TypeScript/React/Redux Chat App Tutorial

Most of my experience is in writing backend code. I have always worked with (and love) typed languages. I am a big fan of verbose programming languages because most of the projects I’ve worked on have been large Enterprise projects. When projects get large, using a scripting language gets hairy. However, scripting languages are also awesome, and I wanted to get more experience with them. I have written plenty of Javascript with jQuery, but that doesn’t cut it anymore. So I decided to dip my toe into the wild work of Javascript frameworks. I decided to use TypeScript because I love my types, and I wanted to use React and Redux. This is a pretty long article, so feel free to just skip straight to the source code on my github account.

Setup

First, we have to do all of our awesome frontend setup. Make sure to install node and npm if you haven’t already. Create two directories for your projects, one for the chat server and one for the chat client. First we will setup our server, so run the following commands in your terminal:

cd <YOUR CHAT SERVER DIRECTORY>
npm init
npm install --save-dev ts-loader typescript ws @types/ws
npm link
mkdir src

Here is what each of those commands is doing:

  1. npm init: This creates a package.json file in your project and asks various questions about the project you are writing, like the package name and the current version. MAKE SURE YOU USE THE NAME type-script-server OR THE IMPORTS IN OUR CLIENT WON’T WORK
  2. npm install --save-dev ...: This installs all of the packages that come after it as dev dependencies. Since we aren’t publishing this module, we are only using dev dependencies.
  3. npm link: This adds a symlink in the current project so that it can be used in other projects locally. We need this because our chat client project is going to be using some files from this server project. When we setup our client, we will be calling npm link again in order to setup the symlink so the chat client can use our server code.
  4. mkdir src: Makes a new src/ directory in your project where we will be adding our code.

Now we need to create a new tsconfig.json file in the directory that looks like this:

{
  "compilerOptions": {
    "outDir": "./build/",
    "sourceMap": true,
    "noImplicitAny": true,
    "module": "commonjs",
    "target": "ES5",
    "jsx": "react"
  },
  "include": [
    "./src/**/*.ts"
  ],
  "exclude": [
    "./node_modules"
  ]
}

This file configures how typescript compiles our project. The important bit that differentiates this configuration from others is the "jsx": "react" line. That tells typescript to use React to handle the JSX files when building.

Now we can setup the client project:

cd <YOUR CHAT CLIENT DIRECTORY>
npm init
npm install --save-dev ts-loader typescript webpack react react-dom redux react-redux webpack-dev-server ws @types/react @types/react-dom @types/react-redux @types/redux @types/ws
npm link type-script-server
mkdir src

We also need a tsconfig.json file in this project that looks like this:

{
  "compilerOptions": {
    "outDir": "./build/",
    "sourceMap": true,
    "noImplicitAny": true,
    "module": "commonjs",
    "target": "ES6",
    "jsx": "react"
  },
  "include": [
    "./src/**/*.ts"
  ],
  "exclude": [
    "./node_modules"
  ]
}

Finally we need to create a webpack.config.js file to handle the build for our client app that looks like this:

module.exports = {
  devtool: 'source-map',
  entry: './src/index.tsx',
  output: {
    filename: './build/client.js',
  },
  resolve: {
    extensions: ['.webpack.js', '.web.js', '.ts', '.tsx', '.js']
  },

  module: {
    loaders: [{ test: /\.tsx?$/, loader: 'ts-loader' }]
  }
};

I am far from an expert on Webpack, I just copied the config I saw used for React apps using typescript.

Write the Chat Server

First, we should define what our chat message will look like. To do that, we will make a simple interface and an implementation of that interface that is able to parse an incoming string. Create a new models.ts file in your src/ directory that looks like this:

export interface Message {
 name: string;
 message: string;
}

export class UserMessage implements Message {
 name: string;
 message: string;

 constructor(payload: string) {
   var data = JSON.parse(payload);

   if (!data.name || !data.message) {
     throw new Error('Invalid message payload received: ' + payload);
   }

   this.name = data.name;
   this.message = data.message;
 }
}

Our messages will just have two fields: a name and the message itself. We make an implementation of this interface so that we can have a way to create a message given a string value. That way when our client sends a message as a string, we can pull the username and the message from it and make a Message from it.

Now we write our actual server code. Make a new file called server.ts in your src/ directory that looks like this:

import * as WebSocket from 'ws';
import { UserMessage } from './models';

// Create a new WebSocket server
const port: number = process.env.PORT || 3000;
const server: WebSocket.Server = new WebSocket.Server({ port: port });

// Add a handler when clients connect to the WebSocket
server.on('connection', ws => {
	console.log('new connection');
        // Whenever we receive a message, parse it into our UserMessage model and broadcast
        // it to all connected clients
	ws.on('message', message => {
		try {
			const userMessage: UserMessage = new UserMessage(message);
			broadcast(JSON.stringify(userMessage));
		} catch (e) {
			console.error(e.message);
		}
	});
});

function broadcast(data: string): void {
	server.clients.forEach(client => {
		client.send(data);
	});
};

console.log('Server is running on port', port);

That’s all the code we need for our server to be up and running. Now we need to actually build it so we can run our server. In the package.json file, replace the "scripts" entry with this:

"scripts": {
  "test": "echo \"Error: no test specified\" && exit 1",
  "build": "tsc --removeComments --module commonjs --target ES5 --outDir build src/server.ts",
  "start": "node ./build/server.js"
},

The "scripts" field of the package.json file define executable scripts npm can run on your project. In the above snippet we defined two new scripts:

  1. "build": This will build our server code into an executable Javascript file.
  2. "start": This will run our server Javascript file using node.

Now we can run npm run build to build our code, then we can run npm start to start our server. Try it out and make sure you see the ‘Server is running on port 3000’ message.

Write the Chat Client

Now it’s time for the hard part: the client. Now we get to actually try out all of the cool frontend frameworks, and to start we will define what our Redux store will look like.

Redux Store/Actions/Reducers

In the src/ directory create a new state.ts file that looks like this:

import { Message as MessageModel } from 'type-script-server/src/models';

export interface ChatState {
  messages: MessageModel[],
  users: string[]
}

Our application state is pretty straightforward. We just have a list of messages (a list of objects implementing our Message interface we defined in the server) and a list of users. Now that we have our Redux store, we need to figure out which actions and reducers we will need. To figure this out, we need to decide what kinds of things should trigger an update to our application state. For a chat app, the only things that would cause our state to update is sending a message or a user signing in.

(NOTE: For our example the user list only ever stores the current user, it doesn’t get updated when other users sign in. I left it in there just so we could have multiple options, and we could always add some code to our server that updates our user list when a new client joins and just assigns them a unique ID or something.)

So we will have two actions: ADD_MESSAGE and ADD_USER. In your src/ directory make a new directory named /actions. In the new actions/ directory, make a new file called index.ts that looks like this:

import { Message as MessageModel } from 'type-script-server/src/models';

export type Action = {
  type: 'ADD_MESSAGE',
  message: MessageModel
} | {
  type: 'ADD_USER',
  username: string,
  socket: WebSocket
}

export const addMessageAction = (message: MessageModel): Action => ({
  type: 'ADD_MESSAGE',
  message
});

export const addUserAction = (username: string, socket: WebSocket): Action => ({
  type: 'ADD_USER',
  username,
  socket
});

In this file we declared our own Action type that will have type ADD_MESSAGE or ADD_USER as well as the fields we will need for executing those actions (the message, socket, and username). We also defined two functions that create our actions that will be used when we want to dispatch a given action to Redux.

Now that we have our actions, we can make our reducers. Reducers are how Redux handles modifying your application state. Given some action, Redux will call your reducers to get the updated version of the state (unchanged, or a copy of the state with a modification). We are going to make our reducers in separate files, so make a new directory called reducers/ in your src/ directory. First we will make a new file called addMessage.ts that looks like this:

import { Action } from '../actions';
import { ChatState } from '../state';

const initialState: ChatState = {
  messages: [],
  users: []
};

export function addMessage(state: ChatState = initialState, action: Action): ChatState {
  if (action.type === 'ADD_MESSAGE') {
    console.log("ADDING MESSAGE");
    return {
      messages: [ ...state.messages, action.message ],
      users: state.users
    };
  }

  return state;
}

Any Redux action will be handled to all of our reducers. So this guy is responsible for checking if it is an action it cares about, and if so it makes the appropriate modification. This reducer says when it finds the ADD_MESSAGE action, it should modify our application state by adding a new message to our list of messages. Note that we return a copy of the state, we don’t directly modify the state.

Next we will create a file called addUser.ts that looks like this:

import { Action } from '../actions';

import { Message as MessageModel, UserMessage } from 'type-script-server/src/models';
import { ChatState } from '../state';

const initialState: ChatState = {
  messages: [],
  users: []
};

export function addUser(state: ChatState = initialState, action: Action): ChatState {
  if (action.type === 'ADD_USER') {
    const joinedUserMessageObject: MessageModel = {
      name: action.username,
      message: "joined the chat"
    }
    const joinedUserMessage: MessageModel = new UserMessage(JSON.stringify(joinedUserMessageObject));
    action.socket.send(JSON.stringify(joinedUserMessage));
    return {
      messages: state.messages,
      users: [ ...state.users, action.username ]
    };
  }

  return state;
}

This is very similar to our addMessage reducer, it checks to see if this is the ADD_USER action and it updates the state to have the new username. It does one extra bit, it sends a message to our socket to notify everyone that a new user has joined, hence the need for the socket in the ADD_USER action field.

React/Redux Components

Now that we have our Redux store, actions, and reducers all sorted out, we can make our React view components. First make a new components/ directory. Our top level component will be our app, so make a new App.tsx file (the .tsx extension is the typescript version of the .jsx extension) that looks like this:

import * as React from 'react';
import * as redux from 'redux';
import { connect } from 'react-redux';

import { Action, addUserAction } from '../actions';
import { ChatState } from '../state';

import { ChatApp } from './ChatApp';

const mapStateToProps = (state: ChatState, ownProps: OwnProps): ConnectedState => ({});

const mapDispatchToProps = (dispatch: redux.Dispatch<Action>): ConnectedDispatch => ({
  addUser: (username: string, socket: WebSocket) => {
    dispatch(addUserAction(username, socket));
  }
});

interface OwnProps {
  socket: WebSocket
}

interface ConnectedState {
}

interface ConnectedDispatch {
  addUser: (username: string, socket: WebSocket) => void
}

interface OwnState {
  username: string,
  submitted: boolean
}

export class AppComponent extends React.Component<ConnectedState & ConnectedDispatch & OwnProps, OwnState> {

  state = {
    username: '',
    submitted: false
  }

  usernameChangeHandler = (event: any) => {
    this.setState({ username: event.target.value });
  }

  usernameSubmitHandler = (event: any) => {
    event.preventDefault();
    this.setState({ submitted: true, username: this.state.username });
    this.props.addUser(this.state.username, this.props.socket);
  }

  render() {
    if (this.state.submitted) {
      // Form was submitted, now show the main App
      return (
        <ChatApp username={this.state.username} socket={this.props.socket} />
      );
    }
    return (
      <form onSubmit={this.usernameSubmitHandler} className="username-container">
        <h1>React Instant Chat</h1>
        <div>
          <input
            type="text"
            onChange={this.usernameChangeHandler}
            placeholder="Enter a username..."
            required />
        </div>
        <input type="submit" value="Submit" />
      </form>
    );
  }
}

export const App: React.ComponentClass<OwnProps> = connect(mapStateToProps, mapDispatchToProps)(AppComponent);

There is a lot of stuff going on in this component. To start, let’s go over the interfaces we created:

interface OwnProps {
  socket: WebSocket
}

interface ConnectedState {
}

interface ConnectedDispatch {
  addUser: (username: string, socket: WebSocket) => void
}

interface OwnState {
  username: string,
  submitted: boolean
}

Here I’m defining what is handed to the React component, and what will be pulled out of the Redux store and mapped to the component props. The OwnProps interface shows that this component expects to be handed a WebSocket. The ConnectedState would be any props that would be pulled directly out of the Redux store, in this case there isn’t anything we are pulling out of the store. The ConnectedDispatch interface will map any of our action creators to the props of our component. So in this case we are expecting to get an addUser() function that takes a username and a WebSocket. Finally, the OwnState interface defines what the component state will be that isn’t pulled from our Redux store. This component will be keeping track of the current username and whether or not the sign in form has been submitted in its state.

Now let’s look at the two map functions:

const mapStateToProps = (state: ChatState, ownProps: OwnProps): ConnectedState => ({});

const mapDispatchToProps = (dispatch: redux.Dispatch<Action>): ConnectedDispatch => ({
  addUser: (username: string, socket: WebSocket) => {
    dispatch(addUserAction(username, socket));
  }
});

These functions describe how we map the contents of the Redux store/dispatch functions to our component. The mapStateToProps() function will map any field in the Redux store into the given prop of our component. In this case we aren’t pulling anything from the Redux store. The mapDispatchToProps() function maps functions that will dispatch Redux actions to props in our component. In this case, our component will get an addUser prop that is a function that will dispatch our ADD_USER action and update our Redux store using the addUser reducer.

Finally, let’s look at the actual React component:

export class AppComponent extends React.Component<ConnectedState & ConnectedDispatch & OwnProps, OwnState> {

  // Initialize the state
  state = {
    username: '',
    submitted: false
  }

  // Whenever the username field changes, store that in the component state so
  // we have an up to date copy when we submit the form
  usernameChangeHandler = (event: any) => {
    this.setState({ username: event.target.value });
  }

  // Whenever the username form is submitted, update the component state to say
  // it has been submitted (so we show the main app rather than the login page)
  // and fire the addUser() action to update our Redux store.
  usernameSubmitHandler = (event: any) => {
    event.preventDefault();
    this.setState({ submitted: true, username: this.state.username });
    this.props.addUser(this.state.username, this.props.socket);
  }

  render() {
    if (this.state.submitted) {
      // Form was submitted, now show the main App
      return (
        <ChatApp username={this.state.username} socket={this.props.socket} />
      );
    }
    return (
      <form onSubmit={this.usernameSubmitHandler} className="username-container">
        <h1>React Instant Chat</h1>
        <div>
          <input
            type="text"
            onChange={this.usernameChangeHandler}
            placeholder="Enter a username..."
            required />
        </div>
        <input type="submit" value="Submit" />
      </form>
    );
  }
}

export const App: React.ComponentClass<OwnProps> = connect(mapStateToProps, mapDispatchToProps)(AppComponent);

Notice our component extends the React.Component type, and we define the combination of props pulled from Redux and the props for our component as our component props, and the component state as our state. The rest is just our usual React component. To start we will render a simple login page, then after the user has entered their name and submitted the form we will show the actual app. The final line is how we actually connect our app to the Redux store, and we specify the mapping functions.

Any component that needs to connect to the Redux store will look similar to this. The next component we will make is the ChatApp, which is also connected to the Redux store. Create a new file called ChatApp.tsx that looks like this:

import * as React from 'react';
import * as redux from 'redux';
import { connect } from 'react-redux';

import { Message as MessageModel, UserMessage } from 'type-script-server/src/models';
import { ChatState } from '../state';
import { Action } from '../actions';

import { Messages } from './Messages';
import { ChatInput } from './ChatInput';

const mapStateToProps = (state: ChatState, ownProps: OwnProps): ConnectedState => ({
  messages: state.messages
});

const mapDispatchToProps = (dispatch: redux.Dispatch<Action>): ConnectedDispatch => ({});

interface OwnProps {
  socket: WebSocket,
  username: string
}

interface ConnectedState {
  messages: MessageModel[]
}

interface ConnectedDispatch {
}

interface OwnState {
}

export class ChatAppComponent extends React.Component<ConnectedState & ConnectedDispatch & OwnProps, OwnState> {

  sendHandler = (message: string) => {
    const messageObject: MessageModel = {
      name: this.props.username,
      message: message
    }
    this.props.socket.send(JSON.stringify(messageObject));
  }

  render() {
     return (
       <div className="container">
         <h3>React Chat App</h3>
         <Messages username={this.props.username} messages={this.props.messages} />
         <ChatInput onSend={this.sendHandler} />
       </div>
     );
   }
}

export const ChatApp: React.ComponentClass<OwnProps> = connect(mapStateToProps, mapDispatchToProps)(ChatAppComponent);

This component isn’t dispatching any actions, but it is connecting to the Redux store in order to pull the current list of messages out as a prop. It also defines what to do when a user posts a message (just send it with our socket). Notice this isn’t dispatching our addMessageAction, we will see how that is handled later.

Now we just need to define our vanilla (non-Redux connected) React components. Create a new file called ChatInput.tsx that looks like this:

import * as React from 'react';

interface OwnProps {
  onSend: (UserMessage: string) => void
}

interface OwnState {
  chatInput: string
}

export class ChatInput extends React.Component<OwnProps, OwnState> {

  state = {
    chatInput: ''
  }

  textChangeHandler = (event: any) => {
    this.setState({ chatInput: event.target.value });
  }

  submitHandler = (event: any) => {
    // Stop the form from refreshing the page on submit
    event.preventDefault();

    // Call the onSend callback with the chatInput UserMessage
    this.props.onSend(this.state.chatInput);

    // Clear the input box
    this.setState({ chatInput: '' });
  }

  render() {
    return (
       <form className="chat-input" onSubmit={this.submitHandler}>
         <input type="text"
           onChange={this.textChangeHandler}
           value={this.state.chatInput}
           placeholder="Write a UserMessage..."
           required />
       </form>
    );
  }

}

This defines our actual chat input, which will store the current user message as state and send it out whenever the user sends the message.

Next create a new file called Messages.tsx that looks like this:

import * as React from 'react';

import { Message as MessageModel } from 'type-script-server/src/models';

import { Message } from './Message';

interface OwnProps {
  username: string,
  messages: MessageModel[]
}

interface OwnState {
}

export class Messages extends React.Component<OwnProps, OwnState> {

  componentDidUpdate() {
    // get the message list container and set the scrollTop to the height of the container
    const objDiv = document.getElementById('messageList');
    objDiv.scrollTop = objDiv.scrollHeight;
  }

  render() {
    // Loop through all the messages in the state and create a Message component
    const messages = this.props.messages.map((message: MessageModel, i) => {
        return (
          <Message
            key={i}
            username={message.name}
            message={message.message}
            fromMe={message.name === this.props.username} />
        );
      });

    return (
      <div className='messages' id='messageList'>
        { messages }
      </div>
    );
  }
}

This component handles rendering all of our messages and scrolling to the bottom of the list every time a new message is added.

For our last component, create a new Message.tsx file that looks like this:

import * as React from 'react';

interface OwnProps {
  key: number,
  username: string,
  message: string,
  fromMe: boolean
}

interface OwnState {
}

export class Message extends React.Component<OwnProps, OwnState> {

  render() {
    // Was the message sent by the current user. If so, add a css class
    const fromMe = this.props.fromMe ? 'from-me' : '';

    return (
      <div className={`message ${fromMe}`}>
        <div className='username'>
          { this.props.username }
        </div>
        <div className='message-body'>
          { this.props.message }
        </div>
      </div>
    );
  }
}

This simply renders a chat message, and marks if the message is from the current user.

Client Entry Point

We’ve defined everything we need for our app to work, now we need to hook everything together. To do that we will make our actual entry point. In your src/ directory make a new file called index.tsx that looks like this:

import * as React from 'react';
import * as ReactDOM from 'react-dom';
import { createStore, compose, Reducer } from 'redux';
import { Provider } from 'react-redux';
import { Action, addMessageAction } from './actions';
import { addMessage } from './reducers/addMessage';
import { addUser } from './reducers/addUser';
import { App } from './components/App';

import { UserMessage } from 'type-script-server/src/models';
import { ChatState } from './state';

const socket: WebSocket = new WebSocket("ws://localhost:3000");

// For every reducer in our list, send the given action
function combineReducers(...reducers: Reducer<ChatState>[]) {
  return (state: ChatState, action: Action) => {
    return reducers.reduce((previous: ChatState, next: Reducer<ChatState>) => next(previous, action), state);
  }
}

let store = createStore(combineReducers(addMessage, addUser), undefined, (window as any).__REDUX_DEVTOOLS_EXTENSION__ && (window as any).__REDUX_DEVTOOLS_EXTENSION__());

// Listen for messages from the server
socket.onmessage = (message: MessageEvent) => {
  // Whenever the server broadcasts a message, add it to our message list
  store.dispatch(addMessageAction(new UserMessage(message.data)));
};

// Render the app
ReactDOM.render(
  <Provider store={store}>
    <App socket={socket} />
  </Provider>,
  document.getElementById("app")
);

In order to hook everything together, we first need to actually make a connection to our server. Thankfully WebSockets make that super simple, just one line. Next we need to actually create our Redux store. To do that we pass three parameters: a function to tell Redux how to delegate actions to our reducers (we just pass an action to every reducer and they decide if they handle it or not), the initial state (undefined here because our reducers handle making the initial state as a default parameter), and the last parameter allows us to use the Redux dev tools in Chrome (which are some of the coolest dev tools I’ve ever seen, I highly recommend using them). After creating our store, we make sure that any time we get a message from our server we add the new message to our Redux store so it will be rendered in our message list. We do that by dispatching the addMessageAction which is handled by our addMessage reducer. Finally, we use React to actually render our App. Notice we are using a special component we pulled from react-redux called Provider. This is the component that will have our Redux store in it, and it can provide anything from the store to any component that needs it (any of our components that used the connect() function).

Build and Render

Alright now we have all of our code, we need to actually render our app. In order to do that, we will need an HTML page. In your project root directory (not the src/ directory, the directory above it) make a new file called index.html that looks like this:

<html>
  <head>
    <title>Typescript Chat</title>
    <link href="https://maxcdn.bootstrapcdn.com/font-awesome/4.7.0/css/font-awesome.min.css" rel="stylesheet">
  </head>
  <body>
    <div id="app"></div>
    <script src="/build/client.js"></script>
  </body>
</html>

This includes our built client Javascript (our Webpack config has the output file set to be client.js) and includes a div on the page that React will replace with our app.

Now let’s add a script in NPM that will start a little server that will serve up our client and also watch for any changes we make and deploy them. In the package.json file, replace the "scripts" entry with this:

"scripts": {
  "test": "echo \"Error: no test specified\" && exit 1",
  "watch": "webpack-dev-server --compress --history-api-fallback --progress --host 0.0.0.0 --port 3005"
},

Run the App

Finally we get to actually run our app. Go to your server project directory and run npm start, this will start your server listening on port 3000. Now go to your client project directory and run npm run watch, this will start a server that will server your index.html page on port 3005 (it will also automatically update your client if you make any code changes). Now go to http://localhost:3005 in your web browser. You should see a very simple login page asking for your username. Enter your username and submit. You should see this:

<your username>
joined the chat

Now open a new tab and go to http://localhost:3005. Enter a new username and submit. Now you’re chatting! Enter a message in either tab and make sure it shows up in the other tab. Now you can write some styles and make a good looking super simple chat app.

Edit 05/10/2018

Updated versions and made some fixes as pointed out by GitHub user wildcart as seen in these issues

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