A Challenge for Centralized State

I build distributed frontends using components (preact components, but that's not important). Components are a great unit of composition when the structure of a system cannot be statically determined. We often simplify state management by centralizing it, but does that negatively impact our ability to compose things at runtime?

Prerequisite: SplitPoint

In this post, I'm going to brazenly pretend there exists a common definition for a <SplitPoint> component:

SplitPoint invokes an async load() function (passed as a prop), then renders result as its child.

A horribly naive implementation of this component might look like this:

class SplitPoint extends Component {  
  constructor({ load }) {
    load().then( Child => this.setState({ Child }) )
  }
  render() {
    let { Child } = this.state
    let { load, ...props } = this.props
    return <Child {...props} />
  }
}

We can use this component to lazy-load (webpack-)chunked components on first render.

In Webpack (2!) this might look like:

<SplitPoint load={ () => import('./SomeComponent') } />  

However, we can just as easily emulate this without actual code loading, using a function that returns a Promise resolving to a Component:

// a "chunk": a Promise that resolves to a Component
const loadComponent = () => Promise.resolve(  
  class SomeComponent extends Component {
    render() { return <div>whatever</div> }
  }
)

<SplitPoint load={ () => loadComponent() } />  
                 // ^ unnecessary? yes.

The main point here is that we can asynchronously pull in new components and render them into the Virtual DOM tree,
simply by wrapping them in a <SplitPoint /> and chunking the Component definition.

Using Lazy-Loaded Components

Here's an example of what it looks like to use lazily-loaded Components in a more real-world setting:

const Sidebar = () => (  
  <aside>
    <SplitPoint load={ () => import('./Ad') } />
    <SplitPoint load={ () => import('./Map') } />
    <SplitPoint load={ () => import('./Nearby') } />
    <SplitPoint load={ () => import('./AnotherAd') } />
  </aside>
)

... rendering <Sidebar /> actually triggers network calls to go get the necessary components, and when they resolve they are rendered in-place.

The same technique is used to chunk routes, pages, etc.

But Centralized State!

Now let's say we're using something like Redux for a centralized store.

Our components are going to pull initial state from that central store, and subscribe() to to changes to update in response.

The components in our Sidebar were Ad, Map, Nearby and AnotherAd (revenue is important). Let's ignore the Ads (everyone does) and focus on Map and Nearby. Both of these Components want to use the same location value from the centralized store.

That location value isn't free, though - its existence in that store includes a bunch of code to:

  • fetch the user's location from an IP address
  • geolocate them using browser APIs
  • save location preferences to localStorage; or if signed in,
  • save an authenticated user's location preferences to a service somewhere

... that might be a nontrivial amount of code.

If we're building a sufficiently large application, there will come a time when the functionality associated with values
in the store would be worth splitting out into chunks, to be loaded on-demand.

Or, perhaps we don't know ahead of time (at build time)
if there will even be Components in this application that rely on that location value at all? Maybe their existence in the UI is determined at runtime by something like a CMS, authentication status, or flags?

The solution here would be to code-split the logic around that location value so that it's only downloaded and executed when the application actually needs to use it. However, how do we know that the application needs to access location?

// getters on `state`?
@connect( state => ({
  location: state.location
}) )
export default class Map extends Component {  
  render() {
    this.props.location   // accessed synchronously
    return <div>a map</div>
  }
}

You might be inclined to say this:

"hey, that's easy! just have Map load the reducer and inject it into the store."

... and I might be inclined to agree - except it's quite possible our other location-using component, <Nearby>, might be rendered first. Or maybe <Map> won't be rendered at all. Do we have both components load and inject that code-splitted business logic into the store when they are first mounted?

I hope you weren't reading this expecting a solution or even a library that solves this problem magically, since I have neither. Maybe you do?

developit

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