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Steps to Develop Global State for React With Hooks Without Context

dai_shi profile image Daishi Kato Originally published at blog.axlight.com ・4 min read
Support Concurrent Mode

Introduction

Developing with React hooks is fun for me. I have been developing several libraries. The very first library was a library for global state. It's naively called "react-hooks-global-state" which turns out to be too long to read.

The initial version of the library was published in Oct 2018. Time has passed since then, I learned a lot, and now v1.0.0 of the library is published.

https://github.com/dai-shi/react-hooks-global-state

This post shows simplified versions of the code step by step. It would help understand what this library is aiming at, while the real code is a bit complex in TypeScript.

Step 1: Global variable

let globalState = {
  count: 0,
  text: 'hello',
};

Let's have a global variable like the above. We assume this structure throughout this post. One would create a React hook to read this global variable.

const useGlobalState = () => {
  return globalState;
};

This is not actually a React hook because it doesn't depend on any React primitive hooks.

Now, this is not what we usually want, because it doesn't re-render when the global variable changes.

Step 2: Re-render on updates

We need to use React useState hook to make it reactive.

const listeners = new Set();

const useGlobalState = () => {
  const [state, setState] = useState(globalState);
  useEffect(() => {
    const listener = () => {
      setState(globalState);
    };
    listeners.add(listener);
    listener(); // in case it's already changed
    return () => listeners.delete(listener); // cleanup
  }, []);
  return state;
};

This allows to update React state from outside. If you update the global variable, you need to notify listeners. Let's create a function for updating.

const setGlobalState = (nextGlobalState) => {
  globalState = nextGlobalState;
  listeners.forEach(listener => listener());
};

With this, we can change useGlobalState to return a tuple like useState.

const useGlobalState = () => {
  const [state, setState] = useState(globalState);
  useEffect(() => {
    // ...
  }, []);
  return [state, setGlobalState];
};

Step 3: Container

Usually, the global variable is in a file scope. Let's put it in a function scope to narrow down the scope a bit and make it more reusable.

const createContainer = (initialState) => {
  let globalState = initialState;
  const listeners = new Set();

  const setGlobalState = (nextGlobalState) => {
    globalState = nextGlobalState;
    listeners.forEach(listener => listener());
  };

  const useGlobalState = () => {
    const [state, setState] = useState(globalState);
    useEffect(() => {
      const listener = () => {
        setState(globalState);
      };
      listeners.add(listener);
      listener(); // in case it's already changed
      return () => listeners.delete(listener); // cleanup
    }, []);
    return [state, setGlobalState];
  };

  return {
    setGlobalState,
    useGlobalState,
  };
};

We don't go in detail about TypeScript in this post, but this form allows to annotate types of useGlobalState by inferring types of initialState.

Step 4: Scoped access

Although we can create multiple containers, usually we put several items in a global state.

Typical global state libraries have some functionality to scope only a part of the state. For example, React Redux uses selector interface to get a derived value from a global state.

We take a simpler approach here, which is to use a string key of a global state. In our example, it's like count and text.

const createContainer = (initialState) => {
  let globalState = initialState;
  const listeners = Object.fromEntries(Object.keys(initialState).map(key => [key, new Set()]));

  const setGlobalState = (key, nextValue) => {
    globalState = { ...globalState, [key]: nextValue };
    listeners[key].forEach(listener => listener());
  };

  const useGlobalState = (key) => {
    const [state, setState] = useState(globalState[key]);
    useEffect(() => {
      const listener = () => {
        setState(globalState[key]);
      };
      listeners[key].add(listener);
      listener(); // in case it's already changed
      return () => listeners[key].delete(listener); // cleanup
    }, []);
    return [state, (nextValue) => setGlobalState(key, nextValue)];
  };

  return {
    setGlobalState,
    useGlobalState,
  };
};

We omit the use of useCallback in this code for simplicity, but it's generally recommended for a library.

Step 5: Functional Updates

React useState allows functional updates. Let's implement this feature.

  // ...

  const setGlobalState = (key, nextValue) => {
    if (typeof nextValue === 'function') {
      globalState = { ...globalState, [key]: nextValue(globalState[key]) };
    } else {
      globalState = { ...globalState, [key]: nextValue };
    }
    listeners[key].forEach(listener => listener());
  };

  // ...

Step 6: Reducer

Those who are familiar with Redux may prefer reducer interface. React hook useReducer also has basically the same interface.

const createContainer = (reducer, initialState) => {
  let globalState = initialState;
  const listeners = Object.fromEntries(Object.keys(initialState).map(key => [key, new Set()]));

  const dispatch = (action) => {
    const prevState = globalState;
    globalState = reducer(globalState, action);
    Object.keys((key) => {
      if (prevState[key] !== globalState[key]) {
        listeners[key].forEach(listener => listener());
      }
    });
  };

  // ...

  return {
    useGlobalState,
    dispatch,
  };
};

Step 6: Concurrent Mode

In order to get benefits from Concurrent Mode, we need to use React state instead of an external variable. The current solution to it is to link a React state to our global state.

The implementation is very tricky, but in essence we create a hook to create a state and link it.

  const useGlobalStateProvider = () => {
    const [state, dispatch] = useReducer(patchedReducer, globalState);
    useEffect(() => {
      linkedDispatch = dispatch;
      // ...
    }, []);
    const prevState = useRef(state);
    Object.keys((key) => {
      if (prevState.current[key] !== state[key]) {
        // we need to pass the next value to listener
        listeners[key].forEach(listener => listener(state[key]));
      }
    });
    prevState.current = state;
    useEffect(() => {
      globalState = state;
    }, [state]);
  };

The patchedReducer is required to allow setGlobalState to update global state. The useGlobalStateProvider hook should be used in a stable component such as an app root component.

Note that this is not a well-known technique, and there might be some limitations. For instance, invoking listeners in render is not actually recommended.

To support Concurrent Mode in a proper way, we would need core support. Currently, useMutableSource hook is proposed in this RFC.

Closing notes

This is mostly how react-hooks-global-state is implemented. The real code in the library is a bit more complex in TypeScript, contains getGlobalState for reading global state from outside, and has limited support for Redux middleware and DevTools.

Finally, I have developed some other libraries around global state and React context, as listed below.


Originally published at https://blog.axlight.com on February 18, 2020.

Posted on by:

dai_shi profile

Daishi Kato

@dai_shi

A freelance programmer. I’m interested in working remotely with people abroad: https://contact.axlight.com https://github.com/dai-shi

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