Advanced Scrolling Techniques with TanStack Virtual: A Guide for React Developers

Anton Ioffe - March 21st 2024 - 10 minutes read

Welcome to a deep dive into the world of enhanced scrolling dynamics with TanStack Virtual in React. This guide is crafted for the seasoned React developer seeking to elevate user experiences through advanced list virtualization strategies. We traverse from mastering the essentials to orchestrating complex, high-performance virtualized lists that promise to revolutionize how you handle large datasets in your applications. By exploring innovative optimization techniques, navigating the usual pitfalls with finesse, and drawing wisdom from a real-world high-performance chat application case study, this article will furnish you with the advanced skills necessary to transform scrolling into a smooth, efficient, and engaging user interaction. Prepare to unlock a new dimension of React development, where performance and user experience converge seamlessly through the power of TanStack Virtual.

Mastering the Basics of TanStack Virtual

TanStack Virtual represents a paradigm shift in how React applications handle the rendering of large datasets, such as lists and tables. Traditional methods of rendering these datasets often lead to significant performance bottlenecks, as every item in the list must be rendered in the DOM, irrespective of whether it is visible to the user. TanStack Virtual, by contrast, utilizes the concept of virtualization to render only those items that are currently in view, along with a small buffer. This approach drastically reduces the number of DOM elements that need to be managed at any given time, resulting in improved application performance and a smoother user experience.

The core principle of list virtualization revolves around calculating which items should be visible based on the scroll position and dynamically rendering only those items. TanStack Virtual takes care of this complex calculation and provides a simple yet powerful API for developers to integrate virtualization into their React projects. The benefits of using TanStack Virtual extend beyond performance enhancements; it also significantly reduces memory usage, as fewer elements are rendered and managed in the memory. This is particularly useful for applications dealing with extensive datasets that could otherwise lead to sluggish performance and a suboptimal user experience.

Setting up TanStack Virtual in a React project begins with the installation of the package and then integrating it into a component that renders a list or table. Developers are required to provide the dimensions for the items and the container, allowing TanStack Virtual to calculate which items are visible at any given time. This setup process encourages the developer to think critically about the structure of their data and how it's presented, promoting a modular and efficient approach to rendering large datasets.

Understanding the underlying mechanics of virtualization is crucial for effectively utilizing TanStack Virtual. The library calculates the visible portion of the list and the necessary buffer based on the scroll position, then only renders those items into the DOM. This on-demand rendering mechanism is what allows applications using TanStack Virtual to handle large lists and tables with thousands of items without a drop in performance. The developers can further customize this behavior through various configuration options, tailoring the virtualization process to their specific needs.

In conclusion, mastering the basics of TanStack Virtual requires a solid understanding of the principles of virtualization and the benefits it brings to React applications dealing with large datasets. By calculating and rendering only the items visible to the user, TanStack Virtual significantly improves application performance, reduces memory usage, and offers a more responsive user experience. The initial setup and integration process lays the foundation for further exploration and optimization of virtualized lists and tables, paving the way for building high-performance applications.

Implementing Your First Virtualized List with TanStack Virtual

To kick off your journey with implementing a virtualized list using TanStack Virtual in your React application, it's crucial to understand how to utilize the useVirtual hook. This hook is instrumental for creating a virtualizer instance, which lies at the heart of the virtualization process. Begin by importing useVirtual from @tanstack/react-virtual in your React component. This step is foundational and ensures you have access to the necessary virtualization functionalities provided by TanStack Virtual.

import { useVirtual } from '@tanstack/react-virtual';

Once imported, the next step involves setting up the container for your list or table elements. This container must have a fixed or maximum height and overflow set to auto. This configuration is essential as it enables the scroll behavior that virtualization relies on to function effectively. Without this setup, the virtualizer cannot calculate which items should be rendered based on the scroll position, defeating the purpose of virtualization to enhance performance and efficiency.

<div style={{ height: '400px', overflow: 'auto' }}>
  <div style={{ height: `${virtualizer.totalSize}px`, width: '100%', position: 'relative' }}>
    { => (
          position: 'absolute',
          top: 0,
          left: 0,
          width: '100%',
          transform: `translateY(${virtualItem.start}px)`

The configuration of the virtualized list properties is next in line. When initializing useVirtual, you'll pass an object containing your configuration. Key aspects include the parent size (the height of your scrolling container) and the estimate size of your items. Getting these configurations right is pivotal for smooth and efficient scrolling. It ensures that the virtualizer can anticipate and prepare the right amount of items to render, bolstering scroll performance and reducing lag.

const virtualizer = useVirtual({
  size: items.length, // Number of items
  parentRef, // Ref to the scrolling container
  estimateSize: useCallback(() => 35, []), // Estimated height of an item

Finally, rendering the virtualized items effectively involves looping through the virtualizer.virtualItems array. This array contains objects representing the items that should be currently rendered based on the scroll position. Each object provides crucial properties such as index, start, and size, which you will use to render and position each item accurately within the container. By only rendering items in virtualizer.virtualItems, you minimize the DOM operations involved, leading to a significant boost in performance, especially with large datasets.

{ => (
    key={virtualItem.key} // Unique key for each item
    item={items[virtualItem.index]} // Data for the item
      position: 'absolute',
      top: `${virtualItem.start}px`, // Position based on the virtual item start
      height: `${virtualItem.size}px` // Height of the item

This methodical approach to setting up the virtualizer’s size, configuring item sizes, and effectively rendering virtualized items underscores the importance of a detailed and correctly implemented setup. It ensures smooth and efficient scrolling through vast data sets, leveraging the power of virtualization to enhance user experience and performance in your React applications.

Optimization Techniques and Advanced Customization

Delving deeper into the realm of TanStack Virtual, dynamic item sizes emerge as a pivotal feature for enhancing list performance and versatility. When managing lists or grids that contain items of variable sizes, calculating these dimensions dynamically can drastically improve the user experience. For instance, leveraging the measureRef callback allows each item's size to be determined in real-time, based on its content. This technique not only facilitates the creation of more responsive and engaging interfaces but also optimizes scroll performance by ensuring that the virtualization logic accurately represents the content's natural structure.

const rowVirtualizer = useVirtual({
  size: items.length,
  estimateSize: useCallback(() => 35, []),
  measureRef: myMeasureRef

To further optimize performance, especially in scenarios involving complex lists or grids, implementing memoization to minimize re-renders is crucial. React’s useMemo hook can be strategically applied to heavy computational functions within your component, ensuring that the virtualized list only re-renders when absolutely necessary. This approach significantly reduces the computational load, enabling smoother scrolling and a more fluid user experience even in densely populated lists.

const memoizedItems = useMemo(() => => (
  <MyListItem key={item.key} data={} />
)), [items]);

Custom windowing techniques offer yet another layer of optimization, particularly for handling unusual list patterns like grids or masonry layouts. By customizing the virtualizer's rangeExtractor, developers can control exactly which items are rendered based on the user’s scroll position. This strategy is especially effective in grid or masonry layouts, where items may span multiple rows or columns; it ensures that only visible items—and a small buffer around them—are rendered, further reducing the workload on the browser.

const customRangeExtractor = ({ startIndex, endIndex }) => {
  // Custom logic to determine which items to render
  return range(startIndex, endIndex);

In conclusion, advanced customization and optimization of TanStack Virtual lists encompass a broad spectrum of strategies from handling dynamic item sizes and employing memoization to minimize re-renders, to implementing custom windowing techniques for unique list patterns. By adopting these practices, developers can not only enhance the performance and responsiveness of their applications but also deliver a markedly improved user experience. As applications grow in complexity and data volume, these advanced techniques will become increasingly vital in maintaining smooth, efficient, and engaging interfaces.

One common mistake developers make when using TanStack Virtual for React applications is the improper assignment of keys within virtualized lists. Using an index as a key, especially without considering the dynamic nature of lists, can lead to erratic UI behavior and performance degradation. The root of this issue stems from React’s inability to accurately track and update each item in the list, resulting in unnecessary re-renders. The remedy involves using a stable identifier from your dataset as the key, which guarantees that React can manage each item's lifecycle precisely, optimizing both performance and the user experience.

Scroll flickering or jumping presents another challenge, often arising when dynamically loading data or if the size of list items changes unpredictably. This can severely disrupt the user experience, making the virtualized list seem unstable. To counteract this, it's essential to ensure item sizes are correctly measured and updated in the virtualizer's state. If list items are prone to size changes, implementing a resizing observer to update the item size in the virtualizer dynamically is a practical solution. This adjustment helps smooth out the scroll position recalibration, enhancing the overall scrolling experience.

Dealing with issues related to state management within virtualized lists is also pivotal. An overlooked aspect is synchronizing the state between the virtualized list and other components or hooks within the application. This desynchronization can lead to inconsistent UI states or performance bottlenecks. A sophisticated approach involves utilizing React's context or a state management library to share state across components. This ensures that any state changes are propagated consistently throughout the application, maintaining a cohesive UI and performing efficiently.

In tackling these challenges, a combination of console logging, memory usage patterns, and performance profiling becomes indispensable. Console logging helps in tracking down the flow of data and identifying where discrepancies occur. Monitoring memory usage patterns can reveal inefficiencies in data handling and component rendering that might not be immediately obvious. Performance profiling, especially with React Developer Tools, enables developers to pinpoint slow rendering components or unnecessary re-renders. These tools collectively empower developers to diagnose and resolve issues swiftly, mitigating potential performance impacts on their virtualized components.

Lastly, it's crucial to adopt a mindset of continual optimization and error resilience. Encountering and resolving issues with virtualized lists is part of a broader effort to refine the application’s performance and user experience. Each challenge presents an opportunity to delve deeper into React's virtualization capabilities and explore advanced techniques in state management and UI rendering. By embracing these hurdles as stepping stones, developers can significantly enhance their applications, making them more scalable, performant, and user-friendly.

Real-World Applications and Case Study: High-Performance Chat Application

The journey of developing a high-performance chat application with TanStack Virtual encapsulates the intricate dance of managing large volumes of real-time messages while maintaining an optimal user experience. In the initial planning phase, the critical decision to employ TanStack Virtual hinged on its proficiency in rendering only what is visible to the user. This approach significantly reduces the load times and enhances the responsiveness of the application, a crucial aspect when dealing with the dynamic and unpredictable nature of chat message volumes.

During the implementation phase, the focal point was to accurately gauge the dynamic sizes of chat messages for efficient virtualization. This was achieved through the adept utilization of TanStack Virtual's capabilities for dynamic measurement. For instance, integrating a smart data fetching mechanism ensured that chat messages are loaded in a just-in-time fashion as the user scrolls. This strategy is complemented by an intelligent caching system that minimizes redundant network requests, thereby reducing the application's overall memory footprint.

function ChatMessage({index, style}) {
    const message = useMemo(() => fetchMessageAtIndex(index), [index]);
    return (
        <div style={style}>

In the above code snippet, useMemo is employed to memorize the chat message component, preventing unnecessary re-renders as the user scrolls through the chat. This optimization is pivotal in maintaining the fluidity and responsiveness of the application, ensuring a seamless user experience even amidst extensive chat histories.

A pivotal aspect of optimizing scroll performance lies in the custom handling logic for scrolling events. Leveraging the useVirtual hook from TanStack Virtual, developers can exert precise control over the chat application's scrolling behavior, ensuring that the rendering process remains highly efficient and responsive to user interactions. This nuanced approach empowers developers to fine-tune the application's performance, addressing the unique challenges posed by varying message lengths and the frantic pace of real-time chats.

const rowVirtualizer = useVirtual({
    size: messages.length,
    estimateSize: useCallback(() => 50, []),

return (
    <div ref={parentRef}>
        { => (
            <ChatMessage key={virtualRow.index} style={virtualRow.size} index={virtualRow.index} />

Through this case study, it's evident that optimizing a chat application with TanStack Virtual is a multifaceted endeavor, intertwining smart data fetching, dynamic sizing, and advanced scroll management techniques. Developers walking this path will appreciate the granularity of control and performance gains offered by such an approach, translating advanced virtualization techniques into tangible improvements in real-world applications. This journey not only underscores the adaptability and power of TanStack Virtual within React ecosystems but also serves as an actionable blueprint for tackling similar performance-intensive scenarios with confidence and strategic insight.


In this article, React developers are guided through advanced scrolling techniques using TanStack Virtual. The article covers mastering the basics of TanStack Virtual, implementing virtualized lists, optimization techniques, navigating common pitfalls, and a real-world case study. The key takeaways include understanding the benefits of virtualization, setting up virtualized lists with TanStack Virtual, optimizing list performance, and troubleshooting common issues. The challenging task for readers is to implement windowing techniques for unique list patterns, such as grids or masonry layouts, to further optimize their virtualized lists. By customizing the virtualizer's rangeExtractor function, developers can control which items are rendered based on the user's scroll position, reducing the workload on the browser and improving overall performance.

Don't Get Left Behind:
The Top 5 Career-Ending Mistakes Software Developers Make
FREE Cheat Sheet for Software Developers