An Introduction to State in React

One of the benefits of using React is that as users interact with the application, the application updates the user interface without reloading the entire page. This is due to a concept called state. State is oftentimes referred to as a component’s memory.

Let’s think back to the last time you filled out your tax return. If you e-file your taxes, you might have used a React-based web application to do so. An example component would be the tax estimate for your federal and state taxes. For some tax applications, if it looks like you are getting a refund, the number is green and if it looks like you owe some money, the number is red. At the beginning of the process, both federal and state would have shown $0 or “N/A” to indicate that you haven’t started the process yet. Now when you enter the information on a form, like your W2, you see the numbers in that component changing. In fact, every time you edit some aspect of your taxes, the numbers may change and the colors of that number may change. This is where state comes into play in this React-based tax application. Reloading the page every time you edit one thing would be annoying and make the application inefficient. Even just re-rendering one component on the page can be a costly process. With state, the component is only re-rendered when there is new data. If you enter some information that doesn’t change the fact that the federal government owes you a refund of $200, the component will not re-render. Selectively re-rendering components makes React an efficient library to use for web development. While not always noticeable, re-rendering components can lead to lagging or delays as the users interact with your application. By only re-rendering components in select cases, React helps us minimize the possibility of this happening.

While state is a built-in concept in React, you as the programmer have to call upon it. Local variables won’t keep their values during re-renders and changing the value of a local variable doesn’t trigger re-rendering. We have to use a state variable to hold data that we want to keep as part of the component’s memory. To set the value of a state variable, we will use a state setter function. Both a state variable and state setter function are provided by a React hook called useState(). Hooks are features of React that allow you to access different aspects of React and use them with your components. Without hooks, components would just be ordinary classes and functions.

In the example of a tax application, we might have a state variable for federal taxes called federalTax. We can then declare that state variable like so:

const [federalTax, setFederalTax] = useState(0);

Here we are using the useState hook to set the initial value of federalTax to 0. We also have declared that the state setter function for federalTax is setFederalTax. To update the value of federalTax to 100, we just have to use setFederalTax like so, setFederalTax(100).

You can also set up the state variable to be an object. Here is how we might do it with our tax application.

const [taxes, setTaxes] = useState({
   federal: 0,
   state: 0

With useState, the value of taxes.federal is set to 0 and the value of taxes.state is also set to 0. To update the value of the state taxes to -10, but not update the value of the federal taxes, then we would pass those values to setTaxes like so:

   federal: taxes.federal,
   state: -10

State variables are considered read-only, so in order for us to update the state, we have to pass a new object to the state variable.


It is worth noting that if the user reloads the page, the state of the component is returned to the original state. If we wanted to make sure that we didn’t lose track of what the user owes in federal taxes, we may have to do some backend work, but that is a task for Unit 2 of this course.

Check Your Understanding


What is useState?

  1. A class
  2. An object
  3. A hook
  4. A function

True or False: State variables are considered to be read-only.