React: Making faster, smoother UIs for data-driven Web apps

Developer Pete Hunt breaks down how the technology represents a shift in programming models and ponders whether Facebook's iOS redo might be different with React

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Hunt: Sure. We don't have a very strict release schedule yet, so I can't speak to specifically when we will get to 1.0. My guess would be by the end of the year. We have a public Wiki page that talks about what we hope to accomplish by then. Mostly, we're looking at tightening up the API and removing what we like to call foot guns -- features that developers can use to shoot themselves in the foot. We're also looking at maybe making the story around static analysis and type-checking a little bit better. Microsoft has a great technology called TypeScript, and wouldn't it be great if we could integrate that with React? So looking at that, also looking at leveraging more features in the upcoming JavaScript standard, ECMAScript 6, specifically around classes, is another thing we're looking into. Right now in the JavaScript world, everybody implements classes a little differently. We want to get everybody to use the same standard so that when people come up with tooling for these classes, they work everywhere. And React is all about re-using as much from the existing JavaScript vernacular as you can.

InfoWorld: Does React work with TypeScript at all right now?

Hunt: Parts of it do. We would like to make more of it work with TypeScript. The great thing about [TypeScript] is you can gradually start to adopt it, so if you write your code in TypeScript it will work with React. But we'd like to let TypeScript give React better guarantees for correctness.

InfoWorld: How many developers are using React, or is there really no way to know?

Hunt: It's very difficult to measure that. I can say that we, as of this morning, we had around 6,300 GitHub starts, and we're growing pretty quickly. Most of the people writing JavaScript at Facebook are using React. We use it for lots of projects, the more high-profile ones would be when you're liking and commenting on Facebook, you're going through React. You can imagine that gets a decent amount of traffic. Our Page Insights product uses React. If you upload photos on our mobile site or navigate to different pages, that's powered by React. We're really using it a lot.

InfoWorld: Facebook had a controversy where the company redid its iOS application in native Objective-C. Do you think you might redo it in React?

Hunt: Well, I'm not really working on those teams, so I'm not sure what their plans are. What I can say is that the Web platform does have a lot of problems still, but it's also solved a lot of stuff since then. We didn't have React back then. Maybe the math on that decision would be a little different with React, but I honestly wasn't involved with that kind of stuff.

InfoWorld: Can you name any other high-profile applications that use React?

Hunt: We're starting to see a lot of really great companies use it. Khan Academy, the e-learning startup, they're using React. We're starting to see companies like Venmo and Airbnb use React as well. The New York Times has used React on some of their interactive media.

InfoWorld: Is there anything else that you want to say about React?

Hunt: This is actually a fundamentally different mental model for building user interfaces. This isn't just a different syntax of the same old ideas. This is a very different way of looking at the problem. Even if you're not looking to build a lot of user interfaces on the Web or you don't want to use React, we do have some ideas that I think are fairly novel. It's worth at least checking out the documentation and seeing the ideas behind it.

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