Finding binding leaks in Backbone applications

If you are developing a medium/big javascript frontend application you do want to have a isolation mechanism for views. This is the only way to keep your application working as expected as its size grows.

For the moment HTML does not provide a native way to do this so you have to rely on javascript side to do this. Ok, that’s not totally true, iframes are a sandbox (spotify uses them to isolate views) and shadow DOM is not still there.

There are a lot of libraries to do this, in CartoDB we use Backbone, it’s simple, small enough to fully understand it, no magic, no extensions on top of HTML and provide a evented system to comunicate model and views.

The typical Backbone view looks like this:

var View = Backbone.View.extend({
  initialize: function() {
  	this.model.bind('change:attr', this.render, this);

So every time attr changes the view is rendered. In current Backbone version you have listenTo method which tracks which objects are attached to a given one but when we started to use Backbone that method didn’t exist so we use the 3rd argument to know what object a signal is attached to. Easy but you have to remember to pass the this always you link a signal.

When a view is removed all those links must be removed, if it’s not done those views are going to last forever. That’s “only” a memory use but imagine the view have some side effects like saving another model to the server…

During last chrismas I decided to do a big refactor in some part of CartoDB (wizards if you know it), and some views had binding leaks. Find them is really hard and sometimes it takes hours to find them even if you have tools. For example, we have a checker to detect leaks while the app is running, just execute cdb.core.View.runChecker int the console and it will show a list of “missing bindings”. It works but only with the views that are currently created.

I though it would be better to find them in testing stage so I created a jasmine (*) helper:

  it("should not have leaks", function() {

What basically does is:

Really simple, easy to use in all the view tests. It saved me hours of in-app testing. The function itself is defined here if you want to take a look. It can be improved with a more smarter logic but it’s enough for the moment.

NOTE: this post is actually a mail I was going to send to frontend cartodb developers but I though it may result useful for someone else

(*) we use jasmine but I totally hate it