The Idle-Until-Urgent Pattern in React

One thing I've been struggling with recently working on fishbrain.com is the high cost of hydrating server rendered React. While server-side rendering brings us a lot of benefits, it does take a fair amount of time to hyrdate, which can be particularly frustrating if you're hydrating elements of the page that the user is not immediately going to interact with, or even possibly see.

One potential work around is to use the Idle-Until-Urgent pattern. Philip Walton does a far better job than I can explaining the details of the pattern in his blog post on the matter, so I'd recommend checking that out, but the basic gist of the pattern is:

  • to delay the execution of code until the browser not executing any code (this is the 'idle').
  • allow some sort of trigger to execute the code before the idle stage if needed (this is the 'urgent').

What this means for our React use case, is that we would delay hydration of a component either until the browser stops executing code, or, if the user interacts with the unhydrated element, we can hydrate it on demand. My implementation was initially based on another great article from Kumar Swapnil.

The code

This a component that will wrap around another React component to make it use the idle-until-urgent pattern:

import React, { useState, ReactNode, useEffect } from 'react';
// This is a simple library we use to tell us if the code is running in Node or in a browser.
import isNode from 'detect-node';

export const IdleUntilUrgent = ({ children, htmlElement }) => {
  const [callbackId, setCallbackId] = useState(null);
  const [renderChild, setRenderChild] = useState(false);

  useEffect(() => {
    if (!isNode) {
      if (typeof window.requestIdleCallback !== 'undefined') {
        // https://caniuse.com/#search=requestIdleCallback
        setCallbackId(
          window.requestIdleCallback(() => {
            setRenderChild(true);
          }),
        );
      } else {
        setTimeout(() => {
          setRenderChild(true);
        });
      }
    }
  }, []);

  if (!isNode && !renderChild) {
    // eslint-disable-next-line react/no-danger-with-children
    return React.createElement(
      htmlElement,
      {
        dangerouslySetInnerHTML: { __html: '' },
        suppressHydrationWarning: true,
        onClick: () => setRenderChild(true),
      },
      null,
    );
  }

  // Cancel the already scheduled render, if any
  if (!isNode && callbackId) {
    window.cancelIdleCallback(callbackId);
  }

  return children;
};

In use it would look something like this:

<IdleUntilUrgent htmlElement="button">
  <button>Click me</button>
</IdleUntilUrgent>

Breaking it down

First we store the two bits of state we need. A callback ID (so we can cancel the callback if needed), and a flag telling us if the child should be rendered or not.

const [callbackId, setCallbackId] = useState(null);
const [renderChild, setRenderChild] = useState(false);

Next we use a useEffect hook, triggered only once, that will set a callback using the requestIdleCallback API. This will trigger whenever the browser is idle. As it is not supported in all browsers, we have a backup option of using a timeout, which will trigger on the next event loop.

useEffect(() => {
  if (!isNode) {
    if (typeof window.requestIdleCallback !== 'undefined') {
      // https://caniuse.com/#search=requestIdleCallback
      setCallbackId(
        window.requestIdleCallback(() => {
          setRenderChild(true);
        }),
      );
    } else {
      setTimeout(() => {
        setRenderChild(true);
      });
    }
  }
}, []);

If we're rendering in the browser, and we're still waiting for our idle or urgent callback, we want to skip hydration. This is possible by returning a react element with dangerouslySetInnerHTML={{ __html: '' }}. One thing to note is onClick: () => setRenderChild(true). This is our "Urgent" part of the pattern - if a user clicks the element we want to hydrate the component immediately. Another important thing to note is that this will only work if we're rendering the same type of HTML element - a pitfall I ran into by intially writing something like: <div dangerouslySetInnerHTML={{ __html: '' }}><button>click me</button></div>.

if (!isNode && !renderChild) {
  // eslint-disable-next-line react/no-danger-with-children
  return React.createElement(
    htmlElement,
    {
      dangerouslySetInnerHTML: { __html: '' },
      suppressHydrationWarning: true,
      onClick: () => setRenderChild(true),
    },
    null,
  );
}

The last part is pretty straightforward. Either we're in Node, and we want to render as normal, or renderChild is true, meaning that idle callback was triggered or the user clicked on the element, so it's time to hydrate (cleaning up our callback along the way).

if (!isNode && callbackId) {
  window.cancelIdleCallback(callbackId);
}

return children;

Performance Impact

We opted to test this out on one of our most heavily visited pages on fishbrain.com - the waters pages (here's an example of one such page). This is what the flamegraph for the React render looked like:

Flamegraph if initial render

Some of the components run so deep that they wouldn't fit on the screen. A particularly bad offender was the Tabs component:

Flamegraph of Tabs

From this we we're able to identify 4 particular components that were taking a long time to hydrate while not being something that need render immediately for any user benefit. Wrapping these components led to a decreased from approximately 450ms to hydrate to <100ms!

Flamegraph after adding IdleUntilUrgent

We also found that the IdleUntilUrgent components would hydrate pretty quickly after the initial hydration (usually less than 0.5s), so only an extremely quick user would be able to interact with an idled component.

Conclusion

All of the above being said, this is not a pattern we're going to be using this all over the place. As is usual with these kind of performance hacks, it's something we only want to use in particular cases, but for those cases it's an impressively useful tool.