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A lightweight, component-based JavaScript framework
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README.md

Flight: an event driven component framework

Build Status

Flight is a lightweight, component-based JavaScript framework that maps behavior to DOM nodes. Twitter uses it for their web applications.

Components cannot be directly referenced, instead they communicate by triggering and subscribing to events. Consequently every component, and every component API, is entirely decoupled from every other component, so that components are highly portable and easily testable.

As an added bonus, Flight includes a simple and safe mixin infrastructure allowing components to be easily extended with minimal boilerplate.

Sample App

By way of example, we've included a simple email client built over the Flight framework. The source code for this app is in the demo directory and you can run the demo here.

Browser Support

Flight has been tested on all major browsers: Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Opera and IE7 and upwards.

Installation

To ensure Flight is installed with the correct dependencies, we recommend using bower. Your client app will need a component.json file that looks something like this:

{
  "name": "myApp",
  "version": "1.2.1",
  "dependencies": {
    "flight": "~1.0.0"
  }
}

Then running bower install will add flight to the components directory of myApp.

Dependencies

Flight uses ES5-shim to pollyfill ES5 support for older browsers and JQuery for DOM manipulation API. If you install flight with bower, these apps will be deployed in the components folder. Additionally you will need to include an AMD implementation such as require.js or loadrunner.

These files are loaded in the sample app at demo/index.html.

<script src='components/jquery/jquery.js'></script>
<script src='components/es5-shim/es5-shim.js'></script>
<script src='components/es5-shim/es5-sham.js'></script>
<script data-main="requireMain.js" src='components/requirejs/requirejs.js'></script>

How do I use it?

  1. Define a component
  2. Attach a component instance to a DOM node

Components

What is a component?

  • A Component is nothing more than a constructor with properties mixed into its prototype.
  • Every Component comes with a set of basic functionality such as event handling and component registration.
  • Additionally, each Component definition mixes in a set of custom properties which describe its behavior.
  • When a component is attached to a DOM node, a new instance of that component is created. Each component instance references the DOM node via its node property.
  • Component instances cannot be referenced directly; they communicate with other components via events.

How do I define a component?

Flight expects its client apps to support AMD-style module definitions.

To define a component, create a module that depends on Flight's component module (lib/component.js). The latter module exports a function which we'll call defineComponent.

define(
  [
    'components/flight/lib/component'
  ],

  function(defineComponent) {
    //..
  }
);

defineComponent accepts any number of mixin functions and returns a new Component constructor with those mixins applied to its prototype.

Each Component definition should include a function declaration describing its basic behavior (we can think of this function as the Component's core mixin). By passing this function to defineComponent we can define a simple Component:

/* mySimpleComponent.js */

define(
  [
    'components/flight/lib/component'
  ],

  function(defineComponent)  {

    return defineComponent(mySimpleComponent);

    function mySimpleComponent() {
      this.doSomething = function() {
        //...
      }

      this.doSomethingElse = function() {
        //...
      }
    }
  }
);

Components make no assumptions about the existence of other objects. If you were to remove all other JavaScript on the site, this component would still work as intended.

How do I attach a Component to a DOM node?

Each Component constructor has an attachTo method which accepts two arguments. The first argument is a DOM node (or a jQuery object or CSS selector representing one or more DOM nodes). The second is an options object. If extra arguments are supplied, they are merged into the first options argument. These options will be merged into the defaults object which is a property of the component instance.

Invoking attachTo will create a new instance and attach it to the supplied DOM node. If the first argument resolves to one or more DOM nodes, an instance will be created for each node.

Here we are creating an instance of an Inbox Component and attaching it to a node with id inbox. We're also passing in values for a couple of selectors which will override the values defined in the components defaults object (if they exist). More on defaults here.

/* attach an inbox component to a node with id 'inbox'*/

define(
  [
    'components/inbox'
  ],

  function(Inbox) {
    Inbox.attachTo('#inbox', {
      'nextPageSelector': '#nextPage',
      'previousPageSelector': '#previousPage',
    });
  }
);

It's important to understand that attachTo does not return the new instance, or any other value. You should never need a reference to component instances - they should only respond to events.

Initializing a component

When a component is created we usually want it to perform an initial setup routine. Every Component has an empty initialize method attached to its prototype and we can augment this method by supplying a function as an argument to a special after method. (We'll talk about before, after and around in detail in the advice section of this document).

The initialize function is a good place to set up event listeners that bind to callbacks.

define(
  [
    'components/flight/lib/component'
  ],

  function(defineComponent)  {

    return defineComponent(inbox);

    function inbox() {
      //define custom functions here
      //...

      // now initialize the component
      this.after('initialize', function() {
        this.on('click', doThisThing);
        this.on('mouseover', doThatThing);
      });
    }
  }
);

Defaults and Options

In addition to functions, most components need to define attributes too. In Flight, default values are assigned by passing an object to the defaultAttrs function

define(
  [
    'flight/lib/component'
  ],

  function(defineComponent) {

    return defineComponent(button);

    function button() {
      this.defaultAttrs({
        buttonClass: 'js-button',
        text: 'Click me'
      });

      this.after('initialize', function() {
        //..
      });
    }

  }
);

The object will be assigned to, or merged with, the attr property of the component and can be accessed accordingly:

this.after('initialize', function() {
  this.$node
      .addClass(this.attr('buttonClass'))
      .text(this.attr('text'));
});

These can be overridden in options...

/* attach button with text as option */

define(
  [
    'components/button'
  ],

  function(Button) {
    Button.attachTo("#foo", {
      text: "Don't click me",
      buttonClass: "js-not-a-button"
    });
  }
);

...or by mixins.

Finding elements

Flight's select method takes a selector attribute as its argument and will return all matching elements within the component's node. This is a handy alternative to jQuery's this.$node.find() and prevents accidental access to elements outside of this.node.

this.defaultAttrs({
  menuItemSelector: '.menu-item',
  selectedClass: 'selected'
});

this.selectMenuItem = function(e) {
  // toggle 'selected' class on all list items
  this.select('menuItemSelector').toggleClass(this.attr.selectedClass);

  //...
};

Interacting with the DOM

Once attached, component instances have direct access to their node object via the node property. (There's also a jQuery version of the node available via the $node property.)

Events in Flight

Events are how Flight components interact. The Component prototype supplies methods for triggering events as well as for subscribing to and unsubscribing from events. These Component event methods are actually just convenient wrappers around regular event methods on DOM nodes.

Triggering events

The trigger method takes up to three arguments representing the triggering element, the event type (e.g. 'click' or 'saveRequested') and the event payload which must always be an object. Only the event type is mandatory. If the element is not supplied then the component's node property is used.

this.saveButtonClicked = function() {
  this.trigger('saveRequested', currentDocument);
}

this.updateSuccessful = function() {
  this.trigger(document, 'transactionComplete', successData);
}

Subscribing to events

A component instance can listen to an event and register a callback to be invoked using the on method of the component prototype. There are three possible arguments: the DOM node to listen on, the event type to listen to, and the event handler (callback) to be invoked. Again the DOM node is optional and defaults to the component instance's node value. Flight will automatically bind the context (this) of the callback to the component instance.

The callback argument can be either a function to be invoked...

this.after('initialize', function() {
  this.on(document, 'dataSent', this.refreshList);
  this.on('click', this.selectItem);
});

...or an object that maps event targets to callbacks...

this.after('initialize', function() {
  this.on('click', {
    menuItemSelector: this.selectMenuItem,
    saveButtonSelector: this.saveAll
  });
});

The latter case is effectively event delegation; selector values are resolved, at event time, by keying into the attr property of the component (see defaults and options). For the above example we would expect the defaultAttrs call to look something like this:

this.defaultAttrs({
  menuItemSelector: '.menuItem',
  saveButtonSelector: '#save'
});

Unsubscribing from events

If we no longer want a component instance to listen to an event we can use the off method to unsubscribe. This method takes up to three arguments: the DOM node that was listening to the event, the event type, and the callback. The DOM node argument is optional and defaults to the component's node property. The callback is also optional and when not supplied the component instance detaches all callbacks for the event type.

function disableAllDropdowns() {
  this.off('#select', 'click');
}

function noHighlightOnHover() {
  this.off('hover', this.highlight);
}

Note: when a component is torn down, it automatically unsubscribes from all events.

Putting it together

Here's an example of a navigation menu component.

define(
  [
    'flight/lib/component'
  ],

  function(defineComponent) {

    return defineComponent(navigationMenu);

    function navigationMenu() {
      this.defaultAttrs({
        menuItemSelector: '.menu-item',
        selectedClass: 'selected'
      });

      // mark menu item as selected. mark others as not selected. trigger uiLoadUrl event
      this.selectMenuItem = function(e) {
        // toggle 'selected' class on all list items
        this.select('menuItemSelector').toggleClass(this.attr.selectedClass);

        // let some other component worry about loading the content & displaying it
        this.trigger('uiLoadUrl', {
          url: $(e.target).attr('href')
        });
      };

      this.after('initialize', function() {
        // 'menuItemSelector' is defined in defaultAttr
        this.on('click', {
          menuItemSelector: this.selectMenuItem
        });
      });
    }

  }
);

We can attach the component to a ul.menu element like the one below:

<nav>
  <ul class="menu">
    <li class="menu-item selected">
      <a href="apage.html">A page</a>
    </li>
    <li class="menu-item">
      <a href="anotherpage.html">Another page</a>
    </li>
  </ul>
</nav>

Now we have a simple menu component that can be attached to any element that has .menu-item children.

Teardown

Flight provides a set of methods which remove components and their event bindings. It's a good idea to use teardown components after each unit test - and teardown also good for unbinding event listeners when, for example, the user navigates away from a page.

There are three levels of teardown:

  • On defineComponent (i.e. the object exported by lib/component.js) - deletes every instance of every component and all their event bindings.
define(
  [
    'flight/lib/component'
  ],

  function(defineComponent) {

    return defineComponent(navigationMenu);

    function navigationMenu() {

      this.resetEverything = function() {
        //remove every component instance and all event listeners
        defineComponent.teardownAll();
      };
      //..
    }
  }
);
  • On a Component constructor - deletes every instance of that Component type and all their event bindings.
define(
  [
    'ui/navigationMenu'
  ],

  function(NavigationMenu) {
    //..
    //remove all instances of NavigationMenu and all their event bindings
    NavigationMenu.teardownAll();
  }
);
  • On a component instance - deletes this instance and its event bindings
define(
  [
    'flight/lib/component'
  ],

  function(defineComponent) {

    return defineComponent(videoPlayer);

    function videoPlayer() {

      this.closeVideoWidget = function() {
        //remove this component instance and its event bindings
        this.teardown();
      };
      //..
    }
  }
);

Mixins

  • In Flight, a mixin is a function which assigns properties to a target object (represented by the this keyword).
  • A typical mixin defines a set of functionality that will be useful to more than one component.
  • One mixin can be applied to any number of Component definitions.
  • One Component definition can have any number of mixins applied to it.
  • Each Component defines a core mixin within its own module.
  • A mixin can itself have mixins applied to it.

How do I define a mixin?

Mixin definitions are like Component definitions but without the call to defineComponent.

define(
  [],

  function() {

    function withDropdown() {
      this.openDropdown = function() {
        //...
      };
      this.selectItem = function() {
        //...
      };
    }

    // return the mixin function
    return withDropdown;
  }
);

How do I apply mixins to a component?

In the Component definition, pass the required mixins as arguments to the defineComponent function:

define(
  [
    'flight/lib/component',
    'mixins/with_dialog',
    'mixins/with_dropdown'
  ],

  function(defineComponent, withDialog, withDropdown) {

    defineComponent(fancyComponent, withDialog, withDropdown);

    function fancyComponent() {
      //...
    }
  }
);

How do I apply mixins to a regular object?

Under the covers, Components add mixins using Flight's compose module, which amongst other things, prevents mixins from clobbering existing method names. If you ever need to apply a mixin to something other than a component (e.g. to another mixin), you can invoke compose.mixin directly:

define(
  [
    'mixins/with_positioning'
  ],

  function(withPositioning) {

    //mix withPositioning into withDialog
    compose.mixin(this, [withPositioning]);

    function withDialog() {
      //...
    }

    // return the mixin function
    return withDialog;
  }
);

Overriding defaults in a mixin

The defaultAttr method is available to both component and mixin modules. When used with mixins it will not overwrite attributes already defined in the component module.

/* mixins/big_button */

define(
  [],

  function() {

    function bigButton() {
      this.defaultAttrs({
        buttonClass: 'js-button-big'
      });
    }

    return bigButton;

  }
);

Advice

In Flight, advice is a mixin ('lib/advice.js') that defines before, after and around methods.

These can be used to modify existing functions by adding custom code. All Components have advice mixed in to their prototype so that mixins can augment existing functions without requiring knowledge of the original implementation. Moreover, since Component's are seeded with an empty initialize method, Component definitions will typically use after to define custom initialize behavior.

before and after

You can add custom code before or after an existing method by calling the respective advice function with two arguments. The first is the name of the function you want to augment, the second is a custom function to be invoked before or after the original:

define(
  [],

  function() {

    function withDrama() {
      this.before('announce', function() {
        clearThroat();
      });
      this.after('leaving', function() {
        slamDoor();
      });
    }

    return withDrama;
  }
);

around

This method is similar to before and after but allows the existing function to be invoked in the middle of your custom code (it's similar to underscore's _wrap function). Again the first argument is the existing function while the second is the custom function to go around it. The existing function will be passed to the custom function as an argument so that it can be referenced. If the custom function does not call the existing function then it will replace that function instead of surround it:

define(
  [],

  function() {

    function withDrama() {
      this.around('announce', function(basicAnnounce) {
        clearThroat();
        basicAnnounce();
        bow();
      });
    }

    return withDrama;
  }
);

Making advice available to regular objects

Advice can be mixed in to non-components using the compose module:

//a simple module: 'test/myObj'
define{
  [],

  function() {
    var myObj = {
      print: function() {
        console.log("hello");
      }
    };

    return myObj;
  }
}

//import myObj and augment it
define(
  [
    'lib/advice',
    'lib/compose',
    'test/myObj'
  ],

  function(advice, compose, myObj) {

    //add advice functions to myObj
    compose.mixin(myObj, [advice.withAdvice]);

    //augment print function
    myObj.after('print', function() {
      console.log("world");
    });
  }
);

Debugging

Flight ships with a debug module which can help you trace the sequence of event triggering and binding. By default the console will log every trigger, bind and unbind event. By sending instructions to your browser console, you can filter logged events by type or by name or turn them off completely:

DEBUG.events.logByAction('trigger'); //only log event triggers
DEBUG.events.logByName('click'); //only log events named 'click' - accepts * as wildcard
DEBUG.events.logNone(); //log nothing
DEBUG.events.logAll(); //log everything

Authors

Thanks for assistance and contributions:

Special thanks to the rest of the Twitter web team for their abundant contributions and feedback.

License

Copyright 2013 Twitter, Inc and other contributors.

Licensed under the MIT License

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