Animating SVG with D3JS and React Hooks

Published on December 15, 2019

SVG + React Hooks + d3-interpolate + requestAnimationFrame


Recently I’ve been trying out React Hooks, and had an opportunity to use them in a project to animate a data visualization rendered using SVG. The project I worked on called for a zoom in and out animation on one of the SVG’s child elements, triggered by the browser’s y scroll position.

In this project I used a combination of D3JS and React for creating the data visualizations. I decided on taking the approach of only using D3 for non-DOM mutation tasks such as generating complex SVG path commands from GeoJSON, then handing those off to a React component for rendering the SVG Path to the DOM.

An alternative approach to combining D3 and React is to use a combination of d3-selection and React’s ref utility to allow D3 to render the part of the DOM which contains the visualization (aside: this is the approach I typically take when using LeafletJS with React). The benefit of this approach is that if you already know D3JS, you can continue developing similar to how you normally would without React. However, some in the data visualization developer community believe that this approach should generally be avoided as it 1. means having two different libraries handle DOM updates and therefore introduces more code complexity, and 2. this forgoes React’s diffing algorithm which helps make DOM updates fast (Amelia Wattenberger ran some benchmarking tests that seem to show React is faster at updating the DOM than D3).

There has been a lot written on the subject of various methods of combining React and D3, which I won’t go into in this post any further. If you’re interested in learning more I encourage you to take a look at the writings and presentations of data vis folks such as Shirley Wu, Amelia Wattenberger, and Thibaut Tiberghien.

One trade off, which became the subject of this blog post, that I ran into with using the first approach is that I lost D3’s magical animation capabilities (referred to as “transitions” in D3JS) that belong to the d3-transition module. In order to animate (or transition) part of the DOM with D3, you need to select it, which you can’t do without using d3-selection. So the question then became, how would I create this animation?

The Solution

I ended up deciding to use a combination of the requestAnimationFrame API, React’s useState and useEffect hooks, and D3’s interpolateZoom method. This ended up working quite nicely, and I was pleased with the results. Unfortunately due to the confidentiality of the project, I can’t show the source code here, so instead I’ve ported the demo from the d3.interpolateZoom documentation on written by Philippe Rivière (thank you Philippe!) to React in order to demonstrate the technique.

Pssst! If you’d like to skip to the final code, check out the demo on

SVG Zoom Transforms and Interpolation

I want to start off with an aside and say that d3-interpolate is such a handy module. It enables you to interpolate not just numbers, but colors, strings, arrays, objects, and dates! Take a look at the d3-interpolate documentation on ObservableHQ for plenty of examples and explanations of how the various interpolators work. And if the word “interpolator” or “interpolation” is just foreign tech jargon to you, then I would recommend reading the d3-interpolate notebook on Observable for a good introduction to the concept in the context of D3JS.

While I’m using d3.interpolateZoom for this tutorial, D3JS also has interpolators for both SVG and CSS transform strings. The benefit of using d3.interpolateZoom over these other interpolators is that it uses an algorithm for smooth zooming and panning developed by Jarke van Wijk and Wim Nuij. Check out the smooth zooming demo by Mike Bostock for a good stand alone example of using d3.interpolateZoom.

The first thing to know about d3.interpolateZoom is that similar to other d3-interpolate methods, when given two arguments, in this case starting and ending transform values, it will return an interpolator function. Both the start and end values are expected to be tuples consisting of three numbers. The first two numbers represent the center of the transform’s x and y coordinates, while the third number represents the size or scale of the transform. The interpolator function that is returned will accept a single value, t, which is expected to be a value between zero to one, inclusive. Passing a value of zero to the interpolator function will return the start transform, and passing a value of one will return the end transform. Any value between these will be an interpolated transform between the start and end transforms. Passing the interpolator function a value of 0.5 for example would return a transform representing the middle point between the start and end transforms.

Phew! If that was a lot to take in don’t sweat it, things should become more clear after we dig into it some more.

Say we have the following SVG graphic:

circle and star svg Image credit: ObservableHQ under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

We can represent the center position and size of the circle as [30, 30, 40] and the star as [135, 85, 60]. Remember the first two values, x and y, represent the center of the transform. The third value, size, is defined either by the object’s width or height, whichever is greater. We’ll refer to the first array for the circle as the “start” position and the second array for the star as the “end” position.

In order to apply the SVG transformation we need to do a little math. First we need to figure out how much to scale the SVG. The dimensions of our SVG are 260 pixels wide by 190 pixels high. To get the scale value k, we use the following calculation:

const width = 260;
const height = 190;
const start = [30, 30, 40];
const k = Math.min(width, height) / start[2];
// 4.75

So the value 4.75 is what we’ll use for our transform’s size value. Now what about repositioning the SVG origin to re-center things? To do this we use some more math, which ends up looking like:

const translate = [width / 2 - start[0] * k, height / 2 - start[1] * k];
// [-12.5, -47.5]

We may now use those values to create our SVG transform string, which ends up being:

const transformStart = `translate(${translate}) scale(${k})`;
// "translate(-12.5, -47.5) scale(4.75)"

Of course we don’t apply this transformation to the SVG element itself, we apply it to the top most “g” element:

<svg viewBox="-2 -2 264 194" style="max-width: 600px">
  <g id=view transform="translate(-12.5,-47.5) scale(4.75)">
    <!-- more svg markup here -->

Note: we actually won’t apply the transform string manually like above, we’ll eventually let React do this for us.

And here is what our SVG ends up looking like after applying the transform:

svg zoomed in on circle shape Image credit: ObservableHQ under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

We use the same math for our star shape to get its k and translate values. When applied to the SVG it will end up looking like this:

svg zoomed in on star shape Image credit: ObservableHQ under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Cool, so we now know how to use some math to apply a “zoom” transform to either of the two objects in our SVG element! That’s great, but what about the in between states where we are zooming from one element to the other?

Because we have the center and size values for both our starting and ending zoom positions, we can construct our zoom interpolator as follows:

const start = [30, 30, 40]; // cx, cy, size
const end = [135, 85, 60]; // cx, cy, size
const zoomInterpolator = d3.interpolateZoom(start, end);

Using this zoom interpolator from D3JS with the math from above, we may create a function that given a value t (between 0 and 1), will return an SVG transform string for the transition zooms between our start and end points, inclusive:

function getTransformStr(t) {
  const view = interpolator(t);
  const k = Math.min(width, height) / view[2]; // scale
  const translate = [width / 2 - view[0] _ k, height / 2 - view[1] _ k]; // translate
  return `translate(${translate}) scale(${k})`;

In other words, when the getTransformStr function above receives a value of zero, it will return the same SVG transform string for our circle as we calculated by hand above, and ditto for the star. Anything in between zero and one will return a transitional transform string that has been computed by d3.interpolateZoom’s algorithm.

Below I’ve embedded a few of the cells from the d3.interpolateZoom Observable notebook so you may get a feel for how the zoomInterpolator and getTransformStr functions affect our SVG. The range input (slider) beneath the rendered SVG will reactively update the value of t, and will be passed to the getTransformStr function, which will then update the SVG g’s transform attribute. Try adjusting the slider to see how the zoom interpolation works. Pretty cool if you ask me! 😀

Credit: ObservableHQ under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Both the zoomInterpolator and getTransformStr functions will come in handy later when using React’s useEffect() hook to animate our SVG. Let’s now move on to how to apply these functions in conjunction with the browser’s requestAnimationFrame API.

Applying requestAnimationFrame

Now that we have a function that handles the zoom interpolation for us, we need to apply it to create our animation. To accomplish this we’ll be using the browser’s requestAnimationFrameAPI. From the Mozilla documentation:

The window.requestAnimationFrame() method tells the browser that you wish to perform an animation and requests that the browser calls a specified function to update an animation before the next repaint. The method takes a callback as an argument to be invoked before the repaint.
Note: Your callback routine must itself call requestAnimationFrame() if you want to animate another frame at the next repaint.

The general idea is that we’ll pass a callback function to requestAnimationFrame that invokes our getTransformStr on each “tick” of the animation. We’ll call this function ticked and it will accept a single argument, the current timestamp of the animation which is passed to it by requestAnimationFrame. We’ll also want some mutable variables outside of the function that store the start time and current frame of the animation, and a constant variable that sets how long the animation should run for.

let startTime;
let frame;
const duration = 1000; // milliseconds

function ticked(timestamp) {
  if (!startTime) startTime = timestamp;

  const elapsed = timestamp - startTime;
  const t = elapsed / duration;

  if (elapsed < duration) {
    // if the elapsed time is less than the duration, continue the animation
    const transformStr = getTransformStr(t);
    frame = requestAnimationFrame(ticked);

Notice that within the ticked() function if the elapsed time is less than the total duration of the animation we pass the value t to getTransformStr(). We also update the value of the external variable frame which is returned by invoking requestAnimationFrame() with our ticked() function. We’ll need the value of frame later in order to cancel the animation, say for instance if we no longer want to run it based on some user action.

In order to start the animation we must invoke requestAnimationFrame with our ticked callback:

// when the animation is ready to begin do:

If we want to stop the animation before it finishes running we call cancelAnimationFrame with the current value of frame like so:

// cancel the animation by passing it the most recent value of `frame`

We’ll add more to the ticked function later when we set up our useEffect hook in the next section, but this is the basic premise. On to applying the React hooks!

Enter React Hooks

By now you hopefully have a decent understanding of how we are interpolating the zooming and panning between our two SVG shapes, and how this will be controlled by requestAnimationFrame. This next section will describe how these two concepts fit together with React’s useState and useEffect hooks to “play” the animation. I won’t go into the code for the entire demo, but will focus on the part that handles playing the animation.

Because we’re applying an SVG transform to the outermost / parent “g” element, we’ll create a component called ZoomContainer.jsx that only renders this element and its children. It will receive props for the SVG’s width and height, the start and end transform tuples, and any children.

import * as React from "react";
import * as d3 from "d3";

const ZoomContainer = (props) => {
  const {width, height, start, end, children} = props;

  // we'll update this next line soon
  let transformStr;

  return (
    <g id="zoom-container" transform={transformStr}>

export default ZoomContainer;

So far we are:

  1. passing our SVG transform string to the “g” element’s transform attribute, and
  2. passing down any React child components as children of the “g” element.

Simple enough!

Time for some hooks. First we’ll set up a useState hook for setting and getting the transform string. This will replace the line with let transformStr; in the previous JSX code above. We’ll provide useState a default value of an “identity transform” which is equivalent to no transform at all.

// within the body of ZoomContainer

// state that handles setting the svg transform attribute string
// initially set to an "identity transform", or no transform.
const [transformStr, setTransformStr] = React.useState(
  "translate(0, 0) scale(1)"

We’ll create a second useState hook to get and set a variable for reversing the animation. We’ll be mimicking the original interpolateZoom demo from the D3JS docs on ObservableHQ which zooms into one shape, then back the other shape, then back to the first shape, in an endless loop. Thus we’ll want a boolean value we can flip to tell the animation to run in reverse once it has finished zooming into a shape.

// state that will replay the animation in reverse
const [forward, setForward] = React.useState(true);

The last variable we’ll need is one that stores a reference to our zoom interpolator. We’ll add this by passing d3.interpolateZoom the start and end props of our ZoomContainer component.

// interpolator that will interpolate between the start and end zooms
const interpolator = d3.interpolateZoom(start, end);

Now we’ll write the useEffect hook. This will be a longer block of code, but much of it we have already covered in the previous sections.

React.useEffect(() => {
  let startTime;
  let frame;
  const duration = 3000;

  // returns a proper SVG transform attribute string
  const getTransformStr = t => {
    const view = interpolator(t);
    const k = Math.min(width, height) / view[2];
    const translate = [
      width / 2 - view[0] * k,
      height / 2 - view[1] * k
    return `translate(${translate}) scale(${k})`;

  // the callback function used with requestAnimationFrame
  const ticked = timestamp => {
    if (!startTime) startTime = timestamp;
    const elapsed = timestamp - startTime;
    const t = elapsed / duration;

    if (elapsed < duration) {
      // if the elapsed time is less than the duration,
      // start or continue the animation
      const transformStr = forward
        ? getTransformStr(t)
        : getTransformStr(1 - t);
      frame = window.requestAnimationFrame(ticked);
    } else {
      // otherwise restart the animation in reverse,
      // but wait a second so we don't have a seizure!
      setTimeout(() => {
      }, 1000);


  // if the component unmounts, stop the animation
  return () => window.cancelAnimationFrame(frame);
}, [forward]);
// ☝️ only fire the effect again when the value of `forward` changes

Notice that within the useEffect hook that we are utilizing our getTransformStr function which handles the SVG transform interpolation and also are using our ticked function with requestAnimationFrame from earlier.

We’ve modified the ticked function so that it updates the value of our SVG transform string (transformStr) on each “tick” of the animation by calling the getTransformStr() function from our useState hook. This is important as each time this state is updated, the component will re-render. If the forward boolean is set to false, then the animation will run in reverse by passing 1 - t to getTransformStr instead of t. This process will continue at about sixty frames per second until the elapsed amount of time exceeds the allotted duration. When that happens we’ll flip the forward boolean via setForward from the other useState hook, which will also cause a re-render and re-start the animation.

If the component should ever unmount, we will invoke cancelAnimationFrame() with the value of the current frame to clean things up. Finally, we pass forward in the arguments array to useEffect which tells React to only re-fire the effect when the value of forward changes. Phew!

That about sums up how React hooks are integrated to “play” the animation. You may find the complete demo on

You will most likely not want to create an endless animation such as this in real life, but I hope this walk through and demo code gives you enough to get started with so that you can modify it to your liking or situation at hand.

Happy animating!

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Dialogue & Discussion