Part 6: Get Up and Running with #React and #TypeScript

The “Get Up and Running with React and TypeScript” series is made up of posts from chapters in my book “Hello React and TypeScript“. If you have questions, comments or corrections, please reach out to me in the comments or on Twitter @charleslbryant.

You can view the posts in this series on the Hello React and TypeScript category page.

Accept User Input

This sample gives an basic example of accepting user input.

Source Code

https://github.com/charleslbryant/hello-react-and-typescript/releases/tag/0.0.6

src/helloworld.tsx

/// <reference path="../typings/tsd.d.ts" />

import * as React from 'react';

export default class HelloWorld extends React.Component<any, any> {
    constructor(props: any){
        super(props);
        this.state = { name: this.props.defaultName };
    }

    public handleOnChange(event: any) : void {
        this.setState({ name: event.target.value });
    }

    public render() {
        return (
            <div>
                <div>
                    <input 
                        onChange={ e => this.handleOnChange(e) }
                    />
                </div>
                <div>
                    Hello { this.state.name }!
                </div>
            </div>
        );
    }
}

The significant changes here are we removed the button and handleOnClick method. We also added a text box and a handleOnChange method to handle changes as a user adds input to the text box.


public handleOnChange(event: any) : void {
    this.setState({ name: event.target.value });
}

This is a new method to handle the onChange event. In the method we are calling this.setState and updating the value of name in this.state to the value of the target element passed in the event.


public render() {
    return (
        <div>
            <div>
                <input 
                    onChange={ e => this.handleOnChange(e) }
                />
            </div>
            <div>
                Hello { this.state.name }!
            </div>
        </div>
    );
}

Here we added an input element and set its default value to this.props.name. We also bound the text box’s onChange event to handleOnChange method.


With these changes we have implemented a unidirectional data flow.

  1. When the user enters something in the text box it triggers the onChange event.
  2. The onChange event is handled by the handleOnChange method.
  3. The handleOnChange method updates the value of name in this.state and triggers a re-render of the component with this.setState.
  4. this.setState ends in a call to the render method that updates the name in our “Hello” message.

State is only changes as the result of an event. The Hello message is no bound to an external model state and can only be updated as a result of an event being triggered by user input. This is different than two way binding or bi-directional data flow where changes in a model can also update the state of a view.

Unidirectional Data Flow (UDF)

event > event handler > state > render

Components are representations of the state of a view over time. As events are triggered over time they update state and re-render the component with the new state. The flow can be seen as a stream of events that flow in one direction that eventually update component state causing a component to re-render. If you know about CQRS, event streaming, or stream processing, there are similar concepts in each. UDF is a redundant theme in learning React, hence a redundant theme in this book.

The sample is a simple naive example because we aren’t dealing with external or persisted data. The scope of the example makes it a little hard to understand UDF. In the example we don’t have to worry about updating an external store.

If you are having trouble understanding UDF, when you learn about Flux it will makes more sense. The Flux architecture helps you visualize data flow in a circular one way round trip. Even though it may be hard to see UDF within the context of a single component the same event flow is used to accomplish UDFin React whether within a single component, a Flux architecture, or using Relay (another Facebook library). When you get into Flux or other data flow patterns or libraries, UDF will be expanded to add additional concepts into the data flow.

UDF vs Bi-directional Data Flow

The important thing to notice about UDF is that we aren’t attempting to create a complex bi-directional view binding with some external model. We are binding to the state modeled within a component with no dependency or complex mapping to some external data model. The component is responsible for expressing its own state, updating its state, passing properties to its child components, and re-rendering itself and children when state changes as the result of some event.

If we were to use a bi-directional binding to an external model, we would not know why state is being updated. Any number of views could have the same binding to the same model. With bi-directional binding a change to a view or model could cause updates to multiple models or views and it becomes hard to understand the data flow, especially when you are trying to solve a Sev1 incident.

If you’d like to know more about UDF, there is a lot about it online that can be found with a simple search. Actually, the original MVC pattern is an example of UDF. It was distorted when it moved to web clients. If you’d like to dig into the theory behind React and UDF, you can research Functional Reactive Programming – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reactive_programming.

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