When To Use State Management In Front-end Applications?

As ubiquitous as state management has become in front-end development, it is still a confusing magical black box to most developers. Data goes in, data goes out, and nobody thinks about what happens in-between.

Some developers believe the answer to the question in my title is: always. While some don’t believe in using state management at all and if you’re like me, the answer is: it depends.

When state management gets added to an application that meets the criteria for using it, a weight gets lifted off your shoulders, and things make sense. Prematurely introduce state management or use it in places where you shouldn’t, and your life becomes a tangled mess.

The complexity of state management starts to get even more confusing when questions arise around best practices for working with API endpoints or dealing with forms. The answers are primarily opinion-based once again.

Avoid state management for forms

I cannot stress this enough. I have seen developers implement hacky solutions to working with form inputs and state management, and it’s a clear case of the right tool for the right job. While Redux and other state management solutions have plugins for dealing with forms, why inflict pain on yourself unnecessarily?

You might not agree with me on this one, and that is okay. However, every single time, I can recall seeing state management, coupled with forms, was unnecessary. You only have to Google to find a tonne of people asking for help getting state management to work with forms to see why you shouldn’t.

Forms are often always ephemeral state, meaning the data only exists temporarily. An example of a form might be login form with a username and password or a form for adding a new product to your store. You enter the data and dispatch an action, the form gets cleared, and that’s it.

Instead of replicating and nesting properties in a massive state tree for one specific part of your application that some users might not even use, use local state instead. If you’re working with React, this would be local state within a component (using something like the useState hook) and similar with Aurelia or Vue, local state within your view-model or component.

Just because you can doesn’t mean that you should.

Working with API’s

Depending on your state management solution of choice, the approach for working with API’s can vary depending on plugins and workflow. However, the principle is the same. Your action(s) make an API request and update the state, or you make the request and dispatch an action with the response.

I know in Vue’s VueX state management plugin, many in the community advocate for making your API requests inside of your actions. There isn’t anything wrong with that; however, in Aurelia’s state management library Aurelia Store, I advocate for making the request and then notifying the store.

It doesn’t matter how your data gets into the state, more-so what kind of data you are putting in the state is what truly matters.

Do I need this data again, will I use it more than once?

State management is recycling your data. Will you need that value again in other parts of your application? Use state management. Do you only need to store the value temporarily and reference it in a specific component, only for it to be discarded shortly after that? Don’t use state management.

Asking yourself the following question should be the litmus test you apply to your development workflow. Will you need this value again and will you need it in other parts of your application? Type it up, print it out and hang it up on your wall.

The purpose of state management is not to play the role of “random kitchen drawer full of miscellaneous items”, it exists to make cross-component and cross-application data access easier as well as ensuring the integrity and shape of the data remains intact (in part due to Javascript passing everything by reference).

Using GraphQL?

You might not need state management at all. GraphQL offerings like Apollo offer an all-in-one package for working with data, including state management like functionality that makes syncing and working with your GraphQL server a breeze.

While there is nothing stopping you from using GraphQL with state management libraries, and some GraphQL clients might require them to meet your needs, in many cases you only need one or the other.

State management can introduce unnecessary complexity

If you have ever seen a React + Redux application, you know what I am talking about, a mess of folders and files scattered through your application. You have to open up seven files to change something, and it’s a tonne of cognitive overload.

Something I want to make very clear here: the complexity of using something should never be the deciding factor in whether to use it or not. The next time you start on a new application, don’t be so quick to add in state management but don’t leave it too late.

If you’re validating an idea or prototyping, it can slow you down having to write all of the boilerplate most state management libraries require. Sometimes you need to be “agile” and flexible, and state management can be quite rigid and the opposite of that.

When it comes to state management, do what works for you. Trust your intuition, and if something feels complicated and unnecessary, your gut instinct is probably right. Posts like these are great as a guide, but ultimately you should never take everything as gospel.

One response to “When To Use State Management In Front-end Applications?”

  1. Couldnt agree more on this.

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