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Cesare Ferrari
Cesare Ferrari

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Fetching data from an external API in React

Using the Fetch API to retrieve data

When we don't pass props to a React class component we can omit the class constructor. We can just set the state as a variable on the class in this way:

class Dogs extends React.Component {
  state = {
    dogs: []

Typically, the state object is initialized to an empty value.
In the example above we set the dogs attribute of the state object to an empty array.
This is because we expect to receive the state data from an external API as an array.

We call the external API in componentDidMount(), like we saw in a previous article.
When we receive the data, we update the state with the array we receive.

In the example below, we fetch an array of dog images from the API. We use the Fetch API that is included in Javascript. The Fetch API provides an interface for retrieving resources on the internet. It's similar to XMLHttpRequest but with additional features.

componentDidMount() {
    .then(response => res.json())
    .then(dogs => this.setState({dogs: dogs.message}))
    .catch(error => console.log('Error:', error));

fetch() returns a Javascript Promise that calls the then() method if it resolves correctly, or the catch() method if it encounters an error.

We will talk about Promises in future articles. For now let's just say that fetch() works asynchronously and retrieves data from an external API.
After we get the data successfully, fetch calls the first then() method above where we convert the response to JSON format with the call to response.json().

The result of this method call is then sent to the next then() method.
In it we use setState() to update the initial component state (an empty array) with the array of dog images returned by the API.

At this point we have achieved our goal of updating the component state with data from an external API.

The catch() method handles any errors that may occur during the API call, like a page not found or a dropped connection and will not be called if the operation is successful.

There are other ways to fetch external data in React. One popular method is to use the Axios library, that is similar to the Fetch API.
We will learn how to use Axios to fetch data in a future article.

Top comments (1)

stevematdavies profile image
Stephen Matthew Davies

Fetch can also be used with aysync await in a try catch block. Of course then cdm would have to be tagged async but the result is the same. However using async await with react hooks in a function component has become a very powerful and optimised way of achieving the same result without the overhead of using classes.