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Using React with Backbone Models

React allows you to ren­der views in a very high per­for­mance way. The best thing about react is that it also plays fair with other frame­works like back­bone for imple­ment­ing the other lay­ers. For exam­ple, one of the sim­plest use case would be to use react’s view com­po­nents to ren­der back­bone models.

NOTE: The entire source code of this project is avail­able at github on the react-backbone-model branch of our react-webpack-setup project. If you are inclined to learn how to setup react with web­pack you can check­out another arti­cle that cov­ers the topic in detail.

If it sounds com­pli­cated at first, its really not. If I were to sum it up one line, this is what I would say — Just call the component’s force­Up­date() on the ‘change’ event in a back­bone model.

Lets put that line into some con­text and see how we can achieve that.

Since we are going to use the react-webpack-setup project, we will be con­ve­niently using npm and require in our front end code.

First lets install back­bone model. We dont need the whole of back­bone so we will just install the model package.

npm install backbone-model --save

The Model
We will cre­ate a very sim­ple back­bone model called Note which con­tains a sigle attribute called details.


var Model = require('backbone-model').Model,
    Note = Model.extend({
      details: ""

module.exports = Note;

The Com­po­nents
What fol­lows next is the code for 2 react com­po­nents. The first com­po­nent Page is a top level page com­po­nent that man­ages all the other com­po­nents on the page. The sec­ond com­po­nent Note is the com­po­nent that will ren­der our Note model. It sim­ply dis­plays a textarea called the ‘edi­tor’ which, of course, you can edit. Upon edit­ing, we want it to update the model’s ‘details’ attribute. This value will be auto­mat­i­cally dis­played in another div on the page called as the ‘viewer’ and will be italicized.


 * @jsx React.DOM

var React = require('react'),
    NoteModel = require('../../models/Note'),
    Note = require('./Note'),
    note = new NoteModel();

var Page = React.createClass({

    render: function() {

        return (
                <Note model={note}/>



module.exports = Page;


 * @jsx React.DOM

var React = require('react'),
    ModelUpdateMixin = require('../../mixins/ModelUpdateMixin');

var Note = React.createClass({


    render: function() {

        var p = this.props;

        return (

                <div className="editor">
                    <h5>Notes Editor</h5>
                    <textarea rows="3" cols="50"
                        placeholder="Enter some notes"

                <div className="viewer">



    _onDetailChange: function(e){
        var p = this.props,
            noteDetails = this.refs.noteDetails.getDOMNode().value;

        p.model.set('details', noteDetails);


module.exports = Note;

The above code does two sim­ple things, it renders the detail attribute of the model once in a textarea and once in a div. The textarea can be edited. We lis­ten to the onChange event and sim­ply set the value on the model equal to the value on the textfield. Nor­mally this would not let you edit the textfield. The rea­son why you can edit the textfield is because of the Mixin that is defined at the top of this class at the lines that read mixins:[ModelUpdateMixin].

The Mixin
This is the glue object that causes the view to update when the model updates. React lets you define mix­ins that allow you to aug­ment a component’s life­cy­cle meth­ods. A mixin that then be used in a react com­po­nent, as seen in the code for Note.jsx above. What you see below is the Mod­elUp­dateMixin, which is noth­ing but an object that aug­ments two of React’s component’s life­cy­cle meth­ods to whichever com­po­nent it is included– the com­po­nen­tWill­Mount and the com­po­nen­tWillUn­mount. The code below is pretty sim­ple — on com­po­nent mount, just sub­scribe to the component’s model’s change event and force a re-render of the view when a change is trig­gered by the model. You could add safety checks in your own code just in case model is unde­fined, but for the sake of this exam­ple, this should suf­fice. On com­po­nent unmount, sim­ply unsub­scribe from the change event.


var ModelUpdateMixin = {

    componentWillMount: function(){
        this.props.model.on("change", (function() {

    componentWillUnmount: function(){"change");


module.exports = ModelUpdateMixin;

That said, you are now ready for show­time. To see the work­ing exam­ple for your­self, down­load the branch — react-backbone-model from our repos­i­tory and run the fol­low­ing com­mands on your terminal.

sudo npm install -g grunt-cli
npm install
npm run dev

Then open localhost:3000/notes.html in your browser and have some fun.

Ryan Sukale

Ryan is a UX engineer living in San Francisco, California.

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