Article

Understanding React-Bootstrap and How to Make It Work for You

October 26, 2022

Front-end design and development: every type of application needs it, and you can’t afford to get it wrong. You need a logical layout, impressive and eye-catching design, and an intuitive, user-friendly experience. Otherwise, no one will meaningfully engage with the end product, and what’s the good in that?

You might think making a site like that sounds complicated, or that it will involve too many moving parts. But here’s the truth: you can build a project that meets all this criteria with React-Bootstrap. Learn how this component library simplifies the front-end web development process while designing your next great website.

A Closer Look at Bootstrap and React

Before diving into how they operate with their powers combined, let’s go over the basic features and benefits of Bootstrap and React as separate libraries.

Bootstrap

Bootstrap is one of the most popular CSS frameworks out there. It is an open source collection of CSS, HTML, and JavaScript tools that helps developers minimize coding time when building websites and web pages. Originally developed by Twitter for front-end design, Bootstrap has been widely used to add typography, buttons, icons, and various navigational tools to web pages since its creation.

Developers like Bootstrap because it’s easy to use, incredibly flexible, easily accessible, and it comes with a lot of themes, so they don’t have to worry so much about getting the design right. (On the flip side, designers like working with Bootstrap because the custom themes provide a good foundation to build on, or they can use whichever components make sense for their specific design needs.)

Bootstrap is also compatible with a wide variety of browsers. This means developers can trust that websites and applications will show up as intended, regardless of a person’s preferred browser.

Ideal for creating mobile-first projects, which is important as more people turn to using mobile devices for browsing, shopping, researching, etc. Bootstrap’s framework scales to any device type of various shapes and sizes. Combined with its grid system, developers can see exactly how the site or page components will align.

Another reason people like Bootstrap: it’s FREE. This vast library of components is hosted and maintained on GitHub and is available to everyone, making it easy for developers to find and use the components they need and quickly move onto projects without having to write tons of new code.

React

React is a JavaScript-based library that, similarly to Bootstrap, is widely described as easy to use and flexible to work with. It was developed by Facebook to solve their problem of scalability and has been used in-house — in some form or another — since 2011 and became open-source in 2013. Because it was built by Facebook for Facebook purposes, React is a stable choice that won’t experience huge, sweeping changes that inconvenience developers.

Unlike other JS frameworks, React doesn’t tell you what to do. Instead, developers can manipulate and arrange components however they want. Developers can create interactive user interfaces with React much more quickly and easily than if they were to rely solely on JavaScript or JavaScript plug-ins.

That’s because it was designed for better performance. In a 2019 webinar, Pluralsight author Cory House explained, “When React came out…what they realized was JavaScript has had this unfair reputation of being slow for a long time when, in fact, it's not JavaScript that’s slow; it's the DOM that’s slow. So React had this idea of, ‘What if we could minimize DOM changes?’ And React does that by using a virtual DOM behind the scenes.”

The faster and more streamlined process makes React an efficient and hassle-free way to design and implement changes to UI. Developers can change data and React will update specific components accordingly. And as House noted in his webinar, React was designed to “learn it once and write it everywhere,” which is used in web pages, desktop applications, mobile apps, blogs, etc.

What Is React-Bootstrap?

Now that we’re more familiar with Bootstrap and React, it’s time to look at what this integration accomplishes for web developers.

React-Bootstrap takes the CSS framework of Bootstrap and replaces any existing JavaScript with strictly React components. This means you no longer need jQuery or other dependencies to alter JavaScript elements. Basically, the React-Bootstrap integration creates a more seamless front-end development experience by cutting out the middleman. Developers have more control over the appearance and function of the components in this model.

The React-Bootstrap framework retains the Bootstrap stylesheet at its core. Because of this, React-Bootstrap is compatible with many existing Bootstrap themes. This isn’t just a nice-to-have feature; considering the huge number of websites built using Bootstrap, this compatibility is imperative to maintaining a consistent appearance across your site or app.

Because this is one of React’s most well-established libraries, the React and Bootstrap technologies have evolved together to create a reliable and solid starting point for UI development and design. The combination of the two entities allows developers to efficiently create responsive, mobile-first websites that meet user expectations in terms of functionality, reactiveness, and usability.

Do I have to use React-Bootstrap, or is Bootstrap alone okay?

Whether you should use React-Bootstrap or simply Bootstrap depends on what you want, need, or expect from your project, as well as how hands-on you want to be in its creation. 

If you opt to use Bootstrap as/is, you should be well-versed in JavaScript and JavaScript plug-ins, because you’ll need to work with those components on your own. (A dash of patience might be helpful, too.) Using the React-Bootstrap integration saves you time because the JavaScript elements are already there, wrapped in neat little React-shaped bows.

Common Terms You’ll Encounter

There are a few words you’ll see over and over again in React-Bootstrap discussions. And because there’s always a lot to learn, it never hurts to get a quick refresher on tech terminology so you can keep up in conversation.

Component library: A cloud-based collection of components that can be accessed and reused by web developers. Components are the elements used to build a website’s front-end, or the page we see when we’re online.

CDN (Content Delivery Network): Cloudflare describes a CDN as “a geographically distributed group of servers which work together to provide fast delivery of Internet content…A CDN allows for the quick transfer of assets needed for loading Internet content including HTML pages, javascript files, stylesheets, images, and videos.”

DOM (Document Object Model): This is a “programming interface for web documents,” as explained by Mozilla. Essentially, this is where programs can make alterations to a page’s data, such as the structure or style.

JS: Shorthand for JavaScript, a popular and well-known scripting language that makes websites and web applications interactive.

jQuery: A JavaScript library that allows developers to quickly write JavaScript by condensing several tasks into a single line of code. jQuery is often used in communication with the DOM to make changes to JavaScript elements.

npm (Node Package Manager): This is a tool used to download and install JavaScript packages from the web. The package components are then used to build out your website or application.

How People Use React-Bootstrap

The React-Bootstrap site recommends installing React-Bootstrap by way of npm package. From there, you can import individual components as needed instead of importing the entire library. This cuts down on the amount of code you or anyone else working on the project will have to deal with.

The variety and depth of available components is one of the biggest advantages of React-Bootstrap. These components are what take a web page or app from simply being informational to being an interactive experience. Check out the following React-Bootstrap components and see if they could work on your next project.

Accordion

This component lets you put a lot of information on your page without overwhelming the reader with huge blocks of text. Each “accordion fold” reveals information when selected and can be selected again to close it up.

Breadcrumb

Nobody likes getting lost. Not in real life, and especially not when doing something as simple as navigating a website. Breadcrumbs offer a simple and clear way of showing the user exactly where they are on your site, as well as the path that took them there.

Navbar

Behold the navbar, perhaps the most important aspect of any good web page. The navbar isn’t just functional; it can be used as a branding tool as well. With so many different options for positioning, composition, colorways, and menu selections, the navbar can set the tone for the page.

While you shouldn’t use every possible component option, your project might require more than you realize. Take time to experiment with different layouts and make note of what creates a pleasantly memorable user interface — and which layouts should never happen again.

If you’re going to create on the web, you should know how to build with one of the most-used frameworks on the internet. Learn more about the fundamentals of the latest version of Bootstrap or check out other web development courses. Pluralsight’s vast library offers articles, classes, webinars, and podcasts to learn more about these website building blocks and a ton more.