Jovi De Croock

Software Engineer

Virtual Dom optimizations

As one of the core maintainers of Preact I think a lot about Virtual DOM and how to optimize it, there are a lot of optmizations that are easy to miss in Virtual DOM. We often get told to leverage shouldComponentUpdate or memo to avoid excessive rerendering of a component. These are a few of the more obvious optmizations as they are explicitly documented and we can reaon about them while we explicitly use them. However the Virtual DOM leverages a lot more subtile optimizations that most might not be aware of. Let's look at a few of the less obvious ones, in the examples we'll notice that the rerenders are counted for the functional components.

Equal state

When we look at the example of setState we have a few advantages with using simple values like a string/number/... as opposed to an object or array. It's much easier for a library to assess whether these are equal and if they are eqaul given that we expect component functions to be pure we can assume the output to be the same as before.

In the following example we have a counter component that has a minimum value of 0 and a maximum value of 10, when we reach these it will color red, the buttons are still pressable but the state will remain 0 or 10 respectively which means our virtual dom is smart enough to bail out of this render.

Count: 0

Counter rerenders: 0

This is an optimization that will often be seen when we bail out of <input> updates when we are applying rules like max-length in our component code. This optimization is hard to explicitly leverage but you can use it to skip some updates or atleast it's good to be aware why a mutation on an object or array is not resulting in your component updating.

Strict equality

This optimization is a bit trickier so bear with me on this one, the strict-equality or child-equality bailout is a very neat assumptions that Virtual DOM libraries can make and is very related to passing in props to a component.

Let's start by approaching this from the theoretical perspective and then look at an example, when we produce Virtual DOM Nodes by means of the createElement or jsx function we get an in-memory representation of a piece of your UI.

Your transpiler (ESBuild/Babel/...) will transform your JSX into these function calls.

When these visual representations don't change it's essentially useless to run our diff algorithm for the unchanged subtree. This means that if we pass in children to a component that the diff of those children can be skipped if the update is internal to that component alone.

const Counter = () => {
  const [count, setCount] = useState(0)

  return (
      <p>Count: {count}</p>
      <div style="display:flex;">
        <button onClick={() => setCount((c) => c - 1)}>-1</button>
        <button onClick={() => setCount((c) => c + 1)}>+1</button>

const Layout = (props) => {
  const [darkMode, setDarkMode] = useState(false)

  return (
      <button onClick={() => setDarkMode((dark) => !dark)}>
        set {darkMode ? 'Light' : 'Dark'} Mode

const App = () => (
    <Counter />
    <Counter />

In the above example, when we toggle our dark-mode we can safely assume that it didn't impact any of the children contained in Layout that came from App. This because the Virtual DOM nodes we are passing in stay the same as App is not re-rendering, a rerender stemming from App here would rerender everything.

Have a play with it yourself!

App rerenders: 0

Layout rerenders: 0

Counter #1 rerenders: 0

Count: 0

Counter #2 rerenders: 0

Count: 0

This optimization becomes especially helpful when we consider the case of context we can isolate the Provider and its state update to be isolated rather than a top-down render, with sufficient knowledge about the isolation of the leaves getting updated by the context you can use this optimization for that as well. This all depends on how expensive the components are that are getting updated and as always I would love to emphasize that making it work should always take priority 😅

Partial hydration

I must say this is one of the things I'm particularly proud of and just happy that we as an ecosystem are investing time in these principles, there are some good articles on hydration, what it does, how it works and the different perspectives on how a server-side renderd app should be hydrated. I love to refer to the Islands architecture blog post by Jason Miller.

I like to think of this as we defer hydrating the DOM for pieces we don't need, currently in Preact we have a heuristic for this with the help of lazy and Suspense. It's a fairly unknown and undocumented optimization as it currently resides in /compat but we are actively exploring how to best leverage this.

When we are Server-Side rendering we can't just stop at a lazy piece of code, we'll render this immediately in the produced DOM string. We'll send this string down to the DOM which in-turn makes us download the initial JS-bundle, that JS-bundle will initiate the hydration process. The initial JS-bundle will most likely be lacking a few pieces of code due to us lazily importing them.

Consider the following code

import { Suspense, lazy, hydrate } from 'preact/compat'

const TodoList = lazy(() => import('./pages/TodoList'))

const App = () => {
  return (
      <Header />
        <TodoList />
      <Footer />

hydrate(<App />, document.body)

When we get this initial dom-string it will include the list of todo's, however the initial bundle on the client will contain the App and preact/compat, when we start the hydration process to attach our event-listeners, ... we'll be able to successfully hydrate the App, Header and Footer however, when we reach the TodoList we encounter code that is yet to be downloaded so we mark this root as "not-hydrated" and leave the DOM intact, now when that bundle finishes downloading we can continue hydrating the app. The benefit here is that the application is interactable before all of the JS is available in the browser!

I've personally explored this in the following repo this server-side renders the realworld application and uses Suspense boundaries to defer the hydration of bits that aren't loaded yet.


There are a lot of things we can do to keep our applications fast but as always every paradigm has its limitations and strengths. At the end of the day I hope these practices can help prevent or help identify performance improvements you can make in your apps.

If any of these optimizations spoke to you feel free to discuss them on Twitter would love to hear where you think libraries like Preact could improve.