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What are controlled and/or uncontrolled inputs in React.js

Doing forms in React.js are one of those things that can be a little anoying

This lesson is more about how to work with inputs in react than what is a controlled input its better to explain the reasons we need it and why controlled inputs is considered the best approach in React.js applications.

Inputs in Vanilla.js simple Javascript

If you want to retrieve an input value in simple Javascript/HTML you can do something like this:

// Asuming you have this input with the ID=first_name:
<input type="text" id="first_name" /> 

// With javascript you can use:
const value = document.querySelector('#first_name').value;

But with React the solution is not that simple; the only way to keep data that may change over time inside react components are using the famous state.

What is a Controlled Input

A controlled input is just another input with the difference that the value of it is in sync with the state of a component, something like this:

const AnyComponent = () => {
    const [inputValue, setInputValue ] = useState('');
    
    return <input type="text" onChange={e => setInputValue(e.target.value)} value={inputValue} />
}

When you use the input property onChange together with the property value you are basically forcing the input's value to be completely in two-way sync with the hooked state variable inputValue.

  1. If the onChange function gets called => the inputValue will be updated.
  2. If the inputValue variable gets updated => the input will also change its value.

Why use controlled inputs?

A controlled is not the only way to access and/or update the value of an input, you can also use the useRef hook and try to manipulate the input the traditional way, using DOM, but long term, it will end up being more complicated and harder to maintain that controlled inputs.

Also, a controlled input gives you many additional benefits like immediate access to the input value for validations, an instant update of the input, etc.

Validating Inputs in React with controlled inputs

Once your controlled input is ready, the validations are simple because now you have the inputValue variable at your disposal; for example, if you want to validate that the input is not empty when a button is clicked, you can do something like this:

const AnyComponent = () => {
    const [inputValue, setInputValue ] = useState('');
    
    const validateInput = () => {
      if(inputValue === "") alert("The input cannot be empty"));
    }
    return <div>
        <input type="text" onChange={e => setInputValue(e.target.value)} value={inputValue} />
        <button onClick={validateInput}
    </div>;
}

You can see a live example here:

Click to expand