Sometimes a mobile application needs to know when it becomes active or inactive. React Native provides the AppState API for this. There are several ways to use this API, including a new one that my colleagues and I just released.

In React Native, the AppState API lets you check the current state of the application with AppState.currentState. You can also add an event listener to be notified when the state changes.

Possible states include:

  • null: Initial value while the real state is being retrieved.
  • active: The app is running in the foreground.
  • background: The app is running in the background while the user is in another app or on the home screen.
  • inactive: The app is transitioning between foreground and background or otherwise inactive (such as when there’s an incoming call).

When you want to use an event listener, the normal approach is to use the React component lifecycle methods componentDidMount and componentWillUnmount along with an event handler to handle the change.

AppStateListener

My colleagues and I at Zeal have just released a new library, react-native-appstate-listener, that takes care of this for you.

AppStateListener is a React component that takes three callback functions as props: onActive, onBackground, and onInactive. Whenever AppState signals a state change, AppStateListener calls the appropriate callback, allowing your application to respond as necessary.

In addition, AppStateListener calls the onActive callback when the component mounts and the onBackground callback when it unmounts.

All three props are optional, so you only need to specify the props you care about.

As an example from one of our applications, we cache some state locally on the device but we want to refresh that state from the server whenever the application becomes active. Here’s the code for that:

Using AppStateListener
import React from 'react'
import { View } from 'react-native'
import AppStateListener from 'react-native-appstate-listener'
export function Main({ refreshState }) {
<AppStateListener onActive={refreshState} />

In our case, refreshState is a bound Redux action creator that does what we need, but it can be any function.

You can have several instances of AppStateListener in your application at the same time, each responding to changes in a different way.

Alternatives

If you’re using Redux and you’d prefer that AppState changes be converted into Redux actions that are dispatched through your Redux store, take a look at redux-enhancer-react-native-appstate.

In general, I’ve found that my responses to AppState changes involve side effects, so responding to them in a reducer doesn’t normally work for me.

However, if your responses can be handled by reducers, or if you use something like redux-saga, this can be a really good approach. You can define a saga that watches for the AppState change actions and responds to them.

Conclusion

The AppState API can be really useful in React Native applications, whether you use it directly or via a more convenient wrapper.