libc.js

Recently I’ve written a post about functional programming techniques, coming into the world of front-end and the library I crafted as an experiment. That library, libc.js was highly inspired by Elm and Mithril. But it suffered two major features:

  1. components were hardly able to be used in other components
  2. the interaction between components was nearly impossible (or, at least, not very transparent)

What’s hidden beneath the next version of the library?

The next logical step in library development was to make the interaction between components smooth and natural. I was primarily thinking of two options:

  1. inheriting component from a VirtualDOMNode class
  2. passing both properties and children as arguments to the view function of a component

I’ll first describe the second approach a bit: since properties and children basically describe a VirtualDOMNode itself, that meant to pass a VirtualDOMNode instance to the view function. And if I did so, I’d get Mithril.js.

If I inherit a component class from a VirtualDOMNode, I’d step away from the initial purpose of keeping view and update functions separated and pure.

The library exposes a Store class, which is very similar to Redux. This class was also used internally to handle components’ state changes. But that did not solve the problem in any way.

I ended up creating a Component class, which encapsulated both view and update functions, internal component state and the dispatch function, which operated on the component’s internal state. I also exposed the render() method, which could then be used to bind a component to an external Store object (which I’ll cover in a minute).

Re-using components

The changes made allowed components to be used in other components. To illustrate that, I created a Tab component and the corresponding example:

let Tabs = (function () {
    let update = (state, message) => {
        if (message.type == 'SELECT_TAB')
            return Object.assign({}, state, {
                currentTabIndex: message.tabIndex
            });

        return state;
    };

    let view = (state, children, dispatch) => {
        let currentTabIndex = state.currentTabIndex || 0;

        let tabHeaders = children.map((tab, tabIndex) => {
            return [ 'div', {
                    class: `tab-header ${tabIndex == currentTabIndex ? 'selected' : ''}`,
                    click: () => dispatch({
                        type: 'SELECT_TAB',
                        tabIndex
                    })
                },
                [ tab.children[0] ]
            ];
        });

        let tabs = children.map((tab, tabIndex) => {
            return [ 'div',
                { class: `tab-content ${tabIndex == currentTabIndex ? 'selected' : ''}` },
                tab.children.slice(1)
            ];
        });

        return [ 'div', [
            [ 'div', { class: 'tab-headers' }, tabHeaders ],
            [ 'div', { class: 'tab-container' }, tabs ]
        ]];
    };

    return createComponent(view, update);
})();

let app = (function () {
    let view = (state, children, dispatch) => {
        return [ Tabs, [
            ['div', [
                ['div', { class: 'header' }, 'Tab #1'],
                ['div', 'FIRST TAB CONTENT']
            ]],
            ['div', [
                ['div', { class: 'header' }, 'Tab #2'],
                ['div', 'SECOND TAB CONTENT']
            ]],
            ['div', [
                ['div', { class: 'header' }, 'Tab #3'],
                ['div', 'THIRD TAB CONTENT']
            ]],
        ] ];
    };

    return createComponent(view);
})();

app.init().mount(document.querySelector('#app'));

I also use these styles to make tabs look like tabs:

.tab-container {
    display: flex;
    flex-direction: column;
}

.tab-headers {
    display: flex;
    justify-content: space-around;
}

.tab-header {
    text-align: center;
    cursor: pointer;
    flex-grow: 1;
}

.tab-header:hover {
    text-decoration: underline;
}

.tab-header.selected:hover {
    text-decoration: none;
}

.tab-header.selected {
    background: #ddd;
}

.tab-content {
    display: none;
}

.tab-content.selected {
    display: block;
}

This example shows how Tabs component could be used and, what’s more important, as a High-Order Component, passing tabs along with their headers as a set of children to the Tabs component.

Using external state

Using component’s render() method and the createStore(initialState) function, exposed by a library, we can also create and use the store as an external state provider for our component:

var counterStore = createStore(0);

function update(state, message) {
    if (message == 'INCREMENT')
        return state + 1;

    if (message == 'DECREMENT')
        return state - 1;

    return state;
}

counterStore.onAction(update);

function view(state) {
    let store = state.store;

    return ['div', [
        ['button', { click: () => store.dispatch('INCREMENT') }, 'Increment'],
        ['button', { click: () => store.dispatch('DECREMENT') }, 'Decrement'],
        ['div', `Count: ${ store.getState() }`]
    ]];
}

var Counter = createComponent(view);

counterStore.onStateChanged(() => Counter.render());

Counter.init({ store: counterStore }).mount(document.body);

Here you can see how to create a store with an initial state. The initial state could be pretty much anything - a number, a string, an array, an object…

Using store’s onAction(handler) and onStateChanged(handler) methods, we can set a chain of reducers and a list of observers to state changes, correspondingly.

This example also shows how we can pass the initial state to a component’s instance, using the init(state, children) method of a Component instance (in this example - Counter.init()).

In this example a few method signatures are also shown in action:

  • Component.init() has two arguments: initialState and children and both are optional
  • createComponent() has two arguments: viewFn and updateFn and, again, both are optional
  • viewFn has three arguments: state, children and dispatchFn; last one is used to change component’s internal state; second one is used for HOCs and will be handy to make configurations or to wrap the children with a markup or logic; first argument is just an internal component’s state and, by the first call of the viewFn is equal to component’s initialState, passed by Component.init() call
  • createStore(initialState) is used to create a Store instance, where initialState is pretty much anything
  • Store.dispatch() has exactly the same signature as the dispatchFn, used in viewFn

Instead of wrap-up

I hope this library is a little bit more than just an experiment and once it will be used for a great good!