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RxJS: Avoid an easy mistake when using startWith

As an example in this blog post, I'll use a really basic example with Angular to illustrate a real world example, but we'll focus on RxJS code, not Angular.

startWith can be a really useful operator to make sure an observable emits a value straight away when it gets subscribed to. A good example is when we want to display a form value.

In Angular, we have access to a form value through an observable like this: formControl.valueChanges. Except that this observable only emits when the form value changes. So if we subscribe to it, we won't get notified about the initial value.

In order to have the current form value from the start, we can then do the following:

export class AppComponent {
  public form = new FormControl(null);

  public formValue$ = this.form.valueChanges.pipe(startWith(this.form.value));
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We can see that so far, it works as expected and the initial null value is the one displayed from the start.

That said, this can lead to sneaky issues.

In the example above, try to change the form value to anything you like. You'll then see that the binding will display the new value live. Then, use the toggle button to hide the value and show it again. It'll display null instead of the real/current form value.

It can be a bit misleading at first why this happens. The reason is because of the startWith. Despite the observable being cold by nature, the startWith function is ran as soon as the class is instantiated. it's just a function, that isn't part of any callback. Initially, the form value is null as we've set it like that. So the first time we subscribe to the observable, it's fine.
Then we unsubscribe from it, in that case with the toggle + the ngIf removing the entire node and the async pipe unsubscribing for us. When we toggle the value again and the ngIf becomes true, we subscribe to the observable again, which as we mentioned had the startWith function ran as soon as the class was created, so it's permanently set to be the initial form value: null.

To go around this, here's what we can do instead:

public formValue$ = concat(
  defer(() => of(this.form.value)),
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Using concat, we say that we'll start our stream with one inner stream, and once it's complete, continue from another one.
The first one is the key here. Using defer, it'll run the defer callback whenever it gets subscribed to, instead of as soon as the class is instantiated with startWith.
It means that whenever we subscribe again to the observable, we'll get the form value at this time, not at the time at which the class was instantiated.

Here's the final code and a live demo:

Do note that this particular case was to have a somewhat realistic example, even though to display the current form value we'd just use form.value and be done with it, without any observable or async pipe. This can be applied anywhere you're using a startWith, from, of to get a value at the time of subscription, not at the time at which the code is read. It can also be useful when a stream can be retried if there's an error.

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Oldest comments (1)

bkpecho profile image
Bryan King Pecho

Thanks for sharing this valuable insight about using startWith in RxJS. 🙌 It's important to be aware of the potential issues it can cause in certain scenarios.