RxJava: Switching

- 2 mins

switchMap() is an operator like flatMap() but with an important difference: it will emit from the latest Observable derived from the latest emission and dispose of any previous Observables that were processing. In other words, it allows to cancel an emitting Observable and switch to a new one. This can be really useful to prevent stale or redundant processing.

In the following example, each emission takes between 0-2 secs to be emitted, and processing all can take up to 20 secs:

fun main() {
    Observable.just("Alpha", "Beta", "Gamma", "Delta", "Epsilon", "Zeta", "Eta", "Theta", "Iota")
        .concatMap { s -> Observable.just(s).delay(Random.nextLong(0, 100), TimeUnit.MILLISECONDS) }
        .subscribe { println("Received: $it") }

    TimeUnit.SECONDS.sleep(20)
}
Received: Alpha
Received: Beta
Received: Gamma
Received: Delta
Received: Epsilon
Received: Zeta
Received: Eta
Received: Theta
Received: Iota

Now, let’s run this process every 5 seconds, but while having each time only the last instance:

fun main() {
    val strings = Observable.just("Alpha", "Beta", "Gamma", "Delta", "Epsilon", "Zeta", "Eta", "Theta", "Iota")
        .concatMap { s -> Observable.just(s).delay(Random.nextLong(2000), TimeUnit.MILLISECONDS) }

    Observable.interval(5, TimeUnit.SECONDS)
        .switchMap { strings.doOnDispose { println("Disposing ! Next..") } }
        .subscribe { println("Received: $it") }

    TimeUnit.SECONDS.sleep(20)
}
Received: Alpha
Received: Beta
Disposing ! Next..
Received: Alpha
Received: Beta
Received: Gamma
Received: Delta
Received: Epsilon
Received: Zeta
Disposing ! Next..
Received: Alpha
Received: Beta
Received: Gamma
Disposing ! Next..

switchMap() receives every 5 seconds emissions from the interval() operator, the emission going into switchMap() will promptly dispose of the currently processing Observable (if there are any) and then emit from the new Observable it maps to. In other terms, switchMap() is like flatMap() except that it will cancel any previous Observables and only emit from the latest one. This can be helpful to prevent redundant or stale work.

For better performance, the thread pushing emissions into switchMap() should not be occupied doing the work inside switchMap() (by using observeOn(), subscriveOn() and unsubscribeOn()).

Mouaad Aallam

Mouaad Aallam

Computer Software Engineer

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