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where the rising ape meets the falling angel

React.js + Reflux example

I’ve told you in my previous post about React that his is how I felt every time I had to code JS:


Coding in vanilla JS
Kinda works, but something’s not as it’s supposed to be.

Then I came across ReactJS and the Flux architecture. I wouldn’t say it’s our salvation but I really like the direction it’s going towards.

I’m now creating a very simple example app using the Reflux library.

A React primer

1. Simple rendering (JSX):

<div id="react-code-1"></div>
<script type="text/jsx">
React.render(<h4>Hello World</h4>, document.getElementById('react-code-1'));
</script>

The result:


Go and check out JSX


2. Simple component properties

<div id="react-code-2"></div>
var Hello = React.createClass({
render: function() {
return(<div>Hello {this.props.name}</div>);
}
});
React.render(<Hello name="World" />, document.getElementById('react-code-2'));

The result:

So you can pass properties to components upon instantiation. These initial properties are later accessible via this.props.


3. Simple state

<div id="react-code-3"></div>
var Counter = React.createClass({
getInitialState: function() {
return {presscount: 0};
},
handleClick: function() {
this.setState({presscount: this.state.presscount + 1});
},
render: function() {
return <div>Pressed {this.state.presscount} times
<div><button className="btn btn-small btn-primary" onClick={this.handleClick}>Press me</button></div>
</div>
}
});
React.render(<Counter />, document.getElementById('react-code-3'));

The result:


What’s important to see here is that the DOM event handler (handleClick) does NOT propagate any events or does not call any other handler! It simply updates the component’s local state which results in a re-render. We could say that it’s React’s job to keep the view (rendered components) in sync with their state.

What is Flux, again?

Flux is the application architecture that Facebook uses for building client-side web applications. It complements React’s composable view components by utilizing a unidirectional data flow. It’s more of a pattern rather than a formal framework

The point of Flux is to be more of a functional programming style and do something better than MVC. Flux eschews MVC in favor of a unidirectional data flow. When a user interacts with a React view, the view propagates an action through a central dispatcher, to the various stores that hold the application’s data and business logic, which updates all of the views that are affected. This works especially well with React’s declarative programming style, which allows the store to send updates without specifying how to transition views between states.


Data flow in Flux
Data flow in Flux

A really quick & dirty Flux primer, a.k.a. the key parts of the Flux architecture

(A quick summary From the Flux docs)

The dispatcher

The dispatcher is a singleton, and operates as the central hub of data flow in a Flux application. It is essentially a registry for callbacks, and it’s able to invoke these callbacks in order. Stores register a callback at the dispatcher, then when new data comes into the dispatcher, it then uses these callbacks to propagate that data to all of the stores.

Why do we need a dispatcher? Well, as your app grows, stores (see below) will for sure start to depend on each other.

Actions

When new data enters the system - be it through a user clicking around on the UI or through an AJAX response, that data is packaged into an action – an object containing the new fields of data and a specific action type. Actions are identified by a type attribute. When all of the stores receive the action, they typically use this attribute to determine if and how they should respond to it. In a Flux application, both stores and views control themselves; they are not acted upon by external objects. Actions flow into the stores through the callbacks they define and register, not through setter methods.

Letting the stores update themselves eliminates many entanglements typically found in MVC applications, where cascading updates between models can lead to unstable state and make accurate testing very difficult. The objects within a Flux application are highly decoupled, and adhere very strongly to the Law of Demeter, the principle that each object within a system should know as little as possible about the other objects in the system. This results in software that is more maintainable, adaptable, testable, and easier for new engineering team members to understand.

Stores

Stores contain the application state and logic. They are somewhat similar to a model in a traditional MVC, but they manage the state of many objects – they do not represent a single record of data like ORM models do. Nor are they the same as Backbone’s collections. More than simply managing a collection of ORM-style objects, stores manage the application state for a particular domain within the application.

And RefluxJS?

A simple library for uni-directional dataflow application architecture inspired by ReactJS Flux

There’s a blog post about the differences between Flux and Reflux, the key takeaway is that in Reflux:

  • The singleton dispatcher is removed in favor for letting every action act as dispatcher instead.
  • Because actions are listenable, the stores may listen to them. Stores don’t need to have big switch statements that do static type checking (of action types) with strings
  • Stores may listen to other stores, i.e. it is possible to create stores that can aggregate data further, similar to a map/reduce.
  • waitFor is replaced in favor to handle serial and parallel data flows:
  • Aggregate data stores (mentioned above) may listen to other stores in serial & Joins for joining listeners in parallel
  • Action creators are not needed because RefluxJS actions are functions that will pass on the payload they receive to anyone listening to them

Let’s start

Let’s create a very simple application: an image grid which periodically fetches the latest public photos from Flickr and also add a button to be able to trigger the refresh. You can see it working at https://reflux-sample.ochronus.com/. You can find the sources on Github

I’ve used this yeoman generator to kick off the basic structure of the project.

Under app/scripts three folders are created: components, actions and stores. We know about actions and stores from the previous section and we also know that dispatching is moved to actions+stores in Reflux. There’s also an app.js and a Router.jsx which serve as the application’s entry point. I won’t talk about react-router now, it’s not relevant for this article, let’s just accept that it helps with client-side routing (with the location hash), for now the default route (/) is enough.

The ‘components’ folder contains our React components. There’s a simple hierachy here, if you check out routing Layout contains Home, a specific page. Home itself uses ImageGrid to display the actual image grid.

Actions and Stores, oh my!

Actions are pretty simple, see actions/imageactions.js:

var ImageActions = Reflux.createActions([
'fetchList'
]);

This means there’s only one action for the image list: fetching it. Looking at stores/imagestore.js:

var Reflux = require('reflux');
var $ = require('jquery');
var ImageActions = require('../actions/imageactions');
var ImageStore = Reflux.createStore({
listenables: [ImageActions],
imagelist: [],
sourceUrl: 'https://api.flickr.com/services/feeds/photos_public.gne?format=json&tags=cats,memes',
init: function() {
this.fetchList();
},
fetchList: function() {
$.ajax({
url: this.sourceUrl,
dataType: 'jsonp',
jsonpCallback: 'jsonFlickrFeed',
cache: false,
context: this,
success: function(data) {
console.log('fetch complete');
this.imagelist = data.items;
this.trigger(this.imagelist);
}
});
}
});
module.exports = ImageStore;

listenables is the special thing here: it autoconnects actions with stores. Here we specified that ImageStore should be notified if any ImageActions action occur. Remember, there’s only one for now: ‘fetchList’. An automatic function invocation is done then, the function with the same name or one with the ‘on’ prefix is getting invoked on the Store. So, in our case it’s either ‘fetchList()’ or ‘onfetchList()’ - I used the former.

So at this point whenever the action ‘fetchList’ is invoked, the ‘fetchList()’ function of ImageStore gets called.

Connecting actions, stores and state

Check out components/imagegrid.jsx:

var ImageGrid = React.createClass({
mixins: [Reflux.connect(ImageStore, 'imagestore')],

later in this file:

if (this.state.imagestore) {

With specifying mixins we say that we’d like to connect this component’s state with the ImageStore. What this means is that whenever the store reacts to the action (in our case the single fetchList() function) the component’s state will be updated somehow. In fetchList() there’s a line ‘this.trigger(this.imagelist);’ - this is the one responsible for updating all subscribed component’s states. This state is then accessible in the component through this.state.whatever (whatever == what we specified at the mixin definition).

Recap

So, long story short: we define actions, state which stores should be notified for them and then connect components with stores through compontent state.
Why is this good?

  • Clearly defined actions and handlers/subscriptions are better than ad-hoc DOM/custom events floating around.
  • Stores encapsulate state mutation but are detached from actual component state. They don’t care about how their ‘data’ will be used.
  • Very easy to see action-state-component update flow. This could even be programatically generated as a nice diagram.

In the background React does it’s job: if a component’s state is changed, it’s getting re-rendered.

Performing actions on DOM events or manually

There’s an example of this in components/home.jsx:

<Button bsStyle='primary' onClick={ImageActions.fetchList}>Fetch new images please</Button>

I’m also setting up an automatic fetch every 5s in app.js:

var ImageActions = require('./actions/imageactions');
setInterval(function() {
ImageActions.fetchList();
}, 5000);

I hope this simple project helps you get started with React and Flux, stay tuned for a ClojureScript version, coming soon!

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