Pure React Components

2022-11-24 — 5 min read

I recommend to my teams that they use “pure react components” - but, like usual, I’ve realized that I use the term a bit differently than most. There are two major React patterns that I follow, and from these, I consider both “Presentational” and “Single Element” components to be the true “Pure” components.

Container vs. Presentational Components

State management in React is hard. In order to separate the concerns, a common pattern of Container vs. Presentational components is used. (This is also known as Smart and Dumb components.)

Container Components

Container components are basically a catch-all. They:

  • Orchestrate data from other parts of the application by:

    • Making API calls
    • Using data from context
    • Connecting to a state store

    If things get complex, I recommend moving interconnected logic to hooks or even “services”, but that is an article for another time.

  • Do not need to return a single JSX element, but they might return only their corresponding Presentational component

  • Reference either Container or Presentational components

  • Avoid using plain HTML elements

  • Have tests that do a shallow render to ensure the data is passed correctly to the child components

Presentational Components

Presentational components are the renderable part when following this pattern. They:

  • Are “controlled” components
  • Do not access context, API calls, state stores, etc.
  • Have primitive properties, such as strings, numbers, booleans, and arrays of objects when necessary
  • Provide events in the style of HTML DOM events, such as onNameChanged
  • May use “slots” to pass properties deeper (Right now, I prefer the react-slot-component.)
  • Should not use objects directly from the API layer
    • (I get a lot of push-back on this because it does create redundant code, but it also ensures the Presentational components receive only what they need, keeping them more Pure by the traditional standard.)
  • Should have representation within Storybook
  • Have tests that test user functionality or snapshots

Finally, follow as many of the Single Element Pattern recommendations as possible when making a presentational component, especially:

  • Never break the app
  • Always merge the styles passed as props (such as via tailwind-merge)
  • Always try to create a component — such as AvatarRounded — which renders Avatar and modifies it, rather than adding a custom prop.
  • Render all HTML attributes passed as props (do not change the attribute names)

Single Element Pattern

The Single Element pattern is a great pattern for making reusable low-level components. I recommend most of its advice. Specifically, they:

  • Never break the app
  • Render all HTML attributes passed as props (do not change the attribute names)
  • Always merge the styles passed as props (such as via tailwind-merge)
  • Add all the event handlers passed as props

Note I left out the “render a single element”. That’s because in many situations, such as an <svg> element or when recreating a dropdown with a custom style, you’ll need multiple elements. If you follow the other rules, it usually comes out with the expected effect.

I also recommend the following from that article:

  • Always try to create a component — such as AvatarRounded — which renders Avatar and modifies it, rather than adding a custom prop.
  • Receive the underlying HTML element as a prop, when practical, which pairs nicely with the previous point.

Following most of these also pushes you gently towards the Open-Closed Principle, which will help your application be more stable as it grows.


Of course, there are exceptions to these rules.


Forms are hard in React, and I can’t stress that enough. This is partly due to the two-directional data flow that is needed, but also partly due to the state of the forms libraries. Currently, they need to break these rules, at least to some degree, for every React library so far.

As a side note… that gives me an idea on how to make Forms libraries in React behave better. Forms in html have a reference to their child components’ through the name (see item 2 in this Stack Overflow question.) This makes form use in jQuery or even vanilla JS via the FormData object trivial. If something could be done to abstract most form elements that way with an additional way to register via context… validation done through the Constraint Validation API… well, I think that would be pretty special. Maybe I’ll give it a go someday.

JavaScript-driven animations and reactions to user input, such as scrolling or mouse input.

In very rare situations, may update their own DOM elements via refs. In even rarer situations, where that information needs to be passed to another component, use some sort of Subject/Observable such as those from rxjs. One example of this is the header of this site (at the time of writing) - classes are added and removed via a ref to the element, and a ref is used to track the current state of that change for rerender purposes.

const shouldShowHeader = useRef(global && global.scrollY === 0);
const headerRef = useRef<HTMLHeadingElement>();

useEffect(() => {
	let scrollPosition = window.scrollY;
	function onScroll() {
		const newScrollPosition = window.scrollY;
		if (newScrollPosition < scrollPosition || newScrollPosition <= 0)
		else if (newScrollPosition > scrollPosition) hideHeader();

		scrollPosition = newScrollPosition;

	window.addEventListener('scroll', onScroll);
	if (scrollPosition <= 0) showHeader();
	if (scrollPosition) hideHeader();

	return () => {
		window.removeEventListener('scroll', onScroll);

	function hideHeader() {
		shouldShowHeader.current = false;
	function showHeader() {
		shouldShowHeader.current = true;
}, []);

Other exceptions?

Using third party APIs, edge case user experience, and many other things could be the cause for an exception. With this in mind, the closer these rules are followed, the cleaner React tends to look, the more testable it ends up being, and the easier it is to safely reuse and refactor much of the application. If you have ideas of another common exception, please let me know! I’d like to keep this document updated.