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React useCallback & useMemo use cases

Examples for when using the useCallback and useMemo React Hooks are helpful in reducing component re-renders

October 10, 2021 · 8 min read

I went a long while writing React with Hooks without using the useCallback() or useMemo() Hooks. And even now I still hardly use useMemo(). So that’s all to say that we can build perfectly fine React applications without knowing or using either Hook.

However, I’m frequently asked to explain when and why we would use useCallback() or useMemo() so I figured I might as well take some time to explain when I use them most frequently. Pretty much it comes down to maintaining referential (strict) equality in the dependencies of Hooks, or avoiding recalculating expensive computations.


useCallback()

I’ve written a number of React posts about custom Hooks that have used useCallback() in their code:

(just to name a few 😉)

The last post gives the option of using useCallback() when we have an internal helper function that needs to be used within useEffect().

const Example = () => {
  const [count, setCount] = useState(0)
  const [showMessage, setShowMessage] = useState(true)

  // inner helper function that will be called w/in `useEffect()`
  const hideMessage = () => {    if (count < 10) {      setShowMessage(false)    }  }
  useEffect(() => {
    window
      .fetch('https://api.benmvp.com/')
      .then((res) => res.json())
      .then((data) => {
        if (data.success) {
          // ⚠️ not including `hideMessage()` in the dependencies of
          // `useEffect()` is a lurking bug and will trigger the
          // `react-hooks/exhaustive-deps` ESLint rule
          hideMessage()        }
      })
  }, [])
  return (
    <div>
      {showMessage && <p>You clicked {count} times</p>}
      <button onClick={() => setCount(count + 1)}>Click me</button>
    </div>
  )
}

You should totally read through the post if you want to fully understand the problem. But because hideMessage() is defined within the Example component, we can’t just add it to the dependencies of useEffect() because it gets redefined with every render of Example. As a result, the useEffect() Hook will be run on every re-render which we don’t want.

You see, useEffect() compares the values of the items in the dependencies array before and after to see if it should re-run the effect. And for complex values like objects, arrays, or functions it uses referential (strict) equality. It uses === to compare each of the values before and after. And in order for a function to === another function, it has to be the exact same reference to the function. A re-declaration of the function will not ===.

Wrapping hideMessage in useCallback() is one option to fix this problem.

const Example = () => {
  const [count, setCount] = useState(0)
  const [showMessage, setShowMessage] = useState(true)

  // 👍🏾 The reference of `hideMessage()` will only change if/when
  // the value of `count` changes
  const hideMessage = useCallback(() => {    if (count < 10) {      setShowMessage(false)    }  }, [count])
  useEffect(() => {
    window
      .fetch('https://api.benmvp.com/')
      .then((res) => res.json())
      .then((data) => {
        if (data.success) {
          hideMessage()        }
      })
  }, [hideMessage])
  return (
    <div>
      {showMessage && <p>You clicked {count} times</p>}
      <button onClick={() => setCount(count + 1)}>Click me</button>
    </div>
  )
}

We can basically think of useCallback() as a cache of sorts. If it’s given the same count value, it’ll give us back the same function reference. Therefore if we re-render Example and count does not change, we’ll continue to receive the same exact reference for the hideMessage function. This in turn means that we won’t re-run the useEffect(), which is our ultimate goal.

In addition, because of this issue with functions in the dependencies of useEffect() (or even other useCallback() calls), when I create custom Hooks that return a function, I always wrap those in useCallback() as well.

const useCopyToClipboard = (text, notifyTimeout = 2500) => {
  const [copyStatus, setCopyStatus] = useState('inactive')

  // Wrap `copy()` in `useCallback()` just in case.
  // It becomes a "stable" reference like `setCopyStatus()`
  const copy = useCallback(() => {    navigator.clipboard.writeText(text).then(
      () => setCopyStatus('copied'),
      () => setCopyStatus('failed'),
    )
  }, [text])

  // reset the copy status after the `notifyTimeout` is finished
  useEffect(() => {
    if (copyStatus === 'inactive') {
      return
    }

    const timeoutId = setTimeout(() => setCopyStatus('inactive'), notifyTimeout)

    return () => clearTimeout(timeoutId)
  }, [copyStatus])

  return [copyStatus, copy]
}

The useCopyToClipboard() custom Hook provides a function that we can call to use the native Clipboard API as well as a string maintaining the copy status. The thing is that we don’t know how the copy() function will be used in the host component. If it’s being used within a useEffect() like in our previous Example component, it too will need to be added in the useEffect() dependencies.

Our useCopyToClipboard() custom Hook will be called every time the host component re-renders. And if useCopyToClipboard() didn’t wrap copy() in useCallback() it would return a new function reference every time. And as a result, the useEffect() dependencies would change every time, causing it the effect to re-run every time. That’s no good.

Wrapping the copy() function with useCallback() is similar to what useState() does with the updater function it returns. For instance, React guarantees that setCopyStatus() above is a stable reference.


useMemo()

The useMemo() Hook is very similar to useCallback() except that it memoizes any value, not just functions. Again, we can think of “memoization” as a cache. If we provide the same dependency values (i.e. the “cache key”), we’ll get the same value back.

I would use useMemo() in the same situations as above w/ useCallback(), i.e. when I have an object or array that will end up in the dependencies of useEffect().

const Example = () => {
  const [filter, setFilter] = useState('')
  // `filteredPlayers` is a derived array that is
  // recomputed on every re-render of `Example`
  const filteredPlayers = ALL_PLAYERS.filter((player) =>    player.name.includes(filter),  )
  useEffect(() => {
    window.fetch('https://api.benmvp.com/players/update', {
      method: 'POST',
      // ⚠️ not including `filteredPlayers` in the
      // dependencies is a lurking bug and will trigger
      // the `react-hooks/exhaustive-deps` ESLint rule,
      // but including it in the deps will also cause
      // the effect to run every re-render 😭
      body: JSON.stringify(filteredPlayers),    })
  }, [])
  return (
    <div>
      <input
        type="text"
        value={filter}
        onChange={(e) => setFilter(e.target.value)}
      />
    </div>
  )
}

By not including filteredPlayers in the useEffect() dependencies, when it does change we won’t make another POST API call, which is a bug. However, if we do add it to the dependencies, every time the component re-renders, we’ll make a POST API call, even if the filteredPlayers data actually hasn’t changed. This is because filteredPlayers is a derived value so it’s recalculated on every re-render.

By using the useMemo() Hook, we can “cache” the value of filteredPlayers for every filter value.

const Example = () => {
  const [filter, setFilter] = useState('')
  // "cache" `filteredPlayers` on every value of `filter`
  const filteredPlayers = useMemo(    () => ALL_PLAYERS.filter((player) => player.name.includes(filter)),    [filter],  )
  useEffect(() => {
    window.fetch('https://api.benmvp.com/players/update', {
      method: 'POST',
      body: JSON.stringify(filteredPlayers),    })
    // now the effect will only be called when `filter` changes because
    // that's the only time the `filteredPlayers` reference will change
  }, [filteredPlayers])
  return (
    <div>
      <input
        type="text"
        value={filter}
        onChange={(e) => setFilter(e.target.value)}
      />
    </div>
  )
}

So now, if filter remains the same, we’ll get back the same array reference for filteredPlayers. As a result the effect will not be re-run because filteredPlayers is the exact same reference as the previous render. But when filter does change, then filteredPlayers is recalculated and we have a new reference. As such, the effect will also be re-run.

Just as with useCallback() if I am returning a derived object or array from a custom Hook, I also use useMemo()in order to be a “good citizen.” I don’t know how the object/array will be used, so for safety, I wrap it in useMemo()

The other use case for useMemo() is to avoid expensive recalculations. Let’s say that in our example ALL_PLAYERS is a huge array (maybe 1000+ items). Even if we weren’t using filteredPlayers in a useEffect(), re-computing that filter every time Example is re-rendered could be expensive and have performance impacts. So using useMemo() once again caches the value so it’s only computed once per filter value.

I rarely use useMemo() in this case, though. I have yet to run into a case where this sort of performance optimization was needed. Unless the recalculation is super duper intensive and the component is being re-render many times per second, I’ve found that this optimization really isn’t needed. Using useMemo() isn’t free after all because of all the code that executes to support it. So it can actually hurt our performance when used unnecessarily.

By the way, I doubt this is how it’s actually implemented in React under the hood, but we can implement useCallback() with useMemo().

const useCallback = (func, deps) => {
  return useMemo(() => {
    return func
  }, deps)
}

Just a little nugget of information before you go. 😄


I try to use the useCallback() and useMemo() Hooks only when required, i.e. when they are being used as dependencies for useEffect() (or other useCallback() or useMemo() calls). I hardly use them for performance optimization purposes because I hardly run into situations where it’s necessary.

What other use cases do you use useCallback() or useMemo()? I’d love to hear about them so I can continue to improve my React development skills. Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter at @benmvp.

Keep learning my friends. 🤓

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Hi, I'm Ben Ilegbodu. 👋🏾

I'm a Christian, husband, and father of 3, with 15+ years of professional experience developing user interfaces for the Web. I'm a Principal Frontend Engineer at Stitch Fix, frontend development teacher, Google Developer Expert, and Microsoft MVP. I love helping developers level up their frontend skills.

Discuss on Twitter // Edit on GitHub