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Integrating Bootstrap with React: a Guide for Developers

Integrating Bootstrap with React allows React developers to use Bootstrap’s state-of-the-art grid system and its various other components.

In this tutorial, we’re going to:

  • explore tools and techniques for building a user interface with Bootstrap’s look and feel for a React-powered web application
  • use reactstrap to build a React contact list application.

React is one of the most popular JavaScript technologies for interactive web applications. Its popularity derives from its component-based modular approach, composability and fast re-rendering algorithm.

However, being a view library, React doesn’t have any built-in mechanism that can help us create designs that are responsive, sleek and intuitive. That’s where a front-end design framework like Bootstrap steps in.

Why You Can’t Just Include Bootstrap Components with React

Combining Bootstrap with React isn’t as easy as adding <link rel="stylesheet" /> to an index.html file. This is because Bootstrap depends on jQuery for powering certain UI components. jQuery uses a direct DOM manipulation approach that’s contradictory to React’s declarative approach.

If we need Bootstrap just for the responsive 12 column grid, or the components that don’t use jQuery, we can simply resort to the vanilla Bootstrap stylesheet. Otherwise, there are many libraries that take care of bridging the gap between React and Bootstrap. We’ll compare both methods so that we’ll be in a better position to choose the approach that works for our specific case.

Let’s get started!

Setting up a Bootstrap Stylesheet with React

Let’s use the Create React App CLI to create a React project, which requires zero configuration to get started.

We install Create React App and run the following command to start a new project and serve the development build:

$ create-react-app react-and-bootstrap
$ cd react-and-bootstrap
$ npm start

Here’s the directory structure created by Create React App:

.
├── package.json
├── public
│   ├── favicon.ico
│   ├── index.html
│   └── manifest.json
├── README.md
├── src
│   ├── App.css
│   ├── App.js
│   ├── App.test.js
│   ├── index.css
│   ├── index.js
│   ├── logo.svg
│   └── registerServiceWorker.js
└── yarn.lock

Next, let’s download the latest version of the Bootstrap library from Bootstrap’s official site. The package includes both the compiled and minified versions of the CSS and JavaScript. We’ll just copy the CSS and place it inside the public/ directory. For projects that just need the grid, there is a grid-specific stylesheet included too.

Next, we create a new directory for css inside public/, paste bootstrap.min.css in our newly created css directory, and link it from public/index.html:

<head>
<link rel="stylesheet" href="css/bootstrap.min.css">
</head>

Alternatively, we can use a CDN to fetch the minified CSS:

<link rel="stylesheet" href= "https://maxcdn.bootstrapcdn.com/bootstrap/4.0.0/css/bootstrap.min.css">

Let’s have a look at what works and what doesn’t with this setup.

Using Vanilla Bootstrap with React

Once we add the Bootstrap stylesheet to a React project, we can use the regular Bootstrap classes inside JSX code. Let’s head over to the Bootstrap demo site and copy over some random example code, just to check everything is working as it should:

As we can see, the form looks good, but the NavBar doesn’t. That’s because the NavBar depends on the Collapse jQuery plugin, which we haven’t imported. Apart from being unable to toggle navigation links, we can’t use features like dropdown menus, closable alerts and modal windows, to name a few.

Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could import Bootstrap as React components to make the most out of React? For instance, imagine if we could use a combination of Grid, Row and Column components to organize the page instead of the pesky HTML classes:

<!-- Bootstrap with HTML classes -->

<div class="container">
  <div class="row">
    <div class="col-sm">
      One of three columns
    </div>
    <div class="col-sm">
      One of three columns
    </div>
    <div class="col-sm">
      One of three columns
    </div>
  </div>
</div>

<!-- Bootstrap with React Components -->

<Grid>
  <Row>
      <Col sm>
        One of three columns
    </Col>
    <Col sm>
        One of three columns
    </Col>
     <Col sm>
        One of three columns
    </Col>
  </Row>
</Grid>

Fortunately, we don’t have to implement our own library to serve this purpose, as there are some popular solutions already available. Let’s take a look at some of them.

An Overview of Third-party Libraries for React and Bootstrap

There are a few libraries that try to create a React-specific implementation of Bootstrap so that we can use JSX components while working with Bootstrap styles. I’ve compiled a list of a few popular Bootstrap modules that we can use with our React projects.

React-Bootstrap is by far one of the most popular libraries for adding Bootstrap components into React. However, at the time of writing this tutorial, it targets Bootstrap v3 and not the latest version of Bootstrap. It’s in active development and the API might break when a newer version is released.

reactstrap is another library that gives us the ability to use Bootstrap components in React. Unlike React-Bootstrap, reactstrap is built for the latest version of Bootstrap. The module includes components for typography, icons, forms, buttons, tables, layout grids, and navigation. It’s also in active development and it’s a nice alternative for building React-powered Bootstrap apps.

There are a few other libraries like React-UI, and domain-specific modules like React-bootstrap-table and CoreUI-React Admin Panel on GitHub, which provide extended support for creating awesome UIs using React.

The rest of this tutorial will focus on reactstrap, because it’s the only popular module that uses the latest version of Bootstrap.

Setting up the reactstrap Library

We start by installing the reactstrap library using npm:

npm install --save reactstrap@next

Now we can import the relevant components from the module as follows:

import { Container, Row, Col} from 'reactstrap';

However, the library won’t work as we might expect it to yet. As explained on the reactstrap website, the reason for this is that reactstrap doesn’t include Bootstrap CSS, so we need to add it ourselves:

npm install --save bootstrap

Next, we import Bootstrap CSS in the src/index.js file:

import 'bootstrap/dist/css/bootstrap.css';

Bootstrap Grid Basics

Bootstrap has a responsive, mobile first and fluid grid system that allows up to 12 columns per page. To use the grid, we’ll need to import the Container, Row and Col components.

The Container accepts a fluid property that converts a fixed-width layout into a full-width layout. Essentially, it adds the corresponding .container-fluid Bootstrap class to the grid.

As for <Col>s, we can configure them to accept props such as xs, md, sm and lg that are equivalent to Bootstrap’s col-* classes — for exmple, <Col xs="6"> </Col>

Alternatively, we can pass an object to the props with optional properties like size, order and offset. The size property describes the number of columns, whereas order lets us order the columns and accepts a value from 1 to 12. The offset property moves the columns to the right.

The code below demonstrates some of the Grid features in reactstrap:

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