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Switching to Preact (from React)

There are two different approaches to switch from React to Preact:

  1. Install the preact-compat alias
  2. Switch your imports to preact and remove incompatible code

Easy: preact-compat Alias

Switching to Preact can be as easy as installing and aliasing preact-compat in for react and react-dom. This lets you continue writing React/ReactDOM code without any changes to your workflow or codebase. preact-compat adds somewhere around 2kb to your bundle size, but has the advantage of supporting the vast majority of existing React modules you might find on npm. The preact-compat package provides all the necessary tweaks on top of Preact's core to make it work just like react and react-dom, in a single module.

The process for installation is two steps. First, you must install preact and preact-compat (they are separate packages):

npm i -S preact preact-compat

With those dependencies installed, configure your build system to alias React imports so they point to Preact instead.

How to Alias preact-compat

Now that you have your dependencies installed, you'll need to configure your build system to redirect any imports/requires looking for react or react-dom with preact-compat.

Aliasing via Webpack

Simply add the following resolve.alias configuration to your webpack.config.js:

  "resolve": {
    "alias": {
      "react": "preact-compat",
      "react-dom": "preact-compat"

Aliasing via Parcel

Parcel supports defining module aliases right in your package.json under an "aliases" key:

  "alias": {
    "react": "preact-compat",
    "react-dom": "preact-compat"

Aliasing via Browserify

If you're using Browserify, aliases can be defined by adding the aliasify transform.

First, install the transform: npm i -D aliasify

Then, in your package.json, tell aliasify to redirect react imports to preact-compat:

  "aliasify": {
    "aliases": {
      "react": "preact-compat",
      "react-dom": "preact-compat"

A common use-case for preact-compat is to support React-compatible third-party modules. When using Browserify, remember to configure the Aliasify transform to be global via the --global-transform Browserify option.

Aliasing Manually

If you're not using a build system or want to permanently switch to preact-compat, you can also find & replace all the imports/requires in your codebase much like an alias does:

find: (['"])react(-dom)?\1

replace: $1preact-compat$1

In this case though, you might find it more compelling to switch directly to preact itself, rather than relying on preact-compat. Preact's core is quite fully featured, and many idiomatic React codebases can actually be switched straight to preact with little effort. That approach is covered in the next section.

Aliasing in Node using module-alias

For SSR purposes, if you are not using a bundler like webpack to build your server side code, you can use the module-alias package to replace react with preact.

npm i -S module-alias


var path = require('path')
var moduleAlias = require('module-alias')

  'react': 'preact-compat/dist/preact-compat.min',
  'react-dom': 'preact-compat/dist/preact-compat.min',
  'create-react-class': path.resolve(__dirname, './create-preact-class')


import { createClass } from 'preact-compat/dist/preact-compat.min'
export default createClass

If you are using the new import syntax on your server with Babel, writing these lines above your other imports will not work since Babel moves all imports to the top of a module. In that case, save the above code as patchPreact.js, then import it at the top of your file (import './patchPreact'). You can read more on module-alias usage here.

It is also possible to alias directly in node without the module-alias package. This relies on internal properties of Node's module system, so proceed with caution. To alias manually:

// patchPreact.js
var React = require('react')
var ReactDOM = require('react-dom')
var ReactDOMServer = require('react-dom/server')
var CreateReactClass = require('create-react-class')
var Preact = require('preact-compat/dist/preact-compat.min')
var Module = module.constructor
Module._cache[require.resolve('react')].exports = Preact
Module._cache[require.resolve('react-dom')].exports = Preact
Module._cache[require.resolve('create-react-class')].exports.default = Preact.createClass

Build & Test

You're done! Now when you run your build, all your React imports will be instead importing preact-compat and your bundle will be much smaller. It's always a good idea to run your test suite and of course load up your app to see how it's working.

Optimal: Switch to Preact

You don't have to use preact-compat in your own codebase in order to migrate from React to Preact. Preact's API is nearly identical to React's, and many React codebases can be migrated with little or no changes needed.

Generally, the process of switching to Preact involves a few steps:

1. Install Preact

This one is simple: you'll need to install the library in order to use it!

npm install --save preact  # or: npm i -S preact

2. JSX Pragma: transpile to h()

Background: While the JSX language extension is independent from React, popular transpilers like Babel and Bublé default to converting JSX to React.createElement() calls. There are historical reasons for this, but it's worth understanding that the function calls JSX transpiles to are actually a pre-existing technology called Hyperscript. Preact pays homage to this and attempts to promote a better understanding of the simplicity of JSX by using h() as its JSX Pragma.

TL;DR: We need to switch React.createElement() out for preact's h()

In JSX, the "pragma" is the name of a function that handles creating each element:

<div /> transpiles to h('div')

<Foo /> transpiles to h(Foo)

<a href="/">Hello</a> to h('a', { href:'/' }, 'Hello')

In each example above, h is the function name we declared as the JSX Pragma.

Via Babel

If you're using Babel, you can set the JSX Pragma in your .babelrc or package.json (whichever you prefer):

  "plugins": [
    ["transform-react-jsx", { "pragma": "h" }]

Via Comments

If you're working in an online editor powered by Babel (such as JSFiddle or Codepen), you can set the JSX Pragma by defining a comment near the top of your code:

/** @jsx h */

Via Bublé

Bublé ships with JSX support by default. Just set the jsx option:

buble({ jsx: 'h' })

3. Update any Legacy Code

While Preact strives to be API-compatible with React, portions of the interface are intentionally not included. The most noteworthy of these is createClass(). Opinions vary wildly on the subject of classes and OOP, but it's worth understanding that JavaScript classes are internally in VDOM libraries to represent component types, which is important when dealing with the nuances of managing component lifecycles.

If your codebase is heavily reliant on createClass(), you still have a great option: Laurence Dorman maintains a standalone createClass() implementation that works directly with preact and is only a few hundred bytes. Alternatively, you can automatically convert your createClass() calls to ES Classes using preact-codemod by Vu Tran.

Another difference worth noting is that Preact only supports Function Refs by default. String refs are deprecated in React and will be removed shortly, since they introduce a surprising amount of complexity for little gain. If you want to keep using String refs, this tiny linkedRef function offers a future-proofed version that still populates this.refs.$$ like String Refs did. The simplicity of this tiny wrapper around Function Refs also helps illustrate why Function Refs are now the preferred choice going forward.

4. Simplify Root Render

Since React 0.13, render() has been provided by the react-dom module. Preact does not use a separate module for DOM rendering, since it is focused solely on being a great DOM renderer. So, the last step in converting your codebase to Preact is switching ReactDOM.render() to preact's render():

- ReactDOM.render(<App />, document.getElementById('app'));
+ render(<App />, document.body);

It's also worth noting that Preact's render() is non-destructive, so rendering into <body> is perfectly fine (encouraged, even). This is possible because Preact does not assume it controls the entire root element you pass it. The second argument to render() is actually parent - meaning it's a DOM element to render into. If you would like to re-render from the root (perhaps for Hot Module Replacement), render() accepts an element to replace as a third argument:

// initial render:
render(<App />, document.body);

// update in-place:
render(<App />, document.body, document.body.lastElementChild);

In the above example, we're relying on the last child being our previously rendered root. While this works in many cases (jsfiddles, codepens, etc), it's best to have more control. This is why render() returns the root element: you pass it as the third argument to re-render in-place. The following example shows how to re-render in response to Webpack's Hot Module Replacement updates:

// root holds our app's root DOM Element:
let root;

function init() {
  root = render(<App />, document.body, root);

// example: Re-render on Webpack HMR update:
if ('./app', init);

The full technique can be seen in preact-boilerplate.

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