Photo by Rob Schreckhise on Unsplash

Note: The following article assumes you have knowledge of Redux.

Introduction

Redux allows us to focus more on presentation in our React components, and use actions and reducers to handle the logic of organizing data. Now I’ll be discussing a package that works in conjunction with Redux: Thunk.

Thunk handles asynchronous calls (see my last article about asychrony) when working with Redux.

Here’s the issue: Let’s say we have Redux handling all our app’s data. We have a server or an API so we could fetch some remote data, but we’re presented with a problem. We’re adding logic! Specifically, we’re going to fetch data we’ll likely want to keep in our Redux store — adding code to our components seems to be a step backwards.

With Thunk, we can incorporate asynchronous code in with our Redux actions. This allows us to continue keeping our components relatively simple and more focused on presentation.

Let’s dive now into an example:

Trying to Send an Asynchronous Request in Redux

Something like this:

function fetchAstronauts() {const astronauts = [    {name: “Neil Armstrong”, craft: “Apollo 11”},    {name: “Buzz Aldrin”, craft: “Apollo 11”},    {name: “Michael Collins”, craft: “Apollo 11”}   ];return {    type: ‘ADD_ASTRONAUTS’,    astronauts    };};

What happens though, when we’re ready to pull in real live data from an external source like an API?

Well, we already know how to make a web request. We can use something like JavaScript’s native Fetch API to send a web request:

fetch(‘http://api.open-notify.org/astros.json')

So, can we simply make a fetch request inside our action creator function instead of hard-coding our data? The code below is a good attempt, but it ultimately ends in failure and disappointment:

// ./src/App.js
import React, { Component } from ‘react’import { connect } from ‘react-redux’import { fetchAstronauts } from ‘../actions/fetchAstronauts’class App extends Component { handleOnClick() { this.props.fetchAstronauts() } render() {
const astronauts = this.props.astronauts.map(astro => <li key={astro.id}>{astro.name}</li>);
return( <div> <button onClick={(event) => this.handleOnClick(event)} />
{astronauts}
</div>
);
}
};
function mapDispatchToProps(dispatch){return { fetchAstronauts: () => dispatch(fetchAstronauts()) }}function mapStateToProps(state){ return { astronauts: state.astronauts } }export default connect(mapStateToProps, mapDispatchToProps)(App)// ./src/actions/fetchAstronauts.js export function fetchAstronauts() const astronauts = fetch(‘http://api.open-notify.org/astros.json');return { type: ‘ADD_ASTRONAUTS’,
astronauts
};
};// ./src/astronautsReducer.jsfunction astronautsReducer(state = { astronauts: [] }, action) {switch (action.type) { case ‘ADD_ASTRONAUTS’: return { …state, astronauts: action.astronauts }default:
return state;
}
};

So if you look at the code above, you get a sense for what we are trying to do. When a user clicks on the button, we call the handleOnClick() function. This calls our action creator, the fetchAstronauts() function. The action creator then hits the API, and returns an action with our data, which then updates the state through the reducer.

While this might seem like it should work, in reality we have a big problem.

Fetch requests in JavaScript are asynchronous. That means if we make a fetch request at the first line of our fetchAstronauts() function:

export function fetchAstronauts() {const astronauts = fetch(‘http://api.open-notify.org/astros.json');
return {
type: ‘ADD_ASTRONAUTS’,
astronauts
};
};

The code on the second line will start running before the web request resolves and we have a response that we can work with.

A fetch() request returns something called a Promise. A Promise object is an object that represents some value that will be available later. We can access the data when the promise "resolves" and becomes available by chaining a then() function onto our fetch() call.

export function fetchAstronauts() { 
const astronauts = fetch(‘http://api.open-notify.org/astros.json')
.then(response => response.json())return {
type: ‘ADD_ASTRONAUTS’,
astronauts
};
}

Our then() function will run when the Promise that fetch() returns is resolved, allowing us to access the response data and parse it into JSON. This doesn't solve our problem though because the fetchAstronauts() function will still return before the Promise is resolved.

There’s another problem. Because retrieving data takes time, and because we always want our Redux application to reflect the current application state, we want to represent the state of the application in between the user asking for data and the application receiving the data. It's almost like each time a user asks for data we want to dispatch two actions to update our state: one to place our state as loading, and another to update the state with the data.

So these are the steps we want to happen when the user wishes to call the API:

  1. Invoke fetchAstronauts()
  2. Directly after invoking fetchAstronauts() dispatch an action to indicate that we are loading data.
  3. Call the fetch() method, which runs, and returns a Promise that we are waiting to resolve.
  4. When the Promise resolves, dispatch another action with a payload of the fetched data that gets sent to the reducer.

Great. So how do we do all of this?

We Need Middleware

Lucky for us, we can use some middleware for exactly that! Middleware, in this case, will allow us to slightly alter the behavior of our actions, allowing us to add in asynchronous requests. In this case, for middleware, we’ll be using Thunk.

To use Redux Thunk you would need to install the NPM package:

npm install — save redux-thunk

Then, when you initialize the store in your index.js file, you can incorporate your middleware like this:

// src/index.jsimport React from ‘react’;import ReactDOM from ‘react-dom’;import { Provider } from ‘react-redux’;import { createStore, applyMiddleware } from ‘redux’;import thunk from ‘redux-thunk’;import rootReducer from ‘./reducers’;const store = createStore(rootReducer, applyMiddleware(thunk));ReactDOM.render(<Provider store={store} ><App /></Provider>, document.getElementById(‘container’))

Notice that we imported in a new function applyMiddleware() from redux, along with thunk from the redux-thunk package, and passed in applyMiddleware(thunk) as a second argument to createStore.

Using Redux-Thunk Middleware

  1. Thunk allows us to return a function inside of our action creator. Normally, our action creator returns a plain JavaScript object, so returning a function is a pretty big change.
  2. That function receives the store’s dispatch function as its argument. With that, we can dispatch multiple actions from inside that returned function.

Let’s see the code and then we’ll walk through it.

// actions/fetchAstronauts.jsexport function fetchAstronauts() {return (dispatch) => {dispatch({ type: ‘START_ADDING_ASTRONAUTS_REQUEST’ });fetch(‘http://api.open-notify.org/astros.json').then(response => response.json()).then(astronauts => dispatch({ type: ‘ADD_ASTRONAUTS’, astronauts }));};}

So you can see above that we are returning a function and not an action, and that the power we now get is the ability to dispatch actions from inside of the returned function. So with that power, we first dispatch an action to indicate that we are about to make a request to our API. Then we make the request. We do not hit our then() function until the response is received, which means that we are not dispatching our action of type 'ADD_ASTRONAUTS' until we receive our data. Thus, we are able to send along that data.

Reviewing Everything Together

// ./src/index.jsimport React from ‘react’;import ReactDOM from ‘react-dom’;import { Provider } from ‘react-redux’;import { createStore, applyMiddleware } from ‘redux’;import thunk from ‘redux-thunk’;import rootReducer from ‘./reducers’;const store = createStore(rootReducer, applyMiddleware(thunk));ReactDOM.render(<Provider store={store} ><App /></Provider>, document.getElementById(‘container’))

The App.js component we showed earlier can remain the same — note that although we've called a function fetchAstronauts(), no actual asynchronous code is in the component. The component's main purpose is to render JSX. It uses data from Redux via mapStateToProps() and connects an onClick event to an action through mapDispatchToProps():

// ./src/App.jsimport React, { Component } from ‘react’import { connect } from ‘react-redux’import { fetchAstronauts } from ‘../actions/fetchAstronauts’class App extends Component {handleOnClick() {this.props.fetchAstronauts()}render() {const astronauts = this.props.astronauts.map(astro => <li key={astro.id}>{astro.name}</li>);return(<div><button onClick={(event) => this.handleOnClick(event)} />{astronauts}</div>);}};function mapDispatchToProps(dispatch){return { fetchAstronauts: () => dispatch(fetchAstronauts()) }}function mapStateToProps(state){return {astronauts: state.astronauts}}export default connect(mapStateToProps, mapDispatchToProps)(App)

What happens when the onClick event is fired? All of that logic is taken care of outside of the component, in our fetchAstronauts() action:

// actions/fetchAstronauts.jsexport function fetchAstronauts() {return (dispatch) => {dispatch({ type: ‘START_ADDING_ASTRONAUTS_REQUEST’ });fetch(‘http://api.open-notify.org/astros.json').then(response => response.json()).then(astronauts => dispatch({ type: ‘ADD_ASTRONAUTS’, astronauts }));};}

With Thunk configured, our actions can now return a function. We must write the function, but we know that dispatch() is passed in as an argument. Notice in the code above that there are two calls to dispatch(), first passing in { type: 'START_ADDING_ASTRONAUTS_REQUEST' } before the fetch() call, then passing in { type: 'ADD_ASTRONAUTS', astronauts } inside .then(). By having both dispatch() calls, it is possible to know just before our application sends a remote request, and then immediately after that request is resolved.

We can update our reducer to include both types and to also change a bit of state to indicate if data is in the process of being fetched. We'll modify the initial state to do this:

// ./src/astronautsReducer.jsfunction astronautsReducer(state = { astronauts: [], requesting: false }, action) {switch (action.type) {case ‘START_ADDING_ASTRONAUTS_REQUEST’:return {…state,astronauts: […state.astronauts],requesting: true}case ‘ADD_ASTRONAUTS’:return {…state,astronauts: action.astronauts,requesting: false}default:return state;}};

Now, we have a way to indicate in our app when data is being loaded! If requesting is true, we could display a loading message in JSX!

Hope you enjoyed!

Passionate Programmer. Independent Thinker. Caring Father. Graduate of Flatiron Bootcamp for Software Development. Currently seeking new opportunities.