React Portal to Subtree

Oct 29, 2020

How to render into any subtree in React

Problem

Below is a use case that I encounter recently. Imagine a standard sidebar shell UI design that look like below:

Sidebar Shell Layout

The sidebar + the breadcrumb is the "shell" of the application, while the content is rendered by individual page.

The React component structure would look something like this:

jsx
<AppShell>
<RouteOutlet />
</AppShell>

where <RouteOutlet /> is the React Router Switch/Route config that renders the children based on the URL.

It may seems simple at first glance, but the tricky part is the breadcrumbs should be dynamic based on the page that is being rendered.

One way to do it is to use React Context.

jsx
const BreadCrumbContext = React.createContext(function noop() {});
const AppShell = ({ children }) => {
const [breadcrumbs, setBreadcrumbs] = React.useState([]);
return (
<BreadCrumbContext.Provider value={setBreadcrumbs}>
<Sidebar />
<div>
<Breadcrumbs values={breadcrumbs} />
{children}
</div>
</BreadCrumbContext.Provider>
);
};
// custom hook to be used by page that want to add breadcrumbs
const useBreadcrumbs = (breadcrumbValues) => {
const setBreadcrumbs = React.useContext(BreadCrumbContext);
React.useEffect(() => {
setBreadcrumbs(breadcrumbValues);
return () => setBreadcrumbs([]);
}, [breadcrumbValues, setBreadcrumbs]);
};
const MyPage = ({ customer }) => {
useBreadcrumbs(['Customer', customer.name]);
return <div>...Other Content</div>;
};

The solution works, but it is quite tedious to setup all these Provider and custom hooks.

Can it be simpler?

Solution

React has a relatively less-used feature, Portal that allows you to render children into a DOM node that exists outside the DOM hierarchy.

However, in the official docs (as well as most articles you can find online), the use case for Portal is appending your children into the root of document.body, which is useful for the use case like dialog/tooltip etc.

But what if the target is not document.body, but another React subtree?

That will solve our problem above to render into breadcrumb from the page!

The solution will be this:

jsx
// custom hook to force React to rerender, hook version of `forceUpdate` of class component
function useForceUpdate() {
const [, dispatch] = React.useState(Object.create(null));
return React.useCallback(() => {
dispatch(Object.create(null));
}, []);
}
// simple event emitter. Read https://malcolmkee.com/blog/simple-event-bus/ for a more detailed explanation.
function createEventBus() {
const listeners = [];
return {
listen: (listener) => {
listeners.push(listener);
return () => {
listeners.splice(listeners.indexOf(listener), 1);
};
},
emit: () => listeners.forEach((l) => l()),
};
}
// this is where the magic is
function createFillSlot() {
// create a ref to get a reference of the target that we want to render into
const ref = React.createRef();
// setup the event emitter
const eventBus = createEventBus();
// Slot is where we want to render. It is just an empty div.
function Slot() {
React.useEffect(() => {
if (ref.current) {
// ask the event emitter to tell the whole world the slot is ready to be used
eventBus.emit();
}
}, []);
return <div ref={ref} />;
}
// Fill is where we render the content we want to inject to the Slot
function Fill({ children }) {
const forceUpdate = useForceUpdate();
// when Slot is rendered, we will get notified by event bus, re-render
React.useEffect(() => eventBus.listen(forceUpdate), [forceUpdate]);
return ref.current ? ReactDOM.createPortal(children, ref.current) : null;
}
return {
Slot,
Fill,
};
}
const Breadcrumb = createFillSlot();
// This is where we want to show the content
const Header = () => {
return (
<div className="p-2 flex items-center bg-white text-black shadow-lg">
Header <Breadcrumb.Slot />
</div>
);
};
const Page1 = () => {
return (
<div>
<h2>Page 1</h2>
<Breadcrumb.Fill>
Hello > <a href="#">Page 1</a>
</Breadcrumb.Fill>
</div>
);
};
const Page2 = () => {
return (
<div>
<h2>Page 2</h2>
<Breadcrumb.Fill>
Hello > <a href="#">Page 2</a>
</Breadcrumb.Fill>
</div>
);
};
const App = () => {
const [page, setPage] = React.useState('');
return (
<div className="flex">
<div className="flex flex-col space-y-2 px-3 items-start">
<button onClick={() => setPage('1')}>Show Page 1</button>
<button onClick={() => setPage('2')}>Show Page 2</button>
</div>
<div className="flex-1">
<Header />
<div className="p-3 bg-gray-100 text-gray-600">
{page === '1' && <Page1 />}
{page === '2' && <Page2 />}
</div>
</div>
</div>
);
};
render(<App />);
Header