Pillars of Reactive Programming

Learn about the pillars of reactive programming.

Let’s begin with a little bit of background. Reactive programming is among the major programming paradigms used by developers worldwide. Every programming paradigm solves some problems and has its own advantages. By definition, reactive programming is programming with asynchronous data streams and is based on the observer pattern. So let’s talk about these pillars of reactive programming!

Data streams

Data streams are the spine of reactive programming. Everything that might change or happen over time (we don’t know when exactly) is represented as a stream, such as data, events, notifications, and messages. Reactive programming is about reacting to changes as soon as they happen.

An excellent example of data streams is user interface (UI) events. Let’s suppose that we have an HTML button and we want to execute an action whenever a user clicks it. Here, we can think of the click event as a stream.

As implemented in the preceding code snippet, in order to react to this click event, we register an EventListener event. Then every time a click occurs, the processClick function is called to execute a side effect. In our case, we’re just logging “Hi” in the console.

To be able to react when something happens and execute a side effect, we should listen to the streams to become notified. We can say “listen” or “observe” to get closer to the reactive terminology. And this leads us to the observer design pattern, which is at the heart of reactive programming.

The observer pattern

The observer pattern is based on two main roles: a publisher and a subscriber. A publisher maintains a list of subscribers and notifies them or propagates a change every time there’s an update. On the other hand, a subscriber performs an update or executes a side effect every time they receive a notification from the publisher.

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A publisher produces a value
A publisher produces a value
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So to get notified about any updates, we need to subscribe to the publisher. A real-world analogy would be a newsletter; we don’t get any emails if we don’t subscribe to the newsletter.

This leads us to the building blocks of RxJS:

  • Observables: These are a representation of the data streams that notify the observers of any change.
  • Observers: These are the consumers of the data streams emitted by observables.

RxJS combines the observer pattern with the iterator pattern and functional programming to process and handle asynchronous events.

When to use reactive programming

Remember, it’s crucial to understand when to put a reactive implementation in place and when to avoid it. In general, whenever we have to handle asynchronous tasks in the Angular application, always think of RxJS.

These are the main advantages of RxJS over other asynchronous application programming interfaces (APIs):

  • RxJS makes dealing with event-based programs, asynchronous data calls, and callbacks an easy task.
  • Observables guarantee consistency. They emit multiple values over time so we can consume continuous data streams.
  • Observables are lazy; they aren’t executed until we subscribe to them. This helps with writing declarative code that is clean, efficient, and easy to understand and maintain.
  • Observables can be canceled, completed, and retrieved at any moment. This makes a lot of sense in many real-world scenarios.
  • RxJS provides many operators with a functional style to manipulate collections and optimize side effects.
  • Observables push errors to the subscribers and provide a clean way to handle errors.
  • RxJS allows us to write clean and efficient code to handle asynchronous data in the application.

Now that we have some insight into the reactive programming pillars and the major advantages of RxJS, let’s shed some light on the relationship between Angular and RxJS.