Foresterre's Treehouse

Foresterre's Treehouse

A blog by Martijn Gribnau

19 Apr 24

A tale of setInterval and useEffect in React Native

At work, I've been building a new React Native app. Initially, I wanted this app to be as simple as possible, to allow for quick iterative cycles.

Now this app needs to refetch a certain resource from the server in regular intervals. I have to admit: I briefly considered to use React Query, but decided it wasn't quite time for that yet. Simple first. Complex later.

I looked at the React Native docs in an attempt for figure out what the canonical way of doing this was. The docs told me: "hey, you can use the Timers module which contains setInterval and clearInterval". Just what I needed!

setInterval executes a callback after a given milliseconds delay. It doesn't have the option to immediately fire, however. Luckily it's not hard to work around this: for example by just executing the function provided in the callback first.

As an alternative, MDN suggested that you could also use setTimeout, although in my case, the execution duration is shorter than the interval frequency, so I figured everything should be fine 🤞.

To give an idea of what the code looked like:

export default function MyComponent(): React.JSX.Element {
    useEffect(() => {
        setInterval(() => void fetchResource());
    }, []);

async function fetchResource() {
    try {
        const result = await client.resource.fetch();
    } catch (error: unknown) {
        const error = ResourceErrorParser.parseError(error);

Now one of the most useful features of React Native, is its ability to live inspect changes you just made. Running the Metro development server in combination with a debug build of the app gives you live updates out of the box. For me, that's simply running npm run start to start Metro and in a second terminal tab npm run android to build a debug build of the app and install it on a device (or emulator).

Now, changes made to components or other code can be updated, and the changes can be observed on the app without rebuilding. Great!

One day, I was checking the logs in the Metro terminal app, and I there seemed to be a few too many fetches to the backend. Normally, it should refetch the resource every 10 seconds or so (or immediately after certain actions), now it was making requests to fetch the resource tens of times per second. Whoops.

So what happened? The callback in useEffect was being rerendered after each change in the code. And as a result, the setInterval function was being rerun as well. On repeat. Oops 😅.

Luckily, it can be fixed! As it turns out, setInterval can return a clean up function, which runs when the component unmounts (or when the props get updated and the dependencies provided to the useEffect have been changed, or even every rerender if no dependency array is provided):

type Id = ReturnType<typeof setInterval>;

// elsewhere:
export default function OtherComponent(): React.JSX.Element {
    const [refetchId, setRefetchId] = useState<Id | undefined>(undefined);
    return <MyComponent id={refreshId} setId={setRefetchId} onClear={() => setRefetchId(undefined)} />;

export default function MyComponent(props: { id?: Id; setId: (id: Id) => void; onClear: () => void;  }): React.JSX.Element {
    useEffect(() => {
        const id = setInterval(() => void fetchResource());
        return () => ({
            if (id) {
    }, []);

Note that the dependency array can be empty, since we only want to disable the fetch task if the component is unmounted. Otherwise it can just do its thing and fetch the resource at each specific interval. And you know what. That's good enough for me, ... at least for now.

Wishlist: I wish there was a way to see all active useIntervals and useTimeouts: if you know a way (without storing the id with some state management utility): please let me know 🙏

I did end up extending the functionality ever so slightly: I added the option to toggle refreshing altogether and changed when refetches happen, to reschedule the interval when a manual refresh happened (which happens after certain actions) 😅.

Feedback & discussion

Feedback is most welcome. Feel free to discuss at GitHub.