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Managing state: atoms, cursors, Reactions, and tracking

Although it is possible to update reagent components by remounting the entire component tree with reagent.dom/render, Reagent comes with a sophisticated state management library based on reagent.core/atom, which allows components to track application state and update only when needed. Reagent also provides cursors, which are like ratoms but can be constructed from portions of one or more other ratoms to limit or expand which ratoms a component watches. Finally, Reagent provides a set of tracking primitives called reactions and a set of utility functions to build more customized state management.

TODO is this right?

Intro to atoms

Reagent provides an implementation of atom that you can create with reagent/atom and use just like a normal Clojure atom, which are often referred to as "ratoms" to distinguish from normal atoms. Reagent tracks any dereferences to ratoms made during a component's render function.

(ns example
  (:require [reagent.core :as r]))

(def click-count (r/atom 0))

(defn counting-component []
   "The atom " [:code "click-count"] " has value: "
   @click-count ". "
   [:input {:type "button" :value "Click me!"
            :on-click #(swap! click-count inc)}]])

Mutating a ratom

You manipulate using the standard reset! and swap! functions.

(reset! state-atom {:counter 0})
(swap! state-atom assoc :counter 15)

Dereferencing a ratom

You access the atom using deref or the shorthand @.

(:counter (deref state-atom))
(:counter @state-atom)

The effect of dereferencing a ratom

  • A dereference to the ratom during its render function will cause that component to re-render whenever any part of that ratom is updated. (See the section below on cursors to get finer control over update behavior.)
  • Dereferencing a ratom in a callback or event handler after the render function has run will not make the component react to any changes to the ratom (though of course any changes to the ratom made in an event handler will make any watching components re-render).


rswap! works like standard swap! except that it

  • always returns nil
  • allows recursive applications of rswap! on the same atom

That makes rswap! especially suited for event handling.

Here’s an example that uses event handling with rswap!:

(defn event-handler [state [event-name id value]]
  (case event-name
    :set-name   (assoc-in state [:people id :name] value)
    :add-person (let [new-key (->> state :people keys (apply max) inc)]
              (assoc-in state [:people new-key] {:name ""}))

(defn emit [e]
  ;; (js/console.log "Handling event" (str e))
  (r/rswap! app-state event-handler e))

(defn name-edit [id]
  (let [p @(r/track person id)]
     [:input {:value     (:name p)
          :on-change #(emit [:set-name id (.. % -target -value)])}]]))

(defn edit-fields []
  (let [ids @(r/track person-keys)]
     (for [i ids]
       ^{:key i} [name-edit i])
     [:input {:type     'button
              :value    "Add person"
              :on-click #(emit [:add-person])}]]))

All events are passed through the emit function, consisting of a trivial application of rswap! and some optional logging. This is the only place where application state actually changes – the rest is pure functions.

The actual event handling is done in event-handler, which takes state and event as parameters, and returns a new state (events are represented by vectors here, with an event name in the first position).

All the UI components have to do is then just to return some markup, and set up routing of events through the emit function.

This architecture basically divides the application into two logical functions:

  • The first takes state and an event as input, and returns the next state.

  • The other takes state as input, and returns a UI definition.

This simple application could probably just as well use the common swap! instead of rswap!, but using swap! in React’s event handlers may trigger warnings due to unexpected return values, and may cause severe headaches if an event handler called by emit itself emits a new event (that would result in lost events, and much confusion).

For a more structured version of a similar approach, see the excellent re-frame framework.

TODO: is this the right example for rswap? If this is just re-frame light, maybe this shouldn't be in here. It would be better to have a more concise example.


Any component that dereferences a state atom will update whenever any part of it is updated. If you are storing all state in a single atom (not uncommon), it will cause every component to update whenever the state is updated. Performance-wise, this may be acceptable, depending on how many elements you have and how often your state updates, because React itself will not manipulate the DOM unless the components actually change.

Reagent provides cursors, which behave like atoms but operate like pointers into a larger atom (or into multiple parts of multiple atoms).

Cursors are created with reagent/cursor, which takes a ratom and a keypath (like get-in):

;; First create a ratom
(def state (reagent/atom {:foo {:bar "BAR"}
                                :baz "BAZ"
                                :quux "QUUX"}))
;; Now create a cursor
(def bar-cursor (reagent/cursor state [:foo :bar]))

(defn quux-component []
  (js/console.log "quux-component is rendering")
  [:div (:quux @state)])

(defn bar-component []
  (js/console.log "bar-component is rendering")
  [:div @bar-cursor])

(defn mount-root []
  (rdom/render [:div [quux-component] [bar-component]]
    (.getElementById js/document "app"))
  (js/setTimeout (fn [] (swap! state assoc :baz "NEW BAZ")) 1000)
  (js/setTimeout (fn [] (swap! state assoc-in [:foo :bar] "NEW BAR")) 2000))

;; Console output:
;; quux-component is rendering
;; bar-component is rendering
;; After 1 second:
;; quux-component is rendering
;; After 2 seconds:
;; quux-component is rendering
;; bar-component is rendering

Both bar-component and quux-component update whenever their respective cursors/atoms update, but because bar-component's cursor is limited only to the relevant portion of the app-state, it only re-renders when [:foo :bar] updates, whereas quux-component updates each time app-state changes, even though :quux never changes.

More general cursors

The cursor mechanism is more general than described above. You can pass a function that performs arbitrary transformations on one or more atoms. TODO (DO WE NEED TO EXPLAIN THIS?)

Reagent also provides the reagent/wrap mechanism, which also derives a new atom but provides more general functionality. Where a cursor will always update the atom from which it was derived, reagent/wrap takes an atom and a callback that will be called whenever the derived atom is updated. Replacing (r/cursor n [:first-name]) with (r/wrap first-name swap! n assoc :first-name)] gives essentially the same results. TODO (WHAT UTILITY DOES THIS HAVE?)


Reactions are like cursors called with a function.

When reactions produce a new result (as determined by =), they cause other dependent reactions and components to update.

The function make-reaction, and its macro reaction are used to create a Reaction, which is a type that belongs to a number of protocols such as IWatchable, IAtom, IReactiveAtom, IDeref, IReset, ISwap, IRunnable, etc. which make it atom-like: ie it can be watched, derefed, reset, swapped on, and additionally, tracks its derefs, behave reactively, and so on.

Reactions are what give r/atom, r/cursor, and r/wrap their power.

make-reaction takes one argument, f, and an optional options map. The options map specifies what happens to f:

  • auto-run (boolean) specifies whether f run on change
  • on-set and on-dispose are run when the reaction is set and unset from the DOM
  • derefed TODO unclear

Reactions are very useful when

  • You need a way in which a component only updates based on part of the ratom state. (reagent/cursor can also be used for this scenario)
  • When you want to combine two ratoms and produce a result
  • You want the component to use some transformed value of ratom

Here's an example:

 (def app-state (reagent/atom {:state-var-1 {:var-a 2
                                             :var-b 3}
                               :state-var-2 {:var-a 7
                                             :var-b 9}}))

 (def app-var2a-reaction (reagent.ratom/make-reaction
                          #(get-in @app-state [:state-var-2 :var-a])))

 (defn component-using-make-reaction []
    [:div "component-using-make-reaction"]
    [:div "state-var-2 - var-a : " @app-var2a-reaction]])

The below example uses reagent.ratom/reaction macro, which provides syntactic sugar compared to using plain make-reaction:

(let [username (reagent/atom "")
      password (reagent/atom "")
      fields-populated? (reagent.ratom/reaction (every? not-empty [@username @password]))]
 [:div "Is username and password populated ?" @fields-populated?])

Reactions are executed asynchronously, so be sure to call flush if you depend on reaction side effects.

The track function

reagent.core/track takes a function, and optional arguments for that function, and gives a derefable (i.e "atom-like") value, containing whatever is returned by that function. If the tracked function depends on a Reagent atom, it is called again whenever that atom changes – just like a Reagent component function. If the value returned by track is used in a component, the component is re-rendered when the value returned by the function changes.

In other words, @(r/track foo x) gives the same result as (foo x) – but in the first case, foo is only called again when the atom(s) it depends on changes.

Here's an example:

(ns example.core
  (:require [reagent.core :as r]))
(defonce app-state (r/atom {:people
                              {1 {:name "John Smith"}
                               2 {:name "Maggie Johnson"}}}))

(defn people []
  (:people @app-state))

(defn person-keys []
  (-> @(r/track people)

(defn person [id]
  (-> @(r/track people)
      (get id)))

(defn name-comp [id]
  (let [p @(r/track person id)]
     (:name p)]))

(defn name-list []
  (let [ids @(r/track person-keys)]
     (for [i ids]
       ^{:key i} [name-comp i])]))

Here, the name-list component will only be re-rendered if the keys of the :people map changes. Every name-comp only renders again when needed, etc.

Use of track can improve performance in three ways:

  1. It can be used as a cache for an expensive function, that is automatically updated if that function depends on Reagent atoms (or other tracks, cursors, etc).
  2. It can also be used to limit the number of times a component is re-rendered. The user of track is only updated when the function’s result changes. In other words, you can use track as a kind of generalized, read-only cursor.
  3. Every use of track with the same arguments will only result in one execution of the function. E.g the two uses of @(r/track people) in the example above will only result in one call to the people function (both initially, and when the state atom changes).

Note: Compared to reactions, reagent.ratom/reaction and track are similar. The main differences are that track uses named functions and variables, rather than depending on closures, and that you don’t have to manage their creation manually (since tracks are automatically cached and reused).

Note: The first argument to track should be a named function, i.e not an anonymous one. Also, beware of lazy data sequences: don’t use deref (i.e ”@”) with the for macro, unless wrapped in doall (just like in Reagent components).

The track! function

track! works just like track, except that the function passed is invoked immediately, and continues to be invoked whenever any atoms used within it changes.

For example, given this function:

(defn log-app-state []
  (prn @app-state))

you could use (defonce logger (r/track! log-app-state)) to monitor changes to app-state. log-app-state would continue to run until you stop it, using (r/dispose! logger).