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The Most Simple State Management Solution for Angular

March 13, 2019

Software Development

A simple solution for state management in Angular

Es könnt' alles so einfach sein, isses aber nicht.
-Die Fantastischen Vier

State-management in Angular can be a complicated topic. There is an abundance of 3rd party state management libraries: NgRx, ngxs, Akita … to only mention the most popular ones. These libraries are opinionated and have heavy implications on the architecture of an application. They imply concepts for separation of concern and immutability that are not easy to understand and implement.

I have seen a great share of over-engineered Angular applications, where zealous engineers implemented state management that looks like a fully automated Tesla Gigafactory … for simple “forms over data” applications. As a consequence I regularly see teams struggle to extend and maintain these applications once the zealous engineers switched to the next project.

Yet there is also a desire for simpler state management:

Both articles suggest [observable data services] as a simple alternative to a full fledged state management library. The official angular documentation also [suggests a similar design].

The pattern of the observable data service looks similar like this:

1export class CounterComponent implements OnInit, OnDestroy {
2 currentCount: number;
4 constructor(private counter: CounterService) { }
6 ngOnInit(): void {
7 this.subscription = this.counter.getCount().subscribe(
8 res => {
9 this.currentCount = res.value;
10 });
11 }

Yet there is an even simpler and more intuitive way to do state management in Angular…

Just use Angular Change Detection!

1export class CounterComponent {
3 constructor(private counter: CounterService) { }
5 get currentCount() {
6 return this.counter.currentCount.value;
7 }

Here we just leverage the default change detection of Angular with a stateful service:

  • In templates you can just bind to properties of the service (using getters on the component).
  • Then you can simply mutate these properties on the service.
  • Angular default change detection will do the rest.

I created a demo project illustrating the concept by implementing the same simple counter demo from the post My favorite state management technique in Angular — RxJS Behavior Subjects.

I think this is the simplest and most intuitive way to implement state management. It is a form of “transparent reactivity”:

  • The state is mutable data
  • Any change (mutation) of the state is automatically shown in the UI (the framework “reacts” by updating the UI) Angular gives us “transparent reactivity” out of the box when we use the default change detection. This works with any shape of state. You can use deeply nested state and just mutate any desired property. There is no need to implement a concept of “immutable state” (which is a paradox in most applications anyway). There is no need to model state changes and reactions explicitly via observables and subscriptions. No need for RxJS at all!

The key takeaway: Default Angular change detection enables really simple state management!

I wonder why this is not documented more prominently …

Sometimes a simple solution is good enough. You should carefully consider if you really need ChangeDetectionStrategy.OnPush or even RxJS for state-management. What are the advantages compared to a simpler architecture? What are the trade-offs for your specific project can you really prove that a more complicated architecture pays off?

If you are going for a more complicated architecture, make sure that you get real benefits out of it. If we look at the demo from My favorite state management technique in Angular — RxJS Behavior Subjects I see more disadvantages than advantages:

  • With a Subject-based solutions like this we often have not a single source of truth any more: Each component instance that subscribes to the service has its own state. These distributed states are programmatically synchronized via pub-sub of the Subject (this could be avoided by using the async pipe instead of subscribing programmatically).
  • Moving away from a single source of truth for state-management to distributed state opens up the potential for many bugs where the states might diverge (i.e. race conditions)
  • Moving away from managing a single source of truth to the notion of message-passing between components via a service might quickly lead to a tangled web of communication paths (remember "scope-soup" of AngularJS)
  • Additionally subscribing to Observables comes with the need of unsubscribing which is another type of state (typically managed by the component lifecycle). When you rely on Angular default change tracking the components can be pure and stateless.
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Jonas Bandi

Jonas Bandi is an enthusiastic software professional. He is passionate about technology and methodologies - always trying to learn, improve and share knowledge.