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How to create a button with a div in React (and why you shouldn't)

jakepartusch profile image Jake Partusch Updated on ・3 min read

As web developers, we are often tasked with creating various interactive components in our web applications. On occasion, it might seem like a tempting solution to add a click handler to an existing div, or to create a custom <Button/> component out of non-semantic elements.

Liquid error: internal

In this article I hope to illustrate the "hidden" bugs that are created by not using a button as a button and the amount of code that is required to overcome these deficits.

1. onClick handler

This is the obvious first step to add an interaction to a div. But, as its name suggests, the onClick handler on a div only supports mouse click events (onClick with a button does much more). Unfortunately, only supporting mouse events leaves keyboard and screen reader users in the dark. They are not informed that this has become an actionable element and they are also not able to trigger the interaction with the keyboard.

//DO NOT USE: non-accessible implementation
const Button = () => {
  const onClick = () => console.log('clicked');

  return <div onClick={onClick}>My Button</div>
}

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2. Adding a Role, tabindex

We can inch towards and accessible solution by adding a tabindex and a role to the div. The button role will tell screen readers to announce this element as a button, and hint that it is actionable. Setting the tabindex="0" (tabIndex={0} in React), allows this element to be focused by the keyboard. Even so, our custom div can still not be triggered by the keyboard.


//DO NOT USE: non-accessible implementation
const Button = () => {
  const onClick = () => console.log('clicked');

  return <div role="button" tabIndex={0} onClick={onClick}>My Button</div>
}
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3. Keyboard events

When a button is focused, it can be triggered by either the SPACE or ENTER key. To bring this functionality to our div button, we need to implement onKeyPress and watch for those specific events. Then, we can manually forward matching events to our onClick handler.

By implementing these first three steps, our div button is now mostly accessible.

const Button = () => {
  const onClick = () => console.log("clicked");

  const onKeyPress = e => {
    const enterOrSpace =
      e.key === "Enter" ||
      e.key === " " ||
      e.key === "Spacebar" ||
      e.which === 13 ||
      e.which === 32;
    if (enterOrSpace) {
      e.preventDefault();
      onClick(e);
    }
  };
  return (
    <div
      role="button"
      onClick={onClick}
      tabIndex={0}
      onKeyPress={onKeyPress}
    >
      My Button
    </div>
  );
};
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4. Disabled state

Oftentimes, the disabled attribute is used for preventing user interaction with a button. We can add that same functionality to our div button by setting the tabindex to -1 (which removes it from keyboard focus) and by ignoring any clicks in our onClick handler while the button is disabled.

const Button = ({ disabled }) => {
  const onClick = () => {
    if (disabled) {
      return;
    }
    console.log("clicked");
  };

  const onKeyPress = e => {
    const enterOrSpace =
      e.key === "Enter" ||
      e.key === " " ||
      e.key === "Spacebar" ||
      e.which === 13 ||
      e.which === 32;
    if (enterOrSpace) {
      e.preventDefault();
      onClick(e);
    }
  };
  return (
    <div
      className={disabled ? "btn disabled" : "btn"}
      role="button"
      tabIndex={disabled ? -1 : 0}
      onClick={onClick}
      onKeyPress={onKeyPress}
    >
      My div Button
    </div>
  );
};
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5. Button Styles

If we also want to style our div to look like a button we can steal the default styles from Chrome (not recommended).

//DO NOT USE: browser-specific styles
.btn {
  display: inline-block;
  -webkit-appearance: button;
  padding: 1px 7px 2px;
  cursor: default;
  font: 400 11px system-ui;
  color: buttontext;
  background-color: buttonface;
}
.btn.disabled {
  color: rgb(170, 170, 170);
}
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Conclusion

I think that the easiest way to illustrate the differences between creating a button out of a div and using an actual button is to show the amount of code required to implement all of the above (and more) with the following button snippet.

// PLEASE USE: most accessible solution
const Button = props => {
  const onClick = () => {
    console.log("clicked");
  };

  return (
    <button
      onClick={onClick}
      {...props}
    >
      My button Button
    </button>
  );
};
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