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javascript reactjs

Best practices for using React refs to call child function

I’m hoping for some clarity on the use of React refs for calling a child function. I have a Parent component that’s a toolbar with a few buttons on it, and in the child component I have access to a library’s export functionality. I’d like to call this export function on a button click in the parent component. Currently I’m using React refs to accomplish this:

Parent.js [ref]

class Parent extends React.Component {
onExportClick = () => {
this.childRef.export();
}
render() {
return (
<div>
<button onClick={this.onExportClick} />Export</button>
<Child ref={(node) => this.childRef = node;} />
</div>
)
}
}

Child.js [ref]

class Child extends React.Component {
export() {
this.api.exportData();
}
render() {
<ExternalLibComponent
api={(api) => this.api = api}
/>
}
}

This solution works fine, but I’ve seen a lot of disagreement on if this is the best practice. React’s official doc on refs says that we should “avoid using refs for anything that can be done declaratively”. In a discussion post for a similar question, Ben Alpert of the React Team says that “refs are designed for exactly this use case” but usually you should try to do it declaratively by passing a prop down.

Here’s how I would do this declaratively without ref:

Parent.js [declarative]

class Parent extends React.Component {
onExportClick = () => {
// Set to trigger props change in child
this.setState({
shouldExport: true,
});
// Toggle back to false to ensure child doesn't keep
// calling export on subsequent props changes
// ?? this doesn't seem right
this.setState({
shouldExport: false,
});
}
render() {
return (
<div>
<button onClick={this.onExportClick} />Export</button>
<Child shouldExport={this.state.shouldExport}/>
</div>
)
}
}

Child.js [declarative]

class Child extends React.Component {
componentWillReceiveProps(nextProps) {
if (nextProps.shouldExport) {
this.export();
}
}
export() {
this.api.exportData();
}
render() {
<ExternalLibComponent
api={(api) => this.api = api}
/>
}
}

Although refs are seen as an “escape hatch” for this problem, this declarative solution seems a little hacky, and not any better than using refs. Should I continue to use refs to solve this problem? Or should I go with the somewhat hacky declarative approach?