After seeing that the React team have been encouraging people to start using hooks for future development over the class based approach that has been used for stateful components previously, I decided to check them out.

My first thoughts were that the new approach is really awesome. Much less boilerplate code and the ability to share logic between different components easily - what’s not to love?

I quickly jumped in to trying to use them, and almost as quickly hit a dead end. I was trying to create a form that would:

1. Load data from a remote server and populate a form with the result
2. Call an API to save the data back when the user hits the save button

The first point went smoothly, but the second? Not so much. One of the rules that has to be followed when using hooks is that they all must be called in the top level of the function.

What I mean by this, is that anything that accepts a callback, such as useEffect cannot contain hook invocations. They all must appear in the main function of the hook, ensuring that the same number of hooks are invoked every time a re-render occurs.

Why is this a problem? Well, I was trying to invoke the hook when the user clicks a button, which means the first render only calls one hook (to load the remote data) but the render after the user clicks the button was then calling two hooks.

The solution to this was incredibly simple, but didn’t click straight away. That solution being - I could create a flag in my hook to indicate whether or not to actually execute the action. Doing this would ensure that the same number of hooks are called every time, but it’d only execute the action when the flag is changed to indicate it should.

Below is an example of my hook, with some implementation replaced with some mock code for the sake of keeping it simple.

import React, { useState, useEffect } from 'react'

function useApi ({ endpoint, method, body, shouldExecute }) {
const [result, setResult] = useState(null)
const [executing, setExecuting] = useState(false)
const [hasError, setHasError] = useState(false)

if (shouldExecute) {
setExecuting(true)
}

const executeRequest = async () => {
try {
const res = await ApiExample.call(endpoint, method, body)
setResult(res)
} catch (error) {
setHasError(true)
}

setExecuting(false)
}

useEffect(() => {
if (shouldExecute) {
executeRequest()
}
}, [shouldExecute])

return { executing, hasError, result }
}

export default useApi


The purpose of this hook is to be able to specify the API endpoint, HTTP method and body and get an object back that indicates:

• Whether the task is executing (executing)
• Whether an error occurred making the request (hasError)
• The result of the request, if successful (result)

If we were not to pass the shouldExecute value and use it and instead invoke executeRequest immediately inside the callback of useEffect, the HTTP request would be sent to the API pretty much instantly after the hook is invoked. Whilst this is fine for loading data, this was not sufficient for my use case of wanting to execute a request upon clicking a save button. Enter - the shouldExecute value.

By adding this extra flag, useEffect can be configured to be dependent on shouldExecute (as can be seen in the second argument to useEffect). This means that every time shouldExecute changes - the useEffect callback is invoked (you can probably see where this is now going).

Now that the useApi hook will only make the AJAX request based on the flag that we can bind a value to in its consumer, we can invoke it twice at the start of the consuming hook like this:

const ApiWrapper = () => {
const [shouldSave, setShouldSave] = useState(false)

const a = useApi({
method: 'GET',
shouldExecute: true
})

const b = useApi({
endpoint: '/save-data',
method: 'POST',
body: { foo: 'bar' },
shouldExecute: shouldSave
})

if (shouldSave && !b.executing) {
setShouldSave(false)
}

return (
<div>
<span>{a.result}</span>
<button onClick={() => setShouldSave(true)}>Save</button>
</div>
)
}


In this example, a will hold the data that would then populate a form (in this case just dumping it into a span to keep things concise) and b will hold the result of the save operation.

On the first render of ApiWrapper, the useApi hook will be called twice and the results assigned to a and b. As you can see in the assignment of b, the shouldExecute property is bound to the value of shouldSave, which is only set to true once the user clicks the button.

There is also a check to reset the flag, if shouldSave is true. If it is true, the user has previously clicked the button, and if b.executing is false, then that would mean the task in the useApi hook is now finished and we can reset the value of shouldSave.

It’s a bit different to how one would normally approach this, but overall, it actually makes the code even more concise and easy to read, so I’d still say it’s worth adapting to this type of approach.

If you need more information on how useEffect works and the general changes that have been introduced with hooks, make sure to check out the official documentation at https://reactjs.org/docs/hooks-intro.html