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Choosing a React Starter Kit

goldins profile image Simon Goldin Updated on ・6 min read

General guide for choosing a starter kit (aka starter library, aka boilerplate) that's right for you and your team.

Introduction

This post will explore choosing a starter kit, using my experience building this a blog (note: the blog is not complete yet; I am posting this here in the meantime!) as an example. This will be the first post in a series that comes out of working on this website.

Since this is my first post, I want to start by sharing my experience. Coming into this, I've worked with React and TypeScript for about 5 years and I've been working in web development professionally for the past 10 years. My career has spanned finance, ed-tech, ad-tech, and currently internet security, as well as some freelancing.

I've typically been a full-stack engineer, usually focusing on front-end and user experience, which is where I hope I can provide the most help.

With that, let's (yarn?) start!

Why choose a starter kit at all?

There's value in building an application from scratch, particularly for gaining valuable learning experience as you go, and to be able to specify exactly what you want, and nothing else.

You can also choose to use a starter kit: a minimal application with pre-defined dependencies and some dummy content already in place.

A starter kit does a lot of heavy lifting for you out of the box and is usually a way to hit the ground running. When my team first picked up React, we went with a starter kit (Create React App) which abstracted a lot of the complexity away from us, and we were able to focus on building the application and not worry (as much) about tooling.

How to choose a starter kit

I've gone through this process a handful of times, so at this point I think it may be helpful to others (and future me) to document what I look for and avoid. In a future post, I will also go into some detail about what I do after making a decision. These factors are mainly about the dependencies that are included, since you're going to change the content of the application anyways.

Luckily, it's not too hard to try a few different options before settling on one, and future you (or your team) will thank present you for making a good decision.

What to look for

  • Minimal
  • Good Tooling
  • Officially Supported

Minimal

When looking for a starter kit in the past, I came across a lot of options. After digging into them a bit, there was a lot of things I either didn't need, or didn't know if I needed. Having unnecessary dependencies can bias you into using them and may not align with you or your team's preference. By the time, and if, a need for such a dependency arises, there might be (in the JavaScript ecosystem's case, likely will be) something better.

You'll also probably notice some outdated packages that you'll want to update sooner than later, and having fewer packages to update will make it easier to update them.

For example, updating a library such as Redux (and its peer dependencies, and their TypeScript definitions) might introduce breaking changes into the boilerplate content which you'll be re-writing anyways. By the time you want to introduce state management, there will likely be a newer version, or a more suitable alternative.

Good Tooling

By "tooling", I am essentially referring to specific dev dependencies. You'll likely want things like formatting, linting, and testing systems in place eventually, so you may as well get a starter kit that already has them integrated for you. Each of these will have its own options to choose from (like formatting rules), so picking a starting kit that has these out-of-the-box will mean they will work with each other (for example: ESLint, Prettier, and TypeScript configurations working seamlessly together).

Officially Supported

Official starter kits, like those found on a framework's or library's website, are going to be more general-purpose, and not something that was created for a specific use case in the past and no longer maintained. They'll also be more up-to-date, and in some cases have a built-in mechanism to update itself. Official kits typically have the same licenses as their library or framework which may be important if a license is something you need to consider.

Next.JS has a set of many examples that, while not the most user-friendly, is easy to navigate and covers most needs. These examples are also used to populate the options when you run the create next-app script, so once you pick one, installing it is a snap.

Gatsby has hundreds of starter kits available with easy like previews. However, only three of them are maintained by the Gatsby team themselves. The list can be filtered by Gatsby Version, dependencies, and categories ("Official", "Blog").

While the only official starter kit from the React team, Create React App is likely the most mature stater kit in the React ecosystem, easy to keep up to date, and sufficiently configurable while abstracting a lot of the complexity away.

Conclusion

With these factors in mind, I started looking through the Next.JS examples repo. I knew I wanted to use TypeScript, so that narrowed my choices down to a manageable handful.

With these points in mind, I picked with-typescript-eslint-jest for Next.JS. Taking away aspects that I don't need (or at least don't think I need yet), slimmed the list down to four:

Looking into each package.json file (linked above), I knew that TypeScript will add some extra dependencies for type definitions, but overall they were all manageable.

I knew I wanted a CSS-in-JS library, but wasn't sure if I wanted to use styled-components, so I eliminated with-typescript-styled-components from my list first.

blog-starter-typescript had some useful blog- and markdown-specific libraries (remark, gray-matter), though I wasn't sure if I would be using them. It was also almost on the latest version of TypeScript (although it's in the dependencies section rather than devDependencies). It also included some other libraries I knew I would be removing (tailwindcss). Writing this post and looking into this example more, I found some other questionable decisions such as the inclusion of @types/jest but not jest itself and the inclusion of remark-html which has the following disclaimer on its README "it’s probably smarter to use remark-rehype directly". These are minor points, but all reduce my confidence in picking it.

with-typescript-eslint-jest had by far the largest list of dependencies, but it was everything I would have included anyways, and nothing I wouldn't have. The nature of jest and eslint typically require additional @types in the devDependencies section, but this example had the same list of dependencies as with-typescript itself. Aside from the given ESLint and Jest, the example came with Prettier, lint-staged and husky to automatically format the files when you commit your changes. As a bonus, jest-watch-typeahead, which lets you filter your tests as you're running them, is probably something I would not have installed but eventually wished I had. All dependencies were relatively up to date, and having ESLint and Jest included would save me some installation and configuration steps I would have to do with the bare TypeScript example, so I settled on with-typescript-eslint-jest.

While a complete checklist is not possible, I hope this provides some guidance for your next application. Whether it's a side project to get your career off the ground, an internal tool or your team's next project, carefully considering and vetting your options pays off in the future!

My next post will go into what I did next: from updating configurations to laying down foundation for easier maintenance in the future.

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Simon Goldin

@goldins

NYC frontend software engineer currently working in React and TypeScript

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