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A Complete Beginner's Guide to React Router (including Router Hooks)

ibrahima92 profile image Ibrahima Ndaw Originally published at ibrahima-ndaw.com Updated on ・10 min read

Originally posted on my blog

React is a JavaScript library for building user interfaces. We can also extend it to build Multi-page applications with the help of React Router. It's a third-party library that enables routing in our React apps.

In this tutorial, we are going to cover everything you need to know to get started with React Router.

Setting up the project

To be able to follow along, you will need to create a new react app, by running this following command in your terminal:

npx create-react-app react-router-guide
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Then, add these lines of code to the App.js file.

  • In App.js
import React from "react";
import "./index.css"

export default function App() {
  return (
    <main>
      <nav>
        <ul>
          <li><a href="/">Home</a></li>
          <li><a href="/about">About</a></li>
          <li><a href="/contact">Contact</a></li>
        </ul>
        </nav>
     </main>
  );
}
// Home Page
const Home = () => (
  <Fragment>
    <h1>Home</h1>
    <FakeText />
  </Fragment>
  );
// About Page
const About = () => (
  <Fragment>
    <h1>About</h1>
    <FakeText />
  </Fragment>
  );
// Contact Page
const Contact = () => (
  <Fragment>
    <h1>Contact</h1>
    <FakeText />
  </Fragment>
  );

const FakeText = () => (
  <p>
  Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.
  </p>
  )
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Then, if you're ready to go, let's start by answering an important question: what is routing?

What is routing?

Routing is the capacity to show different pages to the user. That means it gives the ability to move between different parts of an application by entering a URL or clicking on an element.

As you already know, by default, React comes without routing. And to enable it in our project, we need to add a library named react-router.

To install it, you will have to run the following command in your terminal:

yarn add react-router-dom
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Or

npm install react-router-dom
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Now, we've successfully installed our router, let's start using it in the next section.

excited

Setting up the router

To enable routing in our React app, we first need to import BrowserRouter from react-router-dom.

  • In App.js
import React, { Fragment } from "react";
import "./index.css"

import { BrowserRouter as Router } from "react-router-dom";

export default function App() {
  return (
  <Router>
    <main>
      <nav>
        <ul>
          <li><a href="/">Home</a></li>
          <li><a href="/about">About</a></li>
          <li><a href="/contact">Contact</a></li>
        </ul>
      </nav>
    </main>
</Router>
  );
}
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It should hold everything in our app where routing is needed. That means, if we need routing in our entire app, we must wrap our higher component with BrowserRouter.

By the way, You don't have to rename BrowserRouter as Router as I do here, I just want to keep things readable.

A router only, doesn't do much, let's add a route in the next section.

Rendering routes

To render routes, we have to import the Route component from the router package.

  • In App.js
import React, { Fragment } from "react";
import "./index.css"

import { BrowserRouter as Router, Route } from "react-router-dom";

export default function App() {
  return (
  <Router>
    <main>
      <nav>
        <ul>
          <li><a href="/">Home</a></li>
          <li><a href="/about">About</a></li>
          <li><a href="/contact">Contact</a></li>
        </ul>
      </nav>
  <Route path="/" render={() => <h1>Welcome!</h1>} />
    </main>
</Router>
  );
}
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Then, add it where we want to render the content. The Route component has several properties. But here, we just need path and render.

  • path: It's the path of the route. Here, we use / to define the path of the home page.

  • render: It will display the content whenever the route is reached. Here, we'll render a welcome message to the user.

In some cases serving routes like that is perfectly fine, but imagine the case when we have to deal with a real component, using render may not be the right solution.

So, how can we do to display a real component? Well, the Route component has another property named component.

Let's update our example a bit to see it in action.

  • In App.js
import React, { Fragment } from "react";
import "./index.css"

import { BrowserRouter as Router, Route } from "react-router-dom";

export default function App() {
  return (
   <Router>
    <main>
      <nav>
        <ul>
          <li><a href="/">Home</a></li>
          <li><a href="/about">About</a></li>
          <li><a href="/contact">Contact</a></li>
        </ul>
      </nav>

    <Route path="/" component={Home} />
    </main>
</Router>
  );
}

const Home = () => (
  <Fragment>
    <h1>Home</h1>
    <FakeText />
  </Fragment>
  );
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Now, instead of rendering a message, our route will load the Home component.

To get the full power of React Router, we need to have multiple pages and links to play with. We already have pages (components if you want too), now, let's add some links to be able to switch between pages.

Using Links to switch pages

To add links to our project, we will use the React Router again.

  • In App.js
import React, { Fragment } from "react";
import "./index.css"

import { BrowserRouter as Router, Route, Link } from "react-router-dom";

export default function App() {
  return (
   <Router>
    <main>
      <nav>
        <ul>
          <li><Link to="/">Home</Link></li>
          <li><Link to="/about">About</Link></li>
          <li><Link to="/contact">Contact</Link></li>
        </ul>
      </nav>

    <Route path="/" exact component={Home} />
    <Route path="/about"  component={About} />
    <Route path="/contact"  component={Contact} />

    </main>
</Router>
  );
}

const Home = () => (
  <Fragment>
    <h1>Home</h1>
    <FakeText />
  </Fragment>
  );

const About = () => (
  <Fragment>
    <h1>About</h1>
    <FakeText />
  </Fragment>
  );

const Contact = () => (
  <Fragment>
    <h1>Contact</h1>
    <FakeText />
  </Fragment>
  );
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After importing Link, we have to update our navigation bar a bit.
Now, instead of using a tag and href, React Router uses Link and to to, well, be able to switch between pages without reloading it.

Then, we need to add two new routes: About and Contact to be able to switch between pages or components if you want too.

Now, we can go to different parts of our app through links. But, there is an issue with our router though, the Home component is always displayed even if we switch to other pages.

The reason for that is the React Router will check if the path defined starts with / if it's the case, it will render the component.
And here, our first route starts with /, therefore the Home component will be rendered each time.

However, we can still change the default behavior by adding the exact property to Route.

  • In App.js
    <Route path="/" exact component={Home} />
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By updating the Home route with exact, now, it will be rendered only if it matches the full path.

We can still enhance it, by wrapping our routes with Switch to tell to React Router to load only one route at a time.

  • In App.js
import { BrowserRouter as Router, Route, Link, Switch } from "react-router-dom";

  <Switch>
    <Route path="/" exact component={Home} />
    <Route path="/about"  component={About} />
    <Route path="/contact"  component={Contact} />
  </Switch>
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Now, we have new links, let's use them to pass parameters.

Passing Route parameters

To pass data between pages, we have to update our example.

  • In App.js
import React, { Fragment } from "react";
import "./index.css"

import { BrowserRouter as Router, Route, Link, Switch } from "react-router-dom";

export default function App() {
  const name = 'John Doe'
  return (
   <Router>
    <main>
      <nav>
        <ul>
          <li><Link to="/">Home</Link></li>
          <li><Link to={`/about/${name}`}>About</Link></li>
          <li><Link to="/contact">Contact</Link></li>
        </ul>
      </nav>
    <Switch>
      <Route path="/" exact component={Home} />
      <Route path="/about/:name"  component={About} />
      <Route path="/contact"  component={Contact} />
    </Switch>
    </main>
</Router>
  );
}

const Home = () => (
  <Fragment>
    <h1>Home</h1>
    <FakeText />
  </Fragment>
  );

const About = ({match:{params:{name}}}) => (
  // props.match.params.name
  <Fragment>
    <h1>About {name}</h1>
    <FakeText />
  </Fragment>
);

const Contact = () => (
  <Fragment>
    <h1>Contact</h1>
    <FakeText />
  </Fragment>
  );
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As you can see here, we start by declaring a new constant name which will be passed as a parameter to the About page. And, we append name to the corresponding link.

With that, we have now to update the About route, by adjusting its path to receive name as a parameter path="/about/:name".

Now, the parameter will be received as props from the About component, and the only thing we have to do now is destructuring the props and get back the name property. By the way, {match:{params:{name}}} is the same as props.match.params.name.

Until now, we've done a lot, however, in some cases, we don't want to use links to navigate between pages.

Sometimes, we have to wait for an operation to finish before navigating to the next page.

agree

So, let's handle that case in the next section.

Navigating programmatically

The props we receive has some convenient methods we can use to navigate between pages.

  • In App.js
const Contact = ({history}) => (
  <Fragment>
    <h1>Contact</h1>
    <button onClick={() => history.push('/') } >Go to home</button>
    <FakeText />
  </Fragment>
  );
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Here, we pull the history object from the props we receive. It has some handy methods like goBack, goForward, etc. But here, we will use the push method to be able to go to the Home page.

Now, let's handle the case when we want to redirect our user after an action.

Redirecting to another page

The React Router has another component named Redirect, and as you guessed, it helps us to redirect the user to another page

  • In App.js
import { BrowserRouter as Router, Route, Link, Switch, Redirect } from "react-router-dom";

const About = ({match:{params:{name}}}) => (
  // props.match.params.name
  <Fragment>
    { name !== 'John Doe' ? <Redirect to="/" /> : null }
    <h1>About {name}</h1>
    <FakeText />
  </Fragment>
);
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Now, if the name passed as a parameter is not equal to John Doe, the user will be redirected to the home page.

You could argue why I don't redirect the user with props.history.push('/)? Well, the Redirect component replaces the page and therefore the user can't go back to the previous page, but, with the push method, he can. However, you can use props.history.replace('/) to mimic the Redirect behavior.

Now, let's move on and handle the case when the user hits a route that doesn't exist.

Redirecting to 404 page

To redirect the user, to a 404 page, you can create a component to show it, but here to keep things simple, I will just display a message with render.

import React, { Fragment } from "react";
import "./index.css"

import { BrowserRouter as Router, Route, Link, Switch } from "react-router-dom";

export default function App() {
  const name = 'John Doe'

  return (
   <Router>
    <main>
      <nav>
        <ul>
          <li><Link to="/">Home</Link></li>
          <li><Link to={`/about/${name}`}>About</Link></li>
          <li><Link to="/contact">Contact</Link></li>
        </ul>
      </nav>
    <Switch>
      <Route path="/" exact component={Home} />
      <Route path="/about/:name"  component={About} />
      <Route path="/contact"  component={Contact} />
      <Route render={() => <h1>404: page not found</h1>} />

    </Switch>
    </main>
</Router>
  );
}
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The new route we've added will catch every path that doesn't exist and redirect the user to the 404 page.

Now, let's move on and learn how to protect our routes in the next section.

Guarding routes

There are many ways to protect routes to React. But, here I will just check if the user is authenticated and redirect him to the appropriate page.

import React, { Fragment } from "react";
import "./index.css"

import { BrowserRouter as Router, Route, Link, Switch } from "react-router-dom";

export default function App() {
  const name = 'John Doe'
  const isAuthenticated = false
  return (
   <Router>
    <main>
      <nav>
        <ul>
          <li><Link to="/">Home</Link></li>
          <li><Link to={`/about/${name}`}>About</Link></li>
          <li><Link to="/contact">Contact</Link></li>
        </ul>
      </nav>
    <Switch>
      <Route path="/" exact component={Home} />
      {
      isAuthenticated ? 
      <>
      <Route path="/about/:name"  component={About} />
      <Route path="/contact"  component={Contact} />
      </> : <Redirect to="/" />
      }

    </Switch>
    </main>
</Router>
  );
}
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As you can see here, I declared a variable to mimic authentication. Then, check if the user is authenticated or not. If it's the case, render protected pages, else redirect him to the home page.

We've covered a lot until now, but it remains an interesting part: The router hooks.

let's move to the final section and introduce Hooks.

yes

Router Hooks (useHistory, useParams, useLocation)

The router hooks make things much easier. Now, access to the history, location or parameters is done in an easy and elegant way.

useHistory

The useHistory hook gives us access to the history instance without pull it from props.

import { useHistory } from "react-router-dom";

const Contact = () => {
const history = useHistory();
return (
  <Fragment>
    <h1>Contact</h1>
    <button onClick={() => history.push('/') } >Go to home</button>
  </Fragment>
  )
  };
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useParams

It helps us get the parameter passed on the URL without using the props object.

import { BrowserRouter as Router, Route, Link, Switch, useParams } from "react-router-dom";

export default function App() {
  const name = 'John Doe'
  return (
   <Router>
    <main>
      <nav>
        <ul>
          <li><Link to="/">Home</Link></li>
          <li><Link to={`/about/${name}`}>About</Link></li>
        </ul>
      </nav>
    <Switch>
      <Route path="/" exact component={Home} />
      <Route path="/about/:name"  component={About} />
    </Switch>
    </main>
</Router>
  );
}

const About = () => {
  const { name } = useParams()
  return (
  // props.match.params.name
  <Fragment>
    { name !== 'John Doe' ? <Redirect to="/" /> : null }
    <h1>About {name}</h1>
    <Route component={Contact} />
  </Fragment>
)
};
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useLocation

It returns the location object that represents the current URL.

import { useLocation } from "react-router-dom";

const Contact = () => {
const { pathname } = useLocation();

return (
  <Fragment>
    <h1>Contact</h1>
    <p>Current URL: {pathname}</p>
  </Fragment>
  )
  };
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Final Thoughts

The React Router is an amazing library that helps us go from a single page to a multi-page application feeling (At the end of the day, it's still a single page) with great usability. And now with the router hooks, you've seen by your own how easy and elegant they are, definitely something to consider in your next project.

Next Steps

React Router Documentation

Photo by Joshua Sortino on Unsplash

Discussion (10)

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supunkavinda profile image
Supun Kavinda

Hey! Nice tutorial.

By the way, any reason to use <Fragment> instead of <>?

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ibrahima92 profile image
Ibrahima Ndaw Author

I use Fragment to not confuse beginners, it's much clear than <>. Anyway, thanks for your comment.

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supunkavinda profile image
Supun Kavinda

Yeah, I agree with that. <Fragment> is much clearer. Thanks for the reply!

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ibrahima92 profile image
Ibrahima Ndaw Author

You're welcome.

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ctimmerman profile image
Cees Timmerman • Edited

The first code section needs: import React, { Fragment } from 'react'
They all need consistent indentation.
And make sure the other dependencies work: ./src/App.js
Line 27:6: 'FakeText' is not defined react/jsx-no-undef

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upen90 profile image
Upen90

This is awesome. Thanks a lot.

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100000multiplier profile image
multiply.today

Great tutorial thanks

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yudibakshi profile image
Yudi Bakshi

very detailed introduction to react router. all concepts clearly explained. Thank you so much :-)

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ibrahima92 profile image
Ibrahima Ndaw Author

Thanks for reading

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mefaba profile image
AW A RE

What is fragment?