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Vue: When a computed property can be the wrong tool

Thorsten Lünborg
Vue.js core team member and open source enthusiast
Updated on ・8 min read

If you're a Vue user, you likely know computed properties, and if you are like me, you probably think they are awesome - rightfully so!

To me, computed properties are a very ergonomic and elegant way to deal with derived state - that is: state which is made up from other state (its dependencies). But in some scenarios, they can also have a degrading effect on your performance, and I realized that many people are unaware of that, so this is what this article will attempt to explain.

To make clear what we are talking about when we say "computed properties" in Vue, here's a quick example:

const todos = reactive([
  { title: 'Wahs Dishes', done: true},
  { title: 'Throw out trash', done: false }
])

const openTodos = computed(
  () => todos.filter(todo => !todo.done)
)

const hasOpenTodos = computed(
  () => !!openTodos.value.length
)
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Here, openTodos is derived from todos, and hasOpenTodos is derived from openTodos. This is nice because now we have reactive objects that we can pass around and use, and they will automatically update whenever the state that they depend on, changes.

If we use these reactive objects in a reactive context, such as a Vue template, a render function or a watch(), these will also react to the changes of our computed property and update - that's the magic at the core of Vue that we value so much, after all.

Note: I'm using composition API because that's what I like to use these days. The behaviors describes in this article apply to computed properties in the normal Options API just as much, though. Both use the same reactivity system, after all.

What is special about computed properties

There's two things about computed properties that make them special and they are relevant to the point of this article:

  1. Their results are cached and only need to be re-evaluated once one of its reactive dependencies changes.
  2. They are evaluated lazily on access.

Caching

A computed property's result is cached. In our example above, that means that as long as the todos array doesn't change, calling openTodos.value multiple times will return the same value without re-running the filter method. This is especially great for expensive tasks, as this ensures that the task is only ever re-run when it has to – namely when one of its reactive dependencies has changed.

Lazy Evaluation

Computed properties are also evaluated lazily – but what does that mean, exactly?

It means that the callback function of the computed property will only be run once the computed's value is being read (initially or after it was marked for an update because one of its dependencies changed).

So if a computed property with an expensive computation isn't used by anything, that expensive operation won't even be done in the first place - another performance benefit when doing heavy lifting on a lot of data.

When lazy evaluation can improve performance

As explained in the previous paragraph, lazy evaluation of computed properties is a usually a good thing, especially for expensive operations: It ensures that the evaluation is only ever done when the result is actually needed.

This means that things like filtering a big list will simply be skipped if that filtered result won't be read and used by any part of your code at that moment. Here's a quick example:

<template>
  <input type="text" v-model="newTodo">
  <button type="button" v-on:click="addTodo">Save</button>
  <button @click="showList = !showList">
    Toggle ListView
  </button>
  <template v-if="showList">
    <template v-if="hasOpenTodos">
      <h2>{{ openTodos.length }} Todos:</h2> 
      <ul>
        <li v-for="todo in openTodos">
          {{ todo.title }}
        </li>
      </ul>
    </template>
    <span v-else>No todos yet. Add one!</span>
  </template>
</template>

<script setup>
const showListView = ref(false)

const todos = reactive([
  { title: 'Wahs Dishes', done: true},
  { title: 'Throw out trash', done: false }
])
const openTodos = computed(
  () => todos.filter(todo => !todo.done)
)
const hasOpenTodos = computed(
  () => !!openTodos.value.length
)

const newTodo = ref('')
function addTodo() {
  todos.push({
    title: todo.value,
    done: false
  })
}
</script>
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See This code running on the SFC Playground

Since showList is initially false, the template/render function will not read openTodos, and consequently, the filtering would not even happen, neither initially nor after a new todo has been added and todos.length has changed. Only after showList has been set to true, these computed properties would be read and that would trigger their evaluation.

Of course in this small example, the amount of work for filtering is minimal, but you can imagine that for more expensive operations, this can be a huge benefit.

When lazy evaluation can degrade performance

There is a downside to this: If the result returned by a computed property can only be known after your code makes use of it somewhere, that also means that Vue's Reactivity system can't know this return value beforehand.

Put another way, Vue can realize that one or more of the computed property's dependencies have changed and so it should be re-evaluated the next time it is being read, but Vue can't know, at that moment, wether the result returned by the computed property would actually be different.

Why can this be a problem?

Other parts of your code may depend on that computed property – could be another computed property, could be a watch(), could be the template/render function.

So Vue has no choice but to mark these dependents for an update as well – "just in case" the return value will be different.

If those are expensive operations, you might have triggered an expensive re-evaluation even though your computed property returns the same value as before, and so the re-evaluation would have been unnecessary.

Demonstrating the issue

Here's a quick example: Imagine we have a list of items, and a button to increase a counter. Once the counter reaches 100, we want to show the list in reverse order (yes, this example is silly. Deal with it).

(You can play with this example on this SFC playground)

<template>
  <button @click="increase">
    Click me
  </button>
  <br>
  <h3>
    List
  </h3>
  <ul>
    <li v-for="item in sortedList">
      {{ item }}
    </li>
  </ul>
</template>

<script setup>
import { ref, reactive, computed, onUpdated } from 'vue'

const list = reactive([1,2,3,4,5])

const count = ref(0)
function increase() {
  count.value++
}

const isOver100 = computed(() => count.value > 100)

const sortedList = computed(() => {
  // imagine this to be expensive
  return isOver100.value ? [...list].reverse() : [...list]
})

onUpdated(() => {
  // this eill log whenever the component re-renders
  console.log('component re-rendered!')
})
</script>
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Question: You click the button 101 times. How often does our component re-render?

Got your answer? You sure?

Answer: It will re-render 101 times*.*

I suspect some of you might have expected a different answer, something like: "once, on the 101st click". But that's wrong, and the reason for this is the lazy evaluation of computed properties.

Confused? We'll walk through what's happening step by step:

  1. When we click the button, the count is increased. The component would not re-render, because we don't use the counter in the template.
  2. But since count changed, our computed property isOver100is marked as "dirty" - a reactive dependency changed, and so its return value has to be re-evaluated.
  3. But due to lazy evaluation, that will only happen once something else reads isOver100.value - before that happens, we (and Vue) don't know if this computed property will still return false or will change to true.
  4. sortedListdepends on isOver100 though - so it also has to be marked dirty. And likewise, it won't yet be re-evaluated because that only happens when it's being read.
  5. Since our template depends on sortedList, and it's marked as "dirty" (potentially changed, needs re-evaluation), the component re-renders.
  6. During rendering, it reads sortedList.value
  7. sortedList now re-evaluates, and reads isOver100.value – which now re-evaluates, but still returns false again.
  8. So now we have re-rendered the component and re-run the "expensive" sorteListcomputed even though all of that was unnecessary - the resulting new virtual DOM / template will look exactly the same.

The real culprit is isOver100 – it is a computed that often updates, but usually returns the same value as before, and on top of that, it's a cheap operation that doesn't really profit from a the caching computed properties provide. We just used a computed because it feels ergonomic, it's "nice".

When used in another, expensive computed (which does profit from caching) or the template, it will trigger unnecessary updates that can seriously degrade your code's performance depending on the scenario.

It's essentially this combination:

  1. An expensive computed property, watcher or the template depends on
  2. another computed property that often re-evaluates to the same value.

How to solve this problem when you come across it.

By now you might have two questions:

  1. Wow! Is this a bad problem?
  2. How do I get rid of it?

So first off: Chill. Usually, this is not a big problem.

Vue's Reactivity System is generally very efficient, and re-renders are as well, especially now in Vue 3. usually, a couple unnecessary updates here and there will still perform much better than, say, a React counterpart that by default, re-renders on any state change whatsoever.

So the problem only applies to specific scenarios where you have a mix of frequent state updates in one place, that trigger frequent unnecessary updates in another place that is expensive (very large component, computationally heavy computed property etc).

If you encounter such a situation, you can optimize it with a custom little helper:

NOTE
In a previous version of this article, I orginally had mentioned 3 points here. Two of them were, in the end, not really relevant to the problem but rather remnants of a previous draft I erroneously shoehorned into this.
I removed those for the sake of clarity and getting to the point.

Custom eagerComputed helper

Vue's Reactivity System gives us all of the required tools to build our own version of a computed(), one that evaluates eagerly, not lazily.

Let's call it eagerComputed()

import { watchEffect, shallowRef, readonly } from 'vue'
export function eagerComputed(fn) {
  const result = shallowRef()
  watchEffect(() => {
    result.value = fn()
  }, 
  {
    flush: 'sync' // needed so updates are immediate.
  })

  return readonly(result)
}
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We can then use this like we would use a computed property, but the difference in behavior is that the update will be eager, not lazy, getting rid of unnecessary updates.

Check out the fixed example on this SFC Playground

When would you use computed() and when eagerComputed()?

  • Use computed()when you have a complex calculation going on, which can actually profit from caching and lazy evaluation and should only be (re-)calculated if really necessary.
  • Use eagerComputed() when you have a simple operation, with a rarely changing return value – often a boolean.

Note: Keep in mind that this helper uses a sync watcher, which means it will evaluate on each reactive change synchronously and individually - if a reactive dependency changes 3 times, this will re-run 3 times. So it should only be used for simple and cheap operations.

Finishing up

So this is it. We dove deeper into how computed properties actually work. We learned when they are beneficial for your app's performance, and when they can degrade it. Concerning the latter scenario, we learned how to solve the performance problem by avoiding unnecessary reactive updates with an eagerly evaluating helper.

I hope this was helpful. Let me know if you have questions, and tell me other topics you may want me to cover.

Discussion (14)

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vberlier profile image
Valentin Berlier

My first thought was to put the expensive operation (reversing the list) in its own computed:

const reversedList = computed(() => [...list].reverse())
const sortedList = computed(() => {
  return isOver100.value ? reversedList.value : [...list]
})
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This way even though the sortedList computed property is updated often, it always uses the cached reversedList because Vue knows that reversedList only depends on the original list.

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linusborg profile image
Thorsten Lünborg Author

Good idea, but in the example, sortedList was meant to be imagined as an expensive operation, mimicked by [...list] that operation still happens each time the count is increased and is still <101.

So this can be a way to work around the described problem in some scenarios but doesn't completely fit the imagined scenario here.

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vberlier profile image
Valentin Berlier

Hmm yeah, but if it's the sorting that's expensive then you could have a computed property for the sortedList instead. It's the same thing, the idea is to separate the expensive operation into its own computed property.

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aantipov profile image
Alexey Antipov

Nice article and nice catch about the computed functions.

Thanks for thorough explanation on how computed props are excecuted and cached.
It's really usefull to bear that lazy nature of computed props in mind when you have lots of them and they depend on each other.

I spotted some mistakes though, which made it difficult to follow the article

  1. According to the example, the openTodos relies on todo.done prop, and not just todos.length. Hence, the highlited statement is wrong.
    I believe you just forgot to update your example, becase in the end of the article there is another example where openTodos does depend on todos.length

  2. The example in the "When lazy evaluation can improve performance" section is outdated and is not the same as the one used in the Playground:
    -- no "Toggle ListView" btn in the template
    -- "hasOpenTodos" is not used in the template as well
    -- "addTodo" function uses unknown "todo.value" vs "newTodo.value"

Please review the examples and the text

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linusborg profile image
Thorsten Lünborg Author

Thanks for the review. I fixed the example in your second point.

About the first point: It's not actually wrong in the place you thought, just an imrecise statement- the filter method would indeed not be run if the length of todos doesn't change - except if you would mutate the array with something like .reverse() or .sort().

But the example at the end of the article you refer to is indeed a copy-paste error from the initial example, so I fixed that to refer to openTodos.

Thanks again

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aantipov profile image
Alexey Antipov • Edited

I tend to disagree :)

const todos = reactive([
  { title: 'Wahs Dishes', done: true},
  { title: 'Throw out trash', done: false }
])

const openTodos = computed(
  () => todos.filter(todo => !todo.done)
)
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Reactive todos is deeply reactive, right?
So if you change "done" prop of any of the todos, then the computed openTodos will need to be reevaluated and rerun the filter method even though the length stays the same.

Thread Thread
linusborg profile image
Thorsten Lünborg Author

Argh. It's so hard to come up with good examples 😭

Yes you are right in this case - I wasn't really paying attention to what the filter did. 😬

Will see if I can change it to be more precise.

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yongjun21 profile image
Yong Jun • Edited

I actually encountered similar issue but arrived at a different solution:

function useMemo<T>(reference: Ref<T>, getKey: (v: T) => unknown = v => v) {
  let memo: Ref<T>;
  return computed(() => {
    if (!memo) {
      memo = ref(reference.value) as Ref<T>;
      watch(
        () => getKey(reference.value),
        (key, prevKey) => {
          memo.value = reference.value;
        },
        { flush: 'sync' }
      );
    }
    return memo.value;
  });
}
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Wrote a useMemo function that returns a wrapped reference that triggers downstream watcher only when some memorization key from the original reference changed. Hence combining the best of computed and watch.

Need to point out that there some difference in my requirement hence eagerComputed not suitable. In my case

  1. I need the computed to stay lazy.
  2. The computed value is an object reconstructed on every compute so referential equality used in eagerComputed will fail.
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716green profile image
Bob Bass

This is an excellent article. I'm going from memory here but I could swear that some Vue components I've built in the past always seemed one tick behind where they were supposed to be.

I'm pretty sure that I've had to use watch() to fix the problem but I might also be conflating a slightly different issue with this.

Either way, this was really interesting and I'm glad that you took the time to write about it.

I switched from Vue to React within the past year or so for many of my personal projects and so I've been out of the loop a little bit, but I just took a job working with Vue. I feel like I've missed so much in the past few months. I was still using the options API with Vue 3 and without a setup directive and then I saw Vitesse.

Vue is such an awesome framework.

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linusborg profile image
Thorsten Lünborg Author

Glad you found it helpful.

the issue you describe sounds like it's not related to what I am describing here. Lazy evaluation won't cause any timing issues.

Also, don't feel pressures to use setup() if you feel comfortable with Options API - i won't disappear or anything.

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lordsayur profile image
Omar

Hi, since you have a deep knowledge about computed property, could you write an article about using computed property with argument?

In my project, ive always encounter needing dynamic computed property especially when i want to use computed property in v-for loop where i need to get the index of the current item for the computed property. what i normally do is i created computed property that return a function that has one or more argument. ive read online this is not beneficial and the result are not being cached and the author suggest just to use normal function. so i would like to know is there any alternative to do this?

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yongjun21 profile image
Yong Jun

Not sure how using plain function solve the over100 example. If you replace the over100 computed with a plain function, sortedList will then be directly dependent on count.value so it will still be re-computed 100 times, no?

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linusborg profile image
Thorsten Lünborg Author • Edited

Wrote it in another comment:

It's so hard to come up with examples that are not about foo & bar and still demonstrate what you want to without being overly complex or missing the point 😅

Yes, a plain function would not help in that specific scenario. It can help in others.

I've already planned to revisit this article and add/change a few things to make my points more clear. For now, I added a note about this so people don't get a wrong impression.

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qq449245884 profile image
qq449245884

Dear Thorsten Lünborg,may I translate your article into Chinese?I would like to share it with more developers in China. I will give the original author and original source.