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Watching data

Watching data for changes, including support for expressions where you want to watch for changes to one or more dependencies and react accordingly.

Introduction

Unlike other observation strategies detailed in the observation section, the @watch functionality allows you to watch for changes in your view models. If you worked with the computedFrom decorator in Aurelia 1, the watch decorator is what you would replace it with.

Watching values with @watch

Aurelia provides a way to author your components in a reactive programming model with the @watch decorator. Decorating a class or a method inside it with the @watch decorator, the corresponding method will be called whenever the watched value changes.
Intended usages
  • The @watch decorator can only be used on custom element and attribute view models.
  • Corresponding watchers of @watch decorator will be created once, bound after binding, and unbound before unbinding lifecycles. This means mutation during binding/ after unbinding won't be reacted to, as watchers haven't started or have stopped.

APIs

import { watch } from '@aurelia/runtime-html';
// on class
@watch(expressionOrPropertyAccessFn, changeHandlerOrCallback)
class MyClass {}
// on method
class MyClass {
@watch(expressionOrPropertyAccessFn)
someMethod() {}
}
Name
Type
Description
expressionOrPropertyAccessFn
string | IPropertyAccessFn
Watch expression specifier
changeHandlerOrCallback
string | IWatcherCallback
The callback that will be invoked when the value evaluated from watch expression has changed. If a name is given, it will be used to resolve the callback ONCE. This callback will be called with 3 parameters: (1st) new value from the watched expression. (2nd) old value from the watched expression (3rd) the watched instance. And the context of the function call will be the instance, same with the 3rd parameter.

Reacting to property changes with @watch

The @watch decorator allows you to react to changes on a property or computed function.
In the following example, we will call a function every time the name property in our view model is changed.
import { watch } from '@aurelia/runtime-html';
class NameComponent {
name = '';
@watch('name')
nameChange(newName, oldName) {
console.log(newName); // The new name value
console.log(oldName); // The old name value
}
}
This is referred to in Aurelia as an expression. You can also observe properties on things like arrays for changes which might be familiar to you if you worked with Aurelia 1 and the @computedFrom decorator.
This is what an expression looks like observing an array length for changes:
import { watch } from '@aurelia/runtime-html';
class PostOffice {
packages = [];
@watch('packages.length')
log(newCount, oldCount) {
if (newCount > oldCount) {
// new packages came
} else {
// packages delivered
}
}
}

Using computed functions to react to changes

Sometimes you want to watch multiple values in a component, so you need to create an expression. A computed function is a function provided to the @watch decorator, which allows you to do comparisons on multiple values.
To illustrate how you can do this, here is an example:
import { watch } from '@aurelia/runtime-html';
class PostOffice {
packages = [];
@watch(post => post.packages.length)
log(newCount, oldCount) {
if (newCount > oldCount) {
// new packages came
} else {
// packages delivered
}
}
}
In this example, the log method of PostOffice will be called whenever a new package is added to, or an existing package is removed from the packages array. The first argument of our callback function is the view model, allowing us to access class properties and methods.

Usage examples

Decorating on a class, string as watch expression, with arrow function as a callback

import { watch } from '@aurelia/runtime-html';
@watch('counter', (newValue, oldValue, app) => app.log(newValue))
class App {
counter = 0;
log(whatToLog) {
console.log(whatToLog);
}
}

Decorating on a class, string as watch expression, with method name as a callback

The method name will be used to resolve the function once, which means changing the method after the instance has been created will not be recognized.
import { watch } from '@aurelia/runtime-html';
@watch('counter', 'log')
class App {
counter = 0;
log(whatToLog) {
console.log(whatToLog);
}
}

Decorating on a class, string as watch expression, with normal function as a callback

import { watch } from '@aurelia/runtime-html';
@watch('counter', function(newValue, oldValue, app) {
app.log(newValue);
// or use this, it will point to the instance of this class
this.log(newValue);
})
class App {
counter = 0;
log(whatToLog) {
console.log(whatToLog);
}
}

Decorating on a class, normal function as watch expression, with arrow function as callback

import { watch } from '@aurelia/runtime-html';
@watch(function (app) { return app.counter }, (newValue, oldValue, app) => app.log(newValue))
class App {
counter = 0;
log(whatToLog) {
console.log(whatToLog);
}
}

Decorating on a class, arrow function as watch expression, with arrow function as callback

import { watch } from '@aurelia/runtime-html';
@watch(app => app.counter, (newValue, oldValue, app) => app.log(newValue))
class App {
counter = 0;
log(whatToLog) {
console.log(whatToLog);
}
}

Decorating on a method, string as watch expression

import { watch } from '@aurelia/runtime-html';
class App {
counter = 0;
@watch('counter')
log(whatToLog) {
console.log(whatToLog);
}
}

Decorating on a method, normal function as watch expression

import { watch } from '@aurelia/runtime-html';
class App {
counter = 0;
@watch(function(app) { return app.counter })
log(whatToLog) {
console.log(whatToLog);
}
}

Decorating on a method, arrow function as watch expression

import { watch } from '@aurelia/runtime-html';
class App {
counter = 0;
@watch(app => app.counter)
log(whatToLog) {
console.log(whatToLog);
}
}

@watch reactivity examples

During binding lifecycle, bindings created by @watch decorator haven't been activated yet, which means mutations won't be reacted to:
import { watch } from '@aurelia/runtime-html';
class PostOffice {
packages = [];
@watch(post => post.packages.length)
log(newCount, oldCount) {
console.log(`packages changes: ${oldCount} -> ${newCount}`);
}
// lifecycle
binding() {
this.packages.push({ id: 1, name: 'xmas toy', delivered: false });
}
}
There will be no log in the console.
During bound lifecycle, bindings created by @watch decorator have been activated, and mutations will be reacted to:
import { watch } from '@aurelia/runtime-html';
class PostOffice {
packages = [];
@watch(post => post.packages.length)
log(newCount, oldCount) {
console.log(`packages changes: ${oldCount} -> ${newCount}`);
}
// lifecycle
bound() {
this.packages.push({ id: 1, name: 'xmas toy', delivered: false });
}
}
There will be 1 log in the console that looks like this: packages changes: 0 -> 1.
Other lifecycles that are invoked after binding and before unbinding are not sensitive to the working of the @watch decorator, and thus don't need special mentions. Those lifecycles are attaching, attached, and detaching.
During detaching lifecycle, bindings created by @watch decorator have not been de-activated yet, and mutations will still be reacted to:
import { watch } from '@aurelia/runtime-html';
class PostOffice {
packages = [];
@watch(post => post.packages.length)
log(newCount, oldCount) {
console.log(`packages changes: ${oldCount} -> ${newCount}`);
}
// lifecycle
detaching() {
this.packages.push({ id: 1, name: 'xmas toy', delivered: false });
}
}
There will be 1 log in the console that looks like this: packages changes: 0 -> 1.
During unbinding lifecycle, bindings created by @watch decorator have been deactivated, and mutations won't be reacted to:
import { watch } from '@aurelia/runtime-html';
class PostOffice {
packages = [];
@watch(post => post.packages.length)
log(newCount, oldCount) {
console.log(`packages changes: ${oldCount} -> ${newCount}`);
}
// lifecycle
unbinding() {
this.packages.push({ id: 1, name: 'xmas toy', delivered: false });
}
}
There will be no log in the console.

How it works

By default, a watcher will be created for a @watch() decorator. This watcher will start observing before bound lifecycle of components. How the observation works will depend on the first parameter given.
  • If a string or a symbol is given, it will be used as an expression to observe, similar to how an expression in Aurelia templating works.
  • If a function is given, it will be used as a computed getter to observe dependencies and evaluate the value to pass into the specified method. Two mechanisms can be employed:
    • For JavaScript environments with native proxy support: Proxy will be used to trap & observe property read. It will also observe collections (such as an array, map and set) based on invoked methods. For example, calling .map(item => item.value) on an array should observe the mutation of that array and the property value of each item inside the array.
    • For environments without native proxy support: the 2nd parameter inside the computed getter can be used to observe (or register) dependencies manually. This is the corresponding watcher created from a @watch decorator. It has the following interface:
      interface IWatcher {
      observeProperty(obj: object, key: string | number | symbol): void;
      observeCollection(collection: Array | Map | Set): void;
      }
      An example is:
      import { watch } from '@aurelia/runtime-html';
      class Contact {
      firstName = 'Chorris';
      lastName = 'Nuck';
      @watch((contact, watcher) => {
      watcher.observeProperty(contact, 'firstName');
      watcher.observeProperty(contact, 'lastName');
      return `${contact.firstName} ${contact.lastName}`;
      })
      validateFullName(fullName) {
      if (fullName === 'Chuck Norris') {
      this.faint();
      }
      }
      }
      The firstName and lastName properties of contact components are being observed manually. And every time either firstName, or lastName change, the computed getter is run again, and the dependencies will be observed again. Observers are cached, and the same observer won't be added more than once, old observers from the old computed getter run will also be disposed of, so you won't have to worry about stale dependencies or memory leaks.
Automatic array observation
  • By default, in the computed getter, array mutation method such as .push(), .pop(), .shift(), .unshift(), .splice(), and .reverse() are not observed, as there are no clear indicators of the dependencies to collect from those methods.

Best practices

Avoid mutations on dependencies inside a computed getter

It is best to avoid mutation on dependencies collected inside a computed getter.
// don't do this
@watch(object => object.counter++)
someMethod() {}
// don't do these
@watch(object => object.someArray.push(...args))
@watch(object => object.someArray.pop())
@watch(object => object.someArray.shift())
@watch(object => object.someArray.unshift())
@watch(object => object.someArray.splice(...args))
@watch(object => object.someArray.reverse())
someMethod() {}

Be careful with objects not access from the first parameter

To ensure identity equality with proxies, always be careful with objects not accessed from the first parameter passed into the computed getter. Better get the raw underlying object before doing the strict comparison with ===.
import { watch } from '@aurelia/runtime-html';
const defaultOptions = {};
class MyClass {
options = defaultOptions;
@watch(myClass => myClass.options === defaultOptions ? null : myClass.options)
applyCustomOptions() {
// ...
}
}
In this example, even if options on a MyClass instance has never been changed, the comparison of myClass.options === defaultOptions will still return false, as the actual value for myClass.options is a proxied object wrapping the real object, and thus is always different with defaultOptions.

Don't return promises or async functions

Dependency tracking inside a watch computed getter is done synchronously, which means returning a promise or having an async function won't work properly.
Don't do the following:
import { watch } from '@aurelia/runtime-html';
class MyClass {
// don't do this
@watch(async myClassInstance => myClassinstance.options)
applyCustomOptions() {}
// don't do this
@watch(myClassInstance => {
Promise.resolve().then(() => {
return myClassinstance.options
})
})
}