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Reactive Programming: Using Async Data Streams to Propagate Change

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Reactive Programming: Using Async Data Streams to Propagate Change

Looking to get started with reactive programming? Or just want to know what the fuss is about? Here's what it brings and how you can get started.

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The concept of reactive programming is not a new one, but it is gaining in prevalence in the current state of web and application design. Everything follows from a simple principle — the need and ability to incorporate asynchronous data streams into a programming framework. But the implementation of reactive programming, and the deeper principles, can be exceedingly complex — even for experienced developers.

Reactive Programming in Practice

It helps first to understand the value of asynchronous data streams and the results that can be achieved with a reactive programming paradigm. Modern forms and applications, with their highly interactive UIs and real-time feedback, are familiar to technology professionals and end-users alike and provide some powerful demonstrations of the power of reactive programming in propagating change and impacting user experience.

Through the use of asynchronous data streams, reactive programming can create a highly dynamic experience. Instead of change occurring as the result some complete data set, multiple data streams from the same page or form can be evaluated independently of each other with regards to content and time. Feeds can update in real-time based on clicks or activity, forms can become interactive instead of statically awaiting completion of a full data set, and so on.

To gain a deeper understanding of the nuances and potential applications, excellent information can be found at Sitepoint.

Flexibility and Power for the Developer

Once reactive programming techniques are mastered and implemented, there are benefits that go beyond the end-user experience. By listening or subscribing to different data streams independently, the programmer can achieve a higher level of abstraction that is more in-tune with business rules and requirements. The code can be more concise, and implementation of new rules or listening methods can be isolated to a discrete data stream, rather than wedged into a single method that has to account for the entire data set. This makes change and development, for the programmer, more agile and more intuitive — that is, if the programmer has a strong working knowledge of reactive programming.

Reactive programming allows the developer to work with complex and possibly changing dependencies. With a series of values that all have dependencies on one other, data has to be ingested asynchronously in order to propagate change in the correct fashion. Even outside of the problems that can be solved only with reactive programming, the power of these principles can often increase performance and allow easier implementation of more robust tools. For a more technical overview of these benefits, Lightbend has some great material on the subject.

How to Get Started

For the developer looking to get their feet wet, there are a variety of languages and frameworks that are conducive to implementing a reactive programming paradigm. Both imperative languages and object-oriented languages can be merged with a reactive programming approach, with different strengths and weaknesses. While languages such as Scala, C#, C++, Python, and Ruby have support and use cases for reactive programming, right now, a working knowledge of Java, JavaScript, and Java EE will serve to benefit the aspiring reactive programming developer in creating event-driven programming that can propagate change in real-time.

Not only are Java-based languages universally valuable to know and understand, for reactive programming in particular, these object-oriented languages have all of the proper tools for intuitive implementation of the kinds of required dependencies. In addition, these languages have robust libraries related to reactive programming. For example, see RxJava on GitHub, “a library for composing asynchronous and event-based programs by using observable sequences”.

A great place to get started with these languages, or for a modern developer to brush up his or her skills with these languages and related frameworks, is a course like the Advanced Java Training. More than just knowledge on Java, a course in Java is recommended as a transition into deeper reactive programming implementation because of its dual focus on Service-Oriented Architecture. SOA principles allow the developer to easily adapt applications to new technologies and integrate existing applications with other services.

In today’s world of rapidly changing programming philosophies, springboarding from the Java language and SOA principles to a working knowledge of reactive programming principles is a great way to build valuable skills and become a well-rounded developer.

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