Context

Context provides a way to pass data through the component tree without having to pass props down manually at every level.

In a typical React application, data is passed top-down (parent to child) via props, but this can be cumbersome for certain types of props (e.g. locale preference, UI theme) that are required by many components within an application. Context provides a way to share values like this between components without having to explicitly pass a prop through every level of the tree.

When to Use Context

Context is designed to share data that can be considered “global” for a tree of React components, such as the current authenticated user, theme, or preferred language. For example, in the code below we manually thread through a “theme” prop in order to style the Button component:

function ThemedButton(props) {
  return <Button theme={props.theme} />;
}

// An intermediate component
function Toolbar(props) {
  // The Toolbar component must take an extra theme prop
  // and pass it to the ThemedButton
  return (
    <div>
      <ThemedButton theme={props.theme} />
    </div>
  );
}

class App extends React.Component {
  render() {
    return <Toolbar theme="dark" />;
  }
}

Using context, we can avoid passing props through intermediate elements:

// Create a theme context, defaulting to light theme
const ThemeContext = React.createContext('light');

function ThemedButton(props) {
  // The ThemedButton receives the theme from context
  return (
    <ThemeContext.Consumer>
      {theme => <Button {...props} theme={theme} />}
    </ThemeContext.Consumer>
  );
}

// An intermediate component
function Toolbar(props) {
  return (
    <div>
      <ThemedButton />
    </div>
  );
}

class App extends React.Component {
  render() {
    return (
      <ThemeContext.Provider value="dark">
        <Toolbar />
      </ThemeContext.Provider>
    );
  }
}

Note

Don’t use context just to avoid passing props a few levels down. Stick to cases where the same data needs to accessed in many components at multiple levels.

API

React.createContext

const {Provider, Consumer} = React.createContext(defaultValue);

Creates a { Provider, Consumer } pair.

Optionally accepts a default value to be passed to Consumers without a Provider ancestor.

Provider

<Provider value={/* some value */}>

A React component that allows Consumers to subscribe to context changes.

Accepts a value prop to be passed to Consumers that are descendants of this Provider. One Provider can be connected to many Consumers. Providers can be nested to override values deeper within the tree.

Consumer

<Consumer>
  {value => /* render something based on the context value */}
</Consumer>

A React component that subscribes to context changes.

Requires a function as a child. The function receives the current context value and returns a React node. All consumers are re-rendered whenever the Provider value changes. Changes are determined by comparing the new and old values using the same algorithm as Object.is. (This can cause some issues when passing objects as value: see Caveats.)

Note

For more information about this pattern, see render props.

Examples

Dynamic Context

A more complex example with dynamic values for the theme:

theme-context.js

export const themes = {
  light: {
    foreground: '#ffffff',
    background: '#222222',
  },
  dark: {
    foreground: '#000000',
    background: '#eeeeee',
  },
};

export const ThemeContext = React.createContext(
  themes.dark // default value
);

themed-button.js

import {ThemeContext} from './theme-context';

function ThemedButton(props) {
  return (
    <ThemeContext.Consumer>
      {theme => (
        <button
          {...props}
          style={{backgroundColor: theme.background}}
        />
      )}
    </ThemeContext.Consumer>
  );
}

export default ThemedButton;

app.js

import {ThemeContext, themes} from './theme-context';
import ThemedButton from './button';

// An intermediate component that uses the ThemedButton
function Toolbar(props) {
  return (
    <ThemedButton onClick={props.changeTheme}>
      Change Theme
    </ThemedButton>
  );
}

class App extends React.Component {
  constructor(props) {
    this.state = {
      theme: themes.light,
    };

    this.toggleTheme = () => {
      this.setState(state => ({
        theme:
          state.theme === themes.dark
            ? themes.light
            : themes.dark,
      }));
    };
  }

  render() {
    // The ThemedButton button inside the ThemeProvider
    // uses the theme from state while the one outside uses
    // the default dark theme
    return (
      <Page>
        <ThemeContext.Provider value={this.state.theme}>
          <Toolbar changeTheme={this.toggleTheme} />
        </ThemeContext.Provider>
        <Section>
          <ThemedButton />
        </Section>
      </Page>
    );
  }
}

ReactDOM.render(<App />, document.root);

Consuming Multiple Contexts

To keep context re-rendering fast, React needs to make each context consumer a separate node in the tree.

// Theme context, default to light theme
const ThemeContext = React.createContext('light');

// Signed-in user context
const UserContext = React.createContext();

// An intermediate component that depends on both contexts
function Toolbar(props) {
  return (
    <ThemeContext.Consumer>
      {theme => (
        <UserContext.Consumer>
          {user => (
            <ProfilePage user={user} theme={theme} />
          )}
        </UserContext.Consumer>
      )}
    </ThemeContext.Consumer>
  );
}

class App extends React.Component {
  render() {
    const {signedInUser, theme} = this.props;

    // App component that provides initial context values
    return (
      <ThemeContext.Provider value={theme}>
        <UserContext.Provider value={signedInUser}>
          <Toolbar />
        </UserContext.Provider>
      </ThemeContext.Provider>
    );
  }
}

If two or more context values are often used together, you might want to consider creating your own render prop component that provides both.

Accessing Context in Lifecycle Methods

Accessing values from context in lifecycle methods is a relatively common use case. Instead of adding context to every lifecycle method, you just need to pass it as a prop, and then work with it just like you’d normally work with a prop.

class Button extends React.Component {
  componentDidMount() {
    // ThemeContext value is this.props.theme
  }

  componentDidUpdate(prevProps, prevState) {
    // Previous ThemeContext value is prevProps.theme
    // New ThemeContext value is this.props.theme
  }

  render() {
    const {theme, children} = this.props;
    return (
      <button className={theme ? 'dark' : 'light'}>
        {children}
      </button>
    );
  }
}

export default props => (
  <ThemeContext.Consumer>
    {theme => <Button {...props} theme={theme} />}
  </ThemeContext.Consumer>
);

Consuming Context with a HOC

Some types of contexts are consumed by many components (e.g. theme or localization). It can be tedious to explicitly wrap each dependency with a <Context.Consumer> element. A higher-order component can help with this.

For example, a button component might consume a theme context like so:

const ThemeContext = React.createContext('light');

function ThemedButton(props) {
  return (
    <ThemeContext.Consumer>
      {theme => <button className={theme} {...props} />}
    </ThemeContext.Consumer>
  );
}

That’s alright for a few components, but what if we wanted to use the theme context in a lot of places?

We could create a higher-order component called withTheme:

const ThemeContext = React.createContext('light');

// This function takes a component...
export function withTheme(Component) {
  // ...and returns another component...
  return function ThemedComponent(props) {
    // ... and renders the wrapped component with the context theme!
    // Notice that we pass through any additional props as well
    return (
      <ThemeContext.Consumer>
        {theme => <Component {...props} theme={theme} />}
      </ThemeContext.Consumer>
    );
  };
}

Now any component that depends on the theme context can easy subscribe to it using the withTheme function we’ve created:

function Button({theme, ...rest}) {
  return <button className={theme} {...rest} />;
}

const ThemedButton = withTheme(Button);

Forwarding Refs to Context Consumers

One issue with the render prop API is that refs don’t automatically get passed to wrapped elements. To get around this, use React.forwardRef:

fancy-button.js

class FancyButton extends React.Component {
  focus() {
    // ...
  }

  // ...
}

// Use context to pass the current "theme" to FancyButton.
// Use forwardRef to pass refs to FancyButton as well.
export default React.forwardRef((props, ref) => (
  <ThemeContext.Consumer>
    {theme => <Button {...props} theme={theme} ref={ref} />}
  </ThemeContext.Consumer>
));

app.js

import FancyButton from './fancy-button';

const ref = React.createRef();

// Our ref will point to the FancyButton component,
// And not the ThemeContext.Consumer that wraps it.
// This means we can call FancyButton methods like ref.current.focus()
<FancyButton ref={ref} onClick={handleClick}>
  Click me!
</FancyButton>;

Caveats

Because context uses reference identity to determine when to re-render, there are some gotchas that could trigger unintentional renders in consumers when a provider’s parent re-renders. For example, the code below will re-render all consumers every time the Provider re-renders because a new object is always created for value:

class App extends React.Component {
  render() {
    return (
      <Provider value={{something: 'something'}}>
        <Toolbar />
      </Provider>
    );
  }
}

To get around this, lift the value into the parent’s state:

class App extends React.Component {
  constructor(props) {
    this.state = {
      value: {something: 'something'},
    };
  }

  render() {
    return (
      <Provider value={this.state.value}>
        <Toolbar />
      </Provider>
    );
  }
}

Legacy API

Note

React previously shipped with an experimental context API. The old API will be supported in all 16.x releases, but applications using it should migrate to the new version. The legacy API will be removed in a future major React version. Read the legacy context docs here.