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Val<T>: a better ObservableValue

ObservableValue is the JavaFX way of representing a time-varying value, whose changes can be observed by a listener. As it is, it really is a bare bones interface. I myself have previously enriched it in two different ways: EasyBind’s MonadicObservableValue that adds some useful operations, and InhiBeans to postpone listener notifications. Val, introduced in ReactFX 2.0 Milestone 2, integrates both these ideas and adds some more.

Rich set of additional operations

Additional operations taken from EasyBind’s MonadicObservableValue, the most popular probably being flatMap a.k.a. type-safe select:

Val<Boolean> showing = Val.flatMap(node.sceneProperty(), Scene::windowProperty)

Suspendable listener notifications

InhiBeans' ability to avoid glitches by temporary suspension of listener notifications has been absorbed by Val:

DoubleProperty width = new SimpleDoubleProperty(1.0);
DoubleProperty height = new SimpleDoubleProperty(2.0);
Val<Number> area = Val.suspendable(Bindings.multiply(width, height));
area.suspendWhile(() -> {

In this sample, any observer of area will only observe a single change from 2.0 to 12.0 (instead of a change from 2.0 to 6.0 and another change from 6.0 to 12.0).

Lazily bound to dependencies

You can combine Vals to form new Vals. In JavaFX, this is known as creating bindings. There is one subtle but important difference in how these compound Vals bind to (i.e. start observing) their dependencies. Consider the following example:

Val<Double> width = // ...
Val<Double> height = // ...
Val<Double> area = Val.combine(width, height, (w, h) -> w * h);

At this point, there is no listener registered with either width or height. When the first listener is attached to area, only at that point does area start observing width and height. Similarly, when the last listener is unregistered from area, area stops observing width and height. I call this lazy binding, for the lack of a better name. This should be familiar to ReactFX users, because this is how EventStreams have always done binding to their inputs. This concept is also known as cold observables in Rx.

In the previous post I promised to give a better alternative to using WeakListeners for bindings. Lazy binding is that alternative. No matter how big the network of bindings is, you only need to remove those listeners that you have registered. All intermediate links will be “disposed” automatically. No weak listeners needed, both problems mentioned in the previous post avoided.

Correct behavior on recursive changes

It is possible that a change triggers another change of the same observable value. Changes reported by JavaFX’s observable values in that case are simply not correct.

Let’s show an example. The program below creates an IntegerProperty with initial value 0 and attaches two change listeners to it. The first change listener looks at the new value val and if it is greater than 0, (recursively) sets the property to val - 1. The second listener just prints the changes it observes to the standard output. Let’s change the property value and see what happens.

IntegerProperty p = new SimpleIntegerProperty(0);
p.addListener((obs, old, val) -> {
    if(val.intValue() > 0) {
        p.set(val.intValue() - 1);
p.addListener((obs, old, val) -> System.out.println(old + " -> " + val));

The output is

1 -> 0
2 -> 0
0 -> 0

which means that the second listener saw the value of the property changing from 1 to 0, then from 2 to 0, and finally from 0 to 0. This is just wrong. The value was actually changing like this: 0 -> 2 -> 1 -> 0. Any of the following sequences of observed changes would be consistent with what happened:

  • [0 -> 2, 2 -> 1, 1 -> 0],
  • [0 -> 2, 2     ->     0],
  • [0     ->     1, 1 -> 0],
  • [                      ] (no change observed),

but the listener observed something else.

Let’s rewrite the above program using Var, writable variant of Val:

Var<Integer> p = Var.newSimpleVar(0);
p.addListener((obs, old, val) -> {
    if(val > 0) {
        p.setValue(val - 1);
p.addListener((obs, old, val) -> System.out.println(old + " -> " + val));

The output of this program is

0 -> 1
1 -> 0

which is consistent with what actually happened.

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