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README.md

UniFlow for Polymer 2.x

Set of mixins to enable uni-directional data flow in Polymer application.

Important!

This library was developed as part of internal project at Google and isn't directly affiliated with the Polymer project (although Polymer team has provided some good feedback on UniFlow implementation).

History & Overview

When you start working on a new Polymer application, it's easy to start and build the first few elements, and make them communicate via events and data binding, so everything looks nice and rosy. However, as the number and complexity of elements grows, it becomes increasingly difficult to manage relationships between them, trace where/when the data changes happened, and debug the problems. So this project started as an attempt by our team at Google to find a good way to architect large Polymer application.

Inspired by React's community Flux (and, later, Redux) architecture, we implemented a unidirectional data flow pattern (data down, events up) for Polymer. We found that when using UniFlow application code becomes more streamlined (e.g. it is clear what the responsibilities of each element are) and much easier to manage; the code has fewer bugs, and debugging is a lot more efficient. Adding new functionality no longer exponentially increases complexity.

This project was also inspired by Backbone Marionette. Backbone.js back in the days of its glory was a great library that provided a nice set of building blocks for building JavaScript applications. However, it left much of the application design, architecture and scalability to the developer, including memory management, view management, and more. Marionette brought an application architecture to Backbone, along with built in view management and memory management. It was designed to be a lightweight and flexible library of tools that sits on top of Backbone, providing the framework for building a scalable application. Uniflow strives to achieve similar goal for Polymer.

We feel that Polymer, and web components in general, is a great concept that takes interoperability and encapsulation in Web development to the next level. But it lacked the patterns for building large and complex applications, and this is the void we expect UniFlow to fill. It is still in beta, so breaking changes may be happening before the first release. However, we believe that abstractions implemented in the library can be useful for Polymer community, so we encourage people to try, fork, ask questions, send comments, and submit pull requests.

Applicability

This library implements the architectural pattern called 'unidirectional data flow'. It works best if application logic involves complicated data management, when multiple elements need to have access to or modify the same data. Even though the pattern can be implemented just using built-in Polymer concepts, such as custom events and data binding, the UniFlow library provides a useful set of tools and abstractions, and helps to structure application code.

Implementation

UniFlow is implemented as a set of mixins that developers apply to their elements. It is assumed that each application has a singleton application element that maintains state of entire application. Each element that needs access to the data is bound, directly or indirectly, to sub-tree of application state tree. Two way data binding is never used to send data up, from child to parent, so only parent elements send data to children using one way data binding. Child elements, in turn, send the events (emit actions) responding to user actions, indicating that the data may need to be modified. Special non-visual elements called action dispatchers mutate the data, then all elements listening to the data changes render new data.

API Documentation

Action Dispatcher

Use UniFlow.ActionDispatcher for non-visual elements that process actions emitted by visual elements. Action dispatchers usually placed at the application level. Each action dispatcher element gets a chance to process the action in the order the elements are present in the DOM tree. It is important that action dispatcher elements get two-way data binding to application state as follows:

Action dispatcher elements can include nested action dispatchers, so you can have a hierarchical organization of action dispatchers.

Example:

HTML:

<dom-module id="parent-dispatcher">
<template>
  <child-dispatcher-a state="{{state}}"></child-dispatcher-a>
  <child-dispatcher-b state="{{state}}"></child-dispatcher-b>
</template>
</dom-module>

JavaScript:

class ParentDispatcher extends UniFlow.ActionDispatcher(Polymer.Element) {

  static get is() { return 'parent-dispatcher'; }
  
  MY_ACTION(detail) {
   // do MY_ACTION processing here
   // return false if you want to prevent other action dispatchers from
   // further processing of this action
  };
}

customElements.define(ParentDispatcher.is, ParentDispatcher);

Action Emitter

Whenever element needs to emit an action, this mixin should be used. Action object must always include type property.

Application State

Assign this mixin to your main application element. It provides global state and functionality to maintain individual elements states. This mixin is responsible for notifying all state-aware elements about their state changes (provided those elements have statePath property defined). Only one element in the application is supposed to have this mixin.

Example:

HTML:

<template>
  <!-- action dispatchers in the order of action processing -->
  <action-dispatcher-a state="{{state}}"></action-dispatcher-a>
  <action-dispatcher-b state="{{state}}"></action-dispatcher-b>
  
  <!-- state-aware elements -->
  <some-element state-path="state.someElement"></some-element>
</template>

JavaScript:

class MyApp extends UniFlow.ApplicationState(Polymer.Element) {

  static get is() { return 'my-app'; }

  connectedCallback() {
    super.connectedCallback();
    this.state = {
      someElement: {}
    }
  }
}

customElements.define(MayApp.is, MyApp);

In the example above, <some-element> will receive notification of any changes to the state, as if it was declared as follows:

<some-element state="[[state]]"></some-element>

Also, if <some-element> has propertyA, on element attach this property will be assigned the value of state.someElement.propertyA, and receive all notification of the property change whenever the corresponding data in state tree changes. This essentially translates to following declaration:

<some-element state="[[state]]"
              propertyA="[[state.someElement.propertyA]]">
</some-element>

Note that data binding is one-way in both cases. Although state-aware elements can modify their own state, it is considered their private state and no other elements will be notified of those changes.

List View

This mixin used by elements that need to render multiple models backed by 'list' array. You may want to use ModelView to render individual models in the list. The mixin supports element selection by setting predefined $selected property on list elements.

Example:

HTML:

<ul>
  <template id="list-template" is="dom-repeat" items="[[list]]">
    <li id="[[item.id]]">
      <paper-checkbox checked="{{item.$selected}}">
      <model-view state-path="[[statePath]].list.#[[index]]"></model-view>
    </li>
  </template>
</ul>
Selected: [[selectedCount]] items
<paper-button on-tap="onDeleteTap">Delete</paper-button>

JavaScript:

class ListElement extends Polymer.GestureEventListeners(UniFlow.ListView(UniFlow.StateAware(Polymer.Element))) {

  static get is() { return "list-element"; }

  onDeleteTap() {
    this.deleteSelected();
  }

}

customElements.define(ListElement.is, ListElement);

In the example above list view element is also state-aware, meaning it has its own place in the application state tree. Assuming it has been declared as follows:

<list-element state-path="state.listElement"></list-element>

it will be rendering state.listElement.list and observing changes to it. Each model-view within dom-repeat template will have state-path property set to state.listElement.list.#<index> where index is the element's index in the array.

Model View

Element rendering data represented by a single object (model) in the application state should use ModelView mixin. Model View is a powerful concept that encapsulates model data (likely the data received from the server and to be persisted to the server if modified as a result of user actions), status (validity of the data, flag that data was modified, notifications for the user, etc.). Auxiliary data supplied by action dispatchers and needed for display purposes or element's logic should be defined as element’s properties. Same applies to data created/modified by the element but not intended to be persisted. If StateAware mixin is used along with ModelView, you can take advantage of statePath property that indicates path to the element's state in the application state tree. Whenever any data is mutated by action dispatchers at statePath or below, the element will receive notification of its properties' change (even if there is no explicit binding for those properties). See UniFlow.StateAware for more details and example. ModelView mixin defines some properties that are intended to be overridden in the elements:

  • validation property allows to specify validation rules that will be applied when validateModel() method is called. As a result of this method validation status will be updated to indicate result for each model field that has validation rule associated with it.
  • saveAction property indicates which action should be emitted when saveModel method is called to perform save of the model.
  • getMessage should be overridden with the function returning message string for given error code (to translate validation error code to message)

Example:

HTML:

<template>
 Model: [[model.id]]
 <paper-input value="{{model.name}}"
              label="Name"
              invalid="[[status.validation.name.invalid]]"
              error-message="[[status.validation.name.errorMessage]]">
 </paper-input>
 <paper-button on-tap="onSaveTap">Save</paper-button>
</template>

JavaScript:

class MyModel extends Polymer.GestureEventListeners(UniFlow.ModelView(Polymer.Element)) {

  static get is() { return "my-model"; }
  
  get saveAction() { return 'MY_SAVE'; }
  
  get validation() { 
    return {
      name: (value) => {
        if (!value || !value.trim()) {
          return 'Name is not specified';
        }
      }
    }
  }
  
  connectedCallback() {
   super.connectedCallback();
   this.fetchData();
  },
  
  fetchData() {
   this.emitAction({
     type: 'MY_FETCH',
     path: 'model'
   });
  },
  
  onSaveTap() {
   this.validateAndSave();
  }
}

customElements.define(MyModel.is, MyModel);

In the example above model view has input field for name property and Save button. On element attach the action is emitted to fetch the model's data. Note that in emitAction() method the path is specified as 'model'. ActionEmitter mixin is responsible of expanding the path with element's state path, ensuring that when action dispatcher gets to process the action, the path contains full path in the state tree. So assuming that my-model is declared as follows:

<my-model state-path="state.myModel"></my-model>

the path in MY_FETCH action gets expanded to state.myModel.model.

validation property is an object that contains methods for fields validation. The keys in this object should match model field names, the values are validation methods. Method receives current value of the field and should return non-falsy value (string or error code) if the value of the field didn't pass validation. status.validation object will be populated with the results of validation with the keys matching field names and values being objects containing two fields:

  • invalid: true when the value is not valid
  • errorMessage: the message to show to user

So in the example above if user clicks on Save button with name not entered, they will get 'Name is not specified' error message on the input element. When the name is non-empty, validation will pass and MY_SAVE action will be emitted with model passed as a parameter and 'model' as path.

State Aware

Key mixin that must be assigned to all elements that need to access application state and/or have access to the application element. The element is notified of any changes to application's state, as well as all its properties when they're modified by state mutator elements. state-path property must be used to identify path to element's state in application state tree.

Example:

HTML:

<template>
 <div>Value A: [[state.valueA]]</div>
 <div>Value B: [[valueB]]</div>
</template>

JavaScript:

class MyElement extends UniFlow.StateAware(Polymer.Element) {

  static get is() { return 'my-element'; }
  
  properties: {
    valueB: String
  }
}

customElements.define(MyElement.is, MyElement);

When above element is declared as follows:

<my-element state-path="state.myElement"></my-element>

it will be notified about changes (and render those) to state.valueA or state.myElement.valueB in action dispatchers or other state mutating elements.

State Mutator

Some non-visual elements, like action dispatchers, need to modify application state, in which case they should have this mixin assigned. Implements state- aware and re-declares state property with notify attribute. State mutator elements are only supposed to exist at the application level.