Ethan Mick
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Local storage in React

Local storage is a browser API that lets you save simple data to the browser. This data is not available on a server, it can only be accessed client-side. Local storage is a fantastic place to keep simple application data. If a user closes or refreshes the tab then their data will be not be lost.

MDN documentation is available here.

The local storage API can be accessed from the window.localStorage key. Since window is global in browsers, you will most often access it with localStorage.

The API looks like this:

// Returns the value given string 'key'. Null if no value is found.
localStorage.getItem(key: string): string | null;
// Set the string 'value' to 'key'.
// Might throw an error if localStorage is not available
localStorage.setItem(key: string, value: string): void;
// Remove the value associated with string 'key'.
localStorage.removeItem(key: string): void;
// Remove all values for all keys
localStorage.clear(): void;

Start Simple

There is nothing React specific in this API. However, wrapping the API with some logic to make it more Reactful will have it work better in your applications. That's what this will cover.

The simplest approach is to just invoke the API whenever you need to save or get something. I'll use the To-Do app as an example. You can grab the code used here.

The simplest way to start is to use the APIs above verbatim. The APIs only accept strings, which means saving complex data needs to be simplified to a string. The most common way to do this is to save your data as JSON, which is a string.

const onAddTodo = (text: string) => {
// Save the to-dos as state, as normal.
setTodos([...todos, { text }])
// Also save the todos as JSON.
localStorage.setItem('todos', JSON.stringify([...todos, { text }]))

The above code saves the Todos when they are changed. In your application, whenever the state changes you can call the setItem API to overwrite the previous value and save the data.

Saving the data is only half the work though. You also need to load the data. And this is a little more complicated.

Load, but only once

When your application loads you want to load the data that you saved earlier. This will allow the user to refresh the page or close the tab. When the user comes back to your application and it loads for the first time, the data will load.

The simplest (but not great) approach is to load the data when the component executes and put the result in the state. This will only run each time the component renders but only sets the state for the first time.

const TodoList = ({ name }: TodoListProps) => {
const loaded = JSON.parse(localStorage.getItem('todos') || '[]')
const [todos, setTodos] = useState<Todo[]>(loaded)
return (...)

This will parse the data stored in local storage under the key todos, or if no data is found, it will parse the string '[]'. This is because the JSON.parse API expects a value, and our default value for the state is an empty array. Another way of writing this would be:

const loaded = localStorage.getItem('todos') ? JSON.parse(localStorage.getItem('todos')) : []

The first way duplicates less code but calls JSON.parse no matter what.

Hurray! The Todo app now loads the list on startup and saves it whenever it changes. But there are a few issues.

Handling multiple lists

The first issue is that all the Todo lists save using the same key. This will become an issue the moment a user has multiple lists.

To fix this problem, the key that is used to save the data needs to be based on a unique attribute of the list. Ideally, this would be a unique primary key, but another attribute like name is close.

How the name is assigned is outside the scope of this article, but if it were passed in you could do:

interface TodoListProps {
name: string
const TodoList = ({ name }: TodoListProps) => {
// The key to save and load is now list specific
const key = `todo-list-${name}`
const loaded = JSON.parse(localStorage.getItem(key) || '[]')
const [todos, setTodos] = useState<Todo[]>(loaded)
const onAddTodo = (text: string) => {
setTodos([...todos, { text }])
localStorage.setItem(key, JSON.stringify([...todos, { text }]))
return (...)
const App = () => <TodoList name="Default" />

Awesome! Now the user can have multiple lists that all independently save their todos.

This works, but it adds a lot of extra logic to the TodoList component just to manage the items. There are two big issues with this though:

  1. The logic of accessing local storage on a given key is duplicated.
  2. The loading of the data happens each time the component renders. The only time it needs to load is the first time, but it currently runs each time.
  3. Every time the state is changed the local storage logic also needs to be added.

Tackling the first one requires creating a custom hook.

Making it a hook

Any JavaScript code can access localStorage and save or get values; there is nothing special about React here. But to make the API feel native, you can build it into a hook. This hook will accept the key as a string and scope the requests to that key. It will return an API to get, set, or remove that key.

type StorageOptions = {
json?: boolean
export const useStorage = <T = any>(key: string, { json }: StorageOptions = {}) => {
const get = (): T | null => {
const value = localStorage.getItem(key)
if (!value) {
return value as unknown as T
if (json) {
try {
return JSON.parse(value)
} catch {}
return value as unknown as T
const set = (value: T) => {
const saving = typeof value !== 'string' ? JSON.stringify(value) : value
localStorage.setItem(key, saving)
const remove = () => localStorage.removeItem(key)
return {

This example expands the functionality by offering an optional json option. The Todo app above needed to serialize the complex objects to JSON to save them. But that's not always the case. If the user wants to just save a regular string then the JSON serialization is not necessary. This option lets the user toggle the JSON parsing.

This works by encapsulating the key passed in and creating three functions. These functions are called by the user. They use a JavaScript closure to “hold onto” the key value the user originally passed in. This means the user doesn't need to pass the key each time - they can just pass the important value.

const set = (value: T) => {
const saving = typeof value !== 'string' ? JSON.stringify(value) : value
localStorage.setItem(key, saving)
return { set }

This allows them to use the API in the following way:

const { get, set } = useStorage(`todo-list-${name}`, { json: true })
// gets the saved todos, or an empty array if none found
const [todos, setTodos] = useState<Todo[]>(get() || [])
const onAddTodo = (text: string) => {
setTodos([...todos, { text }])
// save to local storage
set([...todos, { text }])

Pretty awesome!

Now onto the next challenge, not loading it every time.

Using useEffect to trigger once

The required logic is:

When the component loads for only the first time, load the saved todos.

This is accomplished in React using the useEffect hook. You can read the details about the hook on the official docs. The usage here will be to only run something once.

import { useEffect } from 'react'
useEffect(() => {
// This is the code to run
}, [])

The first parameter is the function you want to run. The second parameter tells React when to run it. Since this usage is an empty array, it runs only when that array changes. The array never changes, so it only runs once when the component first loads.

Loading the to-dos looks like:

import { useEffect } from 'react'
const TodoList = ({ name }: TodoListProps) => {
const { get, set } = useStorage(`todo-list-${name}`, { json: true })
// Always load empty array by default
const [todos, setTodos] = useState<Todo[]>([])
// On first load, get the Todos from local storage. If none found, set to empty array
useEffect(() => {
setTodos(get() || [])
}, [])
return (...)

And now the loading code only fires when the component first loads! Combined with the above code for setting the Todos and things are starting to take shape.

Finally, to round this out, there's another challenge. And this requires talking about some tradeoffs.

Designing APIs

A large part of software engineering comes down to designing APIs. How do you want your software to be used? In the above example, the local storage hook is in a good place. It works well, it's simple and performant. It's easy to reason about what each section is doing. Components can simply use the hook and not need to have localStorage used at all in their code.

However, it begs another question.

The TodoList component is managing both the state and the local storage.

Does it make more sense to merge those?

Instead of managing the state and saving to local storage, what if... the local storage was the state.

The first question is about performance. When moving the save trigger outside of the user control it would write on each save. Would that make the application lag? A little searching around on the Internet and it looks like you could save massive amounts of data in local storage before performance took a noticeable hit.

The application doesn't need to save and load from local storage on each change. That's a redundant action. So the logic can stay the same as in the component, but you can simply merge useState into useStorage.

This is a pretty different API though. The useStorage hook above is very generic. It can be used to quickly save any value. It has very little complexity. By adding in state management too, the hook responsibility grows.

But if this is a common use case, it makes sense to build a hook that will do this. What's better, is this can be a new hook that uses both the others.

Merging the APIs

To merge the State and Storage API, you can create a new hook which does both.

import { useEffect, useState } from 'react'
import { useStorage } from './storage-hook'
export const useSavedState = <T,>(
key: string,
initial: T
): [T, React.Dispatch<React.SetStateAction<T>>] => {
const { get, set } = useStorage<T>(key, { json: true })
const [state, setState] = useState<T>(get() || initial)
useEffect(() => {
}, [JSON.stringify(state)])
return [state, setState]

This uses heavy use of TypeScript generics, which allows for the types to all remain correct. It also uses useEffect to save the state each time the state changes.

The final usage looks like:

const TodoList = ({ name }: TodoListProps) => {
const [todos, setTodos] = useSavedState<Todo[]>(`todo-list-${name}`, [])
return (...)

Which is almost the same as the useState (on purpose), with the addition of which key to save the state to local storage whenever it changes.

Local Storage in React

That's how you can work with local storage in React! The APIs for localStorage are very easy. A lot of it comes down to the API design and how you want to split responsibilities. The first hook built only manages local storage. The second also managed the state and automatically loaded or saved the state when it changed. This gives your application a lot of flexibility depending on what it needs to do.

Software engineering is often about API design and understanding tradeoffs. With a good API design, you can get the best of both!

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