RxJS: Avoiding Unbound Methods

June 30, 2018 • 3 minute read

Photo by pan xiaozhen on Unsplash

I often see code that looks a little like this:

return this.http
  .pipe(map(this.extractSomeProperty), catchError(this.handleError));

Which seems fine.

Well, it is fine — as long as the extractSomeProperty and handleError methods do not depend upon the this context in their implementations.

Why might this be a bad thing?

When unbound methods are passed to RxJS, they will be invoked with an unexpected context for this. If the method implementations don’t use this, they will behave as you would expect.

However, there are a number of reasons why, as a general rule, you might want to avoid passing unbound methods:

  • If you are in the habit of passing unbound methods, it’s a near certainty that you will, eventually, introduce a bug by passing, as unbound, a method that uses this in its implementation. Maybe you’ll have a test that picks it up; maybe you won’t.
  • Passing unbound methods is something that’s often done with error handlers. And the unit testing of code paths for errors is often neglected.
  • The callbacks passed to subscribe — and some operators — are invoked with a SafeSubscriber instance as the context. That can make debugging any context-related issues more complicated, as this will not be undefined; it will be a valid object instance — just not the instance you were expecting.
  • If a method’s implementation is changed to use this, anywhere it’s passed as unbound will have to be changed, too. Again, this is something that often happens with error handling: an initial implementation that writes to the console might be changed to instead report the error to a service — accessed via the this context.

What are the alternatives?

If the method does not use this, it can instead be written as a static method or as a stand-alone function — rather than a method.

If the method does use this, it can be passed via an arrow function:

return this.http.get<Something>("https://api.some.com/things/1").pipe(
  map((s) => this.extractSomeProperty(s)),
  catchError((e) => this.handleError(e))

Or bind can be called to explicitly bind this:

return this.http

At the moment, if bind is called, the type information is lost, but with the merging of this PR from Anders Hejlsberg, a future release of TypeScript will, eventually, have a strongly-typed bind.

Using a TSLint rule

TSLint is a fantastic tool for enforcing these sorts of statically-analysable rules. I’ve added an rxjs-no-unbound-methods rule to rxjs-tslint-rules — a suite of TSLint rules that can be used to ensure an RxJS codebase is clean and hygienic.

So if passing unbound methods is something you’d like to avoid, too, install the package and switch on the rule.

TSLint includes a built-in prefer-function-over-method rule which is related, but is a little different. That rule exists to prevent methods that don’t use this from being written in the first place — which might or might not be what you want.

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Mostly articles about RxJS, TypeScript and React.

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