Build a Progressive Web App with React.js

Build a Progressive Web App with React.js

Divine Hycenth4 min read

Published on March 06, 2021.

Last edited: March 03, 2023 by: Divine Hycenth

Build a Progressive Web App with React.js

A reference guide on how to build a progressive app with React.js.

What is a Progressive Web Application (PWA)#

A progressive web app (PWA) is the set of mobile web application development techniques that entails building apps that feel and look like native ones. Using a web stack (JS, HTML, and CSS), progressive web apps combine a rich functionality and smooth user experience associated with native apps. Simply put, PWA is the web app with the native-app flavor: After the installation, a user clicks on its icon on a device home screen and gets straight to the website.

Progressive web apps provides huge benefits like:

  • Self-updates: Able to update themselves automatically, apps stay fresh.

  • Cross platform compatibility: These apps are built according to progressive enhancement principles. Progressive enhancement is the web design strategy of providing the basic functionality and content to everyone regardless of browsers they use or connection quality while delivering more sophisticated page versions to users whose newer browsers can support them.

  • App-like experience: It provides the feels and looks of a native mobile application.

  • Offline Support: Your application can work offline except the page requires a real time data fetching.

Learn more about progressive web apps

Service Workers#

A service worker is a specific type of JavaScript worker, which is a script that runs in the background of the userโ€™s browser. That way we are able to do allot of things in the background like caching static contents of our website(Images, Css files, Html files, Videos, JS files ...) etc. Learn more about service workers.

๐Ÿš€ Lets get started ๐Ÿ”ฅ#

Since we are going to use React we need to initialize our project with create-react-app cli tool.

yarn create react-app react-pwa
# OR
npx create-react-app react-pwa

Next we will change directory into our working project folder by running cd react-pwa in the terminal and I'm going to open the project on VS Code using the code . command.

Initialized Project

As you can see there's a bunch of files and folders that create-react-app comes with but i am not going to go through everything in this tutorial.

There is an important file called manifest.json in the /public directory which contains information(metadata) that defines your applications appearance in different devices.

Manifest file for Project

  • short_name: The name of your app when added to your home screen.

  • name: The name that the browser uses to prompt users to add your app to their home scree.

  • icons: Specifies icons that will be displayed in different devices including the web browser.

  • start_url: The base path of your app when initialized.

  • display: Here you can customize the browser view. Other options are "fullscreen","standalone","minimal-ui","browser"

  • theme_color: The color of the browser toolbar

  • background_color: The color of the splash screen that shows when the app is launched by clicking on its icon in the Home screen.

In the public/index.html

<link rel="manifest" href="%PUBLIC_URL%/manifest.json" />

Notice the use of %PUBLIC_URL% in the tags above. It will be replaced with the URL of the public folder during the build. Only files inside the public folder can be referenced from the HTML.

Lets play around with this app by adding some piece of code in our src/App.js file.

import React from "react";
import logo from "./logo.svg";
import "./App.css";
function App() {
const [value, setValue] = React.useState(0);
return (
<div className="App">
<header className="App-header">
<img src={logo} className="App-logo" alt="logo" />
style={{ padding: 12, backgroundColor: "#61dafb", border: "none" }}
onClick={() => setValue(value + 1)}
Add 1
export default App;

Next we are going to build our app by running

npm run build
yarn build

Note: we are able to use this command because its present in our package.json file.

The build script generates some files and stores it in a build directory.

Build folder

The static folder holds all the js and css files. The index.html is our main page that loads all our React files stored in the static/js folder and also our CSS that is stored in the static/css folder. We can the service-worker.js file, thatโ€™s where all service worker code is stored. The precache-manifest.*.js file holds all the files the service worker caches in an array. We see the manifest.json file, as we already know it tells the browser how our PWA will behave.

We need to install a http-server to be able to run our app in the browser so i'm going to install live-server by running:

npm install --global live-server

After installing live-server we can add a script in our package.json to start our server.

"scripts": {
"serve": "live-server ./build"

Now run npm run serve in your terminal and navigate to http://localhost:8080/ in your browser.

Current look

๐Ÿ˜Ž Our app is live.#

๐Ÿ’ฉ However, If our server goes down at this point our application is going to fail because its not PWA. There are many tools for testing PWA but we are going to use the built in tool that comes with Google Chrome.

If you press F12 on your keyboard to open the chrome dev tools and navigate to the application tab you can see that the service-worker.js file is missing and that is because we didn't register it in our application before build

To register it we just need to make one little change in our src/index.js.

import React from "react";
import ReactDOM from "react-dom";
import "./index.css";
import App from "./App";
import * as serviceWorker from "./serviceWorker";
ReactDOM.render(<App />, document.getElementById("root"));
// If you want your app to work offline and load faster, you can change
// unregister() to register() below. Note this comes with some pitfalls.
// Learn more about service workers:

Note: we changed serviceWorker.unregister() to serviceWorker.register(). These are built in functions that comes with CRA.

Next we will build and serve our project by running

npm run build && npm run serve

and when you reload your browser you can see the service-worker.js file in the application tab of your console.

Also note that the browser cached our static files in the CacheStorage

service-worker.js Cached files

To test if our application is now a PWA we shutdown our server by holding ctrl + c in the terminal then Refresh the browser and everything still works the same way and no errors even though our server is down.