Keyboard navigation system for React

Usage no npm install needed!

<script type="module">
  import reactKnav from '';


Currently in beta

Highlights selected components in the UI based on their coordinates.


When we are developing some kind of uis like a tv screen or a grid component, it commonly requires a logic to manage and hightlight which component(s) are selected on screen. Some of the events come from a keyboard. Generally the document listen to something (like a keydown event) and dispatches a directional or a action event.

How it works

The first version (current) of this navigation system is based on the smallest component of the screen that must be hightlighted. Let's get the following example: you have a card list component with N cards on it and the user can navigate using a keyboard throught the directional up and down keys.

To do the job, we will first create a global navigator. This navigator is nothing more than an array with the position of all (smallest) registered components on the current screen, in our example: the cards.

When a keydown event occurs it must be dispatched to the global navigator instance with the action (basic string, see below) type.

When the navigator receives the action it will check if exists any component registered on the new generated coordinate, and if it exists, the respective hook method of the component will be called.


import React, { PureComponent } from 'react';
import { createNavigator } from 'react-knav';

const navigator = createNavigator({ /* ... */ });

const GridRow = ({}) => {
  return ();

class GridColumn extends PureComponent {
  constructor(props) {
    this.state = {
      active: false,
  componentDidMount() {
    const { x, y } = this.props;
    navigator.registerComponent([x, y], this);

  componentWillUnmount() {

  componentDidGotActive() {
    return this.setState({ active: true });

  componentDidGotInactive() {
    return this.setState({ active: false });

  render() {
    const { children } = this.props;
    return (
      <div className="grid-col">

const Grid = () => {
  const rows = [0,1];
  const cols = [0,1,2,3,4];
  return (
    <div className="grid">
      {, rowIndex) => (
        <GridRow x={0} y={rowIndex}>
          {, colIndex) => (
            <GridColumn x={colIndex} y={rowIndex} />

export default Grid;

Creating a navigator and dispatching actions

The global navigator instance can be create directly importing the export KeyboardNavigator class from this lib, or using the exported createNavigator helper function.

import KeyboardNavigator, { createNavigator } from 'react-knav';

Both listed above can receive an object with the following properties:

Name Type Default Description
cache Boolean false If must save the last active x axis coordinate when a y axis change happens.
reset Boolean true If must reset the x axis when a y axis change happens. A common behavior with components that works with keyboard events is to reset the x axis when the y axis change. For example, when you are moving out from a navbar to a card list you may not want to activate the component on the same x axis of the navbar items.

So, after creating the global navigator that will handle the keyboard actions, we will need to detected the keyboard actions and dispatches it to the navigator.

The events and actions can be manually detected and dispatched to the navigator using a window.addEventListener and after that call the navigator.dispatchAction method.

Or we can also use the watchKeyboard helper function exported by this lib, like:

import { createNavigator, watchKeyboard } from 'react-knav';

navigation = createNavigator();

watchKeyboard(window, navigator);

Using the watchKeyboard function it will automatically bind the keydown event to the first param received by the function (commonly the window or document) and when one of the registered keyboard event is fired it will automatically dispatch to the navigator.

Action Types

If you prefer to manually dispatch the action to the navigator, there is a list with the current supported actions. The action is a simple string with one of the following values: up, right, down, left, enter, esc, back.


In some cases (commonly when using routes) there is a need to cache each view coordinates state. In that cases we can create and use stacks.

For example, when you enter in a component which represents a full screen (a.k.a route) you need to tell the navigator to create a new stack.

class MyRouteComponent extends PureComponent {
  componentDidMount() {

The stack will cache all the coordinates (if cached option is enabled) and when you get back to the 0 stack (like in the example) you can restore the previous stack state just calling the restoreStackPosition() method.

componentDidMount() {
  // ... Previous piece of code

Restoring the stack to the previous position will automatically hightlights and (re)calls the hooks from the components.


The following hook functions are called by the navigator after it receives a action:


When user navigates to the component using the directional actions.


When user leaves the current selected component using directional actions.


When a enter actions is dispatched to the current selected component.


When a back or escaction is dispatched and there is also a current entered component.


Following are the methods that must be called manually and directly on the navigator:

navigator.registerComponent(position, reference)

Call this method to register a new component at the componentDidMount hook. Remember to always register the smallest components of the screen.


Call this method to unregister the component at the componentWillUnmount hook.

Note: If you are using some route navigation system is important to unregister all the components of the screen before leaving it and in the new screen register all the newly created components.


Manually clears the cached x axis of each y axis. It can be used when the cache navigator option is enabled.


If you want to restore the application navigation state to a certain point you can do it manually calling this method. Note: The position argument refers to an array in the [x, y] format.


Manually dispatched the action tot the navigator. Use it when manually detecting the directional events.

NOTE: The position param refers to an array with the x and y coordinate while the reference refers the component reference (this).


You can explore more about this lib running our examples in the examples folder.


  • Handle the moment where the parent component gets inactive (based on the child leave events). So then the parent component can make any additional transition effect.
  • Create a second version of the navigator where each component is wrapped with a new KeyboardNavigator hoc. The keyboard events must be directly dispatched to the root component of the tree and it must propagate throught all the children components until a action happens.