As of this writing, I've been working on the RxJS project for almost 6 years, I think. When I started out, I really had no idea what I was getting into (And I wouldn't have been able to ship those first versions without Paul Taylor and others, for sure). I can remember looking at the number of weekly downloads on npm, and being able to figure out how exactly how many of them were mine. Fast forward to today, RxJS and observables have become extremely popular... Loved by many, hated by a few, and my fear is, misunderstood by most.
A big problem I see nowadays is how observables have now been intimately linked, for better or worse, to RxJS. Looking back, I sort of wish we had published the
Observable primitive as a separate package, and the operators in another package.
When this effort started, I was naively optimistic that
Observable would land in the ECMAScript standard, and RxJS would just "become a collection of helper functions" as I think I put it. But years passed, and the TC39 proposal stalled. And the way the world came to know
Observable was through RxJS.
Observables are not RxJS. Observables do not require "operators". They are a primitive. The "dual" of the
Iterable. A simple push-based type. Nothing more.
Reactive programming isn't necessarily observables. Reactive programming is a paradigm or a practice. It can be done with functions, Promises, etc. In essence, if you can compartmentalize your code into functions that will "react" to incoming events without knowing anything about the source, congrats, you're "reactive".
RxJS is a library of functions built around observables, not the other way around. Observables can, and do, exist in the wild without RxJS. They show up in other libraries, often times in slightly different shapes, but the overall concept is the same. Facebook's Relay has an internal Observable implementation that is eerily similar to RxJS's implementation. In fact, I've lost count of the number of times I've seen an abstraction that amounts to an interface that accepts a callback to handle multiple values, an error, or a completion, and returns or otherwise uses some sort of cancellation semantic.
RxJS 5 inherited its HUGE API surface area from RxJS 4 and under. RxJS 4 and under, in turn, inherited it's API from RxNET, many, many years ago. So much of the API that some might deem "unnecessary" exists because "it always has been, and always must be". RxJS 5 might have been our only chance in the history of the library to truly ween that down. Which we did a bit, but probably not enough. The large API surface leads to confusion and loathing in the community. All of which is understandable, IMO.
Observables never had a chance to shine on their own. The real win, IMO, to RxJS is the
Observable type itself. Not the operators. Those are just fluff that allow you to do some cool things. Having a lazy type with guarantees like
Observable is actually a bigger deal.
Observable you're guaranteed:
- Once it's complete, errored, or unsubscribed, you will get no more messages
- Registered teardown WILL occur. If you complete, error, or unsubscribe, you are guaranteed to clean up resources.
- A unified API that can represent a wide variety of things: Events, multiple values, single values, user interactions, streaming data, synchronous values, asynchronous values, etc. etc.
There are other great advantages to its design. But IMO, those are the biggest.
RxJS and all of its operators are inseparable in some people's heads from observables. And that's a real shame.
Observable is a simple thing. A very simple type. RxJS is complicated with it's huge API and odd names.
Disclaimer: These are MY opinions on RxJS/Observable use, and not really the RxJS core team's. Feel free to use RxJS or whatever library in whatever way you see fit. If it works, you can maintain it, and you can test it, IMO it's good code. The end.
To put it simply, once people get into RxJS, it's an exciting technology. It suddenly gets used for everything. It's fair to say this mentality exists in tech for a lot of libraries and frameworks. But I think with RxJS it becomes insidious to the detriment of the RxJS community.
You have a button that, when clicked, fetches the latest data and displays it. Do you need full-on RxJS? No, probably not. "But what about cancellation???" .. You wanted an observable. Not operators. You can use RxJS here for the
Observableimplementation, but I would caution against jumping into
concatMapet al. Especially if your team isn't used to RxJS. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't use
Observable. In fact, you probably should.
You have streaming data over a web socket, and you need to split it into a couple of different streams and update two parts of your UI. Yes! This is what RxJS is for. You're a
filteroperator away from a solid use case.
You have complex async coordination and/or race conditions, even with APIs that return promises? Honestly, you might want to use RxJS here as well, because of guarantees provided by
Observable, and useful operators like
concatMapthat can guarantee ordering, etc, and have complete interop with
We handed people powerful tools and let them go at it. No guidance or experienced wisdom provided with how to effectively use the library so that you didn't drive your coworkers crazy. This is sort of like getting a power tool set with no manuals. How do you maintain it? How do you resolve issues? Where do you store the tools? etc.
The result of this is people write code they don't understand when they revisit it. Most amazingly, some engineers, who are usually a rational bunch, then declare RxJS to be "unreadable", as in, no matter what they did, they could never make the code readable. Seems defeatist to me. Like anything else, good practices and strategies around reading and organizing rxjs code can be learned and taught. But I know that I personally haven't done enough to spread this know-how.
For the most part, I think the response to RxJS has been overwhelmingly positive. The community has organized a conference. I've seen a lot of discussion about it across many communities (beyond just Angular). And usage has been steadily growing.
But on the back swing, there is a trail of destruction to the reputation of RxJS and Observable that has been wrought by misunderstandings about Observable and RxJS, and misuse of the library in general, IMO. There have been well-known tech personalities who have called out "wishing RxJS didn't exist". And my fear is that sort of thinking, if it spreads, will spell doom for the
Observable type itself. That would be the biggest shame to this, honestly.
Observable itself is huge win. It's a primitive that, like I said above, shows up in many forms in many places, and I think it deserves a spot in the language as much as
Promise. People having a distaste for RxJS's API and/or abuse and misuse is completely understandable, IMO.
There are parts of RxJS I don't like, and here I am unable to pivot the library quickly because it's so popular we'd simply break too many people. But the parts I like the most, the
Observable itself, and the guarantees it provides, are in jeopardy of being thrown out with the bath water by some folks. And that's tragic, IMO.
For my part, I plan on trying to continue to champion promoting understanding of the when/where/why of RxJS and Observable. And I want to do better to disambiguate Observable from RxJS. I also want to work very hard to simplify the RxJS API: Tighten the API, remove what does not need to be there, improve documentation and readability, add more guidance for folks on how to make their code more maintainable, etc.
Don't get me wrong, I have other regrets with regards to RxJS as it stands, but I'm confident we can remedy all of those things over time. My deepest concern is that there are a huge numbers of people that still don't understand the
Observable primitive and its benefits, because they associate it with RxJS and are standoffish about getting involved there because of the learning curve.