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How to manage global state with XState and React

Matt Pocock
Lead developer at Yozobi, React, XState and Typescript lover, ex-voice coach.
・3 min read

Many React applications follow the Flux architecture popularised by Redux. This setup can be characterised by a few key ideas:

  1. It uses a single object at the top of your app which stores all application state, often called the store.
  2. It provides a single dispatch function which can be used to send messages up to the store. Redux calls these actions, but I'll be calling them events - as they're known in XState.
  3. How the store responds to these messages from the app are expressed in pure functions - most often in reducers.

This article won't go into depth on whether the Flux architecture is a good idea. David Khourshid's article Redux is half a pattern goes into great detail here. For the purposes of this article, we're going to assume that you like having a global store, and you want to replicate it in XState.

There are many reasons for wanting to do so. XState is second-to-none when it comes to managing complex asynchronous behaviour and modelling difficult problems. Managing this in Redux apps usually involves middleware: either redux-thunk, redux-loop or redux-saga. Choosing XState gives you a first-class way to manage complexity.

A globally available store

To mimic Redux's globally-available store, we're going to use React context. React context can be a tricky tool to work with - if you pass in values which change too often, in can result in re-renders all the way down the tree. That means we need to pass in values which change as little as possible.

Luckily, XState gives us a first-class way to do that.

import React, { createContext } from 'react';
import { useInterpret } from '@xstate/react';
import { authMachine } from './authMachine';
import { InterpreterFrom } from 'xstate';

interface GlobalStateContextType {
  authService: InterpreterFrom<typeof authMachine>;
}

export const GlobalStateContext = createContext(
  // Typed this way to avoid TS errors,
  // looks odd I know
  {} as GlobalStateContextType,
);

export const GlobalStateProvider = (props) => {
  const authService = useInterpret(authMachine);

  return (
    <GlobalStateContext.Provider value={{ authService }}>
      {props.children}
    </GlobalStateContext.Provider>
  );
};
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Using useInterpret returns a service, which is a static reference to the running machine which can be subscribed to. This value never changes, so we don't need to worry about wasted re-renders.

Utilising context

Further down the tree, you can subscribe to the service like this:

import React, { useContext } from 'react';
import { GlobalStateContext } from './globalState';
import { useService } from '@xstate/react';

export const SomeComponent = (props) => {
  const globalServices = useContext(GlobalStateContext);
  const [state] = useService(globalServices.authService);

  return state.matches('loggedIn') ? 'Logged In' : 'Logged Out';
};
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The useService hook listens for whenever the service changes, and updates the state value.

Improving Performance

There's an issue with the implementation above - this will update the component for any change to the service. Redux offers tools for deriving state using selectors - functions which restrict which parts of the state can result in components re-rendering.

Luckily, XState provides that too.

import React, { useContext } from 'react';
import { GlobalStateContext } from './globalState';
import { useSelector } from '@xstate/react';

const selector = (state) => {
  return state.matches('loggedIn');
};

export const SomeComponent = (props) => {
  const globalServices = useContext(GlobalStateContext);
  const isLoggedIn = useSelector(globalServices.authService, selector);

  return isLoggedIn ? 'Logged In' : 'Logged Out';
};
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Now, this component will only re-render when state.matches('loggedIn') returns a different value. This is my recommended approach over useService for when you want to optimise performance.

Dispatching events

For dispatching events to the global store, you can call a service's send function directly.

import React, { useContext } from 'react';
import { GlobalStateContext } from './globalState';

export const SomeComponent = (props) => {
  const globalServices = useContext(GlobalStateContext);

  return (
    <button onClick={() => globalServices.authService.send('LOG_OUT')}>
      Log Out
    </button>
  );
};
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Note that you don't need to call useService for this, it's available right on the context.

Deviations from Flux

Keen-eyed readers may spot that this implementation is slightly different from Flux. For instance - instead of a single global store, one might have several running machines at once: authService, dataCacheService, and globalTimeoutService. Each of them have their own send attributes, too - so you're not calling a global dispatch.

These changes can be worked around. One could create a synthetic send inside the global store which called all the services' send function manually. But personally, I prefer knowing exactly which services my messages are being passed to, and it avoids having to keep events globally namespaced.

Summary

XState can work beautifully as a global store for a React application. It keeps application logic co-located, treats side effects as first-class citizens, and offers good performance with useSelector. You should choose this approach if you're keen on the Flux architecture but feel your app's logic is getting out of hand.

Discussion (2)

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covicake profile image
Fernando Andrés García Hernández

That looks really nice! I have been using state machines with react for a few weeks now too and I'm in love with them.

I really liked your implementation of the Context and I didn't know about the useSelector, so thanks a lot for the help :)

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mpocock1 profile image
Matt Pocock Author

Thanks Fernando!

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