Using Context to Simplify a VERY Large React Form

By Anna Carey, Laura Bhayani

For those unfamiliar, Artsy is a fine art marketplace. Knowing that, it follows logically to say that the form via which our partners list artworks for sale is an integral part of Artsy’s core systems. This form, known only as “The Artwork Form,” is whispered about in the halls of Arty’s New York headquarters. It is legendary. It is a colossus. It is old enough not only to predate React v16.8 hooks and context APIs, but Artsy’s use of React entirely. The first version of the Artwork Form was built in 2014 using ruby and haml, and began its refactoring into JS/JQuery/React a full 2 years later, after having expanded considerably from the original implementation. That process (at least what we’ve gleaned from our git excavation) was incremental, experimental, and passed through many hands before it landed in the lap of the current Partner Experience (PX) team.

PX has since been tasked with the maintenance of this unwieldy kaiju, spending endless amounts of time on seemingly insignificant changes to behavior or UI, all while watching its performance degrade. Many of the people reading this are already familiar with the story we’re telling. Many have worked in their very own version of the tale, and borne witness to the fact that legacy code of this scale becomes a living, breathing entity. The developers that tend these beasts learn their patterns and idiosyncrasies, their little moans and groans, and for the sake of expediency work within those constraints to accomplish their tasks. But when is enough, enough? When does the developer time expended working within the constraints of an obsolete design begin to outweigh the time it would take to simply fix the code?

First, let’s be honest: there is no single right answer to this question. When working in software development we have to deal with certain realities: user experience vs. developer experience, lead time to the next release, buy-in from stakeholders, etc. These factors may weigh more or less depending on the shop and the product. At Artsy we’re very lucky, in that our engineering department is given the time to attend to our tech debt and to be deliberate about when and how we go about this. In the case of the Artwork Form, there were several issues that had become too glaring to ignore:

  1. The data coming in, and subsequently being passed to individual components, was being completely obscured by the amount of prop drilling and spreading that existed within the composed form.
  2. The prolific use of any when typing data was disabling typescript and consequently removing its usefulness while still imposing all of its burdens.
  3. The components within the form were tightly coupled, the number and specificity of props needed for each disallowing reuse in other parts of the app.

A few of us on the PX team decided to take matters into our own hands and address some of these key problems with the Artwork Form. We came up with a plan to incrementally convert the form to use values from the Formik context, use these values wherever possible to reduce prop-drilling, add much more complete types to the components to get rid of all the any’s, and update some of our testing strategies as needed.

Here are the steps we took to do this conversion:

  1. Create a hook that allows us to use the Formik context throughout the form

    The hook wraps useFormikContext to allow all of our components inside of Formik to access the values from Formik context. It looks like this:

    export function useArtworkForm(): FormikContextType<ArtworkValues> {
      const formikContext = useFormikContext<ArtworkValues>()
      return formikContext

    We use ArtworkValues as the generic type so that when we are accessing values anywhere inside the component tree, values can be type-checked.

  2. Convert all of the components in the form to functional components and to TypeScript. (Because the form is several years old, there were still many class components and many components that were not yet using TypeScript.) This step could be done in parallel with Step 1. One note here is that when converting files from JavaScript to TypeScript, we did not explicitly type the props in an interface. Once we can take advantage of our useArtworkForm hook, we will reduce the amount of props needed in each component, so we will hold off on typing the props until step 3.
  3. The bulk of the work was making use of the useArtworkForm hook in the Artwork Form components. Starting with the lowest leaves of the component tree and moving up, we removed the props from the component definition and destructured any values we needed in the component from the useArtworkForm hook. Once we used everything we could from the context, we added back in any additional props that we would still need to have passed down from the parent. In many cases, this was no props at all—a particularly satisfying case. If the component still needed props passed down, we explicitly typed the props at the top of each component in an interface because we now knew exactly which props we would need inside of the component. Another key step here was going into the parent component and getting rid of any prop spreading (this: ...props) and instead explicitly passing down exactly the props needed in the component (if there were any).

    1. A note on tests: Whenever we took advantage of the Formik context in a component, we were breaking that component’s tests, because the wrappers we were using in the tests did not have access to the Formik context and were being passed props that the component was no longer looking at. We created a helper test wrapper that we could use in all of our Artwork Form tests to wrap the test’s specific wrapper inside of a <Formik/> component and provide the specific values to use as the initial values for Formik. Many of our test cases involve passing different values into the component, which we originally did via props but now will do via the Formik context through the wrapper. Here’s what the wrapper looks like:
    export const TestFormikWrapper: React.FC<TestFormikWrapperProps> = (props) => {
      const { children, values } = props
      return (
        <Formik initialValues={values} onSubmit={jest.fn()}>

    Here is an example of TestFormikWrapper used in a test:

    describe("TestComponent", () => {
      it("displays values", () => {
        const wrapper = mount(
          <TestFormikWrapper values={{ name: "Andy Warhol" }}>
            <TestComponent />
        const name = wrapper.find("#name").html()
        expect(name).toInclude("Andy Warhol")
  4. Once we completed the conversion all the way up the tree to the root component, the ArtworkForm, we typed that component as strictly as possible and made sure to get rid of any’s. There were quite a few when we started the process.

So, where did we end up? Now all of the components in the Artwork Form are making use of the useArtworkForm hook if they were previously accessing any of the values from the Formik context from props. We have much less prop drilling between components and instead explicitly pass down the props needed from parent to child. It’s now much more clear for developers what data is passing between the components and what data is actually being used in the child. All of the components are also explicitly typed so we know exactly which props, if any, need to be passed down from the parent. If any of these props are removed, TypeScript helps us by failing loudly.

One of the main pain points of the Artwork Form is that it’s very difficult for new developers (whether new to Artsy or new to the Partner Experience team) to contribute and make changes to the form without breaking something or spending extra time figuring out how data is passed within the form. Hopefully, this change will make it easier for developers to understand the Artwork From.

How did the Artwork Form get so complicated? Well, as we shared, the Artwork Form is the key to achieving one of the PX team’s core goals: surfacing the most accurate and rich information about artworks to collectors. We have to allow partners to add more and increasingly specific pieces of metadata to artworks. The form has been growing and for better or worse, will need to keep growing. Even though we expect to grow the form to meet metadata needs, we do not put too much focus on the UX/UI of the Artwork Form in order to prioritize our collector-facing apps. (The Artwork Form is only used by a relatively small subset of users, mostly gallery partners.) Hopefully, this refactor will allow us to expand the form more seamlessly and will make it easier to navigate as it grows.

This refactor is still in its early days. The next steps for making the form easier to use (for both developers and our end users) will require larger changes. When we think about further progress on revamping the Artwork Form, our team is considering breaking the form up into smaller forms. Imagine, we are rendering several different top-level Formik components that include discrete sections of the form, instead of just one giant Formik tree as we have now. We would then combine these “mini forms” together, making better use of React’s core principle of composition.

Breaking up the form would be a big change for the developer experience (but hopefully made easier by this refactor). It could also involve big changes to the UI. The Artwork Form is not just hard to navigate for developers. It’s hard for users too. Over the next couple of months, our Product Manager will be working with one of Artsy’s user researchers to conduct user testing on the form. Feedback from galleries will help determine where we next take this project. We’re excited to have buy-in from our product team to work on a project that will elevate the user experience while allowing us to use that opportunity to improve the developer experience as well.