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 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, 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.

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.

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.

Why should I consider adopting Reactive Programming?”

Responsive: The system responds in a timely manner if at all possible. Responsiveness is the cornerstone of usability and utility, but more than that, responsiveness means that problems may be detected quickly and dealt with effectively. Responsive systems focus on providing rapid and consistent response times, establishing reliable upper bounds so they deliver a consistent quality of service. This consistent behaviour in turn simplifies error handling, builds end user confidence, and encourages further interaction.

Resilient: The system stays responsive in the face of failure. This applies not only to highly-available, mission-critical systems — any system that is not resilient will be unresponsive after a failure. Resilience is achieved by replication, containment, isolation and delegation. Failures are contained within each component, isolating components from each other and thereby ensuring that parts of the system can fail and recover without compromising the system as a whole. Recovery of each component is delegated to another (external) component and high-availability is ensured by replication where necessary. The client of a component is not burdened with handling its failures.

Elastic: The system stays responsive under varying workload. Reactive Systems can react to changes in the input rate by increasing or decreasing the resources allocated to service these inputs. This implies designs that have no contention points or central bottlenecks, resulting in the ability to shard or replicate components and distribute inputs among them. Reactive Systems support predictive, as well as Reactive, scaling algorithms by providing relevant live performance measures. They achieve elasticity in a cost-effective way on commodity hardware and software platforms.

Message Driven: Reactive Systems rely on asynchronous message-passing to establish a boundary between components that ensures loose coupling, isolation and location transparency. This boundary also provides the means to delegate failures as messages. Employing explicit message-passing enables load management, elasticity, and flow control by shaping and monitoring the message queues in the system and applying back-pressure when necessary. Location transparent messaging as a means of communication makes it possible for the management of failure to work with the same constructs and semantics across a cluster or within a single host. Non-blocking communication allows recipients to only consume resources while active, leading to less system overhead.

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