Why you should be using History in your ExtJS applications

I’ve been making a few updates to the ExtJS API documents application recently. The actual updates include remembering which tabs you have open and using Ext.History to go between tabs (you can follow the forum post or see a beta version).

That’s not quite ready yet, but what has been made very clear to me is that any ExtJS application with more than one view should be using Ext.History. With History we get urls inside the application itself, we can parse them and dispatch accordingly. For example, I’m using a Rails-like Router, which lets you define an internal url map like this:

map.connect(":controllers/:action/:id");
map.connect(":controllers/:action");

The router knows how to decode urls based on the regular expression-like syntax above, and parse the matches into an object – for example:

#users/new    <= becomes {controller: 'users', action: 'new'}
#users/edit/2 <= becomes {controller: 'users', action: 'edit', id: 2}
#colours      <= becomes {controller: 'colours'}

You can of course define any url matching scheme using the connect() function. I then use a simple Dispatcher, which looks at the decoded parameters. It finds the appropriate controller and calls that action on the controller, passing any other parameters as arguments. For example:

#users/new      <= calls UsersController's "new" action
#colours/edit/2 <= calls ColoursController's "edit" action, with {id: 2} as the argument

And so on. Each controller knows what to do for that action. It’s easy then to say to someone “go to http://myapp.com/admin#users/152/comments” – which will take them straight to the comments that user 152 has written. Compare that with saying: “go to http://myapp.com/admin, then click the List Users tab, then find the user called Joe Bloggs, then double click the bubble icon next to his name”. It’s obvious which approach is better.

You don’t even need to use something as elaborate as a router, just a simple switch statement or some regular expressions would be enough for many applications. Once you’ve got Ext.History setup, you could do something as simple as:

//decodes a url and decides how to dispatch it
dispatch = function(token) {
  switch (token) {
    case "users"    :   displayUsers();   break;
    case "users/new":   displayNewUser(); break;
    case "users/2/edit: editUser(2);      break;
    default:            displayDefault(); break;
  };
};
Ext.History.on('change', dispatch);

//Call dispatch on initial page load as Ext.History's change event is not fired here
Ext.History.init(function() {
  var token = document.location.hash.replace("#", "");
  dispatch(token);
});

Obviously you don’t hard code user IDs like that but it’s easy to see how to roll your own. With just a few lines of code, you’ve decoded a url into a function to call, which can do anything you need it to. All your internal navigation needs to do is call Ext.History.add(“some/new/url”), which will now be picked up by your dispatch code.

It’s important to only route like this for idempotent actions (i.e. actions which display data rather than change it), so that data changing actions are not repeated. This is equivalent to using GET and POST correctly in normal web applications.

When the simplest implementation takes just a few lines of code, what reason could there be not to be using it?

3 Responses to Why you should be using History in your ExtJS applications

  1. Darryn Ten says:

    Can you use this with Sencha Touch 2?

  2. Ed Spencer says:

    @Darryn History support will be an integral part of Sencha Touch 2 as of PR4 (expected to release in January)

  3. Pingback: Stop the backspace key from going to the previous page in your extjs app | | Learn Some ThingsLearn Some Things

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