André Staltz

Use React in Cycle.js and vice-versa

I have been critical of React, but that’s a normal thing as a framework author: you have different opinions on how frontend should be done. I’ve always been very positive about React Native, though, because it’s a game changer. It allows us to bring the JavaScript ecosystem to mobile development, without compromising (that much) on user experience.

Since React Native came out in March 2015, I have been trying to integrate it with Cycle.js. The first version came out in September that year, then with the help of other people in CycleConf 2016 we polished it further. The integration so far has been basically usable for real projects, but still had some unresolved corner cases. The goal so far has been supporting React Native first, because a hacky React (DOM) integration with Cycle.js would have been unattractive in comparison to the well built official Cycle.js DOM driver.

React 16.4 introduced two important APIs, Context and forwardRef, that now allow supporting React components very well in Cycle.js. As a result, it’s now possible to use React components in a Cycle.js app, or convert that Cycle.js app to a single React component that can be integrated in a larger React app. Additionally, both React DOM and React Native are supported as renderers. Introducing:

This article explains how these work, and the opportunities they unlock.

Supporting model-view-intent

Model-view-intent is the architecture that Cycle.js aims to support, which is built on top of two assumptions: when creating the virtual DOM you do not specify onEvent-style handlers, and you can get a stream of events that match an event type and an identifier for the owner element. This approach is a radical departure from other frameworks, but it’s fundamental for the reactive streams programming style that is core to Cycle.js.

Until now, it has been hard to support this kind of programming style when using React, for numerous reasons: (1) React Native doesn’t provide an API similar in purpose to document.querySelector(), (2) hacks we used so far to inject event handlers into ReactElements have suffered from race conditions sensitive to ordering of stream declarations, (3) lack of a way of supporting isolation scopes meant that selectors had to be globally unique.

React Contexts have existed for a while, but with the recent React 16.4.0 it seems to have settled on the ContextProvider higher-order component API. Also the new forwardRef API is a robust way of transparently preserving refs when composing React components. With these two improvements to React, I have found a way of supporting model-view-intent and streams with React.

In a nutshell, @cycle/react provides a hyperscript function h which should be used instead of JSX or createElement. When you pass the special prop sel (special like ref or key), internally h will wrap your ReactElement with a higher-order component that knows how to incorporate event handler functions for the events that were (or will be!) queried in the intent function.

The event handlers are defined in a “scope” context, and through the context API we can change the scope. This allows us to support isolation scopes as typically exist in Cycle.js apps, so that selector strings don’t need to be globally unique. For more details on the implementation, see the source code.

React in Cycle.js apps

With @cycle/react you can use its hyperscript function h to send ReactElements into a react sink, and use the ReactSource to query for event streams. Here is how you would build a greeting app in Cycle.js that uses React components:

import {h} from '@cycle/react';

function greeter(sources) {
  const input$ = sources.react
    .select('name')
    .events('input')
    .map(ev => ev.target.value);

  const name$ = input$.startWith("");

  const elem$ = name$.map(name => (
    h('div', [
      h('h1', name ? 'Welcome, ' + name : 'What\'s your name?'),
      h('input', {sel: 'name', type:'text'}),
    ])
  ));

  return { react: elem$ };
}

To render this app on the DOM, you can import @cycle/react-dom which provides a driver factory:

import React from 'react';
import {run} from '@cycle/run';
import {h} from '@cycle/react';
import {makeDOMDriver} from '@cycle/react-dom';

function greeter(sources) {
  // ...
}

run(greeter, {
  react: makeDOMDriver(document.getElementById('app'))
});

@cycle/react-dom also comes with hyperscript helpers that you can use instead of h:

function greeter(sources) {
  const input$ = sources.react
    .select('name')
    .events('input')
    .map(ev => ev.target.value);

  const name$ = input$.startWith("");

  const elem$ = name$.map(name => (
    div([
      h1(name ? 'Welcome, ' + name : 'What\'s your name?'),
      input({sel: 'name', type:'text'}),
    ])
  ));

  return { react: elem$ };
}

Note that JSX would also work, except the sel special prop would not work. It is probably possible to fully support JSX in the future, but like the rest of Cycle.js, there is primary support for hyperscript and secondary support for JSX, whereas React has primary support for JSX and secondary support for createElement. See the example greeter app working in the following sandbox:

Similarly, @cycle/react-native comes with makeReactNativeDriver and hyperscript helper functions, see example here.

Other Cycle.js drivers work normally with @cycle/react-dom or @cycle/react-native, so you can easily take your existing Cycle.js app and replace Snabbdom (and the DOM driver) with this. However, you cannot mix Snabbdom VNodes with React elements, as React does not understand Snabbdom and vice-versa. That said, migration of the hyperscript helpers should be rather easy. Hyperscript helpers follow the same API as in the official DOM driver, except a few details:

Notice @cycle/dom is still the official DOM manipulation library for Cycle.js, and has more features and tests than @cycle/react. Migrate to @cycle/react only if you want to benefit from the React ecosystem.

Cycle.js in React apps

Given any React app, you can embed a Cycle.js component into it. @cycle/react comes with the function makeComponent that takes a Cycle.js component and outputs a React component. The example below shows how to reuse that greeter app to takes props from the React app and use it inside the interactive Cycle.js component.

import {makeComponent} from '@cycle/react';

function greeter(sources) {
  const input$ = sources.react
    .select('name')
    .events('input')
    .map(ev => ev.target.value);

  const name$ = xs.merge(
    sources.react.props().map(p => p.initial),
    input$
  );

  const elem$ = name$.map(name =>
    div([
      h1(name ? 'Welcome, ' + name : 'What\'s your name?'),
      input({ sel: 'name', type: 'text' })
    ])
  );

  return { react: elem$ };
}

const Greeter = makeComponent(greeter);

function App(props) {
  return (
    <div className="app">
      <Greeter initial={"person"} />
    </div>
  );
}

ReactDOM.render(<App />, document.getElementById("root"));

Possibilities

What this means for React developers. There is now a way of using the Cycle.js architecture in your app, with its state management tools and effects management libraries. @cycle/react provides a way of writing individual components in a thisless style, with no classes, less code overall, only const declarations, and reactive stream programming.

The example below shows a React component written with Cycle.js that uses a driver to handle effectful interaction with the DOM’s Selection API.

What this means for Cycle.js developers. It unlocks thousands of React community components and libraries to use in your Cycle.js app. Also, it is a way of using React’s component model to package your Cycle.js component, useful for the broader frontend community. Alternatively, once you package your app as a React component, you can compose it together with the React tree of components without xs.combineing virtual DOM streams. React Native support is now reliable, meaning: without known buggy corner cases and supporting isolation scopes.

Overall, this is the best of React with the best of Cycle.js and it excites me.

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Copyright (C) 2018 Andre 'Staltz' Medeiros, licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC 4.0, translations to other languages allowed. You can make sure that the author wrote this post by copy-pasting this signature into this Keybase page.