React 18 and the Event System: Changes and Upgrades

Anton Ioffe - November 18th 2023 - 9 minutes read

As seasoned web developers deftly navigate the shifting tides of modern JavaScript frameworks, React 18 heralds a pivotal transformation with its overhauled event system—a shift poised to unleash performance optimizations and yield remarkable harmony with native browser capabilities. This article plumbs the depths of React 18's daring embrace of native events, distilling the profound architectural reforms, performance enhancements, and essential adaptations required for our advanced codebases. With an emphasis on the intricate dance between backward compatibility and forward-thinking development, we'll dissect the nuanced trade-offs and explore the frontier of event handling that awaits. Whether you're strategizing overhauls for existing projects or blueprinting future endeavors, join us as we unveil the implications, best practices, and contemplative insights on this evolutionary leap in one of today's most influential UI libraries.

Embracing the Native Event Model in React 18

React 18's decision to discard its synthetic event system in favor of leveraging the native event model underscores a pivotal evolution in its design philosophy. By interfacing directly with the browser's native event handling, React 18 reaps the benefits of the advancements in browser standardization. This move not only promotes performance gains due to reduced abstraction layering but also ensures a more predictable and compatible event management process across different environments.

Furthering its commitment to align with web standards, React 18's pivot towards native event handling simplifies internal mechanisms, lessening the framework's footprint. By directly utilizing browser's native APIs, developers gain access to a more coherent and interoperable system, facilitating seamless integration with other libraries that follow similar patterns.

The practical effects of transitioning to native events are evident in how common events have been overhauled: 'onScroll' events are prevented from bubbling, reducing confusion during scroll handling, and focus events ‘onFocus’ and ‘onBlur’ now deploy focusin and focusout to better adhere to native DOM specifications. For example:

document.querySelector('.my-component').addEventListener('focusin', (event) => {
    // 'event' is the native DOM event. React 18 provides consistent behavior directly.

In this code snippet, developers can expect the focusin event to capture focus events on both the target element and its children, conforming to the native event's behavior—differing from the React 17 system that wrapped and normalized these events, often leading to discrepancies in behavior between React and the native DOM.

Developers stepping into React 18's territory should be mindful of other differential behaviors, like the nuances of event propagation and default actions that React's former synthetic system smoothed over. It is essential to understand the specifics of the native DOM events being employed, as reliance on React's event abstractions are no longer in play. With the shift to native events, for instance, the requirement to call event.preventDefault() to prevent default browser actions becomes a direct responsibility rather than being abstractly managed by React.

To assist developers with these novel event handling paradigms, React 18 has rolled out comprehensive documentation, not as fallback mechanisms, but rather as robust guides for the community. These resources enable developers to systematically upgrade their event handling strategies, ensuring applications retain their integrity while improving performance and embracing modern web standards. By immersing itself in the native event model, React confirms its dedication to evolving alongside the web's rapid development, providing a framework that is both contemporary and considerate of its developer base.

Streamlining Event Handling: From Root to Fiber

With the release of React 17, a notable shift occurred in the way event handling was implemented, eschewing the document-level event handlers in favor of attaching them to the React application's root DOM container. This architectural refinement has far-reaching implications for React's internal instance management system, especially concerning the "Fibers", which are key to React's rendering and reconciliation strategy. Fibers represent a light, cooperative task scheduling unit in React’s engine, and the change in event handling affects how events are associated with these Fibers.

By moving event listener attachments closer to the application's root, React's event system now mirrors the encapsulation of component trees. As events bubble up from individual Fibers, they more closely align with the components' logical structure instead of traversing the entire document tree. This change simplifies the understanding of event flow, as developers can now conceptualize event propagation in terms of the composed React component hierarchy rather than the broad browser context.

However, this modification to event handling also imposes new considerations around event bubbling and propagation. Since React events are no longer bound to the document, usage patterns that relied on event bubbling to the document level must be reassessed. For instance, components relying on document-level capture phase event listeners would need to be refactored. This requires a strategic approach to event delegation at different levels of the component hierarchy, ensuring that event propagation is explicitly managed to align with the application's structure and behavior.

One common coding mistake in this context involves the flawed assumption that e.stopPropagation() within a React event handler would prevent event propagation in the same manner as before. Previously, it would not hinder document-level listeners because React managed synthetic events in a centralized system at the document node. In React 17 and beyond, the correct counterpart to this approach is to manage event propagation with a more specific, fine-grained control at or above the root node level, embracing the new event flow paradigm.

Thought-provoking questions for React developers might include: How will the transition in event handling impact the way you structure your applications’ event delegation model? Can you architect your React applications to leverage the encapsulated event system and avoid the pitfalls of document-wide side effects? How will you redesign components that previously depended on document-level events, particularly in large-scale applications embracing gradual upgrades? These inquiries challenge developers to reimagine event handling in a way that takes full advantage of React's updated event management ethos.

Performance and Memory Considerations

The introduction of automatic batching for state updates in React 18 brought performance improvements that are subtle yet profound. Before React 18, successive state changes within events such as Promises, timeouts, or native event handlers would trigger multiple re-renders, potentially creating performance bottlenecks. React 17's code snippet might look like this:

function handleEvent() {
    setState1(state1 => state1 + 1);
    // React 17 would re-render here
    setState2(state2 => state2 + 1);
    // Another re-render
    // Subsequent state updates...

In comparison, React 18 coalesces multiple state updates into a single re-render, enhancing efficiency and responsiveness:

function handleEvent() {
    startTransition(() => {
        setState1(state1 => state1 + 1);
        // No re-render here in React 18
        setState2(state2 => state2 + 1);
        // Only a single re-render occurs after batching
        // Subsequent state updates...

The deprecated event pooling in React 17 could sometimes trip up developers with misleading bugs. Consider the case where you try to access event properties asynchronously. In the legacy system, you'd have to call event.persist() to prevent the properties from being nullified. An old pattern from React 17 that might cause these issues:

function handleChange(event) {
    setTimeout(() => {
        console.log(; // This would fail without event.persist()
    }, 1000);

React 18 eliminates this pitfall by adopting the browser's native event object, thereby removing the need for event pooling:

function handleChange(event) {
    setTimeout(() => {
        console.log(; // Works as expected without event.persist()
    }, 1000);

Reducing the number of listeners attached to the DOM is a strategy React 18 uses to mitigate memory usage and increase performance. This new model of event delegation prevents unnecessary listeners at the individual element level that can impair performance in large-scale applications. The fewer attached listeners result in less work for the browser during event capture, potentially reducing the memory footprint significantly.

Moreover, this overhaul encourages developers to consider event handling with the component hierarchy in mind. Increased control over where and how events are managed leads not only to more precise event flow but also to better encapsulated components, further improving the structural integrity of the application. This new delegation approach ultimately fosters a conducive environment for concurrent features introduced in React 18, like useTransition and useDeferredValue, promoting smoother visual transitions and delaying heavy computations until they are necessary for improving user experience.

Refactored Event System: Best Practices and Potential Pitfalls

As you integrate the refactored event system in React 18, it's crucial to adapt your event handlers to the new model. Gone are the days when event handlers would be passively distributed to the document. Instead, attach event listeners closer to your components, a move that allows more control and can prevent unnecessary event bubbling. When migrating:

// Prior practice
document.addEventListener('click', this.handleClickOutside);
// Correct modern usage
this.domNodeRef.addEventListener('click', this.handleClickOutside);

Ensure you're attaching event listeners to specific DOM nodes, such as a referenced node (this.domNodeRef) instead of leaning on document-wide listeners. This prevents the pitfalls of global event handling, which might include unexpected behaviors when stopping propagation.

Handling stopPropagation() requires attention. Previously, invoking this method within a React event handler wouldn't prevent document-level listeners from being triggered due to React's event delegation model. Now, with the event system aligned closely with native behavior, this call will indeed stop propagation as expected. Verify your implementation, especially if you're mixing React and vanilla JS events:

// Problematic if expecting document-level listeners to catch events
<button onClick={(e) => e.stopPropagation()}>Click me</button>
// Ensure the document-level listeners are no longer reliant on React events to trigger

While refactoring, take the chance to fine-tune your event handling. Consolidate listeners by creating shared handler functions whenever possible, to promote reusability and maintainability across your components. This not only cleans up your code but also adapts naturally to React 18's event handling improvements:

// Shared event handler
const handleUserAction = (e) => {
    // ...

// Use shared event handler across components
<button onClick={handleUserAction}>Action</button>

Moreover, reconsider how context is used in conjunction with events. With changes in how context behaves, verify that your event handling logic still correctly accesses the context it needs. If not, consider using Context Providers or the useContext hook to pass down necessary data:

// Before, with potential indirect access to context
<button onClick={() => this.context.performAction()}>Do something</button>

// After, with direct access to context
const MyComponent = () => {
    const { performAction } = useContext(MyContext);
    return <button onClick={performAction}>Do something</button>;

Lastly, stay vigilant for common coding errors like neglecting binding event handlers, assuming this within them without an arrow function or binding the correct context, and overlooking that e.stopPropagation() now fully halts propagation, which some libraries or custom directives might not yet account for.

// Incorrect use of this without binding
<button onClick={this.handleClick}>Click me</button>

// Correct usage with arrow function to maintain this context
<button onClick={(e) => this.handleClick(e)}>Click me</button>

While crafting highly interactive applications, thoughtfully reshaping your event handling to suit the evolved React event system leads to a cleaner, more predictable, and efficient user experience.

Forward-looking Event Handling: Questions and Answers

Given the ongoing evolution of React and its event handling system, consider how the integration of third-party libraries might adapt in response to the changes brought about in React 18. As the system moves towards a pattern that could offer new levels of flexibility and control, how might this affect the decisions developers make when selecting libraries? Furthermore, what strategies should we employ to ensure that third-party event management systems play nicely with React's own mechanisms?

Engage in a critical evaluation of the current practices surrounding event handling in your React applications. How could the anticipated future updates in React's event system shape the development of more complex, yet robust patterns? Looking ahead, do the changes in React's event system demand a rearchitecture of how we typically construct event-heavy applications, especially those that are heavily reliant on real-time user interactions?

As we ponder over the introduction of React 18’s new features, how might the existing applications' architecture change to accommodate the new event system? Should we expect a shift in how developers perform event handling at different levels of the component hierarchy? As we transition, what considerations should be taken into account to ensure that our applications maintain optimal performance and user experience?

Contemplate the potential for future developments in React—what innovations or refinements can we anticipate for its event system? As web technologies continue to advance, how might React's event handling system evolve to exploit these advancements or even drive new standards? Reflect on the possibilities of new features that might be added to React's event system and think about the implications and opportunities they could present.

Finally, in the context of fast-moving web development, how do we stay prepared for ongoing changes in event handling patterns and system upgrades? React's continuous updates challenge developers to re-evaluate and adapt their skills accordingly. What steps should seasoned developers take to keep their knowledge fresh and their applications cutting-edge in readiness for what the future holds in event handling and broader React development?


React 18 brings significant changes to its event system by embracing native events, resulting in performance optimizations and better compatibility with browsers. The article explores the implications of this shift, including architectural reforms, performance enhancements, and necessary adaptations for existing codebases. It emphasizes the need for developers to understand the nuances of native DOM events and provides best practices for handling events in React 18. The article also highlights the importance of considering event delegation and the impact of the event system on application structure. A thought-provoking question for developers is to think about how the transition in event handling will impact the structure of their applications' event delegation model and how they can leverage the new event system to avoid pitfalls.

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