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The fate of Object.observe()

Hi everyone,

If you've been a subscriber for a while, you know I'm not an early adopter. As such, I get worried when people start to overly-rely on transpilers and polyfills to "use" something that hasn't been finalized and doesn't exist in reality yet. Doing so means you're using a prototype, a prediction of what might one day be implemented natively, and sometimes those predictions are very wrong.

Object.observe() was first proposed for inclusion in ECMAScript 6, but was pushed to ECMAScript 7 (or 2016, if you prefer). It was seen as a huge step forward for the state-of-the-art two-way data binding that dominated discussions in the past two years. Championed by Google, implemented in V8, and released without a feature flag in Chrome, it seemed like Object.observe() was on the fast track to becoming the web's most important new tool. But then, something happened.

While it's probably too simplistic to say that React caused the death of Object.observe(), React definitely did usher in the new era of one-way data binding, which effectively removed the primary use case of Object.observe(). As the world was moving away from two-way data binding, Object.observe() started to look less and less useful. Ultimately, the feature's champions formally withdrew Object.observe() from consideration for ECMAScript 7 and are planning to remove it from V8.

This should be a lesson about rushing to use experimental language features in production: they are experimental for a reason. You could very well be relying on something that won't exist in the future, and while the V8 team cites low Chrome usage statistics, the fact that most people were not using Object.observe() isn't going to save you the development pain of rewriting your code if you were.

The future will be here soon enough, and it's good practice to meet it when it arrives rather than trying to force it to arrive sooner.

Be well.

-N
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