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Watchers: The Good, The Bad & The Useful!

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One of the things that we need to know on every page load is what the current category is. To get that, we pass it from the server to Vue by setting a currentCategoryId global variable. To make that a bit nicer, we even created a page-context service that reads the global variable for us. We use this info to highlight which category is active on the sidebar and also to filter the products.

One thing that we could have done is just call the getCurrentCategoryId() function in every component that needed that info. For example, in sidebar.vue, where we need the current category, we could have imported the page-context service and called getCurrentCategoryId(). And we could have done the same thing in catalog. That would be safe because the currentCategoryId is not something that changes: it's not one of those things where, when it changes, we need our component to re-render. We don't need it to be reactive.

But now, I do want to do this. Here's our new mission: make it possible to change currentCategoryId while our app is running and for the sidebar and products to instantly update. This now means that we do need currentCategoryId to be "reactive". And that means it needs to live as data in a component.

Look at the component tree in the Vue dev tools. You know the drill: if both <Catalog> and <Sidebar> need currentCategoryId, then it needs to live as data in <Products>. Then, we can pass it down via props.


By the way, in Vue 3, it is possible to have reactive objects outside of a Vue component.

The good news is: we planned ahead! Look inside of products.vue. Hey! This has a currentCategoryId computed property, which calls - I'll hold command or control and click - the page-context service. Then, we pass this down to the other components via a prop.

Replace the Computed Property for Data

This means that all we need to do is change currentCategoryId from a computed prop to data and... everything should just work! What could go wrong?

Remove this computed property and, up in data, add up a new variable called currentCategoryId. I'll set its initial value to getCurrentCategoryId(). We can still use the service to get the initial value.

62 lines | assets/js/pages/products.vue
// ... lines 1 - 22
// ... lines 24 - 28
export default {
// ... lines 30 - 34
data() {
return {
// ... lines 37 - 38
currentCategoryId: getCurrentCategoryId(),
// ... lines 42 - 59

If we go to the browser, everything still works wonderfully! It's still passing down currentCategoryId in exactly the same way. The cool thing now is, I can go the Vue Dev tools, click on <Products>, scroll down to the currentCategoryId and change it. Let's, say 24 and... boom! Our app updated! The new category is highlighted in the sidebar and we can see the correct title. Victory!

Oh... but it did not change the list of products! Let's try this again: I'll change to 25 - your id numbers will probably be different - and... again! It updated the sidebar and title... but not the product list. What's going on?

Products Data Depends on a Changing Prop

Put on your debugging hat and dive into catalog.vue, the component that holds the products data. The products data depends on two things. If we go down to loadProducts() - the method that actually makes the Ajax call - we can see that products depends on the searchTerm and also on currentCategoryId. This means that when either of these change, we need to re-call loadProducts() so that it will make the new Ajax request.

Making sure that loadProducts() was called when the searchTerm changes was easy because the search-bar component already emits an event whenever the search changes. We then call the onSearchProducts() method, that calls this.loadProducts() and that makes the Ajax call and changes the products data. That part is wonderful.

The question now is: how can we run code when currentCategoryId changes? How can we detect when a prop changes?

Here's the answer: When there is no other event or hook that you can listen to and you simple must execute code when a prop or data changes, you can use something called a watcher! Very simply: a watcher is a function that's called by Vue whenever a specific prop or data changes.


I'm not gonna lie. Watchers kind of get a bad reputation. But there's nothing wrong with them. The problem is that, a lot of times, people use watchers when there's actually a better solution available. For example, look back at search-bar. Remember: we're using v-model in the template to bind our input to the searchTerm data. I also added @input so that, down here, we could emit the custom event.

Another way that we could have done this is, instead of listening with @input, we could have added a watcher for searchTerm: a function that is called whenever that data changes. Then, whenever searchTerm changes and our watcher function was called, we would emit the custom event.

The reason I didn't do that is, as I just said, watchers are kind of your last resort. They're not as performant as other parts of your system. In this case, we did have another option: listening via @input.

But looking back in catalog, there's simply no other solution. We need to run code when the currentCategoryId prop changes. And we can't create a computed prop called products because the code we need to run is async. That is why we're going to use a watcher.

Let's do it next!