Reactive Tree using Dynamic Data

For this post I assume familiarity with Dynamic Data or at least familiarity with some of my previous posts, so for those of you who are not already familiar with dynamic data see What is dynamic data? for a brief overview.

Dynamic data has evolved over several years where each new operator has been created to overcome a necessity for a practical problem which I have been working on. It is so functionally rich I always assume that there is not a lot that it cannot do. This complacency was shaken when recently I was asked if it was possible to use Dynamic Data to convert a flat observable data stream to a fully hierarchical structure. I immediately replied yes of course without weighing up in advance what the solution could be.

I quickly identified the need for a new ‘convert a stream to a tree’ operator so I took the challenge to implement it. However the more I looked into the problem the bigger the challenge become and I started to doubt whether I could pull it off.

The complexity: Writing the operator

The contract of dynamic data guarantees any operator will reflect items which are added, updated or removed from its source collection. For this to hold true for a recursive hierarchy is an extreme challenge. For every item there has to be a node which has references to both the parent and child nodes, and these have to be maintained as changes are received. The big challenge is twofold:

  1. To ensure accurate reflection of underling data
  2. Ensure good performance

My first solution was to create a node which applied a filter to find its children and in turn each child also applied a filter to find its children. I quickly got this solution working as I was able to implement it using a combination of the existing dynamic data filter and transform operators. The code was simple but alas had poor performance as each node had to create a filter from the original cache.

My mind was melting trying to find a better solution, then I realised creating and maintaining a nested structure does not necessarily have to be so mind numbingly complex as I first suspected. The algorithm can be made easy as follows:

  1. For each item in the flat list create a cache of nodes.
  2. As each node in the cache changes look back into the cache to find the parent and add / remove from the parent accordingly
  3. The output is the cache of nodes filtered so that only nodes with no parent are included in the result

Part 1 and part 3 of this algorithm can be achieved with existing operators which left me to implement part 2 in a single iteration. This means there is absolutely no need for recursion within the operator which has led to good performance.

I have called this new operator TransformToTree. It has been implemented and released on Nuget as beta version.

Herein I will illustrate how the operator is used and then walk through a working example.

The Simplicity: Create an observable tree

The following object defines an employee which has a boss id who naturally is also an employee.

public class Employee
    public int Id {get;set;}
    public string Name {get;set;}
    public int BossId {get;set;}

To transform the employee into a fully recursive tree structure you first of all need a cache of employees

var employees = new SourceCache<Employee, int>(x => x.Id)

and now to transform this into a the tree structure use the new TransformToTree operator.

var myTree = employees.TransformToTree(employee => employee.BossId);

At that is that, we have an observable tree. The resulting observable is a deeply nested node structure representing an organisational hierarchy. As the cache of employees is maintained the nodes of the tree will completely self maintain.

Do this if you need to cache the tree.

var myTreeCache = myTree.AsObservableCache();

but perhaps a more obvious example would be to display the result on a tree control on a gui.

A WPF Example

Full source code for demo here

This example takes a flat hierarchy of employees, binds the nodes to a WPF TreeView and adds some buttons which change the underlying data in order to demonstrate that the tree reflects changes to the underlying data i.e. truly reactive.


I will not be illustrate the entire code base here as it would make this post too long. So instead I will outline what each part of the code does together with an extract of the core functionality.

Code file What does it do
MainWindow.xaml Xaml producing the view
EmployeesViewModel.cs The main view model for the example
EmployeeViewModel.cs Recursive view model for each node
EmployeeService.cs Data source for employees. Also provides methods to sack or promote employees

Most of the code in this example is boiler plate so below I will explain only the key parts of the code.

In EmployeesViewModel.cs the following code transforms the employee data into the tree structure then the second transform function takes the node which dynamic data has provided and transforms it into a xaml friendly employee view model.

var treeLoader = employeeService.Employees.Connect()
    //produce the nested tree observable
    .TransformToTree(employee => employee.BossId)
    //Transform each node into a view model
    .Transform(node => new EmployeeViewModel(node, Promote,Sack))

Promote and Sack are methods which call into the employee service and change the underlying employee data. These are invoked by commands in the employee view model. I have included these actions purely to show that changing the underlying data source is reflected in the tree structure proving it is truly a reactive tree.

The employee view model is a full recursive view model. The example project loads 25,000 employees which implies there are 25,000 nodes in the tree. Clearly the tree view would struggle binding to such a large tree. To circumvent this problem the child view models are lazy loaded when the parent node is expanded. The following snippet shows how this is achieved.

public EmployeeViewModel(Node<EmployeeDto, int> node, Action promoteAction, Action sackAction, EmployeeViewModel parent = null)
    //Setting of backing fields not shown...

    //Wrap loader for the nested view model inside a lazy so we can control when it is invoked
    var childrenLoader = new Lazy(() => node.Children.Connect()
        .Transform(e => new EmployeeViewModel(e, promoteAction, sackAction,this))

    //return true when the children should be loaded
    //(i.e. if current node is a root, otherwise when the parent expands)
    var shouldExpand = node.IsRoot
         ? Observable.Return(true)
         : Parent.Value.ObservePropertyValue(This => This.IsExpanded).Value();

    //wire the observable
    var expander =shouldExpand
        .Where(isExpanded => isExpanded)
        .Subscribe(_ =>
        //force lazy loading
        var x = childrenLoader.Value;

    //Not all code show....

And that is about it. All that is left is create the xaml to bind to the a tree view. This is pretty standard xaml so I will proffer no further explanation here.

This operator and post were inspired by a question about whether dynamic data could create a hierarchy. Since then I have been asked whether I am going to expand dynamic data to include continuous aggregations and the answers is big YES. Watch this space.