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Patterns: Observable pattern

Observable pattern

In this post, I will explain a very common pattern used extensively by software developers, even though new developers may not know how to implement it or how it works, they're probably still using it, as Observable pattern is very common in libraries.

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This pattern is very useful when there are many software components attached to a specific event. In that case, those components just need to subscribe to this event to be notified when the event happens.

An analogy

When I discovered this pattern, I read a lot of analogies trying to explain how Observable pattern works, the most interesting of all was the trip raffle.

A company called Atric wanted to give a trip to one of their employees, so the company created a raffle. The company released it like this:

Whoever comes up with the funniest sentence about a travelling will win a trip to Petar SP. The sentences should be emailed to, and the winner will be notified by email in three weeks.

Many employees wrote the sentences, and after three weeks the employees received an e-mail saying who was won the raffle:

Thanks for your participation, and we received many subscriptions, unfortunately, your entry was not the winning contribution.
The winner was Juciano Barbosa for his sentence, "Bringing a snake on a airplane os not a good idea!".

Applying the analogy

This is a simple explanation of how the Observable pattern works, as when the company sent the email, every participant was notified.

The raffle was an Observable and the participants were observers, the company used internal communication to recruit some participants, and after that, the company used email to notify the participants of the outcome.


Basic requirements?

To apply this tutorial you will need to have:

Basic knowledge of Javascript or another programing language.

Let's start

In this tutorial, I use Javascript, but feel free to use another language. We can also use an approach more function, so please let me know if this interests you, but for now, we will implement using a class approach.

class Observable {
  constructor() {
    this.observers = [];

  subscribe(fn) {
    this.observers = [...this.observers, fn];
    return () => {

  unsubscribe(fn) {
    this.observers = this.observers.filter((observer) => observer !== fn);

  notify(data) {
    this.observers.forEach((observer) => {

export default new Observable();
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  • constructor - Start by creating a class named Observable and in the constructor, assign an empty array in the observers property. The observers property will keep the observable list.
  • subscribe - After that, create a method named subscribe, this method receives a function as an argument, and this argument will be an observable. After that, use the spread operator to assign a new array with the function received as an argument into the observers property. The return function will be responsible for removing the observer that we just assigned into subscribers.
  • unsubscribe - This method is responsible for removing a certain observer. The unsubscribe method receives a function and verifies if this function is present in the observers list, and if it is, removes it.
  • notify - This method receives data as an argument, iterates the observers list, and passes the data as an argument into every observer.
  • Finally, return an Observable object.

Using it

This is a simple implementation of the Observable pattern, but we need to write a case of use to see it working. The code below is not a common case of use, but makes it easier for us to figure out how it works.

import Observable from "./Observer";

// selecting HTML elements
const input = document.getElementById("text-input");
const firstSubscriberBtn = document.getElementById("first-subscriber-btn");
const secondSubscriberBtn = document.getElementById("second-subscriber-btn");
const firstUnSubscriberBtn = document.getElementById("first-un-subscriber-btn");
const secondUnSubscriberBtn = document.getElementById(
const textFirstSubscriber = document.getElementById("first-subscriber");
const textSecondSubscriber = document.getElementById("second-subscriber");

//observers are inserting into text element the value received
const firstText = (e) => (textFirstSubscriber.innerText = `${e}`);
const secondText = (e) => (textSecondSubscriber.innerText = `${e}`);

// event source, notifying all observer
input.addEventListener("input", (e) => Observable.notify(;

// subscribing
firstSubscriberBtn.addEventListener("click", (e) => {

secondSubscriberBtn.addEventListener("click", (e) => {

// unsubscribing
firstUnSubscriberBtn.addEventListener("click", (e) => {
secondUnSubscriberBtn.addEventListener("click", (e) => {
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  • Start by selecting some HTML elements, like a button and text input.
  • firstText and secondText are the observers that receive a certain text value and insert it into the text element using innerText resource.
  • In the next step add an event listener for input event type, this listener should be the Observable.notify method. If some input event happens, the notify method will notify every observer.
  • To try and make a dynamic subscription, use the click event to subscribe and unsubscribe on Observable.
  • Finally, we can subscribe and unsubscribe on Observable by clicking on the subscribe or unsubscribe buttons.

This is the end of my Observable pattern implementation; you can see the result in: CodeSandbox


Now, we have an idea of how it works, and you may have figured out that some libraries use this pattern, or something similar, to implement their solution. Suppose that every observer is a component and the notify is a kind of a dispatch, we can build a rudimentary state management. Please read my post, Implementing Redux Pattern, if you are interested in knowing how to do it.

For more information on this topic, you can try RXJS, this library makes the process effortless, and you can do many things with operators.

Even if you don't need this pattern in your projects, it's good that you understand how it works because many libraries use it to implement their solutions.

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