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Falling In Love with Preact

Over the last couple years, I had a couple roles that gave me a chance to stretch my frontend legs a little more. I've spent a bunch of time working with React, as well as OpenLayers, Next.js, a bit of htmx, and others.

But, as the title alludes to, I want to talk about a library I haven't seen many talk about: Preact.

Note: This is not a "hate" article. React & the mentioned other libraries all have their strong suits, or deserve credit for introducing new ideas. I just want to sing the praises of a library I'm enjoying.

What is Preact?

Preact is a Javascript library that allows you to easily build a component-based UI. If you've ever worked with any React, Vue.js, or similar, the terminology/feature-set/architecture will be very familiar.

For example, a simple Avatar component (with a bit of Tailwind & the built-in JSX support) might look like:

function Avatar({ name, imageUrl, size = 12, ...props }) {
  return (
      src={imageUrl || ''}
      class={`inline-block m-4 rounded-full w-${size} h-${size}`}

Why Preact?

The biggest common selling point is that it's a (very) lightweight alternative to React, weighing in at just 3Kb when minified. Despite the size difference, from a general usage standpoint, it achieves this without any major sacrifices.

It also has an extensive preact/compat library, which strives for excellent React compatibility out-of-the-box, meaning relatively painless migrations from React to Preact.

But for me, there are two bigger reasons to love Preact:

  1. HTM support
  2. A great "small" usage story

1. HTM?

For a long time after initially using React (circa 2017), I was turned off by JSX. I was a big believer in Progressive Enhancement, and JSX felt awful from this standpoint.

The mix of code & logic, the effort that used to be required to do the right transforms. The docs, even today, aren't particularly complete or helpful, with lots of surprising gotchas (className, wrapping with the <> fragment, naming of the event handlers, etc.).

Over time recently, I've gradually acclimated to JSX's... eccentricities, and accepted that Progressive Enhancement has gradually gone the way of the dodo.

However, HTM is a lovely alternative to JSX. It looks & feels closer to something like mustache, is built off standard Tagged Templates, and doesn't require a transpiler to function!

Note: Yes, I know you don't have to use JSX with React, or that you can use HTM with React. But as opposed to those options, the Preact+HTM path is well-documented & well-tread.

For example, to revisit the earlier Avatar example:

// Import it, just like anything else!
import { html } from 'htm';

function Avatar({ name, imageUrl, size = 12, ...props }) {
  // And call it, rather than returning JSX.
  return html`
      src=${imageUrl || ''}
      class="inline-block m-4 rounded-full w-${size} h-${size}"

It feels much closer to regular HTML, and like Preact, is very lightweight. This makes it perfect for tiny projects, which leads me to...

2. A great "small" usage story

Let's say you wanted to just integrate a single component or two on a small static website. How do you go about doing that with React?

Most of the React docs assume you're building a significant SPA, and significant local setup to build. Even the tutorial has you downloading Node, installing dependencies, and a non-trivial build process.

While that may be second-nature to many/most Javascript enthusiasts, there are lots of regular backend developers or designers who only occasionally help with some code to whom this is a daunting task. Even once things are setup, it's easy for build or dependency issues to creep in over time.

Note: Again, I know it's possible to do ultra-light React installs without all this. But it's not well-documented nor particularly easy to suss out.

In contrast, here's a way we could use that Avatar with Preact at the smallest scale:

<!doctype html>
    <script src=""></script>

  <body class="p-32">
    <header class="flex flex-row">
      <h1 class="text-7xl font-bold">
        Hi, I'm Daniel
      <!-- 1. Give it an element to render into. -->
      <div id="my-avatar"></div>

    <!-- 2. Add in a script tag, using ESM modules. -->
    <script type="module">
      import { html, render } from '';

      // 2a. For nice readability, make a variable for my avatar image URL.
      const myAvatar = '';

      // This is unchanged from above.
      function Avatar({ name, imageUrl, size = 12, ...props }) {
        return html`
            src=${imageUrl || ''}
            class="inline-block m-4 rounded-full w-${size} h-${size}"

      // 3. Render it to the element!
        html`<${Avatar} name="Daniel" imageUrl=${myAvatar} />`,

That's it! A full, working page utilizing a one-off component with minimal effort, & no build required!

And because it's just a single import and a single render function call, this is exceedingly friendly to people who are much less familiar with modern Javascript environments.

Of course, it has a great full-SPA story as well, with routing, debugging, testing, and Typescript support. Not to mention being able to basically use thousands of React components right off-the-shelf.


Updated: I've really been enjoying Preact, having built several smaller projects with it. I really love the:

  • The familliarity of React-like syntax,
  • the small footprint,
  • the ease of getting started,
  • ...and the option of using HTM

I'd encourage you to give it a try. You can literally start from a single .html file in an editor (feel free to use the above as a starting point), which is fantastic for experimentation.

Happy Javascript-ing!


  • 2023-11-11: Revised conclusion & added a note to the introduction. Thanks to xian for suggesting the edits & proof-reading.
  • 2023-11-10: Initial post.
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