Backbone-chaining extends Backbone's get(), set() and event mechanism to act on attribute chains, such as "post.comments[0].author"

Backbone, attributes, events, paths
bower install backbone-chaining



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Backbone-Chaining extends Backbone Models' set() and get() methods and event handling to be able to act across attribute chains such as "post.comments[0].author"

Backbone-Chaining was inspired by Backbone-Relational's dotNotation option and Backbone-Associations' similar 'fully qualified paths' -- and was very specifically inspired by Backbone-Associations' introduction of fully-qualified event paths. Backbone-Chaining however is agnostic as to whether you use either of those libraries or a different library, or none at all.


Backbone-Chaining provides:

  • Chained Get:

  • Chained Set:

       model.set('other.things[2].widget.color', "red")
  • Chained Events:

       model.on('change:color@other.things[2].widget', callback)


Chained Get

A chained get essentially provides a shorthand to get values:


// shorthand for

You can also chain through collections:


// shorthand for

Two special indexes are provided for collections. # lets you get the last element


// shorthand for

More fancy, * causes the chained get to return an array of values:


// shorthand for
comment.get('author').get('posts').map(function(post) { post.get('date').get('month') })

One key difference between the chained get and the long form is that if any step along the way returns falsy, the chained get returns undefined rather than throwing an error.

Chained Set

A chained set essentially provides a shorthand:

comment.set('author.posts[#].date.month', 'February')

// shorthand for
comment.get('author.posts[#].date').set('month', 'February')

That is, it does a get on the body of the chain, and sets the tail.

A collection index * causes the set operation to be performed on all the values:

comment.set('author.posts[*].date.month', 'February')

// shorthand for
comment.get('author.posts[*]).each(function(post) { post.get('date').set('month', 'February') })

By default if the get on the chain body returns null, the attempt to set will throw an error. If you pass the option ifExists: true, the attempt to set will quietly do nothing in that case.

Chained Event Handling

Chained event handling essentially provides a shorthand:

comment.on("eventName@author.posts[0].date", callback)

// shorthand for
comment.get("author.posts[0].date").on("eventName", callback)

Of course in practice you'd generally use listenTo rather than on. You can remove a chained event as usual using off or stopListening. Also, once and listenToOnce work as expected.

Dynamic binding

The key difference between chained event handling and the long form is that the chained event is bound dynamically rather than statically to whatever is at the end of the chain (if anything). For example:

nest = new Backbone.Model();			           // create an empty nest
nest.on("chirp@bird.children[#]", function () {    // set up event for the future
  alert("youngest baby bird chirped!")

robin = new Backbone.Model({name: "Mrs Robin"});    // create a bird...
robin.set('children', new Backbone.Collection);
jack = robin.get('children').add(new Backbone.Model({name: "Jack}")); // ...with one child

jack.trigger("chirp"); // => does not alert; robin is not in the nest

nest.set('bird', robin);
jack.trigger("chirp"); // => alerts

jill = robin.get('children').add(new Backbone.Model({name: "Jill}")); // add younger child

jill.trigger("chirp");  // => alerts
jack.trigger("chirp");	// => does not alert; jack is no longer last in collection

nest.set('bird', sparrow);
jill.trigger("chirp"); // => does not alert; robin is no longer in the nest

As usual, * applies to all models in a collection. E.g.

nest.on("flap@bird.children[*].wings", function () { alert "a baby bird flapped its wings" });


If the object at the end of a chain is a collection, you can of course listen to the collection's events:

nest.on("add@bird.children", function () { alert "the bird has a new baby" });

Because collections automatically pass along any trigger from a member, these are equivalent:

nest.on("chirp@bird.children", function () { alert "a baby bird chirped" });
nest.on("chirp@bird.children[*]", function () { alert "a baby bird chirped" });

If listening directly to a collection, the given chained event is likewise effectively passed through from any model in the collection. e.g.

birds = new Backbone.Collection([robin, sparow]);
birds.on("chirp@children[#]", ...); // listens for the youngest child of any bird in the collection

So in the case of a model with an attribute whose value is a collection, we have this equivalence:

aviary = new Backbone.Model;
aviary.set('birds', new Backbone.Collection);
aviary.get('birds').on('', ...);   // this is equivalent...
aviary.on('event@birds[*]', ...);       // this

Installation and Use

Backbone-chaining doesn't create any new classes to derive from, and doesn't need any explicit initialization; when the file is loaded it wraps extra behavior around Backbone.Model and Backbone.Collection prototype methods. Just include the file and you're all set.

Backbone-chaining can be loaded using CommonJS or RequireJS, or by explicitly loading the file. In the latter case, backbone-chaining.js should be included after backbone.js. It will throw a friendly error message if Backbone isn't already defined. E.g. in Sprockets:

//= require backbone
//= require backbone-chaining

Backbone-chaining works with both Underscore and LoDash.

Using with Backbone-Relational

Backbone-Chaining works fine with Backbone-Relational. Usage notes:

  • Order of inclusion is (e.g. Sprockets):

      //= require backbone
      //= require backbone-chaining
      //= require backbone-Relational
  • No need to enable dotNotation of Backbone-Relational

      Backbone.RelationalModel::dotNotation = false; // default is false anyway
  • Backbone-Relational provides a few events that it propagates across a relation. The corresponding Backbone-chaining events have the same effect:

      model.on("add:key", ...) // these are equivalent
      model.on("add@key", ...) //
      model.on("remove:key", ...) // these are equivalent
      model.on("remove@key", ...) //
      model.on("change:key", ...) // these are equivalent except for the callback arguments
      model.on("change@key", ...) //

Using with Backbone-Associations:

Why would you want to use Backbone-Chaining, since Backbone-Associations supports similar behavior? Maybe you prefer Backbone-Chaining's syntax (see discussion of @ vs : below), or philosophically you like SoC.

Note though that Backbone-Associations provides a "nested-chain" event that gets propogated through the object graph; Backbone-Chaining does not support this. If you need "nested-chain", stick with Backbone-Associations' chaining.

Usage notes:

  • Order of inclusion is (e.g. Sprockets):

      //= require backbone
      //= require backbone-chaining
      //= require backbone-Associations
  • In some convenient configuration file, disable Backbone-Associations event bubbling if you don't want it:

      Backbone.Associations.EVENTS_BUBBLE = false; // this is optional, you *could* keep both
  • Backbone-Associations provides chained get() and set() which can't be disabled; so its chaining mechanism will be applied and Backbone-Chaining's mechanism will not come into play. One difference is that Backbone-Associations' set() always behaves like Backbone-Chaining's set() with the ifExists: true option set.

On @ vs :

Given that Backbone, Backbone-Relational, and Backbone-Associations all use : in events of the form "name:target", why doesn't Backbone-Chaining do the same?

The reason is that given the prevalence in common practice of using : as a way of subclassing or namespacing events, parsing an event string to identify the "name" vs the "target" is open to ambiguity unless you have special knowledge of event meanings. I.e. "relational:add", an event used internally in Backbone-Relational, should not be parsed as the event "relational" triggered by an object that's the value of the "add" attribute, while "chirp:bird" in the above example would need to be parsed that way. Even "change:attr" as supported by Backbone, Backbone-Relational and Backbone-Associations has a different meaning--and different callback parameters--based on whether "attr" is an ordinary attribute vs. a relation key.

Backbone-Chaining avoids that ambiguity, by using @ to separate the name of the event from the path to reach it. Backbone-Chaining unambiguously allows : as part of the event name, e.g.

model.on ""


Suggestions welcome, especially PR's with tests :)

To develop and test:

$ npm install
$ coffee -c -w **/*.coffee  # in some other shell    

$ npm test     # => runs all 4 test suites.  or you can run them individually...
$ npm run test-underscore 
$ npm run test-lodash
$ npm run test-requirejs
$ npm run test-commonjs

The test first two tests include the full test suite for backbone-chaining and also a copy of backbone's test suite, to ensure that backbone-chaining doesn't break anything in backbone. They are tested against underscore and lodash.

The last two test suites do quick sanity checks that backbone-chaining properly loads under RequireJS and CommonJS.