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September 29, 2017

Tech News: The Recent Launch of React 16 is Promising for Developers with Rewritten Internals, New License

Facebook has recently launched React 16 which is the latest version of its opensource JavaScript library. It features entirely rewritten internals with a new license that mitigates the legal concerns raised under the former license. The new core architecture has been dubbed as “React Fiber”. The rewritten library uses the same API as in the previous versions to avoid drastic changes. The features with React Fiber include new render types (fragments and strings), better error handling, better server-side rendering, support for custom DOM attributes, reduced file size, and many more.

One of the features missing in React Fiber is asynchronous rendering support which is becoming more common in the latest JavaScript implementations. Although the new library incorporates asynchronous rendering support, its implementation is lagging. Asynchronous rendering is promised for a later version of React 16. According to Facebook engineer Sophie Alpert, “The new implementation is designed from its foundations to support asynchronous rendering. It will allow processing large component trees without blocking the main execution thread.”

Later, she also added, “Even though React’s new core is designed to support asynchrony, we’re currently running React in a synchronous mode compatible with our older code. This will allow us to move to the new implementation smoothly. As with most of our releases, we’ve been testing the new code in production for months so we feel optimistic that people will be able to adopt it without running into issues.”

With the intent to save developers from having to rewrite existing components developed with React, the internals in React 16 have been entirely rewritten, although the public API is essentially unchanged.

As per the customary practice in Facebook, the new code for React 16 has been rewritten alongside the old code in the GitHub repo. The Boolean useFiber feature flag facilitates switching between the two. This process allows Facebook to build its new implementation without impacting existing users, while continuing to fix bugs to the old code base at the same time.

Facebook, after spending a few months to iron out bugs, has opted to deliver a single product to reduce the possible set of bugs, rather than keeping twop versions of React current.

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