Brendan

The Ultimate Form Abstraction

Typesafe forms in React? Sounds like a job for React Hook Form and Zod!

31 Dec 2022 17 min read

I often see this question pop up online:

“what’s the best way to do forms in a react app?”

Some people may recommended Formik, others may just use a <form> element’s onSubmit function directly, but in my experience, the answer is always…

React Hook Form. Hands down.

The Basics

RHF is a library that provides hook-based utilities for managing form state and inputs, and is very performant as it keeps components uncontrolled until they need to be validated. A basic usage of it looks something like this:

import { useForm } from 'react-hook-form'

const App = () => {
  const { register, handleSubmit } = useForm();

  return (
    <form onSubmit={handleSubmit((data) => {})}>
      <input
        type="email"
        required
        {...register('email')}
      />
      <button type="submit">Submit</button>
    </form>
  )
}

export default App;

Let’s step through this code a bit:

const { register, handleSubmit } = useForm();

useForm provides all the utilities you’ll need to create a form. It keeps track of all the form elements, their validation logic, and just general housekeeping stuff for the library.

register hooks up a form element to the data being managed in useForm, and is where you configure settings for each field - most notably the input’s name prop and validation logic.

handleSubmit takes the validation rules you provide to register, applies them to the form data, and provides the validated values to the callback in its first argument.

<form onSubmit={handleSubmit((data) => {})}>

Instead of passing our onSubmit handler directly, we wrap it in handleSubmit so that validation and other logic can be performed.

<input
  type="email"
  required
  {...register('email')}
/>

register returns props for the element it is being applied to, including ref, name, and onChange (the ref is how RHF allows components to be uncontrolled until validation!), so we spread its return value onto the <input/> element. required makes the browser enforce that the input is not empty when the form is submitted.

Levelling Up With TypeScript

Having something to handle forms is nice, but wouldn’t it be great to know the shape of our form data?

Well, we can!

useForm has a generic parameter that can specify the type of our form data, allowing TypeScript to verify that the names used in register are vaild:

interface FormTypes {
  email: string;
  count: number;
}

const App = () => {
  const { register, handleSubmit } = useForm<FormTypes>();

  return (
    <form onSubmit={handleSubmit((data) => {})}>
      <input
        type="email"
        required
        {...register('email')}
      />
      <input
        type="number"
        required
        {...register('count', {
          valueAsNumber: true
        })}
      />
      <button type="submit">Submit</button>
    </form>
  )
}

Now we can be 100% sure about the names of our fields!

Only problem is that we’re not 100% sure about our fields’ types. The valueAsNumber option on the count input tells RHF to convert the field’s value - which is always a string - into a number. If valueAsNumber was false, TypeScript wouldn’t complain but our FormTypes would not be accurrate.

If only there was a way to validate types…

That One Library Everyone’s Using

Enter Zod, a validation library with incredible TypeScript support that T3 stack enjoyers talk about endlessly.

RHF supports validating forms with Zod via resolvers, providing incredible typesafety in the process.

Using Zod will require installing zod and @hookform/resolvers, then making a few changes to the above example:

import { zodResolver } from '@hookform/resolvers/zod'
import { z } from 'zod'

const schema = z.object({
  email: z.string().email(),
  count: z.coerce.number()
});

const App = () => {
  const { register, handleSubmit } = useForm({
    resolver: zodResolver(schema)
  });

  return (
    <form onSubmit={handleSubmit((data) => {})}>
      <input
        type="email"
        required
        {...register('email')}
      />
      <input
        type="number"
        required
        {...register('count')}
      />
      <button type="submit">Submit</button>
    </form>
  )
}

Isn’t it great! z.coerce.number() provides a typesafe alternative to valueAsNumber, and the keys of z.object define valid keys for register().

You could get rid of required from the inputs at this point, but it’s usually better to let the browser handle as much validation as possible. Not to mention that a number input without required will provide a value of '0' instead of an empty string, so no error will be produced by the browser or Zod.

There’s a problem though:

It’s not actually typesafe.

I know, I was surprised too. Turns out resolvers can’t set the generic parameter like we did with FormTypes, so the data argument of handleSubmit is not properly typed. Not to worry, we’ve got more work to do anyway.

A Typesafe Coincidence

If you’re anything like me you’ll see resolver: zodResolver(schema) and cringe. Apps can have many forms, meaning that line may be repeated a lot. Sounds like a great use for a custom hook!

Instead of wrapping schema in zodResolver, it’d be great to pass schema directly to our hook. The hook will also need a generic parameter for the schema to ensure that everything is typesafe.

With all that in mind, here’s a hook:

import { useForm, UseFormProps } from 'react-hook-form';
import { zodResolver } from '@hookform/resolvers/zod';
import { TypeOf, ZodSchema } from 'zod';

interface UseZodFormProps<Z extends ZodSchema>
  extends Exclude<UseFormProps<TypeOf<Z>>, 'resolver'> {
  schema: Z;
}

export const useZodForm = <Z extends ZodSchema>({
  schema,
  ...formProps
}: UseZodFormProps<Z>) =>
  useForm({
    ...formProps,
    resolver: zodResolver(schema),
  });

Don’t be scared by the heap of generics on UseZodFormProps, they just pass the schema’s type to the base UseFormProps type and remove the resolver field, and by coincidence this makes our form completely typesafe!

Ok, it’s not actually a coincidence. It’s because we’re passing TypeOf<Z> directly to UseFormProps, which is equivalent to doing useForm<TypeOf<Z>>.

Assuming useZodForm is imported, here’s how things should look now:

const schema = z.object({
  email: z.string(),
  count: z.coerce.number()
});

export function App() {
  const { register, handleSubmit } = useZodForm({
    schema
  });

  return (
    <form onSubmit={handleSubmit((data /* has types now! */) => {})}>
      <input
        type="email"
        required
        {...register('email')}
      />
      <input
        type="number"
        required
        {...register('count')}
      />
      <button type="submit">Submit</button>
    </form>
  )
}

Here’s a look at everything we’ve done so far:

Sidenote: I think demos like this are a good example of what TypeScript’s developer experience should be - generics behind the scenes propagating input types from inside RHF all the way out to our application code. Libraries like tRPC and TanStack Query/Router manage to do a similar thing.

When Things Go Wrong

So far we’ve been focused on handling successful submissions, but what about when validation fails?

It would be nice to display error messages below the inputs, and have those messages be sourced directly from RHF. Luckily, we can access all data about the form via formState:

const App = () => {
  const { register, handleSubmit, formState } = useZodForm(...);

  return (
    <form>
      <div>
        <input type="email" required {...register('email')} />
        {formState.errors.email && <p>{formState.errors.email.message}</p>}
      </div>
      <div>
        <input type="number" required {...register('count')} />
        {formState.errors.count && <p>{formState.errors.count.message}</p>}
      </div>
      <button type="submit">Submit</button>
    </form>
  );
}

It could work… but it’s not pretty.

Seeing as pretty much all inputs will need this functionality, maybe a component that contains both the input and error message would be nicer? Sounds like a great idea, but where would formState come from?

Lucky for us, RHF provides utilities to make forms accessible from context:

With them in mind, let’s take a look at our new input component:

import { ComponentProps, forwardRef } from 'react';
import { useFormContext } from 'react-hook-form';

interface Props extends ComponentProps<'input'> {
  name: string;
}

const Input = forwardRef<HTMLInputElement, Props>((props, ref) => {
  const form = useFormContext();
  const state = form.getFieldState(props.name);

  return (
    <div>
      <input {...props} ref={ref} />
      {state.error && <p>{state.error.message}</p>}
    </div>
  );
});

export default Input;
  • The component’s Props type is almost identical to a regular <input/> element’s props, except we make name required as it is needed to fetch the field’s state. The value for name is passed through by register().

  • forwardRef is used since register() assigns a ref on the <input/> element.

  • All of the component’s props are spread onto the <input/>, and the ref provided by forwardRef is also passed through.

Great, now we have a component that can access field state via form context! We’re still missing the FormProvider though.

Seeing as all our forms will need to be wrapped in their own FormProvider, this seems like a great time to create another component!

While we’re at it, let’s also wrap everything in a <fieldset>. Not only is this good Semantic HTML, but <fieldset> is unique in that it propagates its disabled attribute to form elements within it, making styling for loading and disabled states much simpler!

import { ComponentProps } from 'react';
import {
  FieldValues,
  FormProvider,
  SubmitHandler,
  UseFormReturn,
} from 'react-hook-form';

interface Props<T extends FieldValues>
  extends Omit<ComponentProps<'form'>, 'onSubmit'> {
  form: UseFormReturn<T>;
  onSubmit: SubmitHandler<T>;
}

const Form = <T extends FieldValues>({
  form,
  onSubmit,
  children,
  ...props
}: Props<T>) => (
  <FormProvider {...form}>
    <form onSubmit={form.handleSubmit(onSubmit)} {...props}>
      <fieldset disabled={form.formState.isSubmitting}>{children}</fieldset>
    </form>
  </FormProvider>
);

export default Form;
  • The component takes the result of useZodForm in its form prop, which is then spread onto FormProvider

  • The type of the onSubmit prop is overridden to have correct types (the Omit<..., 'onSubmit'> is necessary to please TypeScript)

  • As before the <form> element’s onSubmit is wrapped in handleSubmit, only now that wrapper is coming from the form prop instead of being defined earlier in the component

  • <fieldset> has its disabled prop set to the form’s isSubmitting state so that all form inputs become disabled while the onSubmit function is running

Continuing the trend of turning everything into a custom component, why not make a SubmitButton component that we know will always have type="submit"?

This is more of a personal preference, feel free to not do this

import { ComponentProps } from 'react';

interface Props extends Omit<ComponentProps<'button'>, 'type'> {}

const SubmitButton = (props: Props) => <button {...props} type="submit" />;

export default SubmitButton;

Now we can combine these new components to yield some much prettier code!

const App = () => {
  const form = useZodForm(...);

  return (
    <Form form={form} onSubmit={(data /* has types! */) => {}}>
      <Input type="email" required {...form.register('email')} />
      <Input type="number" required {...form.register('count')} />
      <SubmitButton>Submit</SubmitButton>
    </Form>
  );
}

Don’t Forget the Labels!

Any good form author will realise that our forms currently have a big problem:

Our form elements don’t have corresponding <label> elements!

Labels are good for multiple reasons:

  1. Clicking them focuses their corresponding form element

  2. Semantic HTML

  3. How is an end user supposed to know what each form element represents without labels?!

“Ok, well how hard can adding some text above an element be?”

Harder than you may have thought - <label> is special in that it has an htmlFor prop, which is expected to be equal to its corresponding element’s id prop, so we’re going to need a unique value identifying each form element… Oh, we already have that with the name prop!

We’re also going to need text to put inside of the <label>, so let’s just add a label prop to our Input component.

interface Props extends ComponentProps<'input'> {
  name: string;
  label: string
}

const Input = forwardRef<HTMLInputElement, Props>((props, ref) => {
  const form = useFormContext();
  const state = form.getFieldState(props.name);

  return (
    <div>
      <label htmlFor={props.name}>{props.label}</label>
      <input {...props} id={props.name} ref={ref} />
      {state.error && <p>{state.error.message}</p>}
    </div>
  );
});

Lastly, we’ll need to give each Input a label:

<Form ... >
  <Input type="email" label="Email" required {...form.register('email')} />
  <Input type="number" label="Count" required {...form.register('count')} />
  <SubmitButton>Submit</SubmitButton>
</Form>

Now seems like the right time for another demo!

A Wider Selection of Form Elements

What we’ve got so far is great, but it’s a bit limited in terms of what elements our forms can contain. Let’s add a component that uses the <select> element!

import { ComponentProps, forwardRef } from 'react';
import { useFormContext } from 'react-hook-form';

interface Props extends ComponentProps<'select'> {
  name: string;
  label: string
}

const Select = forwardRef<HTMLInputElement, Props>((props, ref) => {
  const form = useFormContext();
  const state = form.getFieldState(props.name);

  return (
    <div>
      <label htmlFor={props.name}>{props.label}</label>
      <select {...props} id={props.name} ref={ref} />
      {state.error && <p>{state.error.message}</p>}
    </div>
  );
});

export default Select;

Huh, that was easy… it’s almost identical to our Input component, but we can address the code duplication later. Let’s start using this new component!

Let’s create a Select in our form with two options for Apples and Oranges:

Using different values for the value and children of an <option> is a fairly common practice, so I’m doing it here even though it’s a bit redundant

<Select label="Fruit" required {...form.register("fruit")}>
  <option value="apples">Apples</option>
  <option value="oranges">Oranges</option>
</Select>

Hmm… since we’re adding a new field to the form, we need to update the schema with a key for fruit and a type for ‘one of either apples or oranges‘.

The former can be done easily, but the latter is a bit more Zod-specific. I’ll save you the trouble and show you what we need.

const schema = z.object({
  email: z.string(),
  count: z.coerce.number()
  fruit: z.union(z.literal("apples"), z.literal("oranges"))
});

This will make sure fruit has a value equal to one of the string literals in the union, giving the form’s data a type something like this:

{ 
  email: string,
  count: number,
  fruit: "apples" | "oranges"
}

Now we have a key and validation for our fruit field, yet something still feels wrong…

<option value="apples">Apples</option>
<option value="oranges">Oranges</option>

That’s it, the <option> elements are not typesafe at all!

What we need is a way to turn our union for the fruit field into a list of <option> elements, and at the same time display the correct value for children.

The first requirement can be addressed by diving further into Zod:

  • z.object() has a shape property that is an object containing the schema of each field, so schema.shape.fruit accesses the z.union() we created the fruit field with.

  • z.union() has an options property that is an array containing each option that was provided, so we can .map() on it to transform each z.literal() into a JSX element

  • z.literal() has a value property containing the literal value that was provided

With this knowledge we can construct a JSX expression to map() over each option and render a list of <option> elements:

{schema.shape.fruit.options.map((op) => (
  <option key={op.value} value={op.value}>...</option>
))}

key isn’t really necessary for such a simple example, but always including it is a good habit.

As for displaying the correct value for children, we need the correct values to be stored somewhere so the map() function can get them.

A nice way to do this is with an object that maps each possible value to its corresponding children:

const FruitMap = {
  apples: 'Apples',
  oranges: 'Oranges',
};

This would do the job, but it’s not typesafe enough!

FruitMap should only have keys that are specified inside the fruit field’s z.union(). Zod has z.infer for just this reason, allowing the TypeScript type of the z.union() to be extracted from the schema and used as an object’s key type:

const FruitMap: Record<z.infer<typeof schema>['fruit'], string> = {
  apples: 'Apples',
  oranges: 'Oranges',
};

Perfect! Now FruitMap is only allowed fields with keys that are also valid values for fruit.

The last thing to do is to hook up FruitMap to our <option> list:

{schema.shape.option.options.map((op) => (
  <option key={op.value} value={op.value}>
    {FruitMap[op.value]}
  </option>
))}

In context with the whole form:

const schema = z.object({
  email: z.string(),
  count: z.coerce.number(),
  fruit: z.union(z.literal("apples"), z.literal("oranges"))
});

const FruitMap: Record<z.infer<typeof schema>['fruit'], string> = {
  apples: 'Apples',
  oranges: 'Oranges',
};

const App = () => {
  const form = useZodForm(...);

  return (
    <Form ... >
      <Input ... />
      <Input ... />
      <Select label="Fruit" required {...form.register("fruit")}>
        {schema.shape.option.options.map((op) => (
          <option key={op.value} value={op.value}>
            {FruitMap[op.value]}
          </option>
        ))}
      </Select>
      <SubmitButton>Submit</SubmitButton>
    </Form>
  );
}

Cleanup On Aisle Form

As we saw earlier, our Input and Select components contain a lot of duplicate code. Yuck!

Let’s try pulling out the wrapper <div>, <label>, and error display into a separate component:

import { PropsWithChildren } from 'react';

export interface Props extends PropsWithChildren {
    name: string,
    label: string
}

const FormField = ({ children, name, label }: Props) => {
  const ctx = useFormContext();
  const state = ctx.getFieldState(name);

  return (
    <div>
      <label htmlFor={name}>
        {label}
      </label>
      {children}
      {state.error && <p>{state.error.message}</p>}
    </div>
  );
};

export default FormField;

Not bad, let’s see what our Input component looks like now:

import FormField, { Props as FormFieldProps } from "./FormField"

interface Props extends FormFieldProps, ComponentProps<"input"> {
  name: string;
}

const Input = forwardRef<HTMLInputElement, Props>((props, ref) => (
  <FormField {...props}>
    <input {...props} id={props.name} ref={ref} />
  </FormField>
));

This is much nicer, but it still has a couple of problems:

  1. I’m not too happy with passing every prop of Input to FormField (especially children!), it would be nice if the props could be split - some for FormField and the rest for <input>

  2. Surely we could remove id={props.name} and include it in the {...props} spread instead?

So, we need a function that splits our props into two sets of props: one for FormField, and another for <input>. The input type of this function will need to be part of Props, and one of the two return values will need to be FormFieldProps.

Since this function will pick out specific props just for FormField, let’s call it useFormField and export some types accordingly!

export interface UseFormFieldProps extends PropsWithChildren {
  name: string;
  label: string;
}

export const useFormField = <P extends UseFormFieldProps>(props: P) => {
  const { label, name, ...otherProps } = props;
  const id = name;

  return {
    formFieldProps: { id, name, label },
    childProps: { ...otherProps, id, name },
  };
};

interface Props extends UseFormFieldProps {
  id: string;
}

const FormField = ({ children, name, id, label }: Props) => {
  const ctx = useFormContext();
  const state = ctx.getFieldState(name);

  return (
    <div>
      <label htmlFor={id}>{label}</label>
      {children}
      {state.error && <p>{state.error.message}</p>}
    </div>
  );
};

export default FormField;

Including id in both sets of props makes for a more consistent FormField, since htmlFor is designed to equal the id of its corresponding element.

It also allows us to remove id={props.name} from <input>:

import FormField, { UseFormFieldProps, useFormField } from "./FormField"

interface Props extends UseFormFieldProps, ComponentProps<"input"> {
  name: string;
}

const Input = forwardRef<HTMLInputElement, Props>((props, ref) => {
  const { formFieldProps, childProps } = useFormField(props);

  return (
    <FormField {...formFieldProps}>
      <input {...childProps} ref={ref} />
    </FormField>
  );
});

Implementing this for Select is as easy as copying Input and changing a few words - I’ll let you do it yourself!

Nobody Likes a Boring Form

All the work we’ve done has made our form pretty in code, but to end users it looks terrible! Time for some CSS.

I think there’s a couple of options for adding CSS to our form elements:

  1. Add className or inline styles directly to the components we’ve been building

  2. Create separate components that are only styled, and consume those inside our form-enabled components

For your use case option 1 may be fine, and it’s simple enough that you can do it yourself.

I prefer option 2 though, since it allows for UI components to be used without a form (useful for buttons and basic inputs), and opt-in support for form integration when necessary by just swapping out for the form-enabled variants of each UI component.

Here’s what that does to my file structure:

src/
  components/
    forms/
      Input.tsx
      Select.tsx
      Form.tsx
      FormField.tsx
      SubmitButton.tsx
    ui/
      Input.tsx
      Select.tsx
      Button.tsx
  App.tsx

Form-enabled components are just FormField wrappers around their components/ui counterparts, which in my case are styled with Tailwind or UnoCSS, but you could use elements from a component library like Mantine or MUI, or even add styles to an unstyled component library like Headless UI or Radix UI.

Wrapping Things Up

This post has been long, but it only touches on a few of the many features of React Hook Form and Zod. I’d highly recommend reading their docs to learn how to fully utilise them.

Here’s a final example demonstrating everything that has been discussed: Input, Select, FormField, styling (via UnoCSS), as well as some extra things like additional validations and a delay inside onSubmit to demonstrate how <fieldset> propagates its disabled state.

Thanks for reading this post! I’ve been holding onto this idea for ages but only now decided to actually write about it. I sincerely hope you enjoyed reading it or learned something useful.

If you think this post could be valuable to others, I’d really appreciate if you shared it on Twitter and tag me @brendonovichdev.

A big thank you goes out to these people for helping with this post: