A Comprehensive Guide for React Developers of Hooks: useImperativeHandle

In the world of React, there are times when a parent component needs to communicate with its child component. This is particularly useful when the parent wants to guide or control what the child component does. That’s where the useImperativeHandle tool comes into play. It’s a powerful mechanism for enhancing communication between parent and child components, but it requires careful handling to avoid potential pitfalls.

What Exactly is useImperativeHandle?

useImperativeHandle can be likened to a secret passage that connects a parent component to its child counterpart. It was introduced in React version 16.3 and acts as a conduit through which a child component can provide special abilities or information to its parent. This capability empowers the parent component to effectively manage and steer the actions of the child component.

Think of it as if the child is handing a key to the parent, granting access to specific powers or knowledge. This becomes incredibly handy when the parent needs to have direct, fine-grained interactions with the child component, such as when dealing with user input or form validation.

If you find yourself unsure about how to utilize useImperativeHandle, or if your React project requires the expertise of a skilled React developer, don’t hesitate to reach out to us for assistance.


useImperativeHandle(ref, createHandle, [deps])

How Does ‘useImperativeHandle’ Operate?

To grasp the inner workings of useImperativeHandle, you should become familiar with a concept in React known as “refs.” Think of refs as small markers that allow you to pinpoint specific parts of your React application, be it a component or an HTML element. They function as the keys that unlock a magical door to a specific portion of your app.

Now, React equips you with a tool called useRef to create these markers, but here’s the crucial point i.e., having a marker (a ref) doesn’t automatically grant you access to the magic door (the child component). Instead, it merely lets you take a peek inside, like looking through a window without being able to touch anything.

This is precisely where useImperativeHandle comes to your aid. It empowers the child component to dictate what specific actions the parent is allowed to perform using the marker (ref). Picture it as the child saying, “Alright, parent, you can use this marker to perform these specific actions and nothing more.” Consequently, the parent gains a structured and controlled method of communication with the child component, ensuring that interactions are clear and well-defined.

Here is an example of how ‘useImperativeHandle’ works:

// Child Component
const ChildComponent = forwardRef((props, ref) => {
    const [count, setCount] = useState(0);
    useImperativeHandle(ref, () => ({
      increment() {
        setCount(prevCount => prevCount + 1); // Use functional update
      getCount() {
        return count;
; }); // Parent Component const ParentComponent = () => { const childRef = useRef(); const handleClick = () => { childRef.current.increment(); }; return ( <> ); };

In this example, the child component uses a special method called useImperativeHandle to share two functions, getCount and increment, with the parent component. They’re like tools the child gives to the parent. The childRef is like a key that lets the parent access these tools. So, when the parent clicks a button, it can use the increment tool to change the child’s count. It’s like the child lending its counting tools to the parent, and the parent can use them when needed.

When Should You Require useImperativeHandle?

When a parent component needs to have direct interaction with a child component. This happens quite often. Some typical situations where you might want to use useImperativeHandle include:

1. Form validation: To display error messages or prevent form submission, a child component may expose to the parent component a method that verifies form data.

2. Handling of user input: A child component may make available to the parent component a function that processes user input and may be used to update other components of the application state.

3. Accessing a child’s state: The parent component can access and use certain state values of a child component by using the useImperativeHandle to expose those values to it.

Best practices for using useImperativeHandle

  • Avoid using useImperativeHandle to update the state. This is because useImperativeHandle is designed to allow parent components to interact with imperative APIs exposed by child components. It is not meant to be used for updating state, as this can lead to performance problems and make your code more difficult to maintain.
  • Use useImperativeHandle to expose only the necessary functionality. Only expose the methods and values that are necessary for the parent component to interact with the child component effectively. This will help to keep your code modular and maintainable.
  • Use useImperativeHandle with caution when working with concurrent mode. Concurrent mode allows React to render updates asynchronously, which can improve the performance of your app. However, it can also make it more difficult to reason about how your code will behave. When using useImperativeHandle in concurrent mode, it is important to carefully consider how your code will interact with other concurrent updates.
  • Use a linter to help you enforce these best practices. There are a number of linters available for React, such as ESLint and Prettier. You can configure your linter to check for common mistakes, such as using useImperativeHandle to update the state.

By following these best practices, you can use useImperativeHandle to create more flexible and adaptable React apps.

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UseRef versus useImperativeHandle

  • When it comes to connecting with child components from a parent component, both useImperativeHandle and useRef play a role, but they have distinct differences.
  • useRef establishes a reference to a component or DOM element, allowing the parent component to access it. This provides access to the child component’s current state but doesn’t facilitate direct communication between parent and child.
  • On the other hand, useImperativeHandle enables the child component to make specific functions or properties accessible to the parent component via a reference. This creates a more direct channel for communication between parent and child.
  • In general, you would opt for useRef when you only need to access the child component’s state, and choose useImperativeHandle when you require more direct interaction.

Pros and Cons of useImperativeHandle


Explicit Interface: useImperativeHandle provides a clear way for child components to expose functions or properties to parents through an explicit interface.
Performance Enhancement: In certain cases, it can improve performance by enabling direct interaction between parent and child components.
Better Code Organization: useImperativeHandle helps in organizing code by separating the interface between parent and child components.


Complexity: It can make your code more complex, particularly when dealing with multiple child components and numerous functions or properties to expose.
Potential for Bugs: Improper use of useImperativeHandle can introduce bugs and errors into your application.
Not Always Necessary: In some scenarios, using alternative React hooks like useRef may be simpler and more suitable than useImperativeHandle.


React’s useImperativeHandle hook is a powerful feature that allows child components to expose specific methods or properties to parent components. It can improve efficiency and code organization but should be used judiciously, as improper use can complicate code and introduce errors. Understanding its pros and cons empowers you to make informed decisions about when and how to utilize useImperativeHandle in your React applications. If you want to know more about the React app development, then get in touch with us.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. What function does useImperativeHandle provide in the development of React?

The useImperativeHandle hook can make a value, state, or function inside a child component visible to the parent component. In a function component, useLayoutEffect enables us to carry outside effects, including making API calls, establishing subscriptions, and manually manipulating the DOM.

2. How does useImperativeHandle improve performance?

useImperativeHandle can improve performance by allowing you to selectively expose only the necessary methods or properties on a ref, preventing unnecessary renders of the parent component when interacting with the child component’s ref.

3. Can I use useImperativeHandle with functional components?

Yes, you can use useImperativeHandle with both functional components and class components. It’s not tied to a specific component type.

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