Eliminating duplicate logic with Hotwire
I want to share a simple example where Hotwire helped me eliminate duplicate logic in a recent Rails app.
My Rails app involves voting for things. You can click on an element to cast a vote for it, or click again to delete your vote. Similar to Instagram “likes”.
Let’s call this clickable element a “Votable”.
In this article we only care about 3 dynamic parts of a Votable:
- The heart icon can be either filled or outlined, signalling whether or not you cast a vote.
- The vote count changes based on the number of votes, including yours.
- The HTTP request that gets sent when you click the Votable can either be a POST request to create a vote, or a DELETE request to delete a vote. The URL of the request also varies.
I have a week to build the app, so I’m sticking to Rails convention for speed and simplicity, using server-rendered templates. The template contains the logic to render the dynamic parts of a Votable. On the initial page load, everything looks and works exactly as it should.
But what happens when someone clicks on a Votable? That triggers a change in the back-end (creating or destroying a record in the database), so how do we update all those dynamic parts on the front-end to reflect that change?
An Easy Way
The easiest way is to simply re-render the whole page. The initial page load is always in sync, so just show an initial page load after every interaction.
With Turbolinks (now Turbo Drive), this might be fast and seamless, depending on the size of the page render. In my case this approach is too slow once I have many Votables on the same page. A full page reload also resets the scroll position, which I don’t want.
I need to update the DOM without reloading. Time for a little JS.
A Standard Way
- Depending on the state of the Votable, set the appropriate heart icon
- Depending on the state of the Votable, increment or decrement the vote count by 1
- Depending on the state of the Votable, set the appropriate HTTP method and action on the button.
There’s even more duplication. What if the request fails on the back-end? I need front-end logic to handle that, even though I already have it on the back-end. Ah well, duplicate it. I also might need to handle the “in-between” state where I’m waiting to hear back from the server on whether the operation succeeded. Browsers already have that, so now I’m even duplicating browser logic.
I can either suck it up and write/maintain this duplicate logic, or eliminate duplication by moving all the view logic out of templates and into the front-end with something like a React component. But this merely trades one set of problems for another and adds complexity. Plus I’m short on time, and these changes aren’t trivial. Is there a better way?
A Hotwire Way
Hotwire has a feature called Turbo Frames. Turbo Frames are similar to the method from the Easy Way I mentioned earlier, where you do a full page reload with your server rendered template. But Turbo Frames don’t reload the whole page, rather just the specific parts that need it, leaving the rest alone.
So by wrapping each Votable in its own Turbo Frame, it doesn’t matter whether a page has 5 Votables or 50 Votables, clicking on a Votable only updates that one Votable and nothing else, keeping page updates small and fast.
Best of all, getting these benefits is a breeze. Ease of use is clearly a top priority for Hotwire. You just add a few wrappers with ID’s to your templates and the library handles the rest.
This was a small example, but there’s more to gain from using Hotwire. For example, Turbo Streams, another part of Hotwire, would let me update the vote counts on everyone’s screen in real time as other people cast votes.
Hotwire is still in beta. I’m excited to see how it opens up a new way to build painless modern front-ends while retaining the simplicity of server-rendered templates. Check it out at hotwire.dev