What is JSX?

Hritika Agarwal
5 min readAug 25, 2020

Take a look at the following line of code:

const h1 = <h1>Hello world</h1>;

What kind of weird hybrid code is that? Is it JavaScript? HTML? Or something else?

It seems like it must be JavaScript, since it starts with const and ends with ;. If you tried to run that in an HTML file, it wouldn’t work.

However, the code also contains <h1>Hello world</h1>, which looks exactly like HTML. That part wouldn’t work if you tried to run it in a JavaScript file.

What’s going on?

The answer is…a JavaScript file! Despite what it looks like, your code doesn’t actually contain any HTML at all.

The part that looks like HTML, <h1>Hello world</h1>, is something called JSX.

JSX is a syntax extension for JavaScript. It was written to be used with React. JSX code looks a lot like HTML.

What does “syntax extension” mean?

In this case, it means that JSX is not valid JavaScript. Web browsers can’t read it!

If a JavaScript file contains JSX code, then that file will have to be compiled. That means that before the file reaches a web browser, a JSX compiler will translate any JSX into regular JavaScript.

JSX Elements

A basic unit of JSX is called a JSX element.

Here’s an example of a JSX element:

<h1>Hello world</h1>

This JSX element looks exactly like HTML! The only noticeable difference is that you would find it in a JavaScript file, instead of in an HTML file.

JSX elements are treated as JavaScript expressions. They can go anywhere that JavaScript expressions can go.

That means that a JSX element can be saved in a variable, passed to a function, stored in an object or array…you name it.

Here’s an example of a JSX element being saved in a variable:

const navBar = <nav>I am a nav bar</nav>;

Here’s an example of several JSX elements being stored in an object:

const myTeam = {
center: <li>Benzo Walli</li>,
powerForward: <li>Rasha Loa</li>,
smallForward: <li>Tayshaun Dasmoto</li>,
shootingGuard: <li>Colmar Cumberbatch</li>,
pointGuard: <li>Femi Billon</li>
};

Attributes In JSX

JSX elements can have attributes, just like HTML elements can.

A JSX attribute is written using HTML-like syntax: a name, followed by an equals sign, followed by a value. The value should be wrapped in quotes, like this:

my-attribute-name="my-attribute-value"

Here are some JSX elements with attributes:

<a href="http://www.example.com">Welcome to the Web</a>;const title = <h1 id="title">Introduction to React.js</h1>;

A single JSX element can have many attributes, just like in HTML:

const panda = <img src="images/panda.jpg" alt="panda" width="500px" height="500px" />;

Nested JSX

You can nest JSX elements inside of other JSX elements, just like in HTML.

Here’s an example of a JSX <h1> element, nested inside of a JSX <a> element:

<a href="https://www.example.com"><h1>Click me!</h1></a>

To make this more readable, you can use HTML-style line breaks and indentation:

<a href="https://www.example.com">
<h1>
Click me!
</h1>
</a>

If a JSX expression takes up more than one line, then you must wrap the multi-line JSX expression in parentheses. This looks strange at first, but you get used to it:

(
<a href="https://www.example.com">
<h1>
Click me!
</h1>
</a>
)

Nested JSX expressions can be saved as variables, passed to functions, etc., just like non-nested JSX expressions can! Here’s an example of a nested JSX expression being saved as a variable:

const theExample = (
<a href="https://www.example.com">
<h1>
Click me!
</h1>
</a>
);

JSX Outer Elements

There’s a rule that we haven’t mentioned: a JSX expression must have exactly one outermost element.

In other words, this code will work:

const paragraphs = (
<div id="i-am-the-outermost-element">
<p>I am a paragraph.</p>
<p>I, too, am a paragraph.</p>
</div>
);

But this code will not work:

const paragraphs = (
<p>I am a paragraph.</p>
<p>I, too, am a paragraph.</p>
);

The first opening tag and the final closing tag of a JSX expression must belong to the same JSX element!

It’s easy to forget about this rule, and end up with errors that are tough to diagnose.

If you notice that a JSX expression has multiple outer elements, the solution is usually simple: wrap the JSX expression in a <div></div>.

Rendering JSX

You’ve learned how to write JSX elements! Now it’s time to learn how to render them.

To render a JSX expression means to make it appear onscreen.

import React from ‘react’;

import ReactDOM from ‘react-dom’;

// Copy code here:

ReactDOM.render(<h1>Hello world</h1>, document.getElementById(‘app’));

ReactDOM.render()

Let’s examine the code that you just wrote.

You can see something called ReactDOM. What’s that?

ReactDOM is the name of a JavaScript library. This library contains several React-specific methods, all of which deal with the DOM in some way or another.

We’ll talk more later about how ReactDOM got into your file. For now, just understand that it’s yours to use.

Move slightly to the right, and you can see one of ReactDOM‘s methods: ReactDOM.render().

ReactDOM.render() is the most common way to render JSX. It takes a JSX expression, creates a corresponding tree of DOM nodes, and adds that tree to the DOM. That is the way to make a JSX expression appear onscreen.

Move to the right a little more, and you come to this expression:

<h1>Hello world</h1>

This is the first argument being passed to ReactDOM.render(). ReactDOM.render()‘s first argument should be a JSX expression, and it will be rendered to the screen.

Move to the right a little more, and you will see this expression:

document.getElementById('app')

You just learned that ReactDOM.render() makes its first argument appear onscreen. But where on the screen should that first argument appear?

The first argument is appended to whatever element is selected by the second argument.

In the code editor, select index.html. See if you can find an element that would be selected by document.getElementById('app').

That element acted as a container for ReactDOM.render()‘s first argument! At the end of the previous exercise, this appeared on the screen:

<main id="app">
<h1>Render me!</h1> {html file - index.html}
</main>

Lets See an Example-:

(html File)

<!DOCTYPE html>

<html lang=”en”>

<head>

<meta charset=”utf-8">

<link rel=”stylesheet” href=”/styles.css”>

<title>Learn ReactJS</title>

</head>

<body>

<main id=”app”></main>

<script src=”https://s3.amazonaws.com/codecademy-content/courses/React/react-course-bundle.min.js"></script>

<script src=”/app.compiled.js”></script>

</body>

</html>

(Javascript File)

import React from ‘react’;

import ReactDOM from ‘react-dom’;

// Write code here:

ReactDOM.render(<h1>Render me!</h1>, document.getElementById(‘app’));

Passing a Variable to ReactDOM.render()

ReactDOM.render()‘s first argument should evaluate to a JSX expression, it doesn’t have to literally be a JSX expression.

The first argument could also be a variable, so long as that variable evaluates to a JSX expression.

In this example, we save a JSX expression as a variable named toDoList. We then pass toDoList as the first argument to ReactDOM.render():

const toDoList = (
<ol>
<li>Learn React</li>
<li>Become a Developer</li>
</ol>
);
ReactDOM.render(
toDoList,
document.getElementById('app')
);

The Virtual DOM

One special thing about ReactDOM.render() is that it only updates DOM elements that have changed.

That means that if you render the exact same thing twice in a row, the second render will do nothing:

const hello = <h1>Hello world</h1>;// This will add "Hello world" to the screen:ReactDOM.render(hello, document.getElementById('app'));// This won't do anything at all:ReactDOM.render(hello, document.getElementById('app'));

This is significant! Only updating the necessary DOM elements is a large part of what makes React so successful.

React accomplishes this thanks to something called the virtual DOM. Before moving on to the end of the lesson, read this article about the Virtual DOM.

Read Next- Some Advanced Concepts of JSX

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