Dynamic components in Ember.js

When building Ember.js apps you will try to avoid code duplication as much as possible. One of the ways of doing that is using Ember components. Components are small, reusable pieces of code, that share a common functionality. For example, you can have a component that shows a user’s Twitter feed, that receives the twitter handle as a parameter.

Components are the new hotness and the way to go with Ember.js 2.0 and they are also being introduced and used in HTML5. Ember components are closely built to adhere to the W3C specification so they should be compatible when the component adoption increases.

Sometimes you want to render a different component in the same place, for example a user’s image and contact info, which can be different for a person and an organisation. So to avoid ugly conditionals in handlebars code there is an option to show components dynamically with the convenient component helper.

You won’t avoid having those conditionals of course, but you won’t have to put them in your handlebars templates, which should be as logic-less as possible. They can reside at the model level, as a computed property. I will simplify this even further and use an example where we will receive the value from our API.

We will be using a simple polymorphic relationship in our API and values returned from ownerType will be “user” and “company” for this example.

Of course we want to show different data for the user and the company, but because we are showing them in the same place, we would have to use a conditional in handlebars to show them. And or model (or controller) should return the isUser boolean. This approach will make future code maintenance a nightmare.

// app/models/owner.js
import DS from 'ember-data';
import Ember from 'ember';

export default DS.Model.Extend({
  name: DS.attr('string'),
  ownerType: DS.attr('string'),
  // ...
  isUser: Ember.computed.equal('ownerType', 'User'),
  // ...
});
{{#if model.isUser}}
  {{owner/user-widget owner=model}}
{{else}}
  {{owner/company-widget owner=model}}
{{/if}}

As you can see, this conditional isn’t really the best one imaginable. If we add another ownerType possibility, we will have to add an additional component (which is the only thing we should be doing), add another boolean on the Owner model, and make the conditional above even more complex than it is. No one probably wants to be remembered by code like this:

{{#if model.isUser}}
  {{owner/user-widget owner=model}}
{{else}}
  {{#if model.isOrganisation}}
    {{owner/organisation-widget owner=model}}
  {{else}}
    {{owner/company-widget owner=model}}
  {{/if}
{{/if}}

There clearly must be a better and cleaner approach. Ember component helper comes to the rescue. And with some clean coding we can avoid all of the conditionals mentioned here.

// app/models/user.js
// ... 
   widgetComponentName: Ember.computed('ownerType', function() {
     return `owner/${this.get('ownerType').toLowerCase()}-widget`;
   });
// ...

This way, the model returns a convenient and usable string when we get the displayComponentName property from it. Now we can use this and have the cleanest possible handlebars template:

{{component model.widgetComponentName owner=model}}

Component helper will resolve the correct component and render it. If a new owner type pops up, the only thing we need to change is to add the widget component for that owner, which is also a great example of separation of concerns, and we are reducing code churn a lot. To reduce the code duplication and complexity you can also take use inheritance to combine similar functionality under one object, and extend it with specific code for each object. I’ve written a blog post about it called Simple Inheritance with Ember.js that you should definitely check out.

4 thoughts on “Dynamic components in Ember.js”

  1. Great writeup. I love these bite sized code examples. I’m working on an app that has tons of nested conditionals in the templates and I’m sure I’ll use this technique to clean some of that up.

    Thanks!

    1. Hi Andrew,

      Just be careful with the new angle bracket components coming in 2.0. I’m still not sure how they will be handled. I have a blog post planned explaining them too.

  2. So you reduced code complexity in the template by tightly coupling the model to the view? Would it be better in the controller?

    1. Hi Chris,

      Yes, the example is oversimplified a bit. The correct placement for this code should be in the controller (or in the parent component, as controllers are going bye bye soon). Thanks for your feedback, I’ll update the posts as soon as I can.

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