How does Virtual DOM work in React?
The Virtual DOM is one of React’s most innovative features, setting it apart in the landscape of frontend libraries and frameworks. At a high level, the Virtual DOM is an in-memory representation of the real DOM elements. Its primary purpose is to increase the efficiency of updating the UI, especially when frequent changes are involved.
In traditional DOM manipulation, every small change often requires a full re-render of the affected UI elements, which is computationally expensive and can lead to performance bottlenecks. React’s Virtual DOM offers a more optimized path. When a change in the UI is detected, such as through user interactions or data updates, React first reflects this change in its Virtual DOM. This results in the creation of a new Virtual DOM snapshot, which represents the post-change state of the UI.
React then performs a “diffing” operation, where this new Virtual DOM structure is compared with the previous version. Through this reconciliation process, React identifies the exact elements that have changed and needs an update. What’s remarkable here is the granularity of this process. If only a single character in a lengthy text block has changed, React will identify just that change.
Once these changes, or “diffs”, are identified, React prepares to make the actual update to the real DOM. But instead of making each change individually, React batches these updates to minimize direct DOM manipulations. By consolidating multiple changes into a single update cycle, React ensures that the real DOM is accessed as infrequently as possible, leading to significant performance gains.
The Virtual DOM acts as a staging area for changes, allowing React to make intelligent decisions about how and when to update the real DOM. This process ensures a smoother and more responsive user experience, making web applications feel snappier and more fluid.