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Debounce and Throttle

Thomas Toledo-Pierre
Front-end dev and instructor
・3 min read

The problem

Recently, a student of mine was facing a performance challenge: he had a treatment to trigger when the user would resize the browser window.

What he first did was something like this:

function treatment() {
  if (window.innerWidth >= 1000) {
    // do some stuff
  }
}

window.onresize = treatment;

He then noticed the treatment function was being executed for every tiny resizing the user would make, causing slow performances. According to this, he wanted to find a better solution: he actually wanted to trigger the treatment only for a given screen size.

So, he put some if conditions.
It was a good step: the treatment would only be executed when the screen size would meet the condition.
But it was not enough: what if, there was a way to reduce drastically the number of executions, and still have the treatment done properly?

Debounce and Throttle

Debounce and Throttle are two operators you can find in some libraries. You can, also, implement them by yourself.
They anwser to a need for performance, by reducing the trigger count of a function.

Throttle allows you to execute a function only if a certain amount of time has passed since the last execution.
Let's say we have a throttled function:

function displayName(name) {
  console.log(`Name is ${name}`);
}

// We want the execution to be done at least 1s after the last execution
const throttled = throttle((name) => displayName(name), 1000);
throttled('Thomas'); // will execute displayName and display 'Thomas'
setTimeout(() => throttled('Bastien'), 1500); // will execute displayName and display 'Bastien'
throttled('Antoine'); // will not execute displayName

That might solve our problem... or not!
This will prevent intempestive executions: but while it does, it might also prevent crucial executions. If the user resize the window within the time interval, meet the condition and stop resizing before a new interval begins, the treatment will never be triggered.

We cannot risk it.

This is where debounce comes in handy.
Debounce will execute the function, only it will reset the interval everytime the event is dispatched and, once the user has finished to do whatever s.he wanted to do, the function will finally be executed.

This guarantee us the function will be executed soon or later. The downside, however, is you cannot expect graphic treatments to be executed properly with this operator, as there is literally a timeout before the treatment can be done.

Let's take the previous example and change throttle for debounce:

function displayName(name) {
  console.log(`Name is ${name}`);
}

// We want the execution to be done at least 1s after the last execution
const debounced = debounce((name) => displayName(name), 1000);

debounced('Thomas'); // (1) SHOULD execute displayName and display 'Thomas' AFTER 1s
setTimeout(() => debounced('Bastien'), 1500); // (2) will trigger after 1.5s, execute displayName and display 'Bastien'
debounced('Antoine'); // (3) will cancel (1) and set a new timeout.

As we can see, debounce allows the displayName function to be properly executed.
And so, in our case, we might want something like that:

function treatment() {
  if (window.innerWidth >= 1000) {
    // do some stuff
  }
}

window.onresize = debounce(() => treatment(), 100);

Operators implementation

I found the implementation in the excellent book Discover Functional JavaScript by Cristian Salcescu.

Throttle

function throttle(fn, interval) {
  let lastTime;
  return (...args) => {
    if(!lastTime || ((Date.now() - lastTime) >= interval)) {
      fn(...args);
      lastTime = Date.now();
    }
  }
}

Debounce

function debounce(fn, wait) {
  let timer;
  return (...args) => {
    clearTimeout(timer);
    timer = setTimeout(() => fn(...args), wait);
  }
}

Discussion (2)

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iquardt profile image
Iven Marquardt

Since you tagged your post #functional: The way you implemented both functions they are not really functions but impure actions. In a functional setting you would further defer effect execution after passing args by wrapping the result in a special effect or IO type. Then you can compose values of this type in a purely functional manner and only unleash the composed effects at the edge of your application.

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nugetchar profile image
Thomas Toledo-Pierre Author • Edited

I'll let you explain to the author of the book "Discover Functional Programming in JavaScript", Cristian Salcescu, that his code is impure (since, as I said in my post, the implementations are from his book).