JSX overview

November 17, 2020

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Photo by Ferenc Almasi on Unsplash

This post is about JSX in React. We will take a closer look at what it is and what are some of its basic aspects that we should be aware of.

What is JSX?

JSX (JavaScript XML) is a syntax that helps us write views in React. The output of JSX is called an element:

const element = <p>The mean diameter of the Moon is 3474.8 km</p>;

This examplary element consists of a paragraph containing a text. At first glance it looks like plain HTML string, but after closer examination we can see there are no quotes enclosing it. That’s JSX.

React uses Babel to transpile JSX to a JavaScript function call. We will take a look at it later in this article, but firstly let’s see what some key JSX aspects that we should be aware of.

JavaScript expressions within JSX

One of the superpowers of JSX is that it can contain any valid JavaScript expression. As a reminder - expression is a snippet of code that evaluates to a value. Let’s see an example:

const yearElement = <div>Current year is: {new Date().getFullYear()}</div>;

Here we have a JSX that holds a string Current year is: followed by a JavaScript expression. Expressions in JSX must be contained within curly braces. In this example the expression creates a new Date object instance and calls its method to get a year. So at the end the content within <div> will be rendered as Current year is: 2020.

Important thing to be aware is that the JavaScript code within JSX is not some new special syntax added on top of HTML. We are using a standard JavaScript expressions here.

JSX as an expression

Another useful aspect of JSX is that we can use it as an expression too. This gives us much flexibility. See following example:

function wrapWithDiv(element) {
  return <div>{element}</div>;

const btn = <button>Click</button>;
const wrappedBtn = wrapWithDiv(btn);

Here the JSX expression is assigned to a btn constant. Then we are using this constant as an argument to a function. This function wraps our JSX element with a <div> and returns another JSX element. Thus the value of wrappedBtn will be <div><button>Click</button></div>.

We can also use JSX in loops or conditionals. Here is a snippet demonstrating usage of JSX in a ternary operator:

class ClickButton extends React.Component {
  constructor(props) {
    this.state = {
      clicked: false,

  render() {
    return this.state.clicked ? <p>Already clicked</p> : <button>Click</button>;

In this example, depending on the state of the component we either return a button or a paragraph.

Attributes/props in JSX

To add an attribute/prop to element we are using name-value pairs, similarly as in normal HTML.

If we want the value to be a string, we need to enclose it with quotes. If we want to add an expression as a value, we need to enclose it with curly braces. See example below:

  cities={["New York", "Beijing", "Nairobi", "Helsinki"]}
  options={{ temperature: true, humidity: false, rain: true }}

First attribute value is passed as string. Rest are expressions with boolean, number, array and an object respectively.

Because JSX is transpiled to JavaScript function, some standard attribute names, e.g. class or for, are not valid. In this case we need to use className or htmlFor. The attribute names should be written using camelCase convention.

Additionally, React introduces few new attributes that are not present in normal DOM. One of this attributes is key which is used within dynamically generated lists.

Transpiling JSX to a function

As mentioned in the first section, React uses Babel to transpile JSX to a JavaScript function call:

React.createElement(type, props, children);

First argument should be an HTML tag name or a React component. Second should be an object containing properties/attributes (null if none). Last argument expects the content of the element. It can also be another element or a null if there is no content to be added.

As an example, here is some JSX element definition:

<article className="blogpost" show={true}>
  Really interesting content

And here is the corresponding function call:

    className: "blogpost",
    show: true,
  "Really interesting content"

Such call results with an object that represents the element. Under the hood React uses these objects for DOM operations. Here is the object returned from our example function call:

  "type": "article",
  "key": null,
  "ref": null,
  "props": {
    "className": "blogpost",
    "show": true,
    "children": "Really interesting content"
  "_owner": null,
  "_store": {}

JSX is optional

Using JSX is is not required in React. All elements can be written by using the createElement() function directly. JSX is only a syntactic sugar that allows us to write elements easily.

Written by Marcin Kapica