This post is part of the series 30 Days of React.

In this series, we're starting from the very basics and walk through everything you need to know to get started with React. If you've ever wanted to learn React, this is the place to start!

create-react-app

Edit this page on Github

Today, we're going to add a build process to store common build actions so we can easily develop and deploy our applications.

The React team noticed that there is a lot of configuration required (and the community helped bloat -- us included) to run a React app. Luckily, some smart folks in the React team/community got together and built/released an official generator app that makes it much easier to get up and running quickly.

Packaging

So far in this course, we've only been working with writing our components in a single script. Although it's great for simplicity, it can be difficult to share components amongst multiple developers. A single file is also pretty difficult to write complex applications.

Instead, we'll set up a build tool for our applications using a very popular packaging tool called create-react-app. The tool provides a great place to start out developing our applications without needing to spend too much time working on setting up our build tooling.

In order to use it, we'll need to start out by installing it. We can use npm or yarn to install create-react-app:

create-react-app

The create-react-app project is released through Facebook helps us get up and running quickly with a React app on our system with no custom configuring required on our part.

The package is released as a Node Package and can be installed using npm.

A plug for nvm and n

The Node homepage has simple documentation on how to install node, if you don't already have it installed on your system.

We recommend using the nvm or the n version management tools. These tools make it incredibly easy to install/use multiple versions of node on your system at any point.

With node installed on our system, we can install the create-react-app package:

npm install --global create-react-app

With create-react-app installed globally, we'll be able to use the create-react-app command anywhere in our terminal.

Let's create a new app we'll call 30days using the create-react-app command we just installed. Open a Terminal window in a directory where you want to create your app.

In terminal, we can create a new React application using the command and adding a name to the app we want to create.

create-react-app 30days && cd 30days

Inside our new project, we can run npm start to see our new project!

Let's start our app in the browser. The create-react-app package comes with a few built-in scripts it created for us (in the package.json file). We can start editing our app using the built-in webserver using the npm start command:

npm start

This command will open a window in Chrome to the default app it created for us running at the url: http://localhost:3000/.

Let's edit the newly created app. Looking at the directory structure it created, we'll see we have a basic node app running with a public/index.html and a few files in the src/ directory that comprise our running app.

Let's open up the src/App.js file and we'll see we have a very basic component that should all look familiar. It has a simple render function which returns the result we see in the Chrome window.

The index.html file has a single <div /> node with the id of #root, where the app itself will be mounted for us automatically (this is handled in the src/index.js file). Anytime we want to add webfonts, style tags, etc. we can load them in the index.html file.

Let's look at a few of the features create-react-app enables for us.

We've used multiple components in the past. Let's pull in the example we walked through on day-4 with a header and content (slightly simplified -- changing the className from notificationsFrame to App and removing the inner component):

import React from 'react'

class App extends React.Component {
  render() {
    return (
      <div className="App">
        <Header />
        <Content />
      </div>
    )
  }
}

We could define the Header and the Content component in the same file, but as we discussed, that becomes pretty cumbersome. Instead, let's create a directory called components/ in the src/ directory (src/components/) and create two files called Header.js and Content.js in there:

# in my-app/
mkdir src/components
touch src/components/{Header,Content}.js

Now, let's write the two components in their respective file. First, the Header components in src/components/Header.js:

import React, {Component} from 'react';

class Header extends Component {
  render() {
    return (
      <div id="header">
        <h1>Header</h1>
      </div>
    );
  }
}

And now let's write the Content component in the src/components/Content.js file:

import React, {Component} from 'react';

class Content extends Component {
  render() {
    return <p className="App-intro">Content goes here</p>;
  }
}

By making a small update to these two component definitions, we can then import them into our App component (in src/App.js).

We'll use the export keyword before the class definition:

Let's update the Header component slightly:

export class Header extends React.Component {
  // ...
}

and the Content component:

export class Content extends React.Component {
  // ...
}

Now we can import these two component from our src/App.js file. Let's update our App.js by adding these two import statements:

import React from 'react'

import {Header} from './components/Header'
import {Content} from './components/Content'

class App extends React.Component {
  render() {
    return (
      <div className="App">
        <Header />
        <Content />
      </div>
    )
  }
}

Here, we're using named exports to pull in the two components from their respective files in src/components/.

By convention, if we only have a single export from these files, we can use the export default syntax so we can remove the {} surrounding the named export. Let's update each of these respective files to include an extra line at the end to enable the default import:

export class Header extends React.Component {
  // ...
}

export default Header

and the Content component:

export class Content extends React.Component {
  // ...
}

export default Content

Now we can update our import of the two components like so:

import React from 'react'

import Header from './components/Header'
import Content from './components/Content'

class App extends React.Component {
  render() {
    return (
      <div className="App">
        <Header />
        <Content />
      </div>
    )
  }
}

Using this knowledge, we can now also update our components by importing the named Component class and simplify our definition of the class file again. Let's take the Content component in src/components/Content.js:

import React, {Component} from 'react'; // This is the change

export class Content extends Component { // and this allows us
                                         // to not call React.Component
                                         // but instead use just
                                         // the Component class
  render() {
    return <p className="App-intro">Content goes here</p>;
  }
}

export default Content;

Shipping

We'll get to deployment in a few weeks, but for the time being know that the generator created a build command so we can create minified, optimize versions of our app that we can upload to a server.

We can build our app using the npm run build command in the root of our project:

npm run build

With that, we now have a live-reloading single-page app (SPA) ready for development. Tomorrow, we'll use this new app we built diving into rendering multiple components at run-time.


Ari Lerner

Hi, I'm Ari. I'm an author of Fullstack React and ng-book and I've been teaching Web Development for a long time. I like to speak at conferences and eat spicy food. I technically got paid while I traveled the country as a professional comedian, but have come to terms with the fact that I am not funny.

Connect with Ari on Twitter at @auser.