How to use React.useRef hook

Photo by Joan Gamell on Unsplash

How to use React.useRef hook

According to the React docs:

useRef is a React Hook that lets you reference a value that’s not needed for rendering.

Here are two examples where useRef should be used:

  • Referencing a value with a ref

  • Manipulating the DOM with a ref

Referencing a value with a ref

The most common example of referencing a value would be either setTimeout or setInterval.

setInterval is a global javascript function that will call a callback function at a defined interval. When you initialise the interval function, it will continue running until you call clearInterval.

const intervalId = setInterval(callback, 1000);

To clear the interval, you will need to use the returned intervalId.


In a React component, you will need to retain intervalId between renders. By using useRef, the component can store the intervalId until it clears the interval.

Manipulating the DOM with a ref

It is bad practice to directly manipulate the DOM in React. It can cause performance issues and unexpected side effects. However, you may need to use a library that needs to access the DOM.

As an example, let's say you decide to use the library AnimeJs to add javascript animations to your application. However, AnimeJs is a vanilla javascript library, so we will need to find a way to integrate it into the React application.

The documentation provides the following basic example of an animation.

  targets: '.css-selector-demo .el',
  translateX: 250

To integrate this code with React, we can very easily replace the targets with useRef. First, initialise useRef within the component.

const element = React.useRef(null);

Next, pass element into the relevant element.

<div ref={element}></div>

Finally, update the animation call to reference element.current. The current property holds a reference to a value that persists across re-renders of the component.

  targets: element.current,
  translateX: 250

Below is a working example with AnimeJs.


Hopefully, you should now have a good understanding of when and how you should use the useRef hook.