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Complete Guide to Creating 3D Websites With React Three Fiber

Would you like to learn how to create 3D websites using React and the Three Fiber library? This library provides building blocks that make creating 3d interfaces easier.

The default Three.js library requires complex setup process and bulky code to create a 3d scene. However, with React Three Fiber, you simply need to import supported JSX components and use them in your project.

This tutorial will show you how to install and use the React Three Fiber library to build 3D animated web applications. Without further ado, let’s jump right in!

Definition of React Three Fiber

It is a React renderer for Three.js, a popular animation library used for creating 3D graphics on the web. Essentially, React Three Fiber acts as a bridge between React and Three.js, allowing developers to write 3D applications using React’s declarative style.

Here, 3D scenes are composed using JSX elements, which is familiar to React developers. This means you can define your 3D objects, lights, cameras, and other components in a way that feels like writing regular React code. React Three Fiber renders these components into a 3D scene managed by Three.js.

The main benefits of React Three Fiber include:

  1. Declarative Syntax: Write 3D scenes in a more readable and structured manner, similar to how you would write UI components in React.

  2. Component-based Architecture: Reusability of 3D objects and easier state management, as each object can be a component with its own state and props.

  3. Integration with React Ecosystem: Works with React’s extensive eco system, including state management tools (like Redux or Context API), routing, entity management system, and more.

Overview of 3D Graphics in Web Development

3D graphics in web development have become increasingly popular. With advancements in web technologies, particularly WebGL (Web Graphics Library), developers can now render complex 3D graphics directly in a web browser without needing plugins.

Key Aspects of 3D Graphics in Web Development:

  1. WebGL: A JavaScript API that allows for rendering interactive 2D and 3D graphics within any compatible web browser without using plugins.

  2. Three.js: The most popular library for working with WebGL, providing an easier, higher-level API to create 3D graphics.

  3. Performance: Modern browsers optimize for WebGL, enabling smooth and efficient rendering of complex scenes.

  4. Interactivity: 3D graphics on the web can be interactive, responding to user inputs like mouse movements, clicks, and keyboard events.

  5. Use Cases: From gaming and virtual tours to data visualization and product showcases, 3D graphics enhance the user experience in various domains.

The Synergy Between React and Three.js

The combination of React and Three.js brings together the best of both worlds: React’s efficient UI rendering and state management with Three.js’s powerful 3D graphics capabilities.

Key Synergies Include:

  1. Declarative UI with 3D Graphics: React’s declarative nature simplifies building complex 3D scenes, making the code more readable and maintainable.

  2. Component-Based Structure: Just like React allows for building UI components, React Three Fiber enables the creation of reusable 3D components.

  3. State Management: React’s state management applies to 3D objects. This allows for dynamic and interactive 3D scenes that react to user inputs and data changes.

  4. Hooks and Context: React features like hooks and context manage the state and lifecycle of 3D objects more efficiently.

  5. Virtual DOM for 3D Objects: React Three Fiber uses React’s virtual DOM concept. This means optimized performance as it updates only what’s necessary in the 3D scene.

How to Start With React Three Fiber

Like we mentioned earlier, React 3 Fiber is a powerful tool for integrating 3D graphics into React applications. Before starting, here are some things to keep in place to ensure you follow along with this tutorial.

Prerequisites

  • Basic knowledge of React

  • Understanding of Three.js fundamentals

  • Required software installations (Node.js, npm, etc.)

Please see the video below if you need a refresher on React.

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Installation Process

If you don’t have an existing React project, you can create one using Create React App. Run the following command in your terminal:

npx create-react-app my-3d-app
cd my-3d-app

Inside your project, you need to install React Three Fiber. Since it’s a bridge between React and Three.js, you also need to install Three.js. Run the following command:

npm install three @react-three/fiber

This command installs both three (the Three.js library) and @react-three/fiber (the React renderer for Three.js).

Here’s a crash course to Three.js.

Creating Your First 3D Scene with React Three Fiber

Once installed, you can start using React Three Fiber in your project. Here’s a simple example to demonstrate:

Let’s start by creating a new React component. We’ll name ours Box.jsx as we’ll be implementing a 3D box. Within Box.jsx, add the following code.

import React, { useRef, useState } from 'react'
import { useFrame } from '@react-three/fiber'

function Box(props) {
  // This reference will give us direct access to the mesh
  const meshRef = useRef()
  // Set up state for the hovered and active state
  const [hovered, setHover] = useState(false)
  const [active, setActive] = useState(false)
  // Subscribe this component to the render-loop, rotate the mesh every frame
  useFrame((state, delta) => (meshRef.current.rotation.x += delta))
  // Return view, these are regular three.js elements expressed in JSX
  return (
    <mesh
      {...props}
      ref={meshRef}
      scale={active ? 1.5 : 1}
      onClick={(event) => setActive(!active)}
      onPointerOver={(event) => setHover(true)}
      onPointerOut={(event) => setHover(false)}>
      <boxGeometry args={[1, 1, 1]} />
      <meshStandardMaterial color={hovered ? 'hotpink' : 'orange'} />
    </mesh>
  )
}

export default Box;

The Box component in the code creates an interactive 3D box using React Three Fiber. It uses useRef to reference the mesh object, allowing direct manipulation of its properties.

We then define two state variables, hovered and active, using the useState hook to track the box’s hover and click states. The useFrame hook animates the box, continuously rotating it along the x-axis.

The box’s appearance and scale change in response to mouse interactions: it scales up when clicked (controlled by the active state) and changes color when hovered over (controlled by the hovered state). These interactions are handled by onClick, onPointerOver, and onPointerOut event listeners. The box’s geometry is defined as a 1x1x1 cube, and its material color changes based on the hover state.

In your App.jsx file, we’ll import the Box component we just created and use <Canvas> to create a scene. After that, you’ll need to use the Canvas component from React Three Fiber to define a 3D scene.

Within Canvas, you can place your 3D objects (like a box, sphere, etc.), lights, and cameras. For this example, we’ll use the Box component we imported to create a 3D box.

import React from 'react';
import { Canvas } from '@react-three/fiber';
import Box from './Box'

export function App() {
  return (
    <Canvas>
    <ambientLight intensity={Math.PI / 2} />
    <spotLight position={[10, 10, 10]} angle={0.15} penumbra={1} decay={0} intensity={Math.PI} />
    <pointLight position={[-10, -10, -10]} decay={0} intensity={Math.PI} />
    <Box position={[-1.2, 0, 0]} />
    <Box position={[1.2, 0, 0]} />
  </Canvas>
  );
}

The code sets up a 3D scene with React Three Fiber, featuring a canvas that includes ambient, spot, and point lights, each with specified properties like intensity and position.

To see how the implementation looks in the frontend, run the development server using the npm start command.

Three Fiber Examples

Major Components of a Basic 3D Scene

  1. Canvas: The canvas component in React Three Fiber is equivalent to the WebGL renderer in Three.js. It’s the container where your 3D scene will be rendered. In a React component, you wrap your 3D objects and lights within the <Canvas> component.

  2. Camera: While React Three Fiber automatically provides a camera, you can customize it. The camera determines the perspective from which you view the 3D scene. You can adjust properties like position, field of view, and look.

  3. Lights: Lights affect how your objects are seen, adding depth, shades, and colors. Common types of light include ambient light (uniform light), point light (light emitted from a point), and directional light (sun-like light coming from a specific direction).

Understanding the React Three Fiber Components

  1. React-like Structure for 3D Objects: React Three Fiber allows you to construct your 3D scene using JSX, similar to how you build UI components in React. This means you can use props, state, and React hooks with your 3D objects.

  2. Components Represent 3D Entities: Each 3D entity (like a light, camera, or mesh) is represented as a component. This makes it easy to understand and manipulate the scene.

Comparison with Traditional Three.js Syntax

Traditional Three.js: In Three.js, you create a scene, camera, and renderer manually. You then add objects to the scene, define materials and geometries, and update the renderer in a loop. This approach is tedious and requires more code.

const scene = new THREE.Scene();
const camera = new THREE.PerspectiveCamera(...);
const renderer = new THREE.WebGLRenderer();
const geometry = new THREE.BoxGeometry();
const material = new THREE.MeshBasicMaterial({ color: 0x00ff00 });
const cube = new THREE.Mesh(geometry, material);
scene.add(cube);
// Animation loop and rendering...

React Three Fiber: With React Three Fiber, you describe your scene declaratively. You define components for each entity and their properties as JSX. This approach is more readable and aligns with the React way of building UIs.

<Canvas>
  <mesh position={[0, 0, 0]}>
    <boxBufferGeometry attach="geometry" args={[1, 1, 1]} />
    <meshStandardMaterial attach="material" color="orange" />
  </mesh>
</Canvas>

Creating a 3D scene with React Three Fiber involves setting up a <Canvas> component, adding essential elements like cameras and lights, and creating 3D objects like cubes or spheres using JSX syntax.

Traditional Three.js vs. React Three Fiber Comparison Table

AspectTraditional Three.jsReact Three Fiber
Code StructureManual creation and management of scene, camera, renderer, objects.JSX-like components representing 3D objects, lights, and camera within a <Canvas>.
Scene ManagementManually add and remove objects from the scene.Components are automatically mounted and unmounted as they appear in and out of the JSX.
State ManagementExternal state management or manual handling.Integrated with React’s state management (useState, useContext, etc.).
Animation and UpdatesManual setup of render loop and animation.Use of React’s lifecycle methods and hooks for updates and animations.
Learning CurveSteeper for those unfamiliar with 3D graphics programming.Easier for developers with React background; smoother integration into React apps.
Integration with ReactSeparate from React ecosystem; needs manual integration.Seamless integration with React ecosystem (hooks, context, etc.).
Use CaseSuitable for applications heavily focused on 3D graphics without React.Ideal for React applications needing 3D graphics capabilities.
Debugging and ToolsTraditional JavaScript debugging tools.React DevTools can be used for inspecting and debugging the scene.
FlexibilityHigh level of control over graphics rendering and optimization.Easier to set up and use, but with slightly less direct control over rendering details.

State Management

Just like in any React app, state management can be implemented using various architectural patterns, like Flux and proxy-based approaches. These patterns help manage state more efficiently, especially in complex applications with numerous components and interactions.

Flux-Based State Management

Flux is an architectural pattern introduced by Facebook for building client-side web applications. It enforces a unidirectional data flow, which makes it easier to reason about your application’s state. The pattern involves four major parts: Actions, Dispatchers, Stores, and Views (React components in this case).

Implementation:

  • Actions: Define actions representing the changes or effects you want to apply to your 3D scene.

  • Dispatcher: Use a dispatcher to send actions to the store.

  • Stores: Stores handle the logic and state of your application. In React 3 Fiber, the store would manage the state of your 3D objects and scenes.

  • Views: React components (including 3D objects) that listen to stores and update when the state changes.

Proxy-Based State Management

Proxy-based state management utilizes the JavaScript Proxy object to create reactive state objects. When a state object is modified, the proxy intercepts the change and triggers a re-render or other side effects.

Implementation:

Libraries like zustand or valtio use the proxy approach to create a simple and efficient way to manage global state.

In React 3 Fiber, you can use these libraries to create global stores that any component, including 3D objects, can access and subscribe to.

The main advantage is simplicity and less boilerplate compared to Flux-based systems. It’s more straightforward to update and read from the state, making it suitable for many use cases in 3D scene management.

Advanced Concepts in React Three Fiber

React Three Fiber allows for the creation of complex and interactive 3D scenes in a React environment.

Creating Complex Shapes

In React Three Fiber, you can create complex 3D geometries using various Three.js geometry classes.

Custom geometries can be created by defining vertices, faces, and edges. This is especially useful for unique or non-standard shapes. Libraries like drei provide pre-made complex shapes and tools that simplify this process. Here is an example of creating a custom geometry:

const CustomGeometry = () => {
  const ref = useRef();
  useFrame(() => (ref.current.rotation.x = ref.current.rotation.y += 0.01));

  return (
    <mesh ref={ref}>
      {/* Custom Geometry Definition Here */}
    </mesh>
  );
};

Manipulating Shapes: Manipulation involves changing the properties of geometry, such as position, rotation, scale, and material. React Three Fiber allows for easy manipulation using props and states.

Animations and Interactivity

Implementing Animations Using React Hooks: The useFrame hook from React Three Fiber is commonly used for animations. It’s called every frame and can be used to create smooth animations by modifying properties over time. Example of rotating a cube:

const RotatingBox = () => {
  const ref = useRef();
  useFrame(() => (ref.current.rotation.x = ref.current.rotation.y += 0.01));
  return <mesh ref={ref}>{/* ... */}</mesh>;
};

Adding User Interaction to 3D Objects: React Three Fiber simplifies adding interactions such as clicks, hovers, and drags to 3D objects. Event listeners can be attached directly to 3D objects in JSX. Example of a clickable object:

const ClickableBox = () => {
  const handleClick = (event) => { /* Handle click */ };
  return <mesh onClick={handleClick}>{/* ... */}</mesh>;
};

Performance Optimization

Below are some tips to implement to improve the performance of your animations.

Optimizing 3D Scenes for Web Performance:

  • Geometry Merging: Merge static geometries to reduce the number of draw calls.

  • Level of Detail (LOD): Use different levels of detail for objects based on their distance from the camera.

  • Textures and Materials: Optimize textures and materials; use compressed textures and avoid unnecessary material complexities.

  • Efficient Animations: Minimize the use of useFrame for animations. Restrict complex calculations and state updates to essential components only.

Integrating with Other Libraries and APIs

React Three Fiber, part of React’s ecosystem allows seamless integration with other libraries and external APIs. This integration capability enables developers to create more dynamic, interactive, and complex 3D applications.

Using React Three Fiber with Other React Libraries

State Management Libraries: React Three Fiber can be integrated with state management libraries like Redux or Context API. This integration allows for managing the state of 3D objects and animations in a large-scale application efficiently.

Routing Libraries: You can combine React Three Fiber with React Router to navigate between different 3D scenes or incorporate 3D elements into different parts of a React application.

UI Libraries: Combining React Three Fiber with UI libraries like Material-UI or Ant Design is common for creating a user interface that controls or interacts with the 3D scene.

Animation Libraries: React Spring and Framer Motion can be used alongside React Three Fiber to animate 3D objects and 2D UI elements cohesively.

Frequently Asked Questions

These are answers to some top questions developers ask about using React Three Fiber.

What makes React Three Fiber different from using Three.js alone?

React Three Fiber combines React’s declarative UI paradigm with Three.js’s 3D capabilities. This enables component-based building of 3D scenes and seamless integration with React’s ecosystem.

Can React Three Fiber be used for VR or AR applications?

Yes, React Three Fiber supports VR and AR applications through its compatibility with WebXR. This facilitates the creation of immersive experiences within a React framework.

How do you manage complex scene graphs in React Three Fiber?

Complex scene graphs are managed through nested React components. You can use React’s state and props system for dynamic updates and modularity.

How does React Three Fiber handle animations and interactions?

React Three Fiber handles animations using the useFrame hook for frame-by-frame control and facilitates interactions through event listeners directly attached to 3D objects.

Final Thoughts on Using React Three Fiber

React Three Fiber opens the doorway to 3D development. With this library, you can make your web application interactive and give it that modern look and feel.

In this tutorial, we covered the basics of using React Three Fiber to build robust websites with 3D and animation effects. We also covered advanced concepts like building complex shapes and integrating with 3rd-party libraries like Drei.

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David Ozokoye

David Ozokoye

Software Engineer and Technical Writer