5 min read

In the earlier articles, we gave a short introduction to RxSwift and talked about the advantages of the functional aspect of Rx,by using operators and composing a stream of operations.

In my journey to discover and learn Rx, I was drawn to it after finding various people talking about its benefits. After I finally bought into the idea that I wanted to learn it, I began to read the documentation.

I was overwhelmed by how many objects, classes, or operators were provided. There were loads of various terminologies that I encountered in the documentation. The documentation was (and still is) there, but because I was still at page one, my elementary Rx vocabulary prevented me from actually being able to appreciate, maximize, and use RxSwift. I had to go through months of soaking in the documentation until it saturated in my brain and things clickedfinally. I found that I wasn’t the only one who was experiencing this after talking with some of my RxSwift community members in Slack.

This is the gap. RxSwift is a beautifully designed API (I’ll talk about why exactly, later), but I personally didn’t know how long it would take to go from my working non-Rx knowledge to slowly learning the well-designed tools that Rx provides.

The problem wasn’t that the documentation was lacking, because it was sufficient. It was that while reading the documentation, I found that I didn’t even know what questions to ask or which documentation answered what questions I had. What I did know was programming concepts in the context of application development, in a non-Rx way. What I wanted to discover was how things would be done in RxSwift along with the thought processes that led to the design of elegant units of code, such as the various operators like flatMap or concatMap or the units of code such as Subjects or Drivers.

This article aims to walk you through real programming situations that software developers encounter, while gradually introducing the Rx concepts that can be used. This article assumes that you’ve read through the last two articles on RxSwift I’ve written, which is linked above, and that you’ve found and read some of the documentation but don’t know where to start. It also assumes that you’re familiar with how network calls or database queries are made and how to wrap them using Rx.

A simple queuing application

Let’s start with something simple, such as a mobile application, for queuing. We can have multiple queues, which contain zero to many people in order.

Let’s say that we have the following code that performs a network query to get the queue data from your REST API. We assume that these are network requests wrapped using Observable.create():

privatefuncgetQueues() -> Observable<[Queue]>
privatefuncgetPeople(in queue: Queue) -> Observable<[Person]>
privatevardisposeBag = DisposeBag()

An example of the Observable code for getting the queue data is available here.

Where do I write my subscribe code?

Initially, a developer might write the following code in the viewDidLoad() method and bind it to some UITableView:

funcviewDidLoad() {
            .subscribeOn(ConcurrentDispatchQueueScheduler(queue: networkQueue))
            .bindTo(tableView.rx.items(cellIdentifier: "Cell")) { index, model, cell in
cell.textLabel?.text = model

However, if the getQueues() observable code loads the data from a cold observable network call, then, by definition, the cold observable will only perform the network call once during viewDidLoad(), load the data into the views, and it is done. The table view will not update in case the queue is updated by the server, unless the view controller gets disposed and viewDidLoad() is performed again.

Note that should the network call fail, we can use the catchError() operator right after and swap in a database query or from a cache instead, assuming we’ve persisted the queue data through a file or database. Thisway, we’re assured that this view controller will always have data to display.

Introduction to cold and hot observables

By cold observable, we mean that the observable code (that is, the network call to get the data) will only begin emitting items on subscription (which is currently on viewDidLoad).

This is the difference between a hot and a cold observable: hot observables can be emitting items even when there are no observers subscribed, while cold observables will only run once an observer is subscribed.

The examples of cold observables are things you’ve wrapped using Observable.create(), while the examples of hot observables are things like UIButton.rx.tap or UITextField.rx.text, which can be emitting items such as Void for a button press or String for atext field, even when there aren’t any observers subscribed to them.

Inherently, we are wrong to use a cold observable because its definition will simply not meet the demands of our application.

A quick fix might be to write it in viewWillAppear

Going back to our queuing example, one could write it in the viewWillAppear() life cycle state of the app so that it will refresh its data every time the view appears.

The problem that arises from this solution is that we perform a network query too frequently. Furthermore, every time viewWillAppear is called, note that a new subscription is added to the disposeBag. If, for some reason, the last subscription does not dispose (that is, it is still processing and emitting items and has not yet entered into the onComplete or onError state) and you’ve begun to perform a network query again, then it means that you have a possibility of amemory leak!

Here’s an example of the (impractical) code that refreshes on every view. The code will work (it will refresh every time), but this isn’t good code:

publicviewWillAppear(_ animated: Bool) {
getQueues().bindTo(tableView.rx.items(cellIdentifier: "Cell")) { index, model, cell in
cell.textLabel?.text = model

So, if we don’t want to query only one time and we don’t want to query too frequently, it begs the question,“How many times should the queries really be performed?” In part 2 of this article, we’ll discuss what the right amount of querying is.

About the Author

Darren Karl Sapalo is a software developer, an advocate ofUX, and a student taking up his Master’s degree in Computer Science. He enjoyed developing games in his free time when he was twelve. He finally finished with his undergraduate thesis on computer vision and took up some industry work with Apollo Technologies Inc. developing for both Android and iOS platforms.


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