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Polymer lets you observe changes to an element's properties and take various actions based on data changes. These actions, or property effects, include:

  • Observers. Callbacks invoked when data changes.

  • Computed properties. Virtual properties computed based on other properties, and recomputed when the input data changes.

  • Data bindings. Annotations that update the properties, attributes, or text content of a DOM node when data changes.

Each Polymer element manages its own data model and local DOM elements. The model for an element is the element's properties. Data bindings link an element's model with the elements in its local DOM.

Consider a very simple element:

<dom-module id="name-card">
  <template>
    <div>[[name.first]] [[name.last]]</div>
  </template>
  <script>
    class NameCard extends Polymer.Element {
      static get is() { return "name-card"; }
      constructor() {
        super();
        this.name = {first: 'Kai', last: 'Li'};
      }
    }
    customElements.define(NameCard.is, NameCard);
  </script>
</dom-module>

A name-card element with a property, name. An arrow labeled 1 connects the name property toa JavaScript object. An arrow labeled 2 connects the element to a box labeled local DOM treewhich contains a single element, div. An arrow labeled 3 connects the JavaScript object to thediv element.

  1. The <name-card> element has a name property that refers to a JavaScript object.
  2. The <name-card> element hosts a local DOM tree, that contains a single <div> element.
  3. Data bindings in the template link the JavaScript object to the <div> element.

The data system is based on paths, not objects, where a path represents a property or subproperty relative to the host element. For example, the <name-card> element has data bindings for the paths "name.first" and "name.last". If a <name-card> has the following object for its name property:

{
  first: 'Lizzy',
  last: 'Bennet'
}

The path "name" refers to the element's name property (an object).The paths "name.first" and "name.last" refer to properties of that object.

The name-card element from the previous figure. An arrow labeled 1 connects the name propertyto a JavaScript object that contains two properties, first: 'Lizzy' and last: 'Bennet'. Two arrowslabeled 2 connect the paths name and name.first with the object itself and the subproperty,first, respectively.

  1. The name property refers to the JavaScript object.
  2. The path "name" refers to the object itself. The path "name.first" refers to its subproperty, first (the string, Lizzy).

Polymer doesn't automatically detect all data changes. Property effects occur when there is an observable change to a property or subproperty.

Why use paths? Paths and observable changes might seem a little strange at first. But this results in a very high-performance data binding system. When an observable change occurs, Polymer can make a change to just those points in the DOM that are affected by that change.

In summary:

  • While a single JavaScript object or array can be referenced by multiple elements, a path is always relative to an element.
  • An observable change to a path can produce property effects, like updating bindings or calling observers.
  • Data bindings establish connections between paths on different elements.

An observable change is a data change that Polymer can associate with a path. Certain changes are automatically observable:

  • Setting a direct property of the element.

    this.owner = 'Jane';

    If a property has any associated property effects (such as observers, computed properties, or data bindings), Polymer creates a setter for the property, which automatically invokes the property effects.

  • Setting a subproperty of the element using a two-way data binding.

    <local-dom-child name="{{hostProperty.subProperty}}"></local-dom-child>
    

    Changes made by the data binding system are automatically propagated. In this example, if <local-dom-child> makes a change to its name property, the change propagates up to the host, as a change to the path "hostProperty.subProperty".

Changes that imperatively mutate an object or array are not observable. This includes:

  • Setting a subproperty of an object:

    // unobservable subproperty change
    this.address.street = 'Elm Street';
    

    Changing the subproperty address.street here doesn't invoke the setter on address, so it isn't automatically observable.

  • Mutating an array:

    // unobservable change using native Array.push
    this.users.push({ name: 'Maturin'});
    

    Mutating the array doesn't invoke the setter on users, so it isn't automatically observable.

In both cases, you need to use Polymer methods to ensure that the changes are observable.

Polymer provides methods for making observable changes to subproperties and arrays:

// mutate an object observably
this.set('address.street', 'Half Moon Street');

// mutate an array observably
this.push('users', { name: 'Maturin'});

In some cases, you can't use the Polymer methods to mutate objects and arrays (for example, if you're using a third-party library). In this case, you can use the notifyPath and notifySplices methods to notify the element about changes that have already taken place.

// Notify Polymer that the value has changed
this.notifyPath('address.street');

When you call notifyPath or notifySplices, the element applies the appropriate property effects, as if the changes had just taken place.

When calling set or notifyPath, you need to use the exact path that changed. For example, calling this.notifyPath('address') doesn't pick up a change to address.street if the address object itself remains unchanged. This is because Polymer performs dirty checking for objects and arrays using object equality. It doesn't produce any property effects if the value at the specified path hasn't changed.

In most cases, if one or more properties of an object have changed, or one or more items in an array have changed, you can force Polymer to skip the dirty check by cloning the object or array.

// Shallow clone array
this.addresses.push(address1);
this.addresses.push(address2)
this.addresses = this.addresses.slice();

If you have a data structure with multiple levels of objects and arrays, you may need to perform a deep copy to pick up changes.

If your application requires it, you can eliminate dirty-checking of objects and arrays on a per-element basis using the Polymer.MutableData mixin. This mixin may trades some performance for increased ease of use. For details, see Using the MutableData mixin.

Related tasks:

Propagation of data through the binding system is batched, so complex observers and computing functions run once with a set of coherent changes. There's several ways to create a set of coherent changes:

  • An element automatically creates a set of coherent changes when it initializes its properties.

  • Setting an object or array can create a set of coherent changes.

  • You can atomically set multiple properties using the setProperties method.

this.setProperties({item: 'Orange', count: 12 });

Single property accessors still propagate data synchronously. For example, given an observer that observes two properties, a and b:

// observer fires twice
this.a = 10;
this.b = 20;

// observer fires once
this.setProperties({a: 10, b: 20});

In the data system, a path is a string that identifies a property or subproperty relative to a scope. In most cases, the scope is a host element. For example, consider the following relationships:

Two elements, user-profile and address card. The user-profile element has a primaryAddressproperty. An arrow labeled 1 connects the property to a JavaScript object. The address-cardelement has an address property. An arrow labeled 2 connects the property to the same JavaScriptobject.

  1. The <user-profile> element has a property primaryAddress that refers to a JavaScript object.
  2. The <address-card> element has a property address that refers to the same object.

Importantly, Polymer doesn't automatically know that these properties refer to the same object. If <address-card> makes a change to the object, no property effects are invoked on <user-profile>.

For data changes to flow from one element to another, the elements must be connected with a data binding.

Data bindings can create links between paths on different elements. In fact, data binding is the only way to link paths on different elements. For example, consider the <user-profile> example in the previous section. If <address-card> is in the local DOM of the <user-profile> element, the two paths can be connected with a data binding:

<dom-module id="user-profile">
  <template><address-card
        address="{{primaryAddress}}"></address-card>
  </template></dom-module>

Now the paths are connected by data binding.

Two elements, user-profile and address-card, both referring to a shared JavaScript object. An arrow labeled 1 connects the primaryAddress property on the user-profile element to the object. An arrow labeled 2 connects the address property on the address-card element to the same object. An double-headed arrow labeled 3 connects the path primaryAddress on user-profile to the path address on address-card.

  1. The <user-profile> element has a property primaryAddress that refers to a JavaScript object.
  2. The <address-card> element has a property address that refers to the same object.
  3. The data binding connects the path "primaryAddress" on <user-profile> to the path "address" on <address-card>

If <address-card> makes an observable change to the object, property effects are invoked on <user-profile> as well.

Paths are relative to the current data binding scope.

The topmost scope for any element is the element's properties. Certain data binding helper elements (like template repeaters) introduce new, nested scopes.

For observers and computed properties, the scope is always the element's properties.

A path is a series of path segments. In most cases, each path segment is a property name.

There are a few special types of path segments.

  • The wildcard character, *, can be used as the last segment in a path (like foo.*). This wildcard path represents all changes to a given path and its subproperties, including array mutations.
  • The string splices can be used as the last segment in a path (like foo.splices) to represent all array mutations to a given array.
  • Array item paths (like foo.11) represent an item in an array, where the numeric path segment represents an array index.

When used as the last segment in a path, the wildcard character (*) represents any change to the previous property or its subproperties. For example, if users is an array, users.* indicates an interest in any changes to the users array or its subproperties.

Wildcard paths are only used in observers, computed properties and computed bindings. You can't use a wildcard path in a data binding.

When used as the last segment in a path, splices represents any array mutations to the identified array (additions or deletions). For example, if users is an array, the path users.splices identifies any additions to or deletions from the array.

A .splices path can be used in an observer, computed property or computed binding to identify interest in array mutations. Observing a .splices path gives you a subset of the changes registered by a wildcard path (for example, you won't see changes to subproperties of objects inside the array). In most cases, it's more useful to use a wildcard observer for arrays.

Sometimes an element has two paths that point to the same object.

For example, an element has two properties, users (an array) and selectedUser (an object). When a user is selected, selectedUser refers one of the objects in the array.

A user-list element and an array with four items labeled [0] through [3]. The user-list has two properties, users and selectedUser. The users property is connected to the array by an arrow labeled 1. The selectedUser property is connected to the array item, [1] by an arrow labeled 2.

  1. The users property references the array itself.
  2. The selectedUser property references an item in the array.

In this example, the element has several paths that refer to the second item in the array:

  • "selectedUser"
  • "users.1" (where 1 is the item's index in the users array)

By default, Polymer has no way to associate the array paths (like users.1) with selectedUser.

For this exact use case, Polymer provides a data binding helper element, <array-selector>, that maintains path linkages between an array and a selected item from that array. (<array-selector> also works when selecting multiple items from an array.)

For other use cases, there's an imperative method, linkPaths to associate two paths. When two paths are linked, an observable change to one path is observable on the other path, as well.

Related task:

Polymer implements the mediator pattern, where a host element manages data flow between itself and its local DOM nodes.

When two elements are connected with a data binding, data changes can flow downward, from host to target, upward, from target to host, or both ways.

When two elements in the local DOM are bound to the same property data appears to flow from one element to the other, but this flow is mediated by the host. A change made by one element propagates up to the host, then the host propagates the change down to the second element.

Data flow is synchronous. When your code makes an observable change, all of the data flow and property effects from that change occur before the next line of your JavaScript is executed, unless an element explicitly defers action (for example, by calling an asynchronous method).

The type of data flow supported by an individual binding depends on:

  • The type of binding annotation used.
  • The configuration of the target property.

The two types of data binding annotations are:

  • Automatic, which allows upward (target to host) and downwards (host to target) data flow. Automatic bindings use double curly brackets ({{ }}):

    <my-input value="{{name}}"></my-input>
    
  • One-way, which only allows downwards data flow. Upward data flow is disabled. One-way bindings use double square brackets ([[ ]]).

    <name-tag name="[[name]]"></name-tag>
    

The following configuration flags affect data flow to and from target properties:

  • notify. A notifying property supports upward data flow. By default, properties are non-notifying, and don't support upward data flow.
  • readOnly. A read-only property prevents downward data flow. By default, properties are read/write, and support downward data flow.

Example property definitions

properties: {
  // default prop, read/write, non-notifying.
  basicProp: {
  },
  // read/write, notifying
  notifyingProp: {
    notify: true
  },
  // read-only, notifying
  fancyProp: {
    readOnly: true,
    notify: true
  }
}

This table shows what kind of data flow is supported by automatic bindings based on the configuration of the target property:

Configuration Result
notify: false,
readOnly: false
One-way, downward
notify: false,
readOnly: true
No data flow
notify: true,
readOnly: false
Two-way
notify: true,
readOnly: true
One-way, upward

By contrast, one-way bindings only allow one-way, downward data flow, so the notify flag doesn't affect the outcome:

Configuration Result
readOnly: false
One-way, downward
readOnly: true
No data flow

Property configuration only affects the property itself, not subproperties. In particular, binding a property that's an object or array creates shared data between the host and target element. There's no way to prevent either element from mutating a shared object or array. For more information, see Data flow for objects and arrays

The following examples show the various data flow scenarios described above.

Example 1: Two-way binding

<script>
  class XTarget extends Polymer.Element {

    static get is() {return 'x-target';}

    static get properties() {
      return {
        someProp: {
          type: String,
          notify: true
        }
      }
    }

  }

  customElements.define(XTarget.is, XTarget);
</script>
...

<dom-module id="x-host">
  <template>
    <!-- changes to "value" propagate downward to "someProp" on target -->
    <!-- changes to "someProp" propagate upward to "value" on host  -->
    <x-target some-prop="{{value}}"></x-target>
  </template>
  <script>
    class XHost extends Polymer.Element {

      static get is() {return 'x-host';}

    }

    customElements.define(XHost.is, XHost);
  </script>

Example 2: One-way binding (downward)

Changing the binding to a one-way binding [[ ]] produces a one-way binding. This example uses the same x-target element as example 1.

<dom-module id="x-host">
  <template>
    <!-- changes to "value" propagate downward to "someProp" on target -->
    <!-- changes to "someProp" don't propagate upward because of the one-way binding -->
    <x-target some-prop="[[value]]"></x-target>
  </template>
  <script>
    class XHost extends Polymer.Element {

      static get is() {return 'x-host';}

    }

    customElements.define(XHost.is, XHost);
  </script>

Example 3: One-way binding (downward)

Similarly, using the two-way binding delimiters but omitting the notify: true on someProp yields a one-way, downward binding.

<script>
  class XTarget extends Polymer.Element {

    static get is() {return 'x-target';}

    static get properties() {
      return {
        someProp: {
          type: String // no notify: true
        }
      }
    }

  }

  customElements.define(XTarget.is, XTarget);
</script>
...

<dom-module id="x-host">
  <template>
    <!-- changes to "value" propagate downward to "someProp" on target -->
    <!-- changes to "someProp" are not notified to host due to notify:falsey -->
    <x-target some-prop="{{value}}"></x-target>
  </template>
  <script>
    class XHost extends Polymer.Element {

      static get is() {return 'x-host';}

    }

    customElements.define(XHost.is, XHost);
  </script>

Example 4: One-way binding (upward, child-to-host)

<script>
  class XTarget extends Polymer.Element {

    static get is() {return 'x-target';}

    static get properties() {
      return {
        someProp: {
          type: String,
          notify: true,
          readOnly: true
        }
      }
    }

  }

  customElements.define(XTarget.is, XTarget);
</script>
...

<dom-module id="x-host">
  <template>
<!-- changes to "value" are ignored by child because "someProp" is read-only -->
<!-- changes to "someProp" propagate upward to "value" on host -->
    <x-target some-prop="{{value}}"></x-target>
  </template>
  <script>
    class XHost extends Polymer.Element {

      static get is() {return 'x-host';}

    }

    customElements.define(XHost.is, XHost);
  </script>

Example 5: No data flow / nonsensical state

<script>
  class XTarget extends Polymer.Element {

    static get is() {return 'x-target';}

    static get properties() {
      return {
        someProp: {
          type: String,
          notify: true,
          readOnly: true
        }
      }
    }

  }

  customElements.define(XTarget.is, XTarget);
</script>
...

<dom-module id="x-host">
  <template>
    <!-- changes to "value" are ignored by child because "someProp" is read-only -->
    <!-- changes to "someProp" don't propagate upward because of the one-way binding -->
    <x-target some-prop="[[value]]"></x-target>
  </template>
  <script>
    class XHost extends Polymer.Element {

      static get is() {return 'x-host';}

    }

    customElements.define(XHost.is, XHost);
  </script>

Since the host element manages data flow, it can directly interact with the target element. The host propagates data downward by setting the target element’s properties or invoking its methods.

An element, host-element connected to an element, target-element by an arrow labeled 1.

  1. When a property changes on the host element, it sets the corresponding property on the target element, triggering the associated property effects.

Polymer elements use events to propagate data upward. The target element fires a non-bubbling event when an observable change occurs. (Change events are described in more detail in Change notification events.)

For two-way bindings, the host element listens for these change events and propagates the changes—for example, setting a property and invoking any related property effects. The property effects may include:

  • Updating data bindings to propagate changes to sibling elements.
  • Generating another change event to propagate the change upward.

An element, target-element connected to an element, host-element by an arrow labeled 1. An arrow labeled 2 connects from the host element back to itself.

  1. A property change on the target element causes a property change event to fire.
  2. The host element receives the event and sets the corresponding property, invoking the related property effects.

For one-way binding annotations, the host doesn't create a change listener, so upward data changes aren't propagated.

For object and array properties, data flow is a little more complicated. An object or array can be referenced by multiple elements, and there's no way to prevent one element from mutating a shared array or changing a subproperty of an object.

As a result, Polymer treats the contents of arrays and objects as always being available for two- way binding. That is:

  • Data updates always flow downwards, even if the target property is marked read-only.
  • Change events for upward data flow are always fired, even if the target property is not marked as notifying.

Since one-way binding annotations don't create an event listener, they prevent these change notifications from being propagated to the host element.

An element fires a change notification event when one of the following observable changes occurs:

  • A change to a notifying property.

  • A subproperty change.

  • An array mutation.

The event's type property indicates which property changed: it follows a naming convention of property-changed, where property is the property name, in dash case (so changing this.firstName fires first-name-changed).

You can manually attach a property-changed listener to an element to notify external elements, frameworks, or libraries of property changes.

The contents of the event vary depending on the change.

  • For a property change, the new value of the property is included in the detail.value field.
  • For a subproperty change, the path to the subproperty is included in the detail.path field, and the new value is included in the detail.value field.
  • For an array mutation, the detail.path field is an array mutation path, such as "myArray.splices", and the detail.value

Don't stop propagation on change notification events. To avoid creating and discarding event objects, Polymer uses cached event objects for change notifications. Calling stopPropagation on a change notification event prevents all future events for that property. Change notification events don't bubble, so there should be no reason to stop propagation.

Native elements like <input> don't provide the change notification events that Polymer uses for upward data flow. To support two-way data binding of native input elements, Polymer lets you associate a custom change notification event with a data binding. For example, when binding to a text input, you could specify the input or change event:

<input value="{{firstName::change}}">

In this example, the firstName property is bound to the input's value property. Whenever the input element fires its change event, Polymer updates the firstName property to match the input value, and invokes any associated property effects. The contents of the event aren't important.

This technique is especially useful for native input elements, but can be used to provide two-way binding for any non-Polymer component that exposes a property and fires an event when the property changes.

Related tasks:

When an element initializes its local DOM, it configures the properties of its local DOM children and initializes data bindings.

The host’s values take priority during initialization. For example, when a host property is bound to a target property, if both host and target elements specify default values, the parent's default value is used.

Property effects are actions triggered by observable changes to a given property (or path). Property effects include:

  • Recomputing computed properties.
  • Updating data bindings.
  • Reflecting a property value to an attribute on the host element.
  • Invoking observers.
  • Firing change notification events.

These property effects run in a well-defined order:

  1. Computed properties.
  2. Data bindings.
  3. Reflected values.
  4. Observers.
  5. Change notification events.

This order ensures that computed properties are recomputed before changes are propagated downward, and that changes are propagated to the local DOM children before observers run.

A data binding establishes a connection between data on the host element and a property or attribute of a target node in the host's local DOM. You create data bindings by adding annotations to an element's local DOM template.

Annotations are attribute values set on a target element that include the data binding delimiters {{ }} or [[ ]].

Two-way property binding:

target-property="{{hostProperty}}"

One-way property binding:

target-property="[[hostProperty]]"

Attribute binding:

target-attribute$="[[hostProperty]]"

You can also use a data binding annotation in the body of an element, which is equivalent to binding to the element's textContent property.

<div>{{hostProperty}}</div>

The text inside the delimiters can be one of the following:

  • A property or subproperty path (users, address.street).
  • A computed binding (_computeName(firstName, lastName, locale))
  • Any of the above, preceded by the negation operator (!).

For more information, see Data binding.

Polymer 1.x uses a dirty-checking mechanism to prevent the data system from doing extra work. Polymer 2.x retains this mechanism by default, but lets elements opt out of dirty checking objects and arrays.

With the default dirty-checking mechanism, the following code doesn't generate any property effects:

this.property.subproperty = 'new value!';
this.notifyPath('property');

This strict dirty checking for objects and arrays is based in object equality. Because property still points to the same object, the dirty check fails, and sub-property changes don't get propagated. Instead, you need to use the Polymer set or array mutation methods, or call notifyPath on the exact path that changed:

this.set('property.subproperty', 'new value!');
// OR
this.property.subproperty = 'new value!';
this.notifyPath('property.subproperty');

In general, the dirty-checking mechanism is more performant. It works well for apps where one of the following is true:

  • You use immutable data.
  • You always use the Polymer data mutation methods to make granular changes.

However, for apps that don't use immutable data and can't use the Polymer data methods, Polymer 2.0 provides the Polymer.MutableData mixin.

class MyMutableElement extends Polymer.MutableData(Polymer.Element) { ... }

The MutableData mixin eliminates the dirty check for that element, so the code above would work as intended.

this.property.subproperty = 'new value!';
this.notifyPath('property');

This mutable data mode also lets you batch several changes before invoking property effects:

this.property.arrayProperty.push({ name: 'Alice' });
this.property.stringProperty = 'new value!';
this.property.counter++;
this.notifyPath('property');

You can also use set or simply set a top-level property to invoke effects:

this.set('property', this.property);
// or
this.property = this.property;

Using set to change a specific subproperty can often be the most efficient way to make changes. However, elements that use MutableData shouldn't need to use this API, making it more compatible with alternate data-binding and state management libraries.

Note that when you re-set a property at the top-level, all property effects for that property and its subproperties, array items, and so-on are re-run. In addition, observers with wildcard paths (like prop.*) are only notified with the top-level change:

// With MutableData mixin
// 'property.*' observers fire with the path 'property'
this.property.deep.path = 'another new value';
this.notifyPath('property');

Using set to set specific paths generates granular notifications:

// 'property.*' observers fire with the path 'property.deep.path'
this.set('property.deep.path', 'new value');

If an element's properties only take primitive values, like strings, numbers or booleans, you don't need to use MutableData. These values are always dirty-checked and MutableData would provide no benefit. This is true for most simple UI elements. MutableData is likely to be useful for complex reusable elements (like dom-repeat or iron-list), or for application-specific elements that hold complex state information.

Note that the MutableData mixin does not affect the element's shadow DOM children. Any element that doesn't use the Polymer.MutableData mixin uses the default dirty-checking policy.

If you're using the dom-repeat element, you can enable mutable data mode by setting its mutableData property:

<!-- standard dom-repeat in MutableData mode -->
<template is="dom-repeat" items="{{items}}" mutable-data>
  <div>{{item.name}}</div>
</template>

If you're building a reusable element that takes structured data, you can use the Polymer.OptionalMutableData mixin. This mixin lets the element user select MutableData mode by setting the mutableData property on the element.

class MyStructuredDataElement extends Polymer.OptionalMutableData(Polymer.Element) {
  static get is() { return 'my-structured-data-element' }
}

The user can then use your element with either standard data flow, or the mutable data mode.

<!-- custom element using standard data flow -->
<my-structured-data-element data="{{someData}}">
</my-structured-data-element>

<!-- custom element using MutableData mode  -->
<my-structured-data-element data="{{someData}}" mutable-data>
</my-structured-data-element>

The dom-repeat element is an example of an element built with this mixin.