Building 3D web applications using Three.js

Anton Ioffe - October 3rd 2023 - 19 minutes read

In an ever-competitive digital world, delivering visually stunning, interactive web experiences is crucial. In order to equip you with the right tools for this task, we've put together a comprehensive guide on utilizing one of the most potent JavaScript libraries for realizing the potential of 3D in web development—Three.js. This deep-dive will not only introduce you to the power and core aspects of this library, but will also guide you through the process of building your very own 3D web applications.

This article goes beyond the basics, comparing Three.js with other WebGL frameworks and investigating its pros and cons, as well as the best practices for optimizing its performance. Whether you want to create appealing 3D models or integrate your Three.js projects with popular JavaScript frameworks such as React, Vue, or Angular, these sections are tailor-made for you.

As we delve deeper, we journey towards breaking boundaries with Three.js, exploring its potential in interactive 3D animations, virtual reality experiences, and gaming. This voyage is sure to inspire, complete with practical examples and thought-provoking future possibilities. So, fasten your seatbelts and ready your code editors, as we embark on an enriching tour through Three.js and the future of 3D web application development.

Introducing the Power of Three.js

In the realm of modern web development, 3D graphics rendering has evolved from being a complex, challenging endeavor to an accessible, efficient task, primarily thanks to powerful JavaScript libraries like Three.js. This open-source, cross-browser library offers a lightweight, intuitive API for creating and displaying 3D content in a web browser, leveraging the power of WebGL in an easier-to-use format.

As a robust framework for web 3D graphics, Three.js is immensely popular for its potential to create stunning, interactive 3D applications, games, and immersive VR experiences right in the browser. Essentially, it is a user-friendly gateway to WebGL, hiding the complexity of raw WebGL code underneath an approachable API to deliver high-quality, high-fidelity 3D content.

Three.js boasts several powerful features that cater to different developer needs. These include:

  1. Accessibility: With Three.js, developers with a basic understanding of JavaScript can create sophisticated 3D scenes without needing to master WebGL's more difficult elements. Everything can be manipulated using regular JavaScript objects, which makes the whole process of creating 3D content more uncomplicated.
let scene, camera, renderer;
function init() {
    scene = new THREE.Scene();
    camera = new THREE.PerspectiveCamera(75,window.innerWidth/window.innerHeight,0.1,1000);
    renderer = new THREE.WebGLRenderer({antialias: true});

In this snippet, the scene, camera, and renderer objects are all standard JavaScript objects, handling the brunt of the WebGL heavy lifting.

  1. Efficiency: Three.js is designed to be lightweight and efficient, which helps to ensure that the applications you create will run smoothly. Its efficient memory management and usage of WebGL techniques facilitate better performance.

  2. Versatility: Handling 3D graphics inside a web browser can be quite complex. Still, Three.js provides a platform capable enough to simplify the theoretical 3D concepts and provides the flexibility required by different projects, be it a simple rotating cube, an interactive game, or a fully immersive VR tour.

let geometry = new THREE.BoxGeometry(1, 1, 1);
let material = new THREE.MeshBasicMaterial({color: 0x00ff00});
let cube = new THREE.Mesh(geometry, material);

In this brief snippet, we're adding a simple 3D cube to our scene with a few trivial lines of code.

  1. Manifold Frameworks: Three.js provides the means to interact with other popular JavaScript libraries and frameworks. This compatibility lends a great deal of versatility and expansion, contributing to the library's wide-spread use.

  2. Community Support: The Three.js community has grown notably, consisting of developers eager to share their knowledge and expertise with others. This strong community support can be invaluable when starting out or tackling new challenges.

While these are indeed powerful features, it is prudent to understand that working with Three.js does require a sound knowledge of JavaScript and 3D mathematics. These abilities enable a developer to fully harness the power and versatility that Three.js offers. However, the richness and developers-friendly nature of this spectacular library make it worthwhile for anyone seeking to create interactive 3D content right in the browser.

Is there a specific requirement for your project that makes you want to use a 3D WebGL library? Can the power and features of Three.js meet these requirements? How can you weave Three.js into your current knowledge and skill set to create the excellent 3D experience you're aiming for?

Exploring Core Aspects of Three.js

Scene in Three.js

Every 3D application starts with a scene. In Three.js, the scene acts as a sort of container where you place other objects like cameras, lights, and 3D models. You could think of it as the stage in a theater production.

Here's how to create a scene in Three.js:

var scene = new THREE.Scene();

Renderer in Three.js

Next, we need a renderer, which will use WebGL to draw the scene onto a webpage. One of the main choices to make regarding the renderer is whether to use antialiasing, which can make the image appear smoother but may negatively impact performance. The resulting renderer can be appended to our document.

var renderer = new THREE.WebGLRenderer({ antialias: true });
document.body.appendChild( renderer.domElement );

Camera in Three.js

In order to see anything in our scene, we need a camera. Three.js comes with several camera types, but the most commonly used is probably the PerspectiveCamera. When creating a camera, you need to define the field of view, aspect ratio, and near and far clipping planes.

var camera = new THREE.PerspectiveCamera(75, window.innerWidth/window.innerHeight, 0.1, 1000);

Geometry in Three.js

With the stage set, we can start populating it. To do this, we create geometries. There are many types of geometries in Three.js, such as CubeGeometry, SphereGeometry, and CylinderGeometry. In the next example, we're creating a box geometry.

var geometry = new THREE.BoxGeometry(1, 1, 1);

Material in Three.js

Once a geometry is defined, the next step is to create a material to cover it. The material takes an object containing properties defining how it should look. In this case, we're making a basic material in a red color.

var material = new THREE.MeshBasicMaterial({ color: 'red' });

Mesh in Three.js

To create the final object that can be added to our scene, we need to mesh together our geometry and our material. This can then be added to the scene.

var cube = new THREE.Mesh(geometry, material);

Common mistake: It is a common mistake to forget to add your objects to the scene. They will not be rendered unless explicitly added to the scene.

Animation in Three.js

The last aspect we shall cover is animation. Three.js does not include a built-in animation loop, so we need to create our own. This can be done using the requestAnimationFrame method.

var animate = function () {
    requestAnimationFrame( animate );

    cube.rotation.x += 0.01;
    cube.rotation.y += 0.01;

    renderer.render( scene, camera );


Common mistake: A frequent mistake is to overcomplicate animation or to try and implement it before you have a solid understanding of how it works in Three.js. Start with simple animations and build up complexity gradually.

So, can you identify ways to optimize this animation loop for performance without reducing the frame rate? And considering the use of geometry and materials, think about how you could utilize them together to create more complex and interesting 3D objects in the scene. How is the camera playing a vital role in the scene and can it be switched for other types of cameras? Dive deeper into these aspects of three.js and you'll open up a world of opportunities for creating advanced 3D web applications.

Weighing Pros and Cons: Three.js Versus Other WebGL Frameworks

When embarking on the journey of 3D web application development, a common dilemma for many developers is choosing between different WebGL frameworks. This section provides a comparative evaluation of Three.js against other WebGL frameworks. We will discuss the pros and cons of each, in regard to performance, complexity, support, and adaptability.


Three.js shines when it comes to rendering speed and overall performance. Having a renderer based explicitly on WebGL, it can swiftly handle complex 3D scenes with voluminous quantities of objects and lighting effects. But remember, performance is heavily dependent on the optimization of 3D models and code efficiency.

Competing WebGL frameworks such as Babylon.js and PlayCanvas also offer good performance, but they might require more setup and coding effort for the same output as Three.js.


In terms of complexity, Three.js is fairly beginner-friendly compared to many of its rivals. It has a high-level API that abstracts most of the WebGL specifics, allowing developers to focus more on building the 3D scenes rather than on lower-level WebGL operations. On the downside, this degree of abstraction may limit the control advanced developers have over their applications.

Frameworks like Babylon.js offer more control, but this comes with increased complexity. If you need lower-level access and have a strong grasp of WebGL, you might prefer Babylon.js or A-Frame. However, for general use-cases and rapid prototyping, Three.js is often more than adequate.


Highly active community support is another big plus of Three.js. If you face any challenges, there's a good chance that someone else has already tackled it and a solution is available online. The framework's documentation is thorough and regularly maintained, increasing its usability.

While other WebGL frameworks also have communities, they may not be as large or active as the Three.js community. That means when using less popular frameworks, you may face longer wait times for issue resolution and less available learning material.


The adaptability of Three.js is yet another area where it shines. It works seamlessly across most modern browsers and handles a multitude of file formats.

While other WebGL libraries might require additional plugins or have compatibility issues, Three.js remains consistently adaptable. However, while also improving with newer versions, it often maintains exceptional backward compatibility.

To wrap up, Three.js offers a good balance of performance, simplicity, support, and adaptability, making it a solid choice for many developers stepping into the realm of 3D web development. However, every project has unique requirements and there might be cases where another WebGL framework could be a more appropriate choice.

Through understanding your project's specific needs, you can weigh these pros and cons effectively. Would ease of use and wide support triumph over lower-level control? How complex will your 3D scene be? How important is the community size? By answering these questions, you can make an informed decision about the best WebGL framework for your application.

Best Practices for Optimizing Three.js Performance

In the realm of Three.js, performance optimization often hinges on a few vital factors. This section aims to dive deep into these factors, which include efficient utilization of object pooling, draw call minimization, geometry optimization, and effective shader usage.

Leveraging Object Pooling

Object pooling is the practice of reusing objects that have already been instantiated instead of creating new ones. It's an efficient memory management strategy that can significantly enhance the performance of your Three.js application.

Even in JavaScript, the act of creating and destroying objects repeatedly is a costly one. By using an object pool, we can circumvent this expense. We pre-create a number of objects and then recycle them through the course of our application.

function createPool(size){
    var pool = [];
    for(var i=0; i<size; i++){
        pool.push(new THREE.Object3D());
    return pool;

var pool = createPool(100);
function getObjectFromPool(){
    return pool.pop();

function returnObjectToPool(object){

In this code, we initialize an array — the object pool — with a predetermined number of Object3D instances. When we need a new object, we simply pop one from the pool. Similarly, when we're done with an object, we return it back to the pool.

Minimizing Draw Calls

Draw calls have a significant overhead. Hence, reducing the number of draw calls can lead to a substantial performance boost.

One common practice to achieve this is by merging geometries. Instead of drawing many small objects individually, we can combine these objects into a single geometry and then draw it all at once.

var geometry1 = new THREE.BoxGeometry(1, 1, 1);
var material = new THREE.MeshBasicMaterial({ color: 0x00ff00 });
var mesh1 = new THREE.Mesh(geometry1, material);
var geometry2 = new THREE.BoxGeometry(1, 1, 1);
var mesh2 = new THREE.Mesh(geometry2, material);
mesh2.position.set(2, 0, 0);

var singleGeometry = new THREE.Geometry();
singleGeometry.merge(mesh1.geometry, mesh1.matrix);
singleGeometry.merge(mesh2.geometry, mesh2.matrix);

var mergedMesh = new THREE.Mesh(singleGeometry, material);

This technique, though efficient, should be used wisely, as it can lead to several complications. For instance, individual objects lose their independent identities once merged.

Optimizing Geometries

Geometries in Three.js are stored in buffers, which we can tweak to optimize the performance of our renders. For example, we can remove unnecessary indices, normals, UVs, colors, and groups if these are not needed.

To disable the indices of a geometry:

geometry.setIndex( null );

To disable normals, colors, or UVs:

geometry.deleteAttribute( 'normal' );
geometry.deleteAttribute( 'color' );
geometry.deleteAttribute( 'uv' );

Be careful when optimizing geometries — removing any of these attributes will render certain Three.js material types unusable on these geometries.

Effectively Using Shaders

Shaders are program presets, written in GLSL, that operate directly on the GPU. They are extremely fast and versatile, making them a valuable resource for Three.js performance optimization.

The downside to shaders, however, is their complexity. Still, once understood, shaders can provide a significant advantage by allowing for operations on object vertices and pixels directly on the GPU.

Here's an example of a vertex shader:

var material = new THREE.ShaderMaterial({
   vertexShader: `
       varying vec3 vUv; 
       void main() {
           vUv = position; 
           gl_Position = projectionMatrix * modelViewMatrix * vec4( position, 1.0 );
   fragmentShader: "..."

In this example, we produce a material using both a vertex and fragment shader. The vertex shader is operating on each vertex of the geometry, moving the position on the GPU, which is much faster than doing so on the main CPU.

Common mistakes tied to these topics include constructing and destroying objects repeatedly, making multiple draw calls, neglecting geometries optimization, and underutilizing shaders. Now equipped with these optimization strategies and an understanding of these pitfalls, you can enhance the speed and efficiency of your Three.js applications.

As a thought experiment, consider how you could apply these practices to a complex Three.js scene that you have previously worked on. What changes would you need to make to benefit from these optimization strategies? How could this understanding influence your approach to future projects?

Building 3D Models in Three.js – A Practical Approach

Building Complex 3D Models in Three.js

When it comes to building complex 3D models in Three.js, one of the initial steps is constructing basic shapes. This is a highly involved process that requires a firm understanding of geometry and materials. Having established a basic shape, one can then proceed to construct more complex 3D objects.

Building Basic Shapes

In Three.js, you often start off with basic shapes to build up complex 3D models. Let's start with a simple sphere, for instance.

let geometry = new THREE.SphereGeometry(5, 32, 32);
let material = new THREE.MeshBasicMaterial({color: 'green'});
let sphere = new THREE.Mesh(geometry, material);

The first parameter for SphereGeometry class constructor is the radius, the second parameter sets the number of segments on the X-axis, and the third one does the same but for the Y-axis. The MeshBasicMaterial object is initialized with color set as a 'green'. Eventually, these are passed to the Mesh constructor to deliver the final 3D object.

Common mistake: The number of segments for the sphere affects the overall smoothness of the sphere and render performance. A lower segment count results in a blocky sphere, but with faster rendering, while a higher segment count yields a smooth sphere but at the cost of slower rendering.

Extending Basic Shapes into Complex 3D Objects

Taking the next step from basic shapes, Three.js offers a bucketful of tools to construct complex 3D objects.

let geometry = new THREE.BoxGeometry(1,1,1);
let cube = new THREE.Mesh(geometry, material);

let sphereBSP = new ThreeBSP(sphere);
let cubeBSP = new ThreeBSP(cube);

let subtractBSP = sphereBSP.subtract(cubeBSP);
let result = subtractBSP.toMesh(material);


The sphere we created earlier and a new cube object are used to form a complex 3D object. The sphere is subtracted from the cube using the .subtract() function from the ThreeBSP library giving us a complex shape. Additionally, .computeFaceNormals() and .computeVertexNormals() are used to ensure a smooth shading of the complex object.

Common mistake: Forgetting to compute vertex and face normals can result in harsh shading and blocky appearances for complex objects.

Asking thought-provoking questions: How does the quality of basic shapes affect the overall quality of the complex 3D object? How can one optimize the balance between rendering speed and graphic quality? How does one avoid common mistakes when building complex 3D objects using Three.js?

A good Three.js developer always balances between complexity, quality, and performance. They build on their fundamental understanding of standard 3D composed objects, leverage the full power of the Three.js library, and avoid common pitfalls. Your journey to mastering Three.js's 3D modeling is full of exploration, experimentation and steady learning. The more you code, the more you'll learn and improve.

Extending Three.js: Integrations with React, Vue, and Angular

Three.js allows developers to add 3-dimensional, interactive graphics to web applications using WebGL, but what happens when you want to integrate it into an existing project that already uses a prominent JavaScript framework?

In this section, we will explore how to integrate Three.js with some of the popular JavaScript frameworks - React, Vue, and Angular. We will adopt a step-by-step approach, highlighting the best practices and potential pitfalls.

Let's dive in.

React Integration

React, being component-oriented, allows for a good blend with Three.js. We can encapsulate our Three.js code into a React component, but there are some things to keep in mind. While React manipulates and controls the DOM, Three.js operates on a Canvas drawn with WebGL.

Here's the basic idea with React:

import React, { useEffect, useRef } from 'react';
import * as THREE from 'three';

function ThreeScene() {
    const ref = useRef();
    useEffect(() => {
        const scene = new THREE.Scene();
        //add your Three.js objects to the scene here
        const renderer = new THREE.WebGLRenderer();
        //Write your animation loop and call `renderer.render(scene, camera)`
    return <div ref={ref}></div>;

export default ThreeScene;

The useRef is used so we can create a canvas in the useEffect hook, and use the ref.current as a place to insert this canvas. This basic pattern can be extended depending upon the complexity of your scene.

Vue Integration

Integrating Three.js with Vue follows a similar approach. You need to create an instance of the Vue component, then use the mount point as a place to insert your canvas.

Here's a basic Vue example:

    <div ref="mount"></div>

import * as THREE from 'three';

export default {
    mounted() {
        const scene = new THREE.Scene();
        //add your Three.js objects to the scene here

        const renderer = new THREE.WebGLRenderer();

        //Write your animation loop and call `renderer.render(scene, camera)`

On component mounted, Vue creates the new Three.js instance and mounts it onto ref "mount".

Angular Integration

Angular integration is slightly different. You want to create a separate component and when the component's view initializes, you can insert your new Three.js instance.

Here's a basic Angular example:

import { Component, OnInit, ViewChild, ElementRef } from '@angular/core';
import * as THREE from 'three';

  selector: 'app-three-scene',
  template: '<div #renderObj></div>',
export class ThreeSceneComponent implements OnInit {
  @ViewChild('renderObj') renderObj: ElementRef;

  ngOnInit() {
    const scene = new THREE.Scene();
    //add your Three.js objects to the scene here

    const renderer = new THREE.WebGLRenderer();

    // Write your animation loop and call `renderer.render(scene, camera)`

After component initialization, the Three.js instance gets connected to the '#renderObj' reference.


Integrating Three.js with these frameworks is all about understanding how each framework operates and finding the right place to append the Three.js canvas. While frameworks can provide structure and handle user input, Three.js gives power for creating 3D content.

Remember, avoid triggering unnecessary re-renders as your 3D graphic may be complex and consume a lot of computing resources. Also, make sure you dispose of objects in your scene that are not needed anymore – especially when dealing with components lifecycle hooks.

Are we fully utilizing the component-based architecture while blending these robust frameworks with Three.js? Is there a possibility that our application state can get out of sync with our Three.js scene?

Pushing the Boundaries: Advanced Use Cases of Three.js

Three.js has been transforming the way we interact with web applications by providing a simpler interface for implementing 3D graphical elements. Of course, building models and rendering scenes only scratches the surface of Three.js's capabilities. By diving deeper, we can create more advanced 3D web applications that defy the standard, two-dimensional mold of most websites. Here, we'll dare to push the boundaries by exploring some of the more nuanced and challenging applications of Three.js: creating intricate 3D animations, developing immersive virtual reality experiences, and crafting engaging 3D games.

Building Interactive 3D Animations

In the realm of animation, Three.js can be utilized to construct complex, interactive 3D animations. By manipulating the properties of 3D models, like position, rotation, or scale, you can animate them over time. Combine this with user input or data changes and you've got an interactive animation.

Consider this code snippet that shows how a 3D object's rotation can be animated:

function animate() {
    my3Dobject.rotation.x += 0.01;
    my3Dobject.rotation.y += 0.01;
    renderer.render(scene, camera);

Notably, the possibilities for user interactivity are nearly limitless. Using Three.js, developers can create user-driven animations where movement on the page triggers events and animated changes on the 3D element. Animations can also reflect real-time data, creating a dynamic and engaging user experience.

Forging Virtual Reality Experiences

The emergence of VR technology has opened doors for web developers seeking to create highly immersive online experiences. With Three.js, crafting extraordinary VR scenes is well within reach. The WebVR API integrated within Three.js enables developers to output their scenes to VR headsets directly. A notable challenge here is creating user interfaces in 3D, but once it's done, you have distinctive and compelling VR experiences.

Here is a simple snippet of how to render a VR scene in Three.js with WebVR:

renderer.vr.enabled = true;

Virtual reality in web applications can alter the way users interact with your website, leading to a more engaging and distinctive user experience.

Building Complex 3D Games

Games serve as exciting examples of what can be accomplished with advanced knowledge of Three.js. By combining 3D modeling, animations, user interactions, and the game logic, you can bring to life an interactive 3D game right in a web browser. Of course, game development presents its challenges, ranging from optimizing performance to managing complex game states and creating highly detailed 3D assets.

This code shows how to start a 3D game loop:

function gameLoop() {
    renderer.render(scene, camera);

With Three.js, building 3D games become an exciting and rewarding challenge. By diving into this endeavor, developers can craft interactive and engaging web games, providing users with a gaming experience unlike any other.

Through the exploration of these advanced use cases of Three.js, it becomes evident just how far we can push the boundaries of standard web design and development. The question now: What will you create when provided the tools to defy the 2D mould of a traditional webpage and construct a 3D, interactive user experience? This is your challenge — reimagine the web's potential, then use Three.js to bring your wildest ideas to life. Can you foresee how these advanced uses of Three.js could be applied in your next web development project?


The article "Building 3D web applications using Three.js" provides a comprehensive guide for senior-level developers on utilizing Three.js, a powerful JavaScript library for 3D web development. The article covers topics such as the power and core aspects of Three.js, comparing it with other WebGL frameworks, best practices for optimizing performance, integrating Three.js with popular JavaScript frameworks, and exploring advanced use cases such as creating interactive 3D animations, virtual reality experiences, and complex 3D games.

Key takeaways from the article include the accessibility and efficiency of Three.js, its versatility in handling different projects and integrating with other JavaScript frameworks, the strong community support that is available, and the balance it provides between performance, simplicity, support, and adaptability. The article also challenges the reader to optimize performance, create complex 3D objects, integrate Three.js with different JavaScript frameworks, and think about the possibilities of advanced use cases like interactive animations, virtual reality, and game development.

A challenging technical task related to the topic could be to create a dynamic 3D animation using Three.js that responds to user input or real-time data. The reader could be tasked with animating a 3D object based on user interactions or data changes, leveraging the properties of the object such as position, rotation, or scale. This task would require a combination of JavaScript programming skills, knowledge of Three.js, and creativity in designing an engaging and interactive animation.

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