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Why observe-js?

observe-js is a library for observing changes in JavaScript data. It exposes a high-level API and uses Object.observe if available, and otherwise performs dirty-checking. observe-js requires ECMAScript 5.


observe-js implements a set of observers (PathObserver, ArrayObserver, ObjectObserver, CompoundObserver, ObserverTransform) which all implement the Observable interface:

  // Begins observation. Value changes will be reported by invoking |changeFn| with
  // |opt_receiver| as the target, if provided. Returns the initial value of the observation.
  open: function(changeFn, opt_receiver) {},

  // Report any changes now (does nothing if there are no changes to report).
  deliver: function() {},

  // If there are changes to report, ignore them. Returns the current value of the observation.
  discardChanges: function() {},

  // Ends observation. Frees resources and drops references to observed objects.
  close: function() {}


PathObserver observes a "value-at-a-path" from a given object:

var obj = { foo: { bar: 'baz' } };
var defaultValue = 42;
var observer = new PathObserver(obj, '', defaultValue);, oldValue) {
  // respond to having changed value.

PathObserver will report a change whenever the value obtained by the corresponding path expression (e.g. would return a different value.

PathObserver also exposes a setValue method which attempts to update the underlying value. Setting the value does not affect notification state (in other words, a caller sets the value but does not discardChanges, the changeFn will be notified of the change).

assert( == 'boo');


  • If the path is ever unreachable, the value is considered to be undefined (unless you pass an overriding defaultValue to new PathObserver(...) as shown in the above example).
  • If the path is empty (e.g. ''), it is said to be the empty path and its value is its root object.
  • PathObservation respects values on the prototype chain


ArrayObserver observes the index-positions of an Array and reports changes as the minimal set of "splices" which would have had the same effect.

var arr = [0, 1, 2, 4];
var observer = new ArrayObserver(arr); {
  // respond to changes to the elements of arr.
  splices.forEach(function(splice) {
    splice.index; // the index position that the change occurred.
    splice.removed; // an array of values representing the sequence of removed elements
    splice.addedCount; // the number of elements which were inserted.

ArrayObserver also exposes a utility function: applySplices. The purpose of applySplices is to transform a copy of an old state of an array into a copy of its current state, given the current state and the splices reported from the ArrayObserver.

AraryObserver.applySplices = function(previous, current, splices) { }


ObjectObserver observes the set of own-properties of an object and their values.

var myObj = { id: 1, foo: 'bar' };
var observer = new ObjectObserver(myObj);, removed, changed, getOldValueFn) {
  // respond to changes to the obj.
  Object.keys(added).forEach(function(property) {
    property; // a property which has been been added to obj
    added[property]; // its value
  Object.keys(removed).forEach(function(property) {
    property; // a property which has been been removed from obj
    getOldValueFn(property); // its old value
  Object.keys(changed).forEach(function(property) {
    property; // a property on obj which has changed value.
    changed[property]; // its value
    getOldValueFn(property); // its old value


CompoundObserver allows simultaneous observation of multiple paths and/or Observables. It reports any and all changes in to the provided changeFn callback.

var obj = {
  a: 1,
  b: 2,

var otherObj = { c: 3 };

var observer = new CompoundObserver();
observer.addPath(obj, 'a');
observer.addObserver(new PathObserver(obj, 'b'));
observer.addPath(otherObj, 'c');
var logTemplate = 'The %sth value before & after:';, oldValues) {
  // Use for-in to iterate which values have changed.
  for (var i in oldValues) {
    console.log(logTemplate, i, oldValues[i], newValues[i]);


ObserverTransform is used to dynamically transform observed value(s).

var obj = { value: 10 };
var observer = new PathObserver(obj, 'value');
function getValue(value) { return value * 2 };
function setValue(value) { return value / 2 };

var transform = new ObserverTransform(observer, getValue, setValue);

// returns 20., oldValue) {
  console.log('new: ' + newValue + ', old: ' + oldValue);

obj.value = 20;
transform.deliver(); // 'new: 40, old: 20'
transform.setValue(4); // obj.value === 2;

ObserverTransform can also be used to reduce a set of observed values to a single value:

var obj = { a: 1, b: 2, c: 3 };
var observer = new CompoundObserver();
observer.addPath(obj, 'a');
observer.addPath(obj, 'b');
observer.addPath(obj, 'c');
var transform = new ObserverTransform(observer, function(values) {
  var value = 0;
  for (var i = 0; i < values.length; i++)
    value += values[i]
  return value;

// returns 6., oldValue) {
  console.log('new: ' + newValue + ', old: ' + oldValue);

obj.a = 2;
obj.c = 10;
transform.deliver(); // 'new: 14, old: 6'

Path objects

A path is an ECMAScript expression consisting only of identifiers (myVal), member accesses ( and key lookup with literal values (arr[0] obj['str-value'].bar.baz).

Path.get('') returns a Path object which represents the path. Path objects have the following API:

  // Returns the current value of the path from the provided object. If eval() is available,
  // a compiled getter will be used for better performance. Like PathObserver above, undefined
  // is returned unless you provide an overriding defaultValue.
  getValueFrom: function(obj, defaultValue) { },

  // Attempts to set the value of the path from the provided object. Returns true IFF the path
  // was reachable and set.
  setValueFrom: function(obj, newValue) { }

Path objects are interned (e.g. assert(Path.get('') === Path.get(''));) and are used internally to avoid excessive parsing of path strings. Observers which take path strings as arguments will also accept Path objects.

About delivery of changes

observe-js is intended for use in environments which implement Object.observe, but it supports use in environments which do not.

If Object.observe is present, and observers have changes to report, their callbacks will be invoked at the end of the current turn (microtask). In a browser environment, this is generally at the end of an event.

If Object.observe is absent, Platform.performMicrotaskCheckpoint() must be called to trigger delivery of changes. If Object.observe is implemented, Platform.performMicrotaskCheckpoint() has no effect.