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Clojurescript - Handling Mouse Events With core.async

December 30, 2014

I came across a situation recently where I needed to know the x and y co-ordinates of the mouse while the user was dragging over a canvas element. The mousemove event will give me the x and y co-ordinates via the offfsetX and offsetY properties of the event object but I only want to record these values when the user is dragging, i.e. when the mouse is down and the mousedown event has been triggered and we are receiving mousemove events. When the user stops dragging and the mouseup event is fired, I want to stop recording the co-ordinates.

The solution was to use the illusory synchronous appearance of core.async. In my opinion, the key to having user friendly asynchronous code is to have it read as synchronous as possible and I think that core.async outshines promises, generators and any other abstraction that I have encountered to read synchronously.

I am using the excellent om library to render the html and below I am declaring 3 channels in the IInitState lifecycle event that will be stored in the local state and can be retrieved in subsequent lifecycle events.

(init-state [_]
  {:mouse-down (chan)
   :mouse-up (chan)
   :mouse-move (chan 1 (map (fn [e] (clj->js {:x (.-offsetX e) :y (.-offsetY e)}))))})

I am creating 3 channels to handle the mousedown, mouseup and mousemove events and storing them in the local state.

On line 4 I am creating a channel and also supplying a transducer to the channel that will transform each event object that is placed on the channel.

In the IDidMount lifecycle event that is triggered when the component is mounted onto the dom and is displayed below, I am retrieving the channels from the local state and creating event listeners for the mouse events that I am interested in, MOUSEDOWN, MOUSEUP and MOUSEMOVE. All these event handlers do is basically put! the event object onto the relevant channel:

(did-mount [_]
  (let [canvas (q ".tutorial")
        ctx (.getContext canvas "2d")
        mouse-down (om/get-state owner :mouse-down)
        mouse-up (om/get-state owner :mouse-up)
        mouse-move (om/get-state owner :mouse-move)]

    ; we use put! because we are not in a go block
    (listen canvas EventType.MOUSEDOWN #(put! mouse-down %))
    (listen canvas EventType.MOUSEMOVE #(put! mouse-move %))
    (listen canvas EventType.MOUSEUP #(put! mouse-up %))

    (set! (.-lineWidth ctx) 3)))

Now we come to the meat and two potatoes of the piece. Below is the IWillMount handler that is called before the component is mounted onto the dom:

(will-mount [_]
  (let [mouse-down (om/get-state owner :mouse-down)
        mouse-up (om/get-state owner :mouse-up)
        mouse-move (om/get-state owner :mouse-move)]

    (go-loop []
      (loop []
        (alt! [mouse-down] ([down]
                              (do (log "we hit mouse down and onto next loop.") nil))))
      (log "we won't reach here until mouse down.")
      (loop []
        (alt! [mouse-up] ([up] (do (log "we hit mouse up, final recur and back to previous loop.")  nil))
              [mouse-move] ([coords]
                                (log coords)

As before, in lines 3-5 I retrieve the channels from local state.

On line 7 a go-loop is created. A go-loop is a convenience or shorthand for (go (loop ...)). The go-loop appears to create an infinite loop but actually it creates a statemachine that turns synchronous/blocking looking code into asynchronous non-blocking code. If there are no events then the go block is suspended. The go macro will expand out calls to <!, >!, alts! or in our case alt! into an asynchronous non-blocking statemachine.

On line 8 of the above, we use a combination of loop and alt! to suspend execution until a mousedown event is triggered. Execution will not reach the second inner loop on line 12 until the alt! expression on line 9 receives the mousedown event and returns nil on line 10.

alt! works like a sort of poor man’s pattern matching by dispatching execution to the right hand side s-expression of the left hand side channel that has received the event.

When the mousedown event is triggered, execution then proceeds to line 12 in a nice synchronous manner where a second loop will listen for mouseup or mousemove events via the alt! expression on line 13.

If mousemove events are received then we are simply logging the transformed event object that is transformed via the transducer that was passed to the channel initialisation in IInitState:

:mouse-move (chan 1 (map (fn [e] (clj->js {:x (.-offsetX e) :y (.-offsetY e)}))))

While the stream of mousemove events are received on the mouse-move channel on line 14, the recur statement on line 17 will keep execution on this inner loop.

When the user stops dragging and the mouseup event is fired and received on the mouse-up channel on line 13. nil is returned which breaks execution out of this inner loop and execution continues onto the recur on line 18 which belongs to the go-loop and execution goes back to the first inner loop on line 8 where the code appears to block as it listens for the next mousedown event.

I found this a very interesting approach and the code appears beautifully synchronous which of course it is not. I also like the ability to supply a transducer to the core.async channel to transform the incoming input. This decouples things nicely.

Paul Cowan

Nomadic cattle rustler and inventor of the electric lasso.
Company Website
Follow me on twitter
Contact me for frontend answers.