React

Immutable Data with Immer and React setState

Intro

Immer is an incredible new library for JavaScript immutability. In previously libraries like Immutable.js it required whole new methods of operating on your data.

This was great but required complicated adapters and converting back and forth between JSON and Immutable in order to work with other libraries if needed.

Immer simplifies this and you use data and JavaScript objects as your normally would. This means when you need performance and need to know when something changes you can use a triple equal strict equality check and prove that something has indeed changed or not changed.

Your shouldComponentUpdate calls are no longer require shallow or deep equals to traverse all the data and compare.

Spread Operator

In latest JavaScript many developers depend on the spread operator ... to do immutability. For example you can spread the previous object in and override specific keys, or add in new keys. This will use Object.assign under the hood and return a new object.

const prevObject = {
  id: "12345",
  name: "Jason",
};

const newObject = {
  ...prevObject,
  name: "Jason Brown",
};

Our newObject will now be a completely different object so any strict equality checking (prevObject === newObject ) will be false. So it is indeed creating a new object. The name will no longer just be Jason but will be Jason Brown and because we didn't do anything with the id key it stays the same.

This applies to React in that if you have a nested object on state you need to update and spread in the previous object because React will only merge state at the base level of keys.

Lets look at an example. Say we have 2 nested counters but we only want to update one and not mess with the other.

import React, { Component } from "react";

class App extends Component {
  state = {
    count: {
      counter: 0,
      otherCounter: 5,
    },
  };

  render() {
    return <div className="App">{this.state.count.counter}</div>;
  }
}

export default App;

Next in our componentDidMount we'll set up an interval and update our nested counter. However we want to preserve the otherCounter value so we need to use the spread operator to bring over the previous nested state.

componentDidMount() {
    setInterval(() => {
      this.setState(state => {
        return {
          count: {
            ...state.count,
            counter: state.count.counter + 1,
          },
        };
      });
    }, 1000);
  }

This is an all too common scenario in React, and if your data is really nested it adds complexity when you need to spread more than one level deep.

Immer Produce Basic

Immer allows for us to still use the mutations (directly modifying a value) but without actually worrying about managing the number of spreads, or even what data was touched and needs to be immutable.

Lets setup a scenario where you are passing in a value to increase a counter by and additionally have a user object that isn't going to be touched.

Here we render our app and pass in the increment value.

ReactDOM.render(<App increaseCount={5} />, document.getElementById("root"));
import React, { Component } from "react";

class App extends Component {
  state = {
    count: {
      counter: 0,
    },
    user: {
      name: "Jason Brown",
    },
  };

  componentDidMount() {
    setInterval(() => {}, 1000);
  }

  render() {
    return <div className="App">{this.state.count.counter}</div>;
  }
}

export default App;

We setup our app just like before now with a user object and a nested counter.

We'll import immer and name the default import produce. As in when given the current state, it'll help us produce the next state.

import produce from "immer";

Next we'll create a function called counter that takes state and props so we can read the current count and then update with the next count based upon the requested increaseCount prop.

const counter = (state, props) => {};

The produce method of Immer takes a state as it's first argument, and a function to mutate your data for the next state as it's second argument.

produce(state, draft => {
  draft.count.counter += props.increaseCount;
});

Now if we put it all together. We can create a counter function that takes some state and some props and calls the produce function. We then mutate the draft of what the next state should look like and the Immer produce function will create a new immutable state for us.

const counter = (state, props) => {
  return produce(state, draft => {
    draft.count.counter += props.increaseCount;
  });
};

Our updated interval function might look something like this.

componentDidMount() {
    setInterval(() => {
      const nextState = counter(this.state, this.props);
      this.setState(nextState);
    }, 1000);
  }

However we only touched the count and counter, what happened to our user object? Did that object reference get changed as well? The answer is no. Immer knows exactly what data has been touched. So if we did an strict equality check after the component has been updated we can see that the previous user object and the next user object in state are exactly the same.

  componentDidUpdate(prevProps, prevState) {
    console.log(this.state.user === prevState.user); // Logs true
  }

This is huge for when performance might matter when you use shouldComponentUpdate or need an easy way to know if a row has updated for something like FlatList in React Native.

Immer Currying

Immer can make operations even easier. If it sees that you are passing in a function as the first argument instead of an object it will create a curried function for you. So rather than the a new object the produce function returns another function.

It will take the first argument when it's called and use that as the state you want to mutate, and then additionally any other arguments will also be passed along.

So rather than a function we could create a counter function and the props will be proxied along.

const counter = produce((draft, props) => {
  draft.count.counter += props.increaseCount;
});

Then because produce returned a function we can pass this directly into our setState which has the ability to take a function. You should use a functional setState when you are referencing your previous state, and in our case we need to reference the previous count to increase it to it's new count. It will pass in the current state and props which is exactly what we've set our counter to expect.

So our new interval will just have this.setState receiving counter which is a function.

componentDidMount() {
    setInterval(() => {
      this.setState(counter);
    }, 1000);
  }

Ending

This is obviously a contrived example but has huge real world applications. Long lists of data where a single field is updated can be easily compared and only the single row updated. Large nested forms only need to update the specific parts that were touched.

You no longer have to do a shallow or deep comparison and can now do a strict equality check and know for certain whether or not your data has actually changed and if you need to re-render.

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