Making SVG icon libraries for React apps

Using SVG is currently the best way to create icon libraries for apps. Icons built with SVG are scalable and adjustable, but also discrete, which allows them to be incrementally loaded and updated. In contrast, icons built as fonts cannot be incrementally loaded or updated. This alone makes SVG icons the better choice for high-performance apps that rely on code-splitting and incremental deploys.

This post describes how to make a package of React components from a library of SVG icons. Although I’m focusing on React, making any other type of package is also possible. At Twitter I used the approach described here to publish the company’s SVG icon library in several different formats: optimized SVGs, plain JavaScript modules, React DOM components, and React Native components.

Using the icons

The end result is a JavaScript package that can be installed and used like any other JavaScript package.

yarnpkg add @acme/react-icons

Each icon is available as an individually exported React component.

import IconCamera from '@acme/react-icons/camera';

This allows your module bundler to package only the icons that are needed, and icons can be efficiently split across chunks when using code-splitting. This is a significant advantage over icon libraries that require fonts and bundle all icons into a single component.

// entire icon library is bundled with your app
import Icon from '@acme/react-icons';
const IconCamera = <Icon name='camera' />;

Each icon is straightforward to customize (e.g., color and dimensions) on a per-use basis.

import IconCamera from '@twitter/react-icons/camera';
const Icon = (
  <IconCamera
    style={{ color: 'white', height: '2em' }}
  />
);

Although the icons render to SVG, this is an implementation detail that isn’t exposed to users of the components.

Creating components

Each React component renders an inline SVG, using path and dimensions data extracted from the SVG source files. A helper function called createIconComponent means that only a few lines of boilerplate are needed to create a component from SVG data.

import createIconComponent from './utils/createIconComponent';
import React from 'react';
const IconCamera = createIconComponent({
  content: <g><path d='...'></g>,
  height: 24,
  width: 24
});
IconCamera.displayName = 'IconCamera';
export default IconCamera;

This is an example of what the createIconComponent function looks like when building components for a web app like Twitter Lite, which is built with React Native for Web.

// createIconComponent.js
import { createElement, StyleSheet } from 'react-native-web';
import React from 'react';

const createIconComponent = ({ content, height, width }) =>
  (initialProps) => {
    const props = {
      ...initialProps,
      style: StyleSheet.compose(styles.root, initialProps.style),
      viewBox: `0 0 ${width} ${height}`
    };

    return createElement('svg', props, content);
  };

const styles = StyleSheet.create({
  root: {
    display: 'inline-block',
    fill: 'currentcolor',
    height: '1.25em',
    maxWidth: '100%',
    position: 'relative',
    userSelect: 'none',
    textAlignVertical: 'text-bottom'
  }
});

Setting the fill style to currentcolor allows you to control the color of the SVG using the color style property instead.

All that’s left is to use scripts to process the SVGs and generate each React component.

Creating icon packages

A complete example of one way to do this can be found in the icon-builder-example repository on GitHub.

The project structure of the example tool looks like this.

.
├── README.md
├── package.json
├── scripts/
    ├── build.js
    ├── createReactPackage.js
    └── svgOptimize.js
└── src/
    ├── alerts.svg
    ├── camera.svg
    ├── circle.svg
    └── ...

The build script uses SVGO to optimize the SVGs, extract SVG path data, and extract metadata. The example packager for React then uses templates to create a package.json and the React icon components shown earlier.

import createIconComponent from './utils/createIconComponent';
import React from 'react';
const ${componentName} = createIconComponent({
  height: ${height},
  width: ${width},
  content: <g>${paths}</g>
});
${componentName}.displayName = '${componentName}';
export default ${componentName};

Additional packagers can be included to build other package types from the same SVG source. When the underlying icon library changes, it only takes a couple of commands to rebuild hundreds of icons and publish new versions of each package.