Things You Should Know About RX

As I've said before, RX for Javascript is a great library for event-rich Javascript apps. But as with many tools of great power, it allows you to do stupid things and get hurt. In this posting I'm focusing on those features that will probably provide you with the most WTFs.

Some examples

A counter that increases or decreases its value based on clicks to + and - buttons can be implemented like this:
  var incr = $('#incr').toObservable('click').Select(always(1))
  var decr = $('#decr').toObservable('click').Select(always(-1))
  var series = incr.Merge(decr)
    .Scan(0, function(total, x) { return total + x })
Is good? Well, as long as you subscribe at the right time. If you subscribe later, the later subscriber will get different results from the first one, because it's counter will start from 0 when it subscribes.
You could derive a position stream from a movements stream as follows:
  var position = movements
    .Scan(startPos, function(pos, move) { return pos.add(move) })
Is good? Well, the exact same problem. Position stream delivers different results depending when you subscribe.
Both examples seem perfectly ok, unless you know the details of RX. Let's take a walk.

Misconception #1 : Observable Is a Stream of Events

Well, I have said the above sentence countless times, regardless of how wrong it is. Actually Rx would make a lot more sense (with less WTFs) if that were true. A real stream, in my opinion, would provide all of its Subscribers with the same series of events after any moment of time t. Unfortunately with RX, the events that you receive after t depends on when you subscribed.

Hot and Cold Observables

In RX, there are "hot" and "cold" observables. As Bnaya Eshet described in his blog posting:
If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? if it do make a sound when nobody observed it, we should mark it as hot, otherwise it should be marked as cold.
So what? Well, simply put, hot observables are consistent among subscribers and cold ones are not. A hot observable can be seen as a list of (time, value) pairs. A hot observable won't produce the an event to subscribers that subscribed after the event occurred. The cold ones are, well, something that depends on when you subscribe.
All Observables that are directly derived from some real-world events are hot. For instance, mouse and keyboard events will be consistent among all subscribers. But, if you combine them with a cold observable, or apply a stateful combinator, such as Scan, you're not so safe anymore.

Observables from Arrays

Observable.FromArray serves you a cold Observable. It always spits out the same list of objects when you subscribe. Doesn't provide a consistent mapping of time to events. Period.

Mixing Hot and Cold

If you mix hot with cold, what do you get? Medium? So, if you
var hotness = $(document).toObservable("keyup")
var temperature = Observable.FromArray("coldness").Concat(hotness.Select(always("hotness")))
You might expect to get an observable starting with "coldness" and producing "hotness" at each keyup. However, StartWith made your new observable a bit colder in the sense that any new subscriber will always get "coldness" first.
No matter how you combine coldness with hotness, you won't get a hot Observable back. It won't be cold as in "tree falling in the woods", but inconsistent anyway. Lukewarm? No, more like Groundhog Day.

Stateful Streams Using Scan

As I showed in the counter-example (pun intended) above, Scan will give you a Groundhog Day Observable.


Using StartWith won't save you. It's the same thing as concatenating with a cold stream of one event.

Workaround : Publish/Connect

This is a workaround I already presented in my hot-tempered Failing with RX-JS posting. You can make your Observable hot again by using Publish and Connect. For instance, you can fix the broken counter like this:
  var series = incr.Merge(decr)
    .Scan(0, function(total, x) { return total + x })
  var dispose = series.Connect()
So first you call Publish on your Observable. That'll give you an Observable, that will have a single connection to the underlying Observable, no matter how many subscribers you add. Then you call Connect, which will start it, by calling the Subscribe method of the underlying stream. It will also give you a back a "dispose" function for disconnecting.
The obvious drawback of this method is that there's more clutter. Also, the connection to the underlying stream won't be automatically disconnected. You have to call dispose yourself.


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