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The Power of DOM Elements in React: Everything You Need to Know

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Rakesh Purohit

ReactJS Developer Advocate
September 1, 2023

Rakesh Purohit

September 1, 2023

Hello there, fellow developers! Today, we're going to dive deep into the world of frontend web development, specifically focusing on understanding and manipulating DOM elements. This topic is crucial for anyone who wants to create dynamic, responsive, and user-friendly web interfaces. So, let's get started!

What are DOM Elements?

DOM stands for Document Object Model. It's a programming interface for HTML and XML documents. It represents the structure of a document and allows programs to manipulate the document's content, structure, and styles. Each part of the document, such as elements and attributes, is represented in the DOM as a node. These nodes are organized in a tree structure, with the 'document' node at the root.

An example of a DOM element could be an HTML element like <p>, <div>, <input>, etc. These elements, when parsed by the browser, become part of the DOM tree and are referred to as "DOM elements" or "DOM nodes".

In the above example, <html>, <body>, <h1>, and <p> are all DOM elements.

The Three Parts of DOM

The DOM can be divided into three parts:

Core DOM

This provides a standard model for any structured document and data manipulation.


This extends the Core DOM to offer additional features for manipulating XML documents.


This extends both Core and XML DOM to provide features specifically for manipulating HTML documents.

Understanding DOM Elements in React

React, a popular JavaScript library for building user interfaces, introduces another layer of abstraction over the DOM called the "Virtual DOM". React elements are lightweight descriptions of what to render, and React DOM takes care of updating the DOM to match these React elements.

However, there are times when you might need to interact with the underlying DOM elements in your React app. This is where React's ref attribute comes in handy. It allows you to get direct access to a DOM element or an instance of a component (for managing focus, text selection, or triggering imperative animations, for instance).

In the above example, myRef is created using React.createRef() and attached to the input element in the render method. When the component mounts, we can access the input DOM element and call the focus method on it.

Accessing DOM Elements in React

There are several ways to access DOM elements in React:

  1. Using Refs: The most common way to access DOM nodes in React is by using refs. Refs provide a way to access DOM nodes or React elements created in the render method.
  2. Using Callback Refs: Instead of passing a ref attribute created by createRef(), you pass a function. The function receives the React component instance or HTML DOM element as its argument, which can be stored and accessed elsewhere.
  3. Using the findDOMNode() Method: This is an escape hatch used to access the underlying DOM node. However, it's worth noting that this method is considered legacy and its use is discouraged in strict mode.

Manipulating DOM Elements in React

Once you have access to the underlying DOM elements in your React components, you can manipulate them in various ways. For instance, you can change their properties, call methods on them, or even pass them to third-party DOM libraries.

Here's an example of how you can manipulate a DOM element in React:

In the above example, we're changing the background color of a div element to light blue when the component mounts.

Wrapping Up

Understanding and manipulating DOM elements is a crucial skill for any frontend web developer. Whether you're working with plain JavaScript or using a library like React, being able to interact with the DOM effectively can help you create more dynamic, responsive, and user-friendly web interfaces.

While working with DOM elements in React, remember to use refs sparingly. They can be handy for certain tasks, but they can also make your code harder to understand, maintain, and debug. Always look for alternatives before resorting to direct DOM manipulation.

Speaking of making your development process easier, have you heard of WiseGPT? It's a promptless Generative AI for React developers that write code in your style without context limit. It also provides API integration by accepting Postman collection and supports extending UI in the VSCode itself. It's like having a pair of extra hands helping you code. Definitely worth checking out!

That's it for today, folks! I hope this deep dive into understanding and manipulating DOM elements has been helpful. Keep exploring, keep learning, and as always, happy coding!

Frequently asked questions

Frequently asked questions

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