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Why do we call clear-subscription-cache! when reloading code with Figwheel?


Pour yourself a drink, as this is a circuitous tale involving one of the hardest problems in Computer Science.

1: Humble beginnings

When React is rendering, if an exception is thrown, it doesn't catch or handle the errors gracefully. Instead, all of the React components up to the root are destroyed. When these components are destroyed, none of their standard lifecycle methods are called, like ComponentDidUnmount.

2: Simple assumptions

Reagent tracks the watchers of a Reaction to know when no-one is watching and it can call the Reaction's on-dispose. Part of the book-keeping involved in this requires running the on-dispose in a React ComponentWillUnmount lifecycle method.

At this point, your spidey senses are probably tingling.

3: The hardest problem in CS

re-frame subscriptions are created as Reactions. re-frame helpfully deduplicates subscriptions if multiple parts of the view request the same subscription. This is a big efficiency boost. When re-frame creates the subscription Reaction, it sets the on-dispose method of that subscription to remove itself from the subscription cache. This means that when that subscription isn't being watched by any part of the view, it can be disposed.

4: The gnarly implications

If you are

  1. Writing a re-frame app
  2. Write a bug in your subscription code (your one bug for the year)
  3. Which causes an exception to be thrown in your rendering code


  1. React will destroy all of the components in your view without calling ComponentWillUnmount.
  2. Reagent will not get notified that some subscriptions are not needed anymore.
  3. The subscription on-dispose functions that should have been run, are not.
  4. re-frame's subscription cache will not be invalidated correctly, and the subscription with the bug is still in the cache.

At this point you are looking at a blank screen. After debugging, you find the problem and fix it. You save your code and Figwheel recompiles and reloads the changed code. Figwheel attempts to re-render from the root. This causes all of the Reagent views to be rendered and to request re-frame subscriptions if they need them. Because the old buggy subscription is still sitting around in the cache, re-frame will return that subscription instead of creating a new one based on the fixed code. The only way around this (once you realise what is going on) is to reload the page.

5: Coda

re-frame 0.9.0 provides a new function: re-frame.core/clear-subscription-cache! which will run the on-dispose function for every subscription in the cache, emptying the cache, and causing new subscriptions to be created after reloading.