UMSTeK Blog

Reverse engineering redux, TDD, with and without RxJS

📅 March 07, 2021

13 min read

You will understand this article better if you already:

  • have worked with redux
  • have a basic understanding of functional (reactive) programming
  • have used a testing library/framework in some language

I didn’t use redux for almost 2 years and suddenly had to work with it again. When I was trying this noob-style query, the 3rd suggestion was “why is redux so complicated”. I was disappointed; Is it really? I stopped looking for the reasons why redux was so popular and instead, started writing this post. Let’s see if we can figure out what is so complicated about redux and how hard it is to implement redux from scratch.

The example in redux readme summarizes everything redux does. You don’t need to read this code now. I didn’t either.

import { createStore } from "redux";

/**
 * This is a reducer - a function that takes a current state value and an
 * action object describing "what happened", and returns a new state value.
 * A reducer's function signature is: (state, action) => newState
 *
 * The Redux state should contain only plain JS objects, arrays, and primitives.
 * The root state value is usually an object.  It's important that you should
 * not mutate the state object, but return a new object if the state changes.
 *
 * You can use any conditional logic you want in a reducer. In this example,
 * we use a switch statement, but it's not required.
 */
function counterReducer(state = { value: 0 }, action) {
  switch (action.type) {
    case "counter/incremented":
      return { value: state.value + 1 };
    case "counter/decremented":
      return { value: state.value - 1 };
    default:
      return state;
  }
}

// Create a Redux store holding the state of your app.
// Its API is { subscribe, dispatch, getState }.
let store = createStore(counterReducer);

// You can use subscribe() to update the UI in response to state changes.
// Normally you'd use a view binding library (e.g. React Redux) rather than subscribe() directly.
// There may be additional use cases where it's helpful to subscribe as well.

store.subscribe(() => console.log(store.getState()));

// The only way to mutate the internal state is to dispatch an action.
// The actions can be serialized, logged or stored and later replayed.
store.dispatch({ type: "counter/incremented" });
// {value: 1}
store.dispatch({ type: "counter/incremented" });
// {value: 2}
store.dispatch({ type: "counter/decremented" });
// {value: 1}

Redux keeps the application state in a single object (inside store). It also wants you to describe your events (actions) instead of doing things when they happen. You have to write all of your state changes in a single function (reducer) which derives the new state using the old state and the event data. When you call store.dispatch(action), the reducer function gets called (by redux). You can get the state at any moment by calling store.getState(). You can also call store.subscribe(callback) to make redux notify you whenever a state change happens. This is most of what redux does. (We will talk about middleware and enhancers later.) The diagram in official docs is lovely.

Let’s reverse engineer this using the code in the above example. So, the idea is, the above code should work and yield the same results when using redux and re-redux which we are going to create.

What I cannot create, I do not understand. — Richard Feynman

Create folder re-redux.

Run npm init -y so it won’t ask you questions.

npm i -D typescript ts-node jest ts-jest

I don’t know about you but I’m a typescript fan.

npm i rxjs redux

Why rxjs? We’ll see soon.

npx tsc --init
npx ts-jest config:init
"scripts": {
    "test": "jest"
  },

Let’s change the above readme example to a basic test with jest.

import { Action, createStore, Store } from "redux";

function counterReducer(state = { value: 0 }, action: Action) {
  switch (action.type) {
    case "counter/incremented":
      return { value: state.value + 1 };
    case "counter/decremented":
      return { value: state.value - 1 };
    default:
      return state;
  }
}

describe("redux basics", () => {
  let store: Store<{ value: number }, Action>;

  beforeEach(() => {
    store = createStore(counterReducer);
  });

  test("dispatch incremented", () => {
    store.dispatch({ type: "counter/incremented" });
    const state = store.getState();
    expect(state).toEqual({ value: 1 });
  });

  test("dispatch decremented", () => {
    store.dispatch({ type: "counter/decremented" });
    const state = store.getState();
    expect(state).toEqual({ value: -1 });
  });
});

And now run npm test. The test should pass.

Create a duplicate from src/redux.spec.ts and rename it to src/re-redux.spec.ts. Here we will test our library. Remove the first line (import) and save the file.

Create a src/re-redux.ts file. We will write our library here.

We start from creating a store with createStore function:

function createStore(reducer) {
  return {};
}

We used dispatch and getState functions in the redux example:

export function createStore(reducer) {
  let state;
  return {
    dispatch: (action) => {      state = reducer(state, action);    },    getState: () => state,  };
}

When you call store.dispatch(action), the reducer function gets called (by redux) [with the current state and the action you have provided]. — me, earlier in the article.

You can get the state at any moment by calling store.getState().

Import createStore function from the test script. Now, try to run the test: npm test.

Test fails but it’s mostly because of typescript definitions. Let’s add them.

export interface Action<T = any> {
  type: T;
}

export interface Store<S = any, A extends Action<any> = Action<any>> {
  getState: () => S;
  dispatch: (action: A) => void;
}

Import Action and Store as well, from the test script. Now, both of the test scripts look similar with the exception of ./re-redux instead of redux in import { Action, createStore, Store } from 'redux';. The test still fails. Let’s write the minimum code needed to make the test pass.

export function createStore<S, A extends Action<any> = Action<any>>(  reducer: (state: S, action: A) => S) {
  let state: S;
  return {
    dispatch: (action: A) => {      state = reducer(state, action);
    },
    getState: () => state,
  };
}

The test passes! My code might be a little inaccurate but it’s normal in clean room reverse engineering. Have we implemented redux? No, not yet. But what is interesting is that the API is accurate up-to now, and we did it in 20 lines even with types.

The term [clean room design] implies that the design team works in an environment that is “clean” or demonstrably uncontaminated by any knowledge of the proprietary techniques used by the competitor. — Wikipedia

We don’t have a problem with copyrights here; we’re just trying to learn, the hard way.

We missed a test case. What about the initial state? Let’s add that to both test scripts.

test("initial state", () => {
  const state = store.getState();
  expect(state).toEqual({ value: 0 });
});
FAIL  src/re-redux.spec.ts
● redux basics › test initial state

  expect(received).toEqual(expected) // deep equality

  Expected: {"value": 0}
  Received: undefined

Unsurprisingly, it fails. Let’s add the code.

We just need to call the reducer once when the store is created, to collect the initial state from the reducer. There is no specific action we can provide. So let’s create a dummy action with the type '@@INIT' (this breaks the user provided type T for Action but we don’t care). You have seen this in redux log, maybe?

export interface Action<T = any> {
  type: T;
}

export interface Store<S = any, A extends Action<any> = Action<any>> {
  getState: () => S;
  dispatch: (action: A) => void;
}

export function createStore<
  S = any,
  A extends Action = Action<any> & { [x: string]: any }
>(reducer: (state: S | undefined, action: A) => S) {
  let state: S = reducer(undefined, { type: "@@INIT" } as A);
  return {
    dispatch: (action: A) => {
      state = reducer(state, action);
    },
    getState: () => state,
  };
}

This is the result. I cleaned up the typings as well. It’s working. One more thing we need. What about the subscribe function? Let’s extend our tests.

describe("redux basics", () => {
  // ... omitted lines for clarity

  test("subscription", () => {
    const mockF1 = jest.fn();
    const mockF2 = jest.fn();

    const unsubscribe1 = store.subscribe(mockF1);
    expect(mockF1).not.toHaveBeenCalled();

    store.dispatch({ type: "counter/incremented" });
    expect(mockF1).toHaveBeenCalledTimes(1);
    expect(mockF2).not.toHaveBeenCalled();

    const unsubscribe2 = store.subscribe(mockF2);
    store.dispatch({ type: "counter/decremented" });
    expect(mockF1).toHaveBeenCalledTimes(2);
    expect(mockF2).toHaveBeenCalledTimes(1);

    unsubscribe1();
    store.dispatch({ type: "counter/incremented" });
    expect(mockF1).toHaveBeenCalledTimes(2); // mockF1 shouldn't be called.
    expect(mockF2).toHaveBeenCalledTimes(2);
  });
});

I added some jest mock functions mockF1 and mockF2. This is how you would track whether a function is called. I want to find out whether the subscribed function is called or not, for the initial value with expect(mockF).not.toHaveBeenCalled();. In redux, it isn’t. Maybe it is called but we create the store before subscribing to it, so the event is lost. We don’t actually need the initial state since we can call getState() to get it. We track whether the subscribed function is called for each state update too.

We have tested subscription with multiple functions and also the unsubscribe function.

Let’s extend types:

export interface Store<S = any, A extends Action<any> = Action<any>> {
  // ...
  subscribe: (listener: () => void) => () => void;
}

What is returned here is the unsubscribe function.

And let’s extend the createStore function.

export function createStore<
  S = any,
  A extends Action = Action<any> & { [x: string]: any }
>(reducer: (state: S | undefined, action: A) => S) {
  let state: S = reducer(undefined, { type: "@@INIT" } as A);
  let listeners: (() => void)[] = [];
  return {
    dispatch: (action: A) => {
      state = reducer(state, action);
      listeners.forEach((f) => f());    },
    getState: () => state,
    subscribe: (listener: () => void) => {      listeners.push(listener);      return () => {        listeners = listeners.filter((f) => f !== listener);      };    },  };
}

I added the textbook producer-consumer code here. No need to reinvent things.

So what’s the fuss about RxJS? Redux lists RxJS in prior art section in its docs. In fact, Redux has already been re-implemented with RxJS as a POC around 5 years ago!

The question is: do you really need Redux if you already use Rx? Maybe not. It’s not hard to re-implement Redux in Rx. Some say it’s a two-liner using Rx .scan() method. It may very well be! — Redux docs

Let’s implement a compatible createStore function with RxJS. Surprisingly, my implementation came out to be hacky and clunky; even longer than our basic solution. Any suggestions for improvements are welcome, but remember that we should be able to pass our test cases.

export function createStore<
  S = any,
  A extends Action = Action<any> & { [x: string]: any }
>(reducer: (state: S | undefined, action: A) => S) {
  // It is common practice to suffix observable stream variables with '$'.
  const subject$ = new Subject<A>();
  const state$ = subject$.pipe(
    startWith({ type: "@@INIT" } as A),
    scan(reducer, undefined),
    share()
  );
  let state: S | undefined;
  state$.subscribe((s) => (state = s));

  return {
    dispatch: subject$.next.bind(subject$),
    getState: () => state as S,
    subscribe: (listener: () => void) => {
      const subscription = state$.subscribe(listener);
      return subscription.unsubscribe.bind(subscription);
    },
  };
}

(Sidetrack: Why do we need function.bind(object)?)

The reason for this is the architectural differences between how redux and RxJS are written. RxJS (Functional Reactive Programming library for JavaScript) is a whole new paradigm while redux solves a specific problem.

Briefly, functional reactive programming is like functional programming for temporal collections (i.e.: stream/time series/…). For example, a JavaScript array is a spatial collection; you have all the values in hand. When you call reduce, you go through the array one value at a time, keeping an aggregated value in memory (e.g.: sum). At the end of the array, you get this value as the output. The RxJS version of the reduce operator receives one value at a time from wherever the value originates (e.g: a periodic data fetch), keeps an aggregated value in memory, and when the stream completes, returns it. The stream might never complete, unlike an array. And just like an array, it might be empty. The scan operator is similar to reduce operator except that after each value it emits the aggregated result.

If we were to take design decisions that would be in par with RxJS, we would not create a getState function; rather, we would return the Observable itself so observable.subscribe(doSomething) is possible. getState is used to pull data whereas an observable would push data to the subscriber. (Of course, redux can do this with store.subscribe(() => doSomething(store.getState())).) This would save us two lines.

let state: S | undefined;
state$.subscribe((s) => (state = s));

And in redux, we set the initial state as the default value to the first parameter of the reducer function. But usually in functional programming, this is provided as the seed value to the scan function. We will see why this decision was important for redux in terms of composability when discussing combineReducers (future). Anyway, if we went with the functional way, we will save some more lines; we wouldn’t need startWith (i.e.: dispatching a dummy action to collect the default state from the reducer).

// ...
const state$ = subject$.pipe(scan(reducer, INITIAL_STATE), share());
// ...

Well, actually, we wouldn’t need any of the boilerplate that is needed to create the store; we can remove the function createStore itself and just use RxJS like so,

const subject$ = new Subject<A>();
const state$ = subject$.pipe(scan(reducer, INITIAL_STATE), share());

is all we need. Let me quote the redux docs again.

Some say it’s a two-liner using Rx .scan() method. It may very well be!

Of --- course it is. 😆

Just use subject$.next(action) to dispatch and state$.subscribe(callback) to subscribe to state. We will need some boilerplate anyway when we implement functionality similar to combineReducers, middleware, enhancers and the functionality from react-redux. But it might still retain the two-lines status anyway 😅.

However, if we were to use RxJS, we wouldn’t be writing redux on top of it. I believe that we wouldn’t even need redux-thunk, redux-saga or any other complicated middleware to handle side effects with the power RxJS offers.

You don’t need redux; you just need the discipline to keep the data flow unidirectional.

Points I wanted to emphasize:

  • Switch to TypeScript
  • Jest is good
  • Try to do it without redux
  • Use RxJS often
  • Unidirectional Data Flow

P.S.: The complete code is here.

Copyright © 2010 - 2021 Wickramaranga Abeygunawardhana.

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