Page Contents

What is Context?

  • An abstraction of all state and dependencies in your application.
  • Context is what LoopBack uses to manage everything.
  • A global registry for anything/everything in your app (all configs, state, dependencies, classes, etc).
  • An inversion of control container used to inject dependencies into your code.

Why is it important?

  • You can use the context as a way to give loopback more “info” so that other dependencies in your app may retrieve it (ie. a centralized place/global builtin/in-memory storage mechanism).
  • LoopBack can help “manage” your resources automatically (through Dependency Injection and decorators).
  • You have full access to updated/real-time application + request state at all times.

How to create a context?

A context can be created with an optional parent and an optional name. If the name is not provided, a UUID will be generated as the value. Context instances can be chained using the parent to form a hierarchy. For example, the code below creates a chain of three contexts: reqCtx -> serverCtx -> rootCtx.

import {Context} from '@loopback/context';

const rootCtx = new Context('root-ctx'); // No parent
const serverCtx = new Context(rootCtx, 'server-ctx'); // rootCtx as the parent
const reqCtx = new Context(serverCtx); // No explicit name, a UUID will be generated

LoopBack’s context system allows an unlimited amount of Context instances, each of which may have a parent Context.

An application typically has three “levels” of context: application-level, server-level and request-level.

Application-level context (global)

  • stores all the initial and modified app state throughout the entire life of the app (while the process is alive)
  • Generally configured when the application is created (though other things may modify things in the context while alive/running)

Here is a simple example:

import {Application} from '@loopback/core';

// Please note `Application` extends from `Context`
const app = new Application(); // `app` is a "Context"
class MyController {}
app.controller(MyController);

In this case, you are using the .controller helper method to register a new controller. The important point to note is MyController is actually registered into the Application Context (app is a Context).

Server-level context

Server-level context:

  • Is a child of application-level context
  • Holds configuration specific to a particular server instance

Your application will typically contain one or more server instances, each of which will have the application-level context as its parent. This means that any bindings that are defined on the application will also be available to the server(s), unless you replace these bindings on the server instance(s) directly.

For example, @loopback/rest has the RestServer class, which sets up a running HTTP/S server on a port, as well as defining routes on that server for a REST API. To set the port binding for the RestServer, you would bind the RestBindings.PORT key to a number.

We can selectively re-bind this value for certain server instances to change what port they use:

// src/application.ts
async start() {
  // publicApi will use port 443, since it inherits this binding from the app.
  app.bind(RestBindings.PORT).to(443);
  const publicApi = await app.getServer<RestServer>('public');
  const privateApi = await app.getServer<RestServer>('private');
  // privateApi will be bound to 8080 instead.
  privateApi.bind(RestBindings.PORT).to(8080);
  await super.start();
}

Request-level context (request)

Using @loopback/rest as an example, we can create custom sequences that:

  • are dynamically created for each incoming server request
  • extend the application level context (to give you access to application level dependencies during the request/response lifecycle)
  • are garbage collected once the response is sent (memory management)

Let’s see this in action:

import {DefaultSequence, RestBindings} from '@loopback/rest';

class MySequence extends DefaultSequence {
  async handle(request: ParsedRequest, response: ServerResponse) {
    // we provide these value for convenience (taken from the Context)
    // but they are still available in the sequence/request context
    const req = await this.ctx.get(RestBindings.Http.REQUEST);
    const res = await this.ctx.get(RestBindings.Http.RESPONSE);
    this.send(res, `hello ${req.query.name}`);
  }
}
  • this.ctx is available to your sequence
  • allows you to craft your response using resources from the app in addition to the resources available to the request in real-time (right when you need it)

Storing and retrieving items from a Context

Items in the Context are indexed via a key and bound to a ContextValue. A ContextKey is simply a string value and is used to look up whatever you store along with the key. For example:

// app level
const app = new Application();
app.bind('hello').to('world'); // ContextKey='hello', ContextValue='world'
console.log(app.getSync<string>('hello')); // => 'world'

In this case, we bind the ‘world’ string ContextValue to the ‘hello’ ContextKey. When we fetch the ContextValue via getSync, we give it the ContextKey and it returns the ContextValue that was initially bound (we can do other fancy things too – ie. instantiate your classes, etc)

The process of registering a ContextValue into the Context is known as binding. Sequence-level bindings work the same way.

For a list of the available functions you can use for binding, visit the Context API Docs.

Encoding value types in binding keys

Consider the example from the previous section:

app.bind('hello').to('world');
console.log(app.getSync<string>('hello'));

The code obtaining the bound value is explicitly specifying the type of this value. Such solution is far from ideal:

  1. Consumers have to know the exact name of the type that’s associated with each binding key and also where to import it from.
  2. Consumers must explicitly provide this type to the compiler when calling ctx.get in order to benefit from compile-type checks.
  3. It’s easy to accidentally provide a wrong type when retrieving the value and get a false sense of security.

The third point is important because the bugs can be subtle and difficult to spot.

Consider the following REST binding key:

export const HOST = 'rest.host';

The binding key does not provide any indication that undefined is a valid value for the HOST binding. Without that knowledge, one could write the following code and get it accepted by TypeScript compiler, only to learn at runtime that HOST may be also undefined and the code needs to find the server’s host name using a different way.:

const resolve = promisify(dns.resolve);

const host = await ctx.get<string>(RestBindings.HOST);
const records = await resolve(host);
// etc.

To address this problem, LoopBack provides a templated wrapper class allowing binding keys to encode the value type too. The HOST binding described above can be defined as follows:

export const HOST = new BindingKey<string | undefined>('rest.host');

Context methods like .get() and .getSync() understand this wrapper and use the value type from the binding key to describe the type of the value they are returning themselves. This allows binding consumers to omit the expected value type when calling .get() and .getSync().

When we rewrite the failing snippet resolving HOST names to use the new API, the TypeScript compiler immediatelly tells us about the problem:

const host = await ctx.get(RestBindings.HOST);
const records = await resolve(host);
// Compiler complains:
// - cannot convert string | undefined to string
//  - cannot convert undefined to string

Dependency injection

  • Many configs are adding to the Context during app instantiation/boot time by you/developer.
  • When things are registered, the Context provides a way to use your dependencies during runtime.

How you access these things is via low level helpers like app.getSync or the sequence class that is provided to you as shown in the example in the previous section.

However, when using classes, LoopBack provides a better way to get at stuff in the context via the @inject decorator:

import {inject} from '@loopback/context';
import {Application} from '@loopback/core';

const app = new Application();
app.bind('defaultName').to('John');

export class HelloController {
  constructor(@inject('defaultName') private name: string) {}

  greet(name?: string) {
    return `Hello ${name || this.name}`;
  }
}

Notice we just use the default name as though it were available to the constructor. Context allows LoopBack to give you the necessary information at runtime even if you do not know the value when writing up the Controller. The above will print Hello John at run time.

Please refer to Dependency injection for further details.

Context metadata and sugar decorators

Other interesting decorators can be used to help give LoopBack hints to additional metadata you may want to provide in order to automatically set things up. For example, let’s take the previous example and make it available on the GET /greet route using decorators provided by @loopback/rest:

class HelloController {
  // tell LoopBack you want this controller method
  // to be available at the GET /greet route
  @get('/greet')
  greet(
    // tell LoopBack you want to accept
    // the name parameter as a string from
    // the query string
    @param.query.string('name') name: string,
  ) {
    return `Hello ${name}`;
  }
}

These “sugar” decorators allow you to quickly build up your application without having to code up all the additional logic by simply giving LoopBack hints (in the form of metadata) to your intent.