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vue-3-reactivity

9 min read
Last update: December 19, 2021

Vue 3 Reactivity

In this course we will understand the new Vue 3 Reactivity system. Learning how this is built from the ground up will help you understand the design patterns used inside Vue, improve your Vue debugging skills, enable you to use the new Vue 3 modularized Reactivity library, and perhaps even contribute to the Vue 3 source code yourself.

In this lesson we will start building a simple reactivity system using the very same techniques you’ll find in the Vue 3 source code.

Understanding Reactivity

Vue’s reactivity system can look like magic when you see it working for the first time.

Take this simple app:

<div id="app">
    <div>Price: ${{ product.price }}</div>
    <div>Total: ${{ product.price * product.quantity }}</div>
    <div>Taxes: ${{ totalPriceWithTax }}</div>
</div>
<script src="https://cdn.jsdelivr.net/npm/vue"></script>
<script>
    var vm = new Vue({
        el: '#app',
        data: {
            product: {
                price: 5.00,
                quantity: 2
            }
        },
        computed: {
            totalPriceWithTax() {
                return this.product.price * this.product.quantity * 1.03
            }
        }
    })
</script>

And somehow Vue’s Reactivity system just knows that if price changes, it should do three things:

  • Update the price value on our webpage.
  • Recalculate the expression that multiplies price * quantity, and update the page.
  • Call the totalPriceWithTax function again and update the page.

But wait, I hear you wonder, how does Vue’s Reactivity system know what to update when the price changes, and how does it keep track of everything?

This is not how JavaScript programming usually works

If it’s not obvious to you, programming usually doesn’t work this way. For example, if I run this code:

let product = { price: 5, quantity: 2 }
let total = product.price * product.quantity // 10 right?
product.price = 20
console.log(`total is ${total}`)

What do you think it’s going to print? Since we’re not using Vue, it’s going to print 10.

>> total is 10

In Vue we want total to get updated whenever price or quantity get updated. We want:

>> total is 40

Unfortunately, JavaScript is procedural, not reactive, so this doesn’t work in real life. In order to make total reactive, we have to use JavaScript to make things behave differently.

For the rest of this lesson and the next 2 after this one, we will be building a Reactivity System from scratch using the same methodology as Vue 3 (which is very different than Vue 2). We will then look into the Vue 3 source code to discover these patterns we wrote from scratch.

Saving Code to Run Later

Problem

As you saw with the code above, in order to start building reactivity we need to save how we’re calculating the total, so we can re-run it when price or quantity changes.

Solution

First off, we need some way to tell our application, “Store the code (effect) I’m about to run, I may need you to run it at another time.” Then we’ll want to run the code, and if price or quantity variables get updated, run the stored code again.

https://firebasestorage.googleapis.com/v0/b/vue-mastery.appspot.com/o/flamelink%2Fmedia%2F1580763775377_1.opt.jpg?alt=media&token=c85ffe5b-ff63-4143-ae4e-b1f52b9c2eed

We might do this by recording the function (effect) so we can run it again.

let product = { price: 5, quantity: 2 }
let total = 0

let effect = function () {
total = product.price * product.quantity
})

track() // Remember this in case we want to run it later
effect() // Also go ahead and run it

Notice that we store an anonymous function inside the effect variable, and then call a track function. Using the ES6 arrow syntax I could also write this as:

let effect = () => { total = product.price * product.quantity }

In order to define track, we need a place to store our effects, we may have many of them. We’ll create a variable called dep, as in dependency. We call it dependency because typically with the Observer design pattern a dependency has subscribers (in our case effects) which will get notified when an object changes state. We might make dependency a class with an array of subscribers, like we did in the Vue 2 version of this tutorial. However, since all it needs to store is a set of effects, we can simply create a Set.

let dep = new Set() // Our object tracking a list of effects

Then our track function can simply add our effects to this collection:

function track () {
dep.add(effect) // Store the current effect
}

In case you’re not familiar, the difference between a JavaScript Array and Set, is that a Set cannot have duplicate values and it doesn’t use an index like arrays. Learn more about Set’s here if you’re not familiar.

We’re storing the effect (in our case the { total = price * quantity }) so we can run it later. Here’s a visualization this dep Set:

https://firebasestorage.googleapis.com/v0/b/vue-mastery.appspot.com/o/flamelink%2Fmedia%2F1580763775378_2.opt.jpg?alt=media&token=8fb9b10b-c3f8-4075-9b17-c2dd263419f9

Let’s write a trigger function that runs all the things we’ve recorded.

function trigger() {
dep.forEach(effect => effect())
}

This goes through all the anonymous functions we have stored inside the dep Set and executes each of them. Then in our code, we can just:

product.price = 20
console.log(total) // => 10
trigger()
console.log(total) // => 40

Simple enough, right? Here’s the code in its entirety if you need to read through and try to grasp it one more time.

let product = { price: 5, quantity: 2 }
let total = 0
let dep = new Set()

function track() {
dep.add(effect)
}

function trigger() {
dep.forEach(effect => effect())
}

let effect = () => {
total = product.price * product.quantity
}

track()
effect()

product.price = 20
console.log(total) // => 10

trigger()
console.log(total) // => 40

https://firebasestorage.googleapis.com/v0/b/vue-mastery.appspot.com/o/flamelink%2Fmedia%2F1580763783549_3.opt.png?alt=media&token=298f665d-971f-40e3-a099-8b80c2f572f5

Problem: Multiple Properties

We could go on tracking effects as needed, but our reactive objects are going to have different properties, and those properties each need their own dep (which is a set of effects). Take a look at our object here:

let product = { price: 5, quantity: 2 }

Our price property needs it’s own dep (set of effects) and our quantity needs it’s own dep (set of effects). Let’s build out our solution to properly record these.

Solution: depsMap

When we call track or trigger we now need to know which property in our object we’re targeting (price or quantity). To do this we’ll create a depsMap, which is of type Map (think keys and values). Here’s how we might visualize it:

https://firebasestorage.googleapis.com/v0/b/vue-mastery.appspot.com/o/flamelink%2Fmedia%2F1580763787347_4.opt.jpg?alt=media&token=cc2f2262-86f7-41e1-bc74-03d8da51cb75

Notice how the depsMap has a key which will be the property name we want to add (or track) a new effect on. So we’ll need to send in this key to the track function.

const depsMap = new Map()
function track(key) {
// Make sure this effect is being tracked.
let dep = depsMap.get(key) // Get the current dep (effects) that need to be run when this key (property) is set
if (!dep) {
// There is no dep (effects) on this key yet
depsMap.set(key, (dep = new Set())) // Create a new Set
}
dep.add(effect) // Add effect to dep
}
}
function trigger(key) {
let dep = depsMap.get(key) // Get the dep (effects) associated with this key
if (dep) { // If they exist
dep.forEach(effect => {
// run them all
effect()
})
}
}

let product = { price: 5, quantity: 2 }
let total = 0

let effect = () => {
total = product.price * product.quantity
}

track('quantity')
effect()
console.log(total) // --> 10

product.quantity = 3
trigger('quantity')
console.log(total) // --> 40

Problem: Multiple Reactive Objects

This works great, until we have multiple reactive objects (more than just product) which need to track effects. Now we need a way of storing a depsMap for each object (ex. product). We need another Map, one for each object, but what would be the key? If we use a WeakMap we can actually use the objects themselves as the key. WeakMap is a JavaScript Map that uses only objects as the key. For example:

let product = { price: 5, quantity: 2 }
const targetMap = new WeakMap()
targetMap.set(product, "example code to test")
console.log(targetMap.get(product)) // ---> "example code to test"

Obviously this isn’t the code we’re going to use, but I wanted to show you how our targetMap uses our product object as the key. We call our WeakMap targetMap because we’ll consider target the object we’re targeting. There’s another reason it’s called target which will become more obvious in the next lesson. Here is what we have visualized:

https://firebasestorage.googleapis.com/v0/b/vue-mastery.appspot.com/o/flamelink%2Fmedia%2F1580763789885_5.opt.jpg?alt=media&token=110bf30c-3b78-482f-bac2-30ca8403bfe0

When we call track or trigger we now need to know which object we’re targeting. So, we’ll send in both the target and the key when we call it.

const targetMap = new WeakMap() // targetMap stores the effects that each object should re-run when it's updated

function track(target, key) {
// We need to make sure this effect is being tracked.
let depsMap = targetMap.get(target) // Get the current depsMap for this target

if (!depsMap) {
// There is no map.
targetMap.set(target, (depsMap = new Map())) // Create one
}

let dep = depsMap.get(key) // Get the current dependencies (effects) that need to be run when this is set
if (!dep) {
// There is no dependencies (effects)
depsMap.set(key, (dep = new Set())) // Create a new Set
}

dep.add(effect) // Add effect to dependency map
}

function trigger(target, key) {
const depsMap = targetMap.get(target) // Does this object have any properties that have dependencies (effects)
if (!depsMap) {
return
}

let dep = depsMap.get(key) // If there are dependencies (effects) associated with this
if (dep) {
dep.forEach(effect => {
// run them all
effect()
})
}
}

let product = { price: 5, quantity: 2 }
let total = 0
let effect = () => {
total = product.price * product.quantity
}

track(product, 'quantity')
effect()
console.log(total) // --> 10

product.quantity = 3
trigger(product, 'quantity')
console.log(total) // --> 15

So now we have a very effective way of tracking the dependencies on multiple objects, this is a big piece of the puzzle when building our reactivity system. Give yourself a pat on the back. The battle is half over. In the next lesson we will discover how to call track and trigger automatically using ES6 proxy.