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InfoQ Homepage News Preact Joins the Crowd and Bakes in Reactivity Primitives with New Signals API

Preact Joins the Crowd and Bakes in Reactivity Primitives with New Signals API

The Preact JavaScript framework recently released Signals, a new set of reactive primitives for managing application state. Like other frameworks (e.g., Svelte, VueJS), the React-compatible framework lets developers associate parts of the user interface with state variables independently of the UI’s component tree. Alleged benefits of the extra 1.6KB: fast re-renders that are independent of the shape of the UI component tree and excellent developer ergonomics.

The Preact team explains the rationale behind the new API as follows:

Over the past years, we’ve worked on a wide spectrum of apps and teams, ranging from small startups to monoliths with hundreds of developers committing at the same time. […] We noticed recurring problems with the way application state is managed.

[…] Much of the pain of state management in JavaScript is reacting to changes for a given value, because values are not directly observable. […] Even the best solutions still require manual integration into the framework. As a result, we’ve seen hesitance from developers in adopting these solutions, instead preferring to build using framework-provided state primitives.

We built Signals to be a compelling solution that combines optimal performance and developer ergonomics with seamless framework integration.

Most popular JavaScript frameworks have adopted a component-based model that allows building a user interface as an assembly of parts, some of which are intended to be reused and contributed by open-source enthusiasts and other commercial third parties. In the early years of React, many developers credited component reusability and ergonomics (JSX, simplicity of conceptual model) for its fast adoption.

In large-enough applications, some pieces of state are often required by unrelated components of the user interface component tree. A common solution is to lift a given piece of state above all components that depend on it. That solution and the corresponding API (often called Context API) however may result in unnecessary rendering computations. The number of components which must be synchronized with a piece of context state may be fairly small when compared with the size of the component tree to which the context state is passed. A change in context state will however trigger the recomputation of the whole component tree:

With Context API, the whole component tree rerenders
(Source: Preact’s blog)

In some cases (e.g., very large component trees, expensive component renders), the unnecessary computations may lead to performance issues. Preact’s Signals API seeks to eliminate any over-rendering:

With Signals, only the dependent components rerender

Beyond framework integration, the Preact team also claims excellent developer ergonomics. The blog article provides the following implementation of a todo list application (cf. code playground):

import { render } from "preact";
import { signal, computed } from "@preact/signals";

const todos = signal([
  { text: "Write my first post", completed: true },
  { text: "Buy new groceries", completed: false },
  { text: "Walk the dog", completed: false },

const completedCount = computed(() => {
  return todos.value.filter(todo => todo.completed).length;

const newItem = signal("");

function addTodo() {
  todos.value = [...todos.value, { text: newItem.value, completed: false }];
  newItem.value = ""; // Reset input value on add

function removeTodo(index) {
  todos.value.splice(index, 1)
  todos.value = [...todos.value];

function TodoList() {
  const onInput = event => (newItem.value =;

  return (
      <input type="text" value={newItem.value} onInput={onInput} />
      <button onClick={addTodo}>Add</button>
        {, index) => {
          return (
                onInput={() => {
                  todo.completed = !todo.completed
                  todos.value = [...todos.value];
              {todo.completed ? <s>{todo.text}</s> : todo.text}{' '}
              <button onClick={() => removeTodo(index)}></button>
      <p>Completed count: {completedCount.value}</p>

render(<TodoList />, document.getElementById("app"));

While the provided example does not showcase how reactive primitives eliminate over-rendering, it nonetheless showcases the key new primitives. The signal primitive declares reactive pieces of state. The computed primitive declares a reactive piece of state as computed from other reactive pieces of state. The value of the reactive pieces of state may be accessed with .value.

Developers debated on reddit the importance of performance in today’s web applications and compared ergonomics with that of React, other frameworks’ reactivity primitives (e.g., Vue 3, Solid), and other libraries (e.g., Redux, mobX, jotai, recoil).

Others worried that with this new API Preact was straying farther away from React. One developer said:

Hooks and Classes are the supported and encouraged architecture to utilize and Preact’s Signals move intentionally away from that, further defining them as a unique framework, NOT a “React add-on”.

Another developer on reddit mentioned the need for guidance and additional examples:

The problem here is that you’re going to get a lot of confusion around how to performantly utilize signals and so people are going to use them wrong all the time, unfortunately.

Preact self-describes as the “fast 3kB alternative to React with the same modern API”. Preact is an open-source project under the MIT license. Contributions are welcome and should follow the contribution guidelines and code of conduct.

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