March 13, 2020

First Impressions with Apollo Client 3

Sean Dearnaley
CommunityFrontend

I’ve been using the Apollo platform for almost two years now. I’ve used it on several commercial applications, and it’s become one of my all-time favorite frameworks.

With the upcoming release of Apollo Client 3, I thought it would be an excellent time to test out the latest beta and write about some of the exciting improvements I’m most excited about.

What’s New

You’ve probably heard the old mocked phrase attributed to the Netscape engineer Phil Karlton: “There are only two hard things in Computer Science: cache invalidation and naming things.” The phrase is getting a bit old, there are many hard things in Computer Science, but cache invalidation is indeed very challenging.

Apollo Client has had a powerful normalized caching system for years, but previous versions had virtually no cache invalidation (which is very useful in some scenarios). In the absence of that, users resorted to hacky solutions, like resetting the entire store or even manipulating the cache directly, which could lead to any number of unexpected problems

Apollo Client 3 has many cache improvements, including but not limited to invalidation, garbage collection, and cache eviction. In 3.0 all cache results are now frozen/immutable, and it introduces a new declarative API for managing type policies and field objects with tools for surgically manipulating the in-memory cache.

In this article, I’m going to share my experience with my favorite parts so far:

  • The new Type & Field Policy APIs
  • Modifying the cache in place with cache.modify
  • Garbage collection and eviction with cache.evict / cache.gc

If you haven’t already, check out Hugh Willson’s excellent article, “Previewing the Apollo Client 3 Cache” for a great introduction to Apollo Client 3.0’s cache improvements.

Type & Field Policy API’s

You can customize how individual fields in the Apollo Client cache are read and written. To do so, you define a FieldPolicy object for a given field. You nest a FieldPolicy object within whatever TypePolicy object corresponds to the type that contains the field.

Type Policies can replace dataIdFromObject, the @connection directive, and cacheRedirects.

Here is an example of an inMemoryCache implementation with typePoliciesfieldPolicy objects, and generated possibleTypes:

export const cache = new InMemoryCache({
  ...possibleTypes,
  typePolicies: {
    Query: {
      fields: {
        card(existingData, { args, toReference }) {
          return (
            existingData || toReference({ __typename: 'Card', id: args?.id })
          );
        },
        category(existingData, { args, toReference }) {
          return (
            existingData ||
            toReference({ __typename: 'Category', id: args?.id })
          );
        },
      },
    },
    Card: {
      fields: {
        categories: {
          keyArgs: [],
        },
      },
    },
    Category: {
      fields: {
        cards: {
          keyArgs: [],
          merge(existing, incoming, { args }) {
            return incoming; // this example is just returning the incoming
          },
        },
      },
    },
  },
});

The beta documentation for Apollo Client 3 has a new section entitled “Customizing the behavior of cached fields” which explains some of the new Field Policy object functions:

The Read Function:

If you define a read function for a field, the cache calls that function whenever your client queries for the field. In the query response, the field is populated with the read function’s return value, instead of the field’s cached value.

Read is useful for manipulating values when they’re read from the cache, for example, things like formatting strings, dates, etc. You can also use it to implement virtual fields. It’s very powerful when you consider local state management.

This feature could also be useful for schema-first development. Consider the scenario where you want to add a new field to your API that will not be ready for a few weeks — you could implement a temporary virtual field to unblock yourself.

The Merge Function:

If you define a merge function for a field, the cache calls that function whenever the field is about to be written with an incoming value (such as a response from a successful mutation via your GraphQL server). When the write occurs, the field’s new value is set to the merge function’s return value, instead of the original incoming value.

Merge can take incoming data and manipulate it before merging it with existing data. Suppose you want to merge arrays or non-normalized objects. You can also use it to handle logic for pagination.

These new Field Policy functions are more declarative, and allow you to centralize your logic. You can also create reusable Field Policies, for example, you could write reusable pagination policies.

Consider this example from the Apollo Client 3 beta documentation:

function afterIdLimitPaginatedFieldPolicy<T>() {
  return {
    merge(existing: T[], incoming: T[], { args, readField }): T[] {
      ...
    },
    read(existing: T[], { args, readField }): T[] {
      ...
    },
  };
}

const cache = new InMemoryCache({
  typePolicies: {
    Agenda: {
      fields: {
        tasks: afterIdLimitPaginatedFieldPolicy<Reference>(),
      },
    },
  },
});

If you can separate your logic and only have to create it once, it should be much easier to maintain a complex graph of nodes.

In Apollo Client 2.0, a combination ofFragmentMatcherHeuristicFragmentMatcher, and IntrospectionFragmentMatcher were used to determine which object belongs to which fragment.

In AC3, they have all been removed. Today, in AC3,InMemoryCache contains the possibleTypes property that replaces all of that previous complexity.

const cache = new InMemoryCache({
  possibleTypes: {
    Character: ["Jedi", "Droid"],
    Test: ["PassingTest", "FailingTest", "SkippedTest"],
    Snake: ["Viper", "Python"],
  },
});

See the possibleTypes documentation for more info on how it works.

cache.modify

I’ve been playing with this new method for a few days, and it’s probably my favorite feature in Apollo Client 3. It allows you to modify the cache in place rather than having to use readData to parse what you want to change, then writing it back to cache with writeData.

Because cache.modify can also be used to delete fields, it makes writeData largely redundant. previousResult is no longer a major consideration.

Eliminating writeData is one of Apollo Client 3.0’s release milestones.

I always found manipulating the cache with mutation updates to be a little cumbersome. It can be challenging to pluck out the data you need to rewrite, but on top of that, it can be hard to decide where to locate your logic.

It never felt right to co-locate my cache code inside containers, for example, putting a cache update into a button container. What if I need the same cache update policy in a different place? For instance, if I have a “remove category” button on a detail page, and I need the same remove category functionality on a category listing, this could mean introducing duplicate logic.

To avoid duplication, I had previously begun to wrap my useQuery hooks inside custom hooks. With the new Type & Field Policy API, the code to manipulate the cache lives in one place 🏆.

To illustrate what I mean, take a look at these examples.

Before:

const removeCategory = (id: string) =>
  removeCategoryMutation({
    variables: {
      id
    },
    update: (cache, { data }) => {
      const { categories } =
        cache.readQuery({
          query: GetCategoriesDocument,
        }) || {};

      cache.writeQuery({
        query: GetCategoriesDocument,
        data: {
          categories: categories.filter(
            (category: CategoryPartsFragment) => category.id !== id,
          ),
        },
      });
    },
  });

After:

const removeCategory = (id: string) =>
  removeCategoryMutation({
    variables: {
      id,
    },
    update: cache => {
      cache.modify('ROOT_QUERY', {
        categories(categories: Reference[], { readField }) {
          return categories.filter(
            category => id !== readField('id', category),
          );
        },
      });

      // evict this item from the in memory cache
      cache.evict(`Category:${id}`);
    },
  });

Notice how I don’t have to read the categories first? cache.evict removes the item from the cache completely, and using it in the mutation update function broadcasts changes so that my React components reflect the changes.

Here’s another example, this time using a reference to remove a card from a category.

cache.modify(`Category:${categoryId}`, {
  cards(cards: Reference, { readField }) {
    const edges = readField<CardEdgeWithReference[]>('edges', cards).filter(
      edge => edge.node.__ref !== `Card:${cardId}`,
    );

    let { totalCount } = readField<PageInfo>('pageInfo', cards);
    const pageInfo = buildPageInfo<Edge<Card>>(edges, --totalCount, 'Card'); // rebuild pageinfo

    return {
      edges,
      pageInfo,
    };
  },
});

In this example, I’m updating a connection and recalculating pageInfo, so evicting here is not appropriate, so usingmodify here is a big improvement over the original logic. In Apollo Client 2.0, you’d have to pluck out the original page info before you could modify it. This is much nicer.

Here is an example of using cache.evict to delete a field:

cache.evict(id, 'fieldNameToDelete')

You could also use cache.modify to delete the field, but the cache.evict call is shorter and simpler.

cache.identify can be used to get the cache reference for a given object, so for example if you had the following object:

const cuckoosCallingBook = {
  __typename: 'Book',
  isbn: '031648637X',
  title: "The Cuckoo's Calling",
  author: {
    __typename: 'Author',
    name: 'Robert Galbraith',
  },
};

Calling cache.identify(cuckoosCallingBook) would return Book:031648637x.

You can use this together with cache.modify to identify cached records to manipulate.

cache.evict / cache.gc

There are scenarios where you need better cache access- like when you need to clear cached data to avoid it being re-read by other functions. AC3 introduces the ability to evict data from the in-memory cache.

Using the cache.evict method, you can remove any normalized object from the cache (there are also retain and release methods for holding and releasing cache objects).

cache.gc removes all objects from the normalized cache that are not reachable (garbage collection). It’s not available on the mutation update function but you don’t need to call this function often.

Conclusion

Apollo Client 3.0 is looking great. The cache has always been one of Apollo’s strongest features and version 3.0 is a significant improvement.

It simplifies and solves a lot of existing issues, especially cache invalidation, which has been a highly requested feature.

AC3s Type & Field policy APIs makes it easier to write reusable cache logic, makes modifying the cache easier, is more declarative, efficient, and requires less code.

Removing things from the cache is now easy with evict and there are some powerful new tools for cache manipulation (modifyidentifygcread and merge).

I’m looking forward to the final release of Apollo Client 3.0 later this year. Many thanks to the Apollo team and Khalil Stemmler for your help with the article!

Resources

Apollo Client 3.0 Change-log

Apollo Client 3.0 beta documentation

Apollo Client 3.0 release milestones

Previewing the Apollo Client 3 Cache” by Hugh Willson

Written by

Sean Dearnaley

I’ve been a software developer forever. I have worked on different applications for the music industry, government systems, and education.

Read more by Sean Dearnaley

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