(() => {
  fetch("https://jsonplaceholder.typicode.com/photos", { mode: "cors" })
    .then((response) => {
      if (response.status >= 400) {
        throw new Error("server error");
      }
      return response.json();
    })
    .then((response) => setImageURL(response[0].url))
    .catch((error) => setError(error));
}, []);

Notice how we also handle errors in the then block? This is because the fetch request itself might not fail, but rather complete successfully and yield a response. However, the response received may not be what our app expected. To handle this case, we check the response status codes.

Now when a bad URL is passed or the API returns an unexpected response, the page will relay that information to the user.

Loading state

In the same way we added an error value in state to check for errors, we can also add a loading value to check whether the request is resolved or not.

const Image = () => {
  const [imageURL, setImageURL] = useState(null);
  const [error, setError] = useState(null);
  const [loading, setLoading] = useState(true);

  useEffect(() => {
    fetch("https://jsonplaceholder.typicode.com/photos", { mode: "cors" })
      .then((response) => {
        if (response.status >= 400) {
          throw new Error("server error");
        }
        return response.json();
      })
      .then((response) => setImageURL(response[0].url))
      .catch((error) => setError(error))
      .finally(() => setLoading(false));
  }, []);

  if (error) return <p>A network error was encountered</p>;
  if (loading) return <p>Loading...</p>;

  return (
    <>
      <h1>An image</h1>
      <img src={imageURL} alt={"placeholder text"} />
    </>
  );
};

Using custom hooks

We can separate out the fetching logic altogether into a custom hook. This will allow us to make the logic reusable and easily testable.

Recall in the Introduction to state lesson we said that a React hook is just a function that lets you use features of React (like states, effects etc.) and that they follow a naming rule where they begin with use followed by a capital letter (e.g. useState or useEffect). If we tried to put a hook such as useEffect inside our own regular helper function like getImageURL, React would not be happy about this since it only wants hooks to be called in the top level of a component or another hook. Therefore, we can just turn our helper function into a custom hook by following the hook naming rule - useImageURL.

Here’s how we would do it for our example:

import { useState, useEffect } from "react";

const useImageURL = () => {
  const [imageURL, setImageURL] = useState(null);
  const [error, setError] = useState(null);
  const [loading, setLoading] = useState(true);

  useEffect(() => {
    fetch("https://jsonplaceholder.typicode.com/photos", { mode: "cors" })
      .then((response) => {
        if (response.status >= 400) {
          throw new Error("server error");
        }
        return response.json();
      })
      .then((response) => setImageURL(response[0].url))
      .catch((error) => setError(error))
      .finally(() => setLoading(false));
  }, []);

  return { imageURL, error, loading };
};

const Image = () => {
  const { imageURL, error, loading } = useImageURL();

  if (error) return <p>A network error was encountered</p>;
  if (loading) return <p>Loading...</p>;

  return (
    <>
      <h1>An image</h1>
      <img src={imageURL} alt={"placeholder text"} />
    </>
  );
};

If we ever needed to fetch images in different components, instead of rewriting all of that fetching logic we could call useImageURL.

Managing multiple fetch requests

In a full-scale web app, you’re often going to be making more than one request, and you need to be careful with how you organize them. A common issue that new React developers face when their apps start making multiple requests is called a waterfall of requests. Let’s look at an example.

We have two components making fetch requests: Profile and its child component Bio. The requests in Profile and Bio are both firing inside of their respective components. On the surface this looks like a well-organized separation of concerns, but in this case, it comes at a cost in performance.

Notice how Bio is taking an extra second to display? Their fetch requests should both take 1000ms to resolve so what’s going on? In React, the component is not rendered until it is actually called. If JSX has conditional logic, the false branches will never render until they become true. Bio has to wait for the request inside of Profile to resolve before it starts rendering, which means the request inside Bio isn’t sent.

If we remove the short-circuiting conditional that waits for imageURL, Bio would send a request immediately, but that would mean abandoning our loading screen. Instead of compromising on design, we can lift the request up the component tree and pass its response as a prop to Bio.

To see this in action, go back to that embedded CodeSandbox and comment out the current Profile and Bio components, and uncomment the currently commented ones.

Now we have both requests firing as soon as Profile renders. The request for imageURL resolves 2 seconds before the bioText request, and our div containing <Bio /> renders. When bioText resolves, an update will be made in state which will trigger a rerender in <Bio />, adding that text description to the page.

In all of the code examples above, we added an artificial delay with the setTimeout function. As you’ve likely guessed by now, this is to help you walk through the data fetching basics in the lesson. We recommend removing these delays and play around with the code examples to further cement the concepts.

Data fetching libraries

We’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of data fetching on the frontend. Keeping your frontend data up-to-date with the server is a challenging task to accomplish. Managing “async” state becomes increasingly complex with each added feature.

You’ve already tasted the complexity of data fetching in this lesson. Each request has to have a minimum of three states to achieve an optimal user experience: data, loading, and error. Although some libraries can help you with data fetching and more, it is highly recommended to use vanilla React data fetching for all the projects in this course. The lessons you will learn while doing so will be invaluable.

Assignment

  1. Read Modern API data fetching methods for a brief overview of what was discussed in this lesson.
  2. Read How to fetch data in React with performance in mind to learn more about efficiently handling fetch requests in React components.

Knowledge check

The following questions are an opportunity to reflect on key topics in this lesson. If you can’t answer a question, click on it to review the material, but keep in mind you are not expected to memorize or master this knowledge.

Additional resources

This section contains helpful links to related content. It isn’t required, so consider it supplemental.

  • TanStack Query is a library that handles all the necessary states and offers built-in support for major features, such as caching.

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