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React ThemeProvider: The Secret to Effective Theming

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Kesar Bhimani

Engineering
August 14, 2023
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Kesar Bhimani

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August 14, 2023
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Theming is a critical aspect of application development in React. It allows us to maintain consistency in the design and feel of the application. With theming, we can define a set of design attributes such as colours, fonts, and layouts in a central place and reuse them across the application. This not only makes our code cleaner and more maintainable but also allows us to easily switch between different themes in our application.

ThemeProvider is a component provided by the styled-components library in React. It allows us to pass our theme object down the component tree without having to manually pass it at every level. This is done using the context API under the hood.

Understanding ThemeProvider

ThemeProvider is a helper component provided by the styled-components library in React. It uses the context API to pass the theme down the component tree, allowing us to access the theme in any component without manually passing it through props.

What is ThemeProvider?

ThemeProvider is essentially a context provider that allows us to define a theme and make it available to all the components in our application. The theme is usually a JavaScript object that contains common style variables such as colours, font sizes, spacing, etc.

Why use ThemeProvider?

ThemeProvider provides several benefits:

  • Consistency: By defining our styles in a central place, we can ensure that our components use the same styles, maintaining consistency in our application's design.
  • Ease of changes: If we want to change a colour or font size, we only need to change it in one place, and the change will be reflected in all the components that use it.
  • Theming: We can easily switch between different themes in our application. For example, we can have a light theme and a dark theme and switch between them based on user preference.
  • Less prop drilling: Without ThemeProvider, if we want to pass the theme to a deeply nested component, we would have to pass it through all the intermediate components. With ThemeProvider, any component can access the theme, regardless of how deeply it is nested.

Setting Up the Development Environment

Before we dive into the details of using ThemeProvider, let's set up our development environment. This will ensure that we have all the necessary tools and technologies in place to follow along with the examples in this blog.

Required tools and technologies

Here are the tools and technologies we'll need:

  • Node.js and npm: Node.js is a JavaScript runtime that allows us to run JavaScript code on our server. npm (Node Package Manager) is a package manager for Node.js. We'll use it to install the libraries we need for our project. You can download Node.js and npm from the official Node.js website.
  • React: We'll be building our application with React. We can install it using the Create React App command-line tool.
  • Styled components: This is the library that provides the ThemeProvider component. We can install it using npm.
  • A text editor: Any text editor or IDE that supports JavaScript will do. Some popular options are Visual Studio Code, Sublime Text, and Atom.
  • A web browser: We'll need a web browser to view our application. Any modern web browser like Chrome, Firefox, or Safari will do.

Initial project setup

First, let's create a new React application using Create React App. Open your terminal and run the following command:

This will create a new directory called theme-provider-demo with a basic React application.

Next, navigate into the new directory and install the styled-components library:

Now, open the project in your text editor. You should see a directory structure like this:

We'll be working mainly in the src directory, where our React components live.

ThemeProvider in Action

Now that we have our development environment set up, let's see ThemeProvider in action. We'll create a basic theme and apply it to our application.

Creating a basic theme

A theme is typically a JavaScript object that contains common style variables such as colors, font sizes, spacing, etc. Here's an example of a basic theme:

In this theme, we have defined two color properties (primary and secondary) and three font-size properties (small, medium, and large).

Wrapping the application with ThemeProvider

To make our theme available to all the components in our application, we need to wrap our root component with the ThemeProvider and pass our theme object as a prop to it. Here's how we can do this:

In this code, we first import the ThemeProvider from the styled-components library. We then wrap our root component (App) with the ThemeProvider and pass our theme object to it as a prop.

Now, any styled component that we create inside this provider will have access to the theme object through its props. We can use these theme properties to style our components.

ThemeProvider and Styled Components

ThemeProvider and Styled Components are two powerful tools that can be used together to create highly customizable and themeable React applications. In this section, we'll explore how to integrate ThemeProvider with Styled Components.

Introduction to Styled Components

Styled Components is a CSS-in-JS library that allows us to write actual CSS in our JavaScript. It generates unique class names for our styles, ensuring that they are scoped to the components and won't interfere with other styles in our application.

Here's an example of how we can create a styled component:

In the above code, we first import the styled function from the styled-components library. We then use it to create a Button component with some styles.

Integrating ThemeProvider with Styled Components

ThemeProvider can be used with Styled Components to make the theme available to all styled components in our application. Here's how we can do this:

In this code, we first import the ThemeProvider from the styled-components library and create our theme object. We then create a Button component using the styled function and use the theme prop to access the colors and font size from our theme object.

Finally, we wrap our root component with the ThemeProvider and pass our theme object to it. Now, our Button component will have access to the theme, and it will use the theme colours and font size.

Best practices for component styling

When styling components with ThemeProvider, there are a few best practices that we should follow:

  • Keep styles encapsulated: Each component should only define its own styles and not affect the styles of other components. This ensures that our components are reusable and won't interfere with each other.
  • Use theme properties: Instead of hardcoding style values, we should use the properties from our theme. This ensures that our components are consistent with the overall design and makes it easy to update the styles by changing the theme.
  • Avoid unnecessary nesting: While styled-components allow us to nest styles like in Sass, it's often better to keep our styles flat and avoid unnecessary nesting. This makes our styles easier to read and maintain.

Dynamic Theming with ThemeProvider

One of the powerful features of ThemeProvider is the ability to create dynamic themes. This means that we can switch between different themes in our application based on certain conditions. For example, we might want to switch between a light theme and a dark theme based on user preference.

Creating multiple themes

First, let's create two themes: a light theme and a dark theme.

In the above code, we have defined two themes with the same structure but different colour values. The light theme uses light colours for the background and dark colours for the text, while the dark theme uses dark colours for the background and light colours for the text.

Switching between themes

Now that we have our themes, let's see how we can switch between them. We'll use the useState hook to store the current theme and a function to toggle between the light and dark themes.

In the above code, we first import the useState hook from React. We then use it to create a state variable for the current theme and a function to update it. We initially set the theme to the light theme.

We also create a function called toggleTheme that switches the theme between the light theme and the dark theme when called.

Finally, we pass our current theme to the ThemeProvider and add a button that calls the toggleTheme function when clicked. Now, clicking the button will switch between the light and dark themes.

ThemeProvider and Theming Libraries

ThemeProvider is not just limited to use with the styled-components library. It can also be used with other theming libraries to provide even more powerful theming capabilities. In this section, we'll explore how to use ThemeProvider with popular theming libraries.

Introduction to popular theming libraries

There are several popular theming libraries that can be used with ThemeProvider to provide advanced theming capabilities. Some of these include:

  • Polished: A lightweight toolset for writing styles in JavaScript. It provides a set of helper functions to make it easier to work with styles in JavaScript.
  • Styled-system: A collection of utility functions that add style props to your React components and allows you to control their layout and typography.
  • Emotion: A performant and flexible CSS-in-JS library that allows you to style applications quickly with string or object styles.

These libraries can be used in combination with ThemeProvider to provide a more flexible and powerful theming solution.

Using ThemeProvider with theming libraries

When used with theming libraries, ThemeProvider can provide the theme to the library's functions and components, allowing them to use the theme's properties.

Here's an example of how we can use ThemeProvider with the polished library:

In the above code, we first import the ThemeProvider from the styled-components library and the darken function from the polished library. We then create a Button component and use the darken function to darken the button's background colour when it's hovered over. The darken function uses the primary colour from our theme, which is provided by the ThemeProvider.

ThemeProvider and Performance

While ThemeProvider provides a powerful way to theme our applications, it's important to consider its impact on performance. In this section, we'll explore some performance considerations with ThemeProvider and how to optimize it for better performance.

Performance Considerations with ThemeProvider

ThemeProvider uses the context API under the hood to pass the theme down the component tree. This means that whenever the theme changes, all components that consume the theme will re-render.

While this is usually not a problem for small to medium-sized applications, it can potentially cause performance issues in large applications with many components. This is because a large number of components re-rendering at once can lead to a noticeable delay in the UI.

Optimizing ThemeProvider for Performance

There are several ways to optimize ThemeProvider for better performance:

  • Minimize theme changes: Since a change in the theme causes all components to re-render, we should try to minimize the number of theme changes. This could mean using a static theme instead of a dynamic one or limiting the number of times the user can switch themes.
  • Split up the theme: If different parts of the theme are used by different parts of the application, we can split up the theme into multiple smaller themes and use multiple ThemeProviders. This way, a change in one part of the theme will only cause the components that use that part of the theme to re-render.
  • Use memoization: If we compute the theme dynamically, we can use a technique called memoization to avoid unnecessary computations. This can be done using the useMemo hook in React.

Here's an example of how we can use useMemo to memoize the theme:

In the above code, we first import the useMemo hook from React. We then use it to compute the theme. The useMemo hook ensures that the theme is only recomputed when one of its dependencies changes. Since we've passed an empty array as the dependencies, the theme will only be computed once and then cached for subsequent renders.

Common Issues and Solutions with ThemeProvider

While ThemeProvider is a powerful tool for theming in React applications, you might encounter some issues when using it. In this section, we'll discuss some common issues and their solutions.

Common issues encountered

Here are some common issues you might encounter when using ThemeProvider:

  • Theme not available in components: If your components don't have access to the theme, make sure that they are rendered inside the ThemeProvider. Also, ensure that you are accessing the theme correctly in your components using props.theme.
  • Components not re-rendering when the theme changes: If your components are not re-rendering when the theme changes, make sure that you are changing the theme correctly. Remember that ThemeProvider uses the context API, which means that it will only cause a re-render if the theme object itself changes, not if its properties change. To change the theme, you should create a new theme object.
  • Performance issues: If you're experiencing performance issues, remember that a change in the theme causes all components that consume the theme to re-render. If you have a large number of components, this could potentially cause a noticeable delay. To optimize performance, try to minimize theme changes, split up the theme, or use memoization.

Solutions and Workarounds

Here are some solutions and workarounds for the above issues:

  • Ensure components are inside ThemeProvider: Make sure that your components are rendered inside the ThemeProvider to have access to the theme.
  • Create a new theme object to change the theme: To change the theme, create a new theme object instead of mutating the properties of the current theme object.
  • Optimize performance: To optimize performance, minimize theme changes, split up the theme, or use memoization. Also, consider using React.memo or shouldComponentUpdate to prevent unnecessary re-renders.

Concluding Thoughts: Harnessing the Power of ThemeProvider and Streamlining Development with WiseGPT

In this blog post, we've taken a deep dive into ThemeProvider, a powerful tool for theming in React applications. We've explored its capabilities, from creating dynamic themes and styling individual components to defining global styles and integrating with theming libraries. We've also discussed performance considerations, TypeScript integration, and testing strategies.

ThemeProvider truly shines in its ability to ensure design consistency across an application, making global style changes easier and providing a way to switch between different themes dynamically. It's a testament to the flexibility and power that React and styled-components bring to the table, enabling developers to create more robust, maintainable, and user-friendly applications.

While ThemeProvider is a great tool for managing themes in your React applications, there's always room for improvement and optimization in the development process. This is where tools like WiseGPT come into play.

WiseGPT, developed by DhiWise, is a plugin that generates code for APIs directly into your React project. It's not just about generating any code, but code that mirrors your style, making it seamlessly blend into your project. It's designed to handle everything from creating models and functions to managing API requests, response parsing, and error strategies, effectively eliminating the manual work involved in dealing with complicated API endpoints.

As we conclude, I encourage you to explore ThemeProvider further and see how it can improve your React applications. And while you're at it, consider trying out WiseGPT to see how it can streamline your development process. Remember, the best tools are those that not only solve your problems but also fit seamlessly into your workflow. Happy coding!

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