Creating a useObservable React Hook

August 26, 2019

Here we’ll take a look at how to create your own useObservable Hook in React, utilizing RxJs Observables, allowing you to easily share Observables across your app.

But, why?

There are many use cases for Observables within web apps, and exposing them via a custom Hooks is a great way to bring Observables into a React app.

If you aren’t familiar with Observables, you can basically think of them as a way to react to a series of events (either sync or async) in an easy and declarative way. Almost like combining a Promise and an Iterator.

An example use case would be if you were making a Frogger-like game you would have “jump” events and “vehicle movement” events. Using an Observable would let you track both events, do something when when the poor frog jumped into a car, and then turn off tracking of events.

Here I’ll be using the RxJs Observable library. Check out the docs to learn more about Observables.

The App

The purpose of this app is just to show how useObservable is created and used, not an actual use case for Observables (that would require a much longer article). Here it is:

// index.jsx

import React, { useState, useEffect } from "react";
import { useObservable } from "../custom-hooks";

function App() {
  // The observable will be used to set local state, so we also
  // need to use useState.
  const [appState, setAppState] = useState({ on: false });
  // We'll initialize the observable with appState. All subscribers 
  // will have this same initial state.
  const [observable, setObservableState] = useObservable(appState);

  useEffect(() => {
    const myObservable = observable.pipe(
      // Here is where we'd add RxJs operators to make magic happen.
      // https://rxjs-dev.firebaseapp.com/guide/operators

      next: v => {

    // When the component unmounts we'll unsubscribe from events
    return observable.unsubscribe;
  }, [observable])

  return (
    <div className="App">
       { /* setObservableState() will broadcast changes to all subscribed components */ }
      <button onClick={() => setObservableState({ ...appState, on: true })}>
        Turn On
      <button onClick={() => setObservableState({ ...appState, on: false })}>
        Turn Off

The Hook

// custom-hooks.jsx

import { useState } from "react";
// A Subject is a special type of Observable that can 
// act as both an observer and observable. In other words it 
// can both receive messages AND broadcast changes.
// A BehaviorSubject is a type of Subject that let's you 
// set an initial value. Check out RxJs docs for more info.
import { BehaviorSubject as Observable } from "rxjs";

export const useObservable = (initialState = {}) => {
  const [observable] = useState(new Observable(initialState));

  const handleNext = value => {

  return [observable, handleNext];

That’s it! If you have other thoughts or feedback let me know!

Bryce Dooley

A blog by Bryce Dooley — a Software Engineer, Dad, Husband, and Productivity Nerd — based out of Boston, MA.