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You do not need to use the classnames package

nickytonline profile image Nick Taylor (he/him) Originally published at on ・2 min read

Photo by David Rotimi on Unsplash

Do not get me wrong, the classnames package is really handy. It is also quite popular with just over 3.5 million downloads per week as of the date of this blog post. Most React based projects I have worked on use it.

If you are not familiar with the classnames package, it allows you to build a set of CSS classes based on some conditionals. Straight from there documentation:

classNames('foo', 'bar'); // => 'foo bar'
classNames('foo', { bar: true }); // => 'foo bar'
classNames({ 'foo-bar': true }); // => 'foo-bar'
classNames({ 'foo-bar': false }); // => ''
classNames({ foo: true }, { bar: true }); // => 'foo bar'
classNames({ foo: true, bar: true }); // => 'foo bar'
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Note: true and false are used to simplify the example, but normally these would be conditional variables, methods or functions.

Having said that, JavaScript has come a long way and there are features in the language that allow us to do pretty much the same thing, specifically template strings or as it is also called, template literals.

If you are not familiar with template strings, you can build a string with variables mixed in. Let us look at the previous examples, but this time with template strings.

`foo bar` // => 'foo bar', not that exciting
`foo ${ true ? 'bar': '' }`; // => 'foo bar'
`${true ? 'foo-bar': '' }`; // => 'foo-bar'
`${ false ? 'foo-bar' : ''}` // => ''
`${ true? 'foo': '' }, { true ? 'bar': '' }`; // => 'foo bar'
`${ true ? 'foo' : ''} ${ true? 'bar' : '' }`; // => 'foo bar'
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These are trivial examples, but it is just to show you that you can do pretty much the same thing with template literals. If you want to see this in action, here is an example from my site's source:

GitHub logo nickytonline /

Old source code for my web site

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Hey there, I'm Nick and this is my site's source code. This site started off as a clone of the Netlify CMS Gatsby Starter (check it out!). Since then, I've tweaked it a lot and converted the codebase to TypeScript.

Feel free to peruse the code and/or fork it. 😉

Thanks to all the wonderful projects that made it possible to build this blog.

I wrote about automating my deployments for those interested in my post Update Dependencies with Dependabot, Cypress and Netlify.

To get up and running:

  • clone the repository by running git clone or git clone
  • run npm install
  • run npm run develop to get up and running with the Gatsby development server.
  • Since the project uses Babel and not TypeScript as the compiler, a separate process is…
   className={`navbar is-transparent ${styles.navbar}`}
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This is not mind blowing code, but just another way to do it.

Happy coding!

Discussion (6)

Editor guide
pallymore profile image
Yurui Zhang
`${ false ? '' : 'foo-bar'}` // => ''
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this should return 'foo-bar' instead of ''.

For simple use cases classnames is definitely an overkill, but I would say if you have more than 2 conditions in the same template literal it becomes ugly really quickly.

Also there is a smaller package for the same purpose called clsx.

nickytonline profile image
Nick Taylor (he/him) Author • Edited

Thanks, correction made. Yes, agreed that it could get unwieldy, just showing another way of doing things is all. 😉

tomekbuszewski profile image
Tomek Buszewski

I remember ditching classnames long ago. At some point we've decided that vendor for joining strings is an overkill. I think we've used something like this (pseudocode):

const cls = (input: string|boolean[]): string => input.filter((cond: string | boolean) => typeof cond === "string").join(", ");

<div className={cls(["one", isTrue ? "two" : "three", isAnything && "four"]) />

And it worked perfectly. You could drop the filter element, but then you'll get false as one of the classes from time to time.

lesbaa profile image
Les • Edited

Agreed, I think classNames is a bit of overkill for what is essentially concatenation of strings. However template literals can get hectic and hard to reason about very quickly. What I normally do is:

const componentClassName = [
  someBooleanCondition && 'a-class-in-here',
  someOtherBoolean && 'another-class',
  .join(' ')

Written on a mobile so forgive any typos!

simkessy profile image

I've been using template strings to build classes for a while and every time I come up against an existing project which uses classNames I scratch my head trying to understand why this exist. Thanks for validating this view.

gnsp profile image
Ganesh Prasad

I had written a very similar blogpost about 2 years ago. Eventually after using template literals in major projects, (some of them currently in production on zomato), I found a number of pitfalls and redundancies with this approach. This led me to developing a safer and easier-to-use template literals based classNames alternative called classd. Recently I wrote a blogpost on opensourcing classd describing the usecases. classd also provides a classNames like function (classdFn) which is intended to be a drop-in replacement for classNames. It supports more types than POJOs (like maps, sets and iterables) and in majority of cases it's more performant than classNames. Do give it a try if you are interested in using template literals for composing classes.