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Use state machines to describe your re-frame application.
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README.md

re-state

Use state machines to describe your re-frame application. Based on the SAM Pattern and Restate your UI: Creating a user interface with re-frame and state machines.

Overview

The main concept of the library is the "flow". This is a map of control state keys to control state maps, where a control state map has the following keys:

  • :intents: A map of intent to proposed next states
  • :preds: A map of predicate keywords
  • :effects: A map of effects predicate keywords

Below you'll find a description of each.

:intents

{nil         {:intents  {:init #{:empty}}}

 :empty      {:intents  {:add-water #{:in-between}}
              :preds    #{:empty?}}

 :in-between {:intents  {:add-water #{:in-between :full}
                         :drink #{:in-between :empty}}
              :preds    #{:not-filled? :not-empty?}}

 :full       {:intents  {:drink #{:in-between}}
              :preds    #{:filled?}}}

The intents map an event intent to possible next states.

:preds

{nil         {:intents  {:init #{:empty}}}

 :empty      {:intents  {:add-water #{:in-between}}
              :preds    #{:empty?}}

 :in-between {:intents  {:add-water #{:in-between :full}
                         :drink #{:in-between :empty}}
              :preds    #{:not-filled? :not-empty?}}

 :full       {:intents  {:drink #{:in-between}}
              :preds    #{:filled?}}}

:preds are a set of transition predicate keywords. These keywords are registered using the multimethod accept?. Each must be true for the proposed state to be accepted.

For example if in the above flow we were to be in the :in-between state with the intent of :add-water we'd have the two possible next states of :in-between and :full. To determine which is the next valid state we pass a context to the predicate functions registered for the predicates keywords of :in-between and :full. This context looks like the following:

{:prev-db    {:v 1}        ;; the previous db
 :next-db    {:v 2}        ;; the next proposed db
 :event      [:add-water]  ;; the event, a vector of [intent & values]
 :prev-state :in-between}  ;; the previous state

To implement the predicates :filled? and :not-filled? we defmethod re-state.core/accept?:

(defmethod re-state.core/accept? :filled? [_ {:keys [next-db]}]
  (= (:v next-db) 10))

(defmethod re-state.core/accept? :not-filled? [_ {:keys [next-db]}]
  (< (:v next-db) 10))

Of course the value 10 could be something stored in our db as well, possibly set during the :init event.

In this case next-db with :v equal to 2 would mean we are still in an :in-between state.

:effects

Using a different example than those above, here is what a flow for launching a rocket with a countdown might look like:

{nil       {:intents {:init #{:ready}}}
 :ready    {:intents {:start #{:counting}}
            :preds #{:counter-max? :not-aborted? :not-started?}}
 :counting {:intents {:decr-counter #{:launched :counting}
                      :abort #{:aborted}}
            :preds #{:started?}
            :effects #{:countdown}}
 :aborted  {:preds #{:aborted?}}
 :launched {:preds #{:counter-zero?}}}

The transition effects are a set of transition effect keywords.

The transition effects handler should return a map of effects, like those in re-frame. To implement transition effects we defmethod re-state.core/effects.

(defmethod re-state.core/effects :countdown [_ _]
  {:dispatch [:decr-counter]})

After the :preds are used to determine what the next valid state to accept is, the :effects are checked using the accepted state and if a handler is found it is called and its effects are merged.

Like the transition predicate, the transition effects handler takes a context. It has the same keys as the transition predicate context, but also includes a :next-state key with the accepted state.

re-frame interceptor

  • interceptor: an interceptor that will use the :re-state.core/flow, associng in a :re-state.core/state key into your db with the next state as well as adding to the re-frame context any transition effects.

Usage is simple. Just add the interceptor to your reg-event-x declarations where the event name is the same key as the intent in the registered maps. The handler then returns a new proposed db.

For example:

(reg-event-db
  :add-water
  [rs/interceptor]
  (fn [db _]
    (update-in db [:v] inc)))

Note that it is still possible to return effects other than db using reg-event-fx but since they could be overridden by those returned from a transition effects handler it is suggested you avoid that.

Setup

You'll have to initally bootstrap your application with an event that will set the :re-state.core/flow for your app. For example:

(rf/reg-event-fx
 :bootstrap
 (fn [cofx event]
   {:re-state.core/flow app-flow}))

Once you do this your events can start using the interceptor.

Dynamically adding flows

As you noticed above we can create an effect which will set the flow. This means we can modify the flow of the app later, merging more flows into it, growing the capabilities of the app. This is useful if you were to store flows in a database and send them via ajax to your app. The re-state.flow namespace provides a useful function to facilitate this: merge-flows. It takes one or more flows as arguments and merges them into a single flow.

Many effects

It is intuitive to be able to return multiple effects, but how do we resolve conflicts if lets say two effects return a :dispatch in their map?

For this we have the multimethod re-state.core/resolve-effects-conflict. This takes the effects key and two values for that effect we must resolve by returning a vector of [new-effect new-value]. Included by default are handlers for :dispatch and :dispatch-n. These look the like the following:

(defmethod resolve-effects-conflict :dispatch [_ x y]
  [:dispatch-n [x y]])

(defmethod resolve-effects-conflict :dispatch-n [_ x y]
  [:dispatch-n (into x y)])

Any app specific effects your app generates that could conflict can be handled this way.

Deeper concepts

There are few conceptual points to be aware of that will help when designing your apps.

Control State

We're using a somewhat unconventional use of the word "state", at least in the context of application development. In re-frame the db is what persists the stateful information in the app. But the states we refer to are more correctly called control states.

Normally applications don't explicitly define their control states. That is, they don't try to give a name to any current state the app might be in.

By defining our control states we are distilling a lot of information down into a unique keyword that we can used to build our app representation. In the article Restate your UI: Creating a user interface with re-frame and state machines it is pointed out that fragmenting the control state into several different properties leads to error prone code. We have to make sure all these different properties are always in sync, and do this across many different handlers.

What we want in the end is a single value to determine what the current control state is and to use that to show potential next actions. In practice this means creating a re-frame subscription to the :re-state.core/state key in db and using that as the primary "switch" in your views.

Events

In a normal re-frame application events have quite a bit of power. With no interceptors to interpret them they have the ability to directly modify what will become the next db.

With the interceptor provided in re-state.core we instead consider the updated db from an event handler to be only a proposal. This proposed db can be compared to the previous db in the transition predicates to determine the next control state.

While we have to accept a new control state we do not have to commit a new proposed db. Consider a form where a user submits invalid information. Our event handler would give us the next db, which could for example involve putting the resulting values into an entities vector. In the invalid case we would not accept the next db and we can handle this by returning the value of :prev-db as :db in our transition effects handler.

(defn invalid-form-effects [{:keys [prev-db]}]
  {:db prev-db})

Transition Predicates

The transition predicates are the "why" of your application. If you were to reach an unexpected control state you would go back and refer to them to see the rules that were applied to determine that control state.

How you design your transition predicates depends on the complexity of your db. You can optimize in cases where there are only a few known states, and determining which is the correct control state is easy, or you can thoroughly check the next-db against the prev-db to be absolutely certain what control state you're in.

Writing your transition predicates using something like core.logic would be a good fit. Most apps probably wouldn't need that though, where simple boolean checks could be applied.

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