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Easily create controllable components

If you've worked with forms in ReactJS, you're probably familiar with the idea of controlled and uncontrolled components. Put simply, controlled components have their state controlled by another component whereas uncontrolled components manage their own state. It turns out that this idea can be really useful for custom components too.

Use Case

Imagine you've designed a TabBar component. When you click on a tab, it becomes selected and the other tabs in the bar become deselected. The selected tab is stored as state in the component. (As a pleasant side-effect, this makes it nice and easy to demo in isolation.)

Everything is fine until one day when the designer of your site decides to add another component to the page that also changes the selected tab. Now you've got a problem: you need to hoist the state to a higher level so it can be shared between the two components.

Instead of ripping out the state management from your TabBar component (which would make it impossible to play with the component on a page by itself), make it controllable.


  1. Write a "dumb" component that doesn't manage its state at all but accepts one or more props and corresponding onPROPNAMEChange callbacks.
  2. Use controllable to create a higher-order component from the dumb one.

Note: There's one exception to the onPROPNAMEChange convention: if the prop name is "value," the callback will be simply "onChange". This is done to match the conventions in React itself.

Note: react-controllables used to be implemented with a mixin and have a different (more complicated!) usage. The mixin is still included at react-controllables/mixin (or Controllables.Mixin in the standalone build) but deprecated. Switch!


We'll use our TabBar example and represent the selection as an integer using the selectedTabIndex prop.

class TabBar extends React.Component {

  render() {
    var selectedTabIndex = this.props.selectedTabIndex;
    return (
      <ul onClick={ this.handleClick.bind(this) }>
        <li className={ selectedTabIndex == 0 ? 'selected' : '' }>Tab Zero!</li>
        <li className={ selectedTabIndex == 1 ? 'selected' : '' }>Tab One!</li>
        <li className={ selectedTabIndex == 2 ? 'selected' : '' }>Tab Two!</li>

  handleClick(event) {
    // Call the `onSelectedTabIndexChange` callback with the new value.
    if (!this.props.onSelectedTabIndexChange) return;
    var el = event.target;
    var index = Array.prototype.indexOf.call(el.parentNode.children, el);


TabBar.defaultProps = {selectedTabIndex: 0};

TabBar.propTypes = {
  selectedTabIndex: PropTypes.number.isRequired,
  onSelectedTabIndexChange: PropTypes.func,

Next, use the controllable util to create a higher-order component, telling it which props you want to be managed.

import controllable from 'react-controllables';
TabBar = controllable(TabBar, ['selectedTabIndex']);

We now have a TabBar component that can store its own state OR be controlled! Just use it like normal:

<TabBar />

We can specify a value for it to start with using defaultPROPNAME:

<TabBar defaultSelectedTabIndex={ 2 } />

Or we can make it a controlled component and manage the state at a higher level:

  selectedTabIndex={ indexFromSomewhereElse }
  onSelectedTabIndexChange={ handler } />

Unlike React inputs, components built with react-controllables can't really be said to be either "controlled" or "uncontrolled" generally. That's because a single component can have both controlled and uncontrolled values. For example, consider this variation of our TabBar:

TabBar = controllable(TabBar, ['selectedTabIndex', 'color']);

We could have both "selectedTabIndex" and "color" be controlled:

<TabBar selectedTabIndex={ 2 } color="blue" />

Or neither:

<TabBar defaultSelectedTabIndex={ 2 } />

(Remember, default values don't make a component controlled, they just set the initial internal state.)

Or only one!

<TabBar color="blue" />

Decorator Support

The react-controllables API is also designed to work with JavaScript decorator proposal. Decorators provide a very elegant way to use react-controllables (and higher-order components in general) if you're using a transpiler that supports them, like Babel 5.0 or greater:

@controllable(['selectedTabIndex', 'color'])
class TabBar extends React.Component {

  // [SNIP] Body same as above.