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Embracing the New World Order of Server Components

☕☕☕☕☕ 8 min read Embracing the New World Order of Server Components

Web development is a rapidly changing field, with new technologies and frameworks being introduced all the time. It can be challenging to keep up with the latest trends and best practices, but attending events like the recent discussion with Dan Abramov, Ryan Carniato, Sophie Alpert, and others can provide valuable insights into the latest developments.

As someone who contributes to OSS, I found the discussion to be particularly interesting and informative.

From the power of stateless React components to competing patterns and the future of web development, there were many fascinating topics covered. The React team’s delicate balance was also discussed as well as the challenges of teaching server components and the future of them.

The discussion was a pleasure to be a part of, and the collaboration between Dan and Ryan was inspiring. Regardless of whether you’re a React user or not, the developments in the world of React Server Components and Astro components are worth taking note of, as they will undoubtedly shape the future of web development.

In fact, I have compiled a list of my top takeaways from the event.

The Power of Stateless React Components

Stateless components are those that do not manage their own state and instead rely on receiving data through props from parent components. These components can be utilized in server components, running on the server, or imported into client components to run on the client-side. This versatile authoring experience, referred to as “knitting” by Dan, allows for smooth code movement across different boundaries.

Both RSCs and Astro components adopt a server-only mental model, which enables the usage of “top-level await” for data fetching on the server side with Astro, and an async function as a React Server Component.The fetched data can be utilized in two different ways, depending on the situation. First, it can be directly serialized and passed to client components as props, integrating data fetching within the component tree itself. This allows for seamless data management within your application.

Alternatively, you can also choose to render a server component directly, which will send HTML to the browser with the data already incorporated. This method is particularly useful when you want to optimize performance and reduce the amount of JavaScript sent to the client, as the server takes care of rendering the component with the fetched data.

To clarify, a stateless component:

  1. Does not manage its own state.
  2. Relies on receiving data through props from parent components.
  3. Can be used in server components or imported into client components.

Competing Patterns and the Future of Web Development

Although RSCs are becoming increasingly popular, the loader/action pattern, championed by Remix Run, SvelteKit, and SolidStart, still has a prominent place in web development. This is because the loader/action pattern has been around for longer and has a proven track record of success.

It is worth noting that just as JSX couldn’t completely replace other templating languages, RSCs will not fully replace the loader/action pattern. While RSCs offer many benefits such as seamless code movement across boundaries and support for top-level await for data fetching on the server, the loader/action pattern provides developers with greater control over data fetching and caching in their applications.

Loaders are responsible for fetching data and preparing it for the components, while actions handle client-side logic, such as user interactions and updating data. This separation of concerns enables more precise control over how data is fetched, manipulated, and cached, allowing for better optimization and customization.

For a deeper understanding of the loader/action pattern, you can refer to the following resources:

  1. Remix Run Documentation
  2. SvelteKit Load Function & SvelteKit Actions
  3. Solid Start Data Fetching & Solid Start Actions

React Server Components and the RSC Protocol

The RSC protocol enables the server to expose a special endpoint that clients can use to request a part of the component tree. The server then generates, serializes, and sends the requested part back to the client. This process allows for a SPA-like routing experience within an MPA-like architecture.

In other words, you can create a fast MPA that feels like an SPA because you don’t need to send a large amount of JavaScript code all the time, and you can also navigate without a full page reload. This approach combines the best of both worlds, offering the smooth navigation of an SPA while maintaining the performance and efficiency of an MPA.

The React Team’s Delicate Balance

The React team, like any team in charge of a popular software library, must carefully balance their desire to excite their audience with new features with the need to deliver a reliable and consistent product.

On one hand, early promotion of new features can generate buzz and excitement, and can help the team get feedback and improve the product. However, the team must also take into account the risk of changing the implementation later, which can cause confusion and frustration among users who were expecting a different behavior.

On the other hand, waiting for a more confident delivery can help ensure that the product is stable and consistent. However, this can also lead to a lack of excitement and engagement from the community, which can make it harder to get feedback and improve the product.

The React team must carefully weigh these considerations and find a balance that works for them and their users. This delicate balance requires skill, experience, and a deep understanding of both the technical and social aspects of software development.

Teaching Server Components

The most natural approach to teaching server components is to introduce them first, just as Astro components are taught before client-side interactivity. By starting with the basics of server components, students can gain a solid understanding of the underlying principles and architecture before diving into more complex topics.

There’s an alternate history where React started as a server-side component framework and only later added client-side functionality. In this alternate scenario, developers would have a more balanced understanding of both server-side and client-side components from the beginning, making it easier to grasp the full potential of the React ecosystem. But unfortunately that isn’t the case.

React Ecosystem and Suspense

React’s implementation of Suspense and related features (transition, use) came later in the development process, which led to some popular libraries not initially adopting Suspense. This happened because the React team was focused on other areas of the library during the early stages of development. While this approach allowed the team to build a strong foundation for React, it also meant that routers and data fetching solutions weren’t built on top of these primitives.

This left the ecosystem in a tricky spot compared to Solid, a similar library, where everyone built on top of Suspense from the beginning. Therefore, React developers had to find workarounds and alternative solutions to achieve similar functionality. Popular libraries that emerged as a result include React Query, which Suspense support is currently experimental, SWR, another library for data fetching and caching without Suspense, and Apollo Client, a state management library for React applications using GraphQL that also has Suspense in an experimental alpha.

As React continues to evolve and Suspense becomes more widely adopted, it is possible that these libraries may integrate Suspense in the future or that new libraries built on top of Suspense will emerge.

The Future of React Server Components

React Server Components are a hot topic among developers at the moment. Although there are some challenges that the React team is currently facing, such as the potential for slow server rendering times and the need for frameworks to implement the new features, there is a lot of excitement around what this technology can do for the future of web development.

While there is still some uncertainty around how widely these new features will be adopted, the React team remains optimistic. As more developers begin to experiment with them and explore their capabilities, it is likely that we will see more widespread adoption in the community. Overall, the future of React Server Components looks bright, and we can’t wait to see what developers will create with this exciting new technology.

References & Credits

Huge thanks to the following people for proofreading the article and giving new ideas.