Get started transforming streams with map, pluck, and mapTo

When working with observables one of the most common use cases you will encounter is the need to transform a stream of some value type into a stream of another value type. For instance, you may have an observable of click events that you wish to transform into an observable of objects containing just the clientX and clientY coordinates. Or maybe you need to extract a value from a stream of input events to perform a calculation or initiate a request. Or perhaps you just want to extract a single property from an object, like a key code, to perform another action down the (pipe)line. The scenarios for transforming streams are endless.

In this article, we are going to learn about the most common operator used to transform streams, the map operator. We will start by taking a look at Array.map to build a general understanding of the map operation. Next, we will explore how we can apply this approach to observables by using the RxJS map operator. Finally, we will check out a few helper operators that can be used in place of map should the right scenario present itself, exploring common use cases along the way. Let's get started!

Introducing map

If you have spent time working with JavaScript arrays you may already be familiar with Array.map. When dealing with arrays, the map method lets you transform an array by applying a provided function (often referred to as a 'projection' function) to each item within the array. For instance, let's say we have an array of numbers 1-5:

const numbers = [1, 2, 3, 4, 5];

If we wanted to transform this into an array of each number multiplied by ten, we could use the map method. To do this, we call map on our numbers array, passing it a function which will be invoked with each value of the source array, returning the number multiplied by ten:

const numbers = [1, 2, 3, 4, 5];
const numbersTimesTen = numbers.map(number => number * 10);
// [10,20,30,40,50]
console.log(numbersTimesTen);

The map method does not mutate the existing array, but instead returns a new array. For example, if we were to log the numbers array after calling map, we can see that it's unchanged:

const numbers = [1, 2, 3, 4, 5];
const numbersTimesTen = numbers.map(number => number * 10);
// [10,20,30,40,50]
console.log(numbersTimesTen);
// [1,2,3,4,5]
console.log(numbers);

To understand this better, let's walk through what a naive implementation of Array.map could look like.

  1. We create a new array.

  2. For every item contained in the source array we apply the provided function.

  3. We then push the result of this function to a temporary resultArray.

  4. After doing this for every item, we return the new array.

Array.prototype.map = function(projectFn) {
let resultArray = [];
// loop through each item
this.forEach(item => {
// apply the provided project function
let result = projectFn(item);
// push the result to our new array
resultArray.push(result);
});
// return the array containing transformed values
return resultArray;
};

While the real implementation of Array.map includes features like index tracking and proper error management, this gives us a general sense of how things work behind the scenes.

RxJS also offers Observable variants of other popular array methods, like filter, reduce, and find!

So what are some other common scenarios where we could put the map method to use? Using Array.map, we may also want to transform objects. For instance, suppose we have an array of objects with a first and last name property and we want to tack on a full name property to each object. We could accomplish this by supplying a function that accepts each object and maps it to a new object that includes all current properties plus the new fullName property. In this example we are using the object spread syntax and template literals, but you could also explicitly rewrite the properties:

const people = [
{ firstName: 'Brian', lastName: 'Troncone' },
{ firstName: 'Todd', lastName: 'Motto' }
];
const peopleWithFullName = people.map(person => ({
...person,
fullName: `${person.firstName} ${person.lastName}`
}));
// [{ firstName: 'Brian', lastName: 'Troncone', fullName: 'Brian Troncone' }, {firstName: 'Todd', lastName: 'Motto', fullName: 'Todd Motto' }]
console.log(peopleWithFullName);

Another common use case for map is extracting a single property from an object. For example, given the sample above suppose we decided we only really need the last name property for display. Instead of our function returning a new object, we can instead return just the property we need from that object:

const people = [
{ firstName: 'Brian', lastName: 'Troncone' },
{ firstName: 'Todd', lastName: 'Motto' }
];
const lastNames = people.map(person => person.lastName);
// [ 'Troncone', 'Motto' ]
console.log(lastNames);

At this point, we are transforming an array of people objects into an array of string last names.

As you can see, the map method is extremely flexible with a wide variety of use cases, but how does this translate to map with RxJS, and when would you put this to use with observables?

Introducing the RxJS map operator

map

The map operator in RxJS transforms values emitted from the source observable based on a provided projection function. This is similar to Array.map, except we are operating on each value emitted from an observable as it occurs rather than each value contained within an array.

For instance, let's start with our initial example, but instead of transforming an array of numbers let's transform an observable of numbers. To do this, we will use the from creation operator to first convert our numbers array into an observable:

import { from } from 'rxjs';
const numbers = [1, 2, 3, 4, 5];
const number$ = from(numbers);

When provided an array, the from creation operator will loop through (synchronously) emitting each item in sequence. When we subscribe we can see each value printed to the console:

import { from } from 'rxjs';
const numbers = [1, 2, 3, 4, 5];
const number$ = from(numbers);
/*
* 1
* 2
* 3
* 4
* 5
*/
number$.subscribe(console.log);

Tip: If you want to see how from handles each value type behind the scenes, you can check out the subscribeTo, and associated helper functions. In this case, subscribeToArray is used. This same helper function is also used to deal with non-observable return values of flattening operators, such as mergeMap

If we then wanted to transform this observable into the emitted values multiplied by ten, we could use the map operator. Just like Array.map, the map operator accepts a project function which describes how each value from the source will be transformed. In this case, we will provide a function that accepts the emitted value from the source observable and returns that value multipled:

import { from } from 'rxjs';
const numbers = [1, 2, 3, 4, 5];
const number$ = from(numbers);
const numbersMultipliedByTen$ = number$.pipe(map(number => number * 10));
/*
* 10
* 20
* 30
* 40
* 50
*/
numbersMultipliedByTen$.subscribe(console.log);

Instead of the function being applied to each item of an array, before a new array is returned, with observables the project function is applied and the result emitted in real-time as values blast through your streams. We can confirm this in the RxJS source code by seeing the function we provide is invoked, with the result being passed on to the subscriber (destination):

(Source Code)

protected _next(value: T) {
let result: any;
try {
// project is the function we pass to the map operator
result = this.project.call(this.thisArg, value, this.count++);
} catch (err) {
// forward any errors that occur
this.destination.error(err);
return;
}
// emit the result of calling our project function to the subscriber
this.destination.next(result);
}

Similar to our array example with objects, we may also want to transform an observable of objects with the map operator. For instance, suppose we have an observable of click events that we wish to transform into an observable of objects containing just the clientX and clientY coordinates of these events. To do this we could apply the map operator, providing a function that returns an object with just these properties:

import { fromEvent } from 'rxjs';
import { map } from 'rxjs/operators';
const click$ = fromEvent(document, 'click');
click$
.pipe(
map(event => ({
x: event.clientX,
y: event.clientY
}))
// { x: 12, y: 45 }, { x: 23, y: 132 }
)
.subscribe(console.log);

There may also be times we want to grab a single property from an object using map. For example, we may have a use case for an observable of just the code property from keyup events, so we can take action when the user types a particular character or key. To do this we can apply the map operator returning just the property we are interested in:

import { fromEvent } from 'rxjs';
import { map } from 'rxjs/operators';
const keyup$ = fromEvent(document, 'keyup');
keyup$
.pipe(map(event => event.code))
// 'Space', 'Enter'
.subscribe(console.log);

While map works perfectly fine in these situations, RxJS also surfaces helper operators for cases where you just want to map to a single property or when you always want to map to the same value on any event. First, let's take a look at the single property scenario.

Extract a single property with pluck

pluck

RxJS features many operators that are simply shortcuts for other operators. For example, any time we just want to grab a single property from an emitted value, instead of using map we could use pluck. The pluck operator accepts a list of values which describe the property you wish to grab from the emitted item. For instance, using our event code example from above we could use pluck instead of map to extract the code property from the event object:

import { fromEvent } from 'rxjs';
import { pluck } from 'rxjs/operators';
const keyup$ = fromEvent(document, 'keyup');
keyup$
.pipe(pluck('code'))
// 'Space', 'Enter'
.subscribe(console.log);

We can also pass pluck multiple values to grab a nested property within an object. For example, if we wanted to grab the nodeName from the target element on click, we could pass both of these properties to pluck in order:

import { fromEvent } from 'rxjs';
import { pluck } from 'rxjs/operators';
const click$ = fromEvent(document, 'click');
click$
.pipe(pluck('target', 'nodeName'))
// 'DIV', 'MAIN'
.subscribe(console.log);

Like many other helper operators in RxJS, behind the scenes pluck is simply reusing the map operator, passing it a function to grab the appropriate property:

(Source Code)

export function pluck<T, R>(...properties: string[]): OperatorFunction<T, R> {
const length = properties.length;
if (length === 0) {
throw new Error('list of properties cannot be empty.');
}
return (source: Observable<T>) =>
map(plucker(properties, length))(source as any);
}

Functionally, map and pluck will operate the same in these scenarios, I would suggest using whichever you feel most comfortable reading at a glance.

Lastly, there may also be times where you always want to map to a single value, no matter the input. For these situations, you can use the mapTo operator.

Mapping to a constant value with mapTo

mapTo

For situations where you find yourself always wanting to map to a specific value, one way you could handle it is by simply using map and ignoring the input:

import { fromEvent } from 'rxjs';
import { map } from 'rxjs/operators';
const click$ = fromEvent(document, 'click');
click$
.pipe(map(() => 'You clicked!'))
// 'You clicked!', 'You clicked!'
.subscribe(console.log);

While this works, the wrapping function isn't necessary since we are ignoring the received value. For these scenarios you can replace map with mapTo, and simply provide the value you wish to return on all emissions:

import { fromEvent } from 'rxjs';
import { mapTo } from 'rxjs/operators';
const click$ = fromEvent(document, 'click');
click$
.pipe(mapTo('You clicked!'))
// 'You clicked!', 'You clicked!'
.subscribe(console.log);

Like pluck, mapTo provides no real benefit functionally over returning a constant value with map, but syntactically it may prove slightly easier to consume and read at a glance.

Conclusion

In conclusion, map is a versatile operator which lets you transform a stream using a provided projection function. Whether it's mapping to a keycode, value updates from an input box, or reshaping an object, map will be one of the most used operators in your day-to-day RxJS toolbox. For scenarios where you just need to map to a single property, or always want to map to a constant value, you can also check out the pluck and mapTo helper operators.

For a full list of transformation operators with examples, including operators which manage mapping to more complex values such as other observables, check out the transformation operator section. We will explore these topics in detail in future posts!