Redux-First Router - Just dispatch actions - Interview with James Gillmore

Interviews

React

Redux

Routing is one of those classic topics that comes up again and again. HTML5 History API itself is quite simple, but there are different opinions on how to apply the idea of routing on web applications and sites.

James Gillmore decided to tackle the problem particularly for React and Redux in his Redux-First Router.

Can you tell a bit about yourself?#

James Gillmore I've tried to stay quiet and keep it to the code rather than myself. But perhaps now is a good time to say a few words about my story.

I started 12 years ago (2005) by hiring other developers to build things. I worked at a music studio in Times Square, NYC and hired developers to build websites for our clients. Eventually, I even got into the MySpace spamming thing. I had been doing a lot of audio engineering, but soon realized that my talents were best more directly applied to technology. My dreams of becoming a famous beat-maker never came true.

So I jumped ship, started my boutique web development agency, FaceySpacey Technologies (2007), got myself into trouble completing products on time for clients, and became a coder as a matter of necessity (2010). The rest is history - a very long history of self-mastery (both in programming and the real world).

How would you describe Redux-First Router to someone who has never heard of it?#

Redux-First Router is something that should have existed long ago, but because the React community at the time was caught up in throwing out so much ancient wisdom, it was skipped over. Redux-First Router completes the triumvirate of the MVC (Model-View-Controller), adding the C to the equation (where Redux is the M and React the V). It was as if nobody wanted to hear the letters MVC again. It's anathema to me too, but it is what it is.

It also kills the "everything is a component" concept when it comes to routes. Redux-First Router follows the philosophy that "everything is state" and routes are 100% in sync with actions to trigger that state. The components that make up your view layer just render from the state as they should.

How does Redux-First Router work?#

With Redux-First Router, actions are dispatched as a result of visiting URLs and conversely, the address bar is updated in response to matching actions.

What's significant and special about it is something that was never done before: the actions dispatched have unique types that only the given kind of URL has. This is unique because previous attempts at Redux routing (such as redux-little-router) dispatch actions that all have the same type: the equivalent of LOCATION_CHANGED. Then you have to dig through lots of information nested in that action to figure out what happened. It wasn't conducive to switching over types as is idiomatic in reducers.

As obvious as it sounds, having a type that is as informative as actions you manually dispatch is the key ingredient that finally makes routing seamless for Redux apps.

How does Redux-First Router differ from other solutions?#

No <Route /> components#

Initial attempts at Redux routing followed the React Router approach that "everything is a component". As one of our initial users put it, "cargo culting the same React Router stuff as everyone else just didn't feel right, felt leaky, felt hacky".

The fact of the matter is that keeping any state (especially URL state) in the view layer has been an anti-pattern for a long time now, yet somehow React convinced us that it was the exception. It makes sense when you don't have Redux (or another data store). But when you do, a lot more compelling opportunities unveil themselves to you.

Redux-First Router avoids using the same misplaced <Route /> components from React Router and similar packages. These packages promoted their version of <Route />, rather than take advantage of how Redux removes the state from the view layer.

<Route /> is for developers for whom Redux is still out of reach. Contrary to how easy seasoned developers may feel Redux is, it's difficult for the novice and even intermediate developers. So I think <Route /> still makes sense for a broad category of users, but for power users, Redux-First Router kills the <Route /> component as well as the "state-within-the-view-layer" anti-pattern.

The Redux philosophy#

Everything you do with Redux-First Router mirrors the terminology and thinking of Redux itself. The primary example is the thunk option attached to routes - it has the same API as used with redux-thunk, i.e. the dispatch and getState arguments.

Also, it's about what Redux-First Router stands for. The fact that from the start you are encouraged to get the most out of Redux is a meaningful thing. Philosophy is useful. The same way all the contracts Dan Abramov enforced on us have made our lives easier.

Further unique features#

Here's a quick list of more of the unique and powerful things you can do with Redux-First Router:

  • route-triggered data-fetching
  • Prefetching of (both chunks + data!)
  • React Native support (Android BackHandler, Deep Linking, Push Notifications)
  • Sick stuff to make React Navigation actually work with Redux (this is our best stuff which you'll be hearing about soon)
  • Top notch server-side rendering idioms
  • Everything you'd expect (redirects, 404s, scroll restoration, components, automatic document.title management, page-leave confirmations, dynamic route adding for code-splitting, history entries state, the list goes on.)

Most attempts at Redux-specific routing have been pretty bare bones and never got around to polishing enough to make them a full-featured solution. While there's always some feature that will need to be added, Redux-First Router is something I've committed to for the community. So no expense has been spared!

Why did you develop Redux-First Router?#

Here's what I haven't told anyone and SurviveJS are the first to hear it: I am a relative newcomer to React (December 2015). I decided to skip straight to React Native (so I could skip mastering webpack and all the related choices). I had a client project I had to build with a deadline.

I jumped right in and built it using Redux. Near the end of the app, I had to add deep linking and push notifications. So I wanted to find a way to make the app URL-driven without changing much code. I began looking into other redux routing solutions for RN, and since those weren't doing the trick, I decided to check out what they were doing on the plain web.

I then realized there wasn't anything anywhere that allowed you to build your Redux app in a URL-independent way, yet while still having support for URLs. At that point, it occurred to me that the obvious solution was to make your regular flux standard actions somehow be representative of URLs.

That's where the whole "action types as paths" concept was born. I built the router and had to change almost no code. Since all my actions were Flux Standard Actions with payload objects, it was only a matter of setting up the routing config and then doing a few changes in reducers.

It was not all that complicated to do, so I was surprised that nobody had taken that route yet.

Tell us more about not having to change your code#

Well, the point is that you have fewer actions when using Redux-First Router. Having fewer actions is a good, given how the number of actions can get out of control.

Instead of having one setter-style action to show a drawer, and another setter-style action to close it (e.g. 'OPEN_DRAWER' and 'CLOSE_DRAWER'), you simply have 'FEED' and 'NOTIFICATIONS' which you'll need anyway. Then in the reducers, you must add some "tear down" code to open and close the drawer when you visit these routes. For instance, when you visit 'NOTIFICATIONS' the drawerOpen state is true and when you visit 'FEED', drawerOpen is false.

Here's an example taken from the Redux-First Router solving the 80% use-case for Middleware article:

Old approach with many setter actions

const sidebarOpen = (state = false, action = {}) => {
  switch (action.type) {
    case 'SIDEBAR_CLOSED':
      return false;
    case 'SIDEBAR_OPEN':
      return true;
    default:
      return state;
  }
}

export default sidebarOpen;

New approach with fewer actions and smarter / fatter reducers:

const sidebarOpen = (state = false, action = {}) => {
  switch (action.type) {
    case 'HOME':
    case 'LIST':
    case 'VIDEO':
    case 'LOGIN':
      return false;
    case 'SETTINGS':
      return true;
    default:
      return state;
  }
}

export default sidebarOpen;

So that's all I had to do - change my reducers, remove unnecessary actions being dispatched, make my reducers respond intelligently to a wider variety of actions, and voilà! In record time I now had URLs and could deep link into my app.

What next?#

I've been working on completing my Universal product line. That will have some exciting connections to Redux-First Router. The hint is the word "prefetching". My overall main priority has been building "Next.js for the rest of us". Put another way, the frameworkless approach to the best features from Next.js.

Next.js is great, but very few power users want to get locked in their walled garden. So by the time I'm done with my initial vision, the only reasons to use Next.js will be that webpack configuration is either too much for you or just something you would rather not deal with.

For truly professional apps, I can't see how seasoned developers would want it any other way. If you're aiming for the top spot in your given market, you want complete customization available to you.

What does the future look like for redux-first-router and web development in general? Can you see any particular trends?#

Simultaneous server-side rendering (SSR) and code splitting will become significant. It's been a gritty, time-consuming problem and nobody has wanted to solve it. My view is that the single page application is dead, and if you're not simultaneously SSRing and splitting you're doing it "wrong."

Traffic from Google is the biggest driver for many businesses. It is a key component of basically anything online and to go without SSR is a mistake. Given the tools we are using are so heavy regarding bytes, it is also a mistake not to split your code. Both need to be done together.

By the way, not splitting doesn't just increase bounce rates, it also compounds the Google problem, since Google likes fast sites.

Until now, doing both SSR and code splitting has been a hair-pulling experience. Most people just gave up. I won't get into the nitty gritty of what the challenge is today. But you can read my code cracked for SSR + Splitting article and the recent React Universal Component 2.0 launch article to learn why.

Oh, and by the way, SSR with Redux-First Router is the most idiomatic Redux has ever been on the server. And due to the way my Universal product line works regardless of which router you use, simultaneous SSR and code splitting is a dream with Redux-First Router. There is still some stuff left to do, and if you've heard that splitting isn't related to routing, you've been misled. To do it at the highest level, you need to do prefetching.

So the connection between the router and splitting is a simple interface to specify which route to prefetch. That's all. Redux-First Router is the first solution that does this. Next.js has <Link prefetch />, but Redux-First Router has something far more powerful: automatic pre-fetching based on your current state, such as the current page a user is on, as recorded in Redux state. There's a one-time setup, but once it's working, potential next routes will be pre-fetched.

There's one final thing to know about how Redux-First Router prefetching works: not just the "chunk" is prefetched, but the data from your route thunks as well!

What advice would you give to programmers getting into web development?#

Question your intentions before you do anything. You'll waste your time doing the wrong thing with intentions that are likely to shift and evolve.

The paradox is that it takes a long time to reach the sort of maturity where your intentions become "better". I started out in the game, not as a developer, but an entrepreneur wanting to build an empire. Reality has long since kicked my ass as I forced myself to become a coder to dig myself out of a hole. That is to say, a long, VERY LONG, history.

It's Not About Passion, It's About Crafstmanship#

Mastering this craft is time-consuming. And it's not about passion. I like to think of myself as a straight-shooter cowboy type with a clarity of vision. Sure I have a passion for software, but it's more about the natural enthusiasm for creation and conception in general.

The truth is I enjoy other things outside of staring at a screen far more. For me, it's about being a craftsman as a matter of maturity and integrity. To pay the bills, create value, and make real the stuff that only exists in my mind as I'm innately compelled to do.

I've built the open source stuff I've built primarily because I refused to go another project without these boxes checked.

Don't Focus on Open Source#

Also, don't focus on open source. If you do, make sure that your intentions are truly pure and that it makes sense for the juncture where you happen to be. For me, I have things I plan to create, and for the time being, I have the luxury to go the long first-principled route, which happens to align with open source contribution. After all, getting your creations in front of the most people is what it's all about.

But before anything else, get out in the real world. It's too easy to waste our lives a way in front of a computer. You'll miss everything. So with that thought, who has time for willy-nilly open source projects? Not me. If you do open source, make it count financially in one way or another.

There are better places you can "give" and interact outside the digital realm. Programming is a business tool, a means to an end. No shame in that. Be about your business. Don't hide behind technology, whether that's your phone or immersing yourself in work. Learn people, follow what truly excites you.

Empire Building is Fool's Gold#

And if your intention is to build an empire and "change the world!", I sincerely ask you to question what that is really about for you. Most of the things we're building, someone else will build in a matter of time. The world doesn't need you to change it, and you're going to go through a lot of unnecessary pain trying. That's all I'll say about that for now.

Doing what's natural for you is the most important thing. Forcing anything will lead to bad results. But we're only human, and forcing is more often than not a core aspect of our journey--to getting somewhere where we no longer force things.

Force Yourself to Become a Better Programmer#

So my advice to new programmers is: skip college lol, get yourself into a jam (or 2 or 3 or more lol) where you have to complete a product, and force yourself to become a better a programmer as the only option you perceive you have. Then after you know a thing or two with conviction, build something only you have the unique insights to build.

Who should I interview next?#

Interview someone who's leading the serverless charge when it comes to React. That's another trend that will explode soon as a few more puzzle pieces come together. Perhaps the Dawson guys. I haven't tried it yet, but I'd love to see serverless made stupid simple for the React crowd, and they seem to be on that path.

Here's someone else who you should interview: @nchanged from FuseBox.

Perhaps I have an addiction to debunking stale solutions. Even though I get a tremendous amount of value from webpack, I'd love to see it built from the ground up, and everything made a lot simpler while still being flexible. I know I'm not alone in that feeling. FuseBox seems to show promise of being able to do that, but perhaps it's easier said than done. Webpack is also getting easier by the day, so it may be unnecessary.

Any last remarks?#

If you've ever felt Redux deserved a routing solution native to its workflow, give Redux-First Router a try :)

Conclusion#

Thanks for the interview James! Redux-First Router seems like a great addition to the ecosystem!

Below you have a chronological history of how my James' product lines have been progressing thus far:

Redux-First Router:

Universal:

Repositories:

And, if you'd like to give Redux-First Router a try, you can do so right here:

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