Reactive Programming

There are plenty of bad explanations and definitions out there on the internet. So let's cut right through the bullshit.

Reactive programming is programming with asynchronous data streams.

In a way, this isn't anything new. Event buses or your typical click events are really an asynchronous event stream, on which you can observe and do some side effects. Reactive programming is that idea on steroids. You are able to create data streams of anything, not just from click and hover events.

Streams are cheap and ubiquitous and anything can be a stream: variables, user inputs, properties, caches, data structures, etc. For example, imagine your Twitter feed would be a data stream in the same fashion that click events are. You can listen to that stream and react accordingly.

On top of that, you are given an amazing toolbox of functions to combine, create and filter any of those streams. That's where the "functional" magic kicks in. A stream can be used as an input to another one. Even multiple streams can be used as inputs to another stream. You can merge two streams. You can filter a stream to get another one that has only those events you are interested in. You can map data values from one stream to another new one.

If streams are so central to Reactive, let's take a careful look at them, starting with our familiar "clicks on a button" event stream.

A stream is a sequence of ongoing events ordered in time. It can emit three different things: a value (of some type), an error, or a "completed" signal. Consider that the "completed" takes place, for instance, when the current window or view containing that button is closed.

We capture these emitted events only asynchronously, by defining a function that will execute when a value is emitted, another function when an error is emitted, and another function when 'completed' is emitted. Sometimes these last two can be omitted and you can just focus on defining the function for values. The "listening" to the stream is called subscribing. The functions we are defining are observers. The stream is the subject (or "observable") being observed. This is precisely the Observer Design Pattern.

The hardest part of the learning journey is thinking in Reactive. It's a lot about letting go of old imperative and stateful habits of typical programming, and forcing your brain to work in a different paradigm.