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Posted 21 Jul 2014

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BackBone Tutorial – Part 5: Understanding Backbone.js Collections

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23 Feb 2015CPOL6 min read
How to use backbone.js collections to manipulate a group of models and how to use restful API to easily fetch and save collections

Introduction

In this article, we will discuss about backbone.js collections. We will see how we can use collections to manipulate a group of models and how we can use restful API to easily fetch and save collections.

Background

Every application needs to create a collection of models which can be ordered, iterated and perhaps sorted and searched when a need arises. Keeping this in mind, backbone also comes with a collection type which makes dealing with collection of models fairly easy and straight forward.

Link to complete series:

  1. BackBone Tutorial – Part 1: Introduction to Backbone.Js[^]
  2. BackBone Tutorial – Part 2: Understanding the basics of Backbone Models[^]
  3. BackBone Tutorial – Part 3: More about Backbone Models[^]
  4. BackBone Tutorial – Part 4: CRUD Operations on BackboneJs Models using HTTP REST Service[^]
  5. BackBone Tutorial – Part 5: Understanding Backbone.js Collections[^]
  6. BackBone Tutorial – Part 6: Understanding Backbone.js Views[^]
  7. BackBone Tutorial – Part 7: Understanding Backbone.js Routes and History[^]
  8. BackBone Tutorial – Part 8: Understanding Backbone.js Events[^]

Using the Code

Let us start looking at the backbone collections in details.

Creating a Collection

Creating a backbone collection is similar to creating a model. We just need to extend the backbone's collection class to create our own collection. Let us continue working with the same example where we created a Book model and let's try to create a simple BooksCollection.

JavaScript
var BooksCollection = Backbone.Collection.extend({
});

This collection will hold the Book model we have created in our previous articles.

JavaScript
var Book = Backbone.Model.extend({
    defaults: {
        ID: "",
        BookName: ""
    },
    idAttribute: "ID",
   
    urlRoot: 'http://localhost:51377/api/Books'
});

Specifying the Model for a Collection

To specify which model this collection should hold, we need to specify/override the model property of the collection class.

JavaScript
var BooksCollection = Backbone.Collection.extend({
    model: Book,
});

Once we specify the model property of a collection, what will happen internally is that whenever we create this collection, internally, it will create an array of the specified models. Then all the operations on this collection object will result in the actual operations on that array.

Instantiating a Collection

A collection can be instantiated by using the new keyword. We can create an empty collection and then add the model objects to it later or we can pass a few model objects in the collection while creating it.

JavaScript
// Lets create an empty collection
var collection1 = new BooksCollection();
//Lets create a pre-populated collection
var book1 = new Book({ ID: 1,  BookName: "Book 1" });
var book2 = new Book({ ID: 2, BookName: "Book 2" });
var collection2 = new BooksCollection([book1, book2]);

Adding Models to Collection

To add an item to a collection, we can use the add method on the collection. The important thing to notice here is that if the item with the same id exists in the collection, the add will simply be ignored.

JavaScript
var book3 = new Book({ ID: 3, BookName: "Book 3" });
collection2.add(book3);

Now there might be a scenario where we actually want to update an existing added model in a collection. If that is the case, then we need to pass the {merge: true} option in the add function.

JavaScript
var book3 = new Book({ ID: 3, BookName: "Book 3" });
collection2.add(book3);
var book3_changed = new Book({ ID: 3, BookName: "Changed Model" });
collection2.add(book3_changed, { merge: true });

Another important point to consider here is that the collection keeps a shallow copy of the actual models. So if we change a model attribute after adding it to a collection, the attribute value will also get changed inside the collection.

Also, if we want to add multiple models, we can do that by passing the model array in the add method.

JavaScript
var book4 = new Book({ ID: 4, BookName: "Book 4" });
var book5 = new Book({ ID: 5, BookName: "Book 5" });
collection2.add([book4, book5]);

It is also possible to add the model at a specific index in the collection. To do this, we need to pass the {at: location} in the add options.

JavaScript
var book0 = new Book({ ID: 0, BookName: "Book 0" });
collection2.add(book0, {at:0});

Note: push and unshift function can also be used to add models to collection.

Removing Models from Collection

To remove the model from the collection, we just need to call the remove method on the collection. The remove method simply removes this model from the collection.

JavaScript
collection2.remove(book0);

Also, if we want to empty the model, we can call the reset method on the collection.

JavaScript
collection1.reset();

It is also possible to reset a collection and populate it with new models by passing an array of models in the reset function.

JavaScript
collection2.reset([book4, book5]); // this will reset the collection and add book4 and book5 into it

Note: pop and shift function can also be used to remove model from collection.

Finding the Number of Items in Collection

The total number of items in a collection can be found using the length property.

JavaScript
var collection2 = new BooksCollection([book1, book2]);
console.log(collection2.length); // prints 2

Retrieving Models from Collection

To retrieve a model from a specific location, we can use the at function by passing a 0 based index.

JavaScript
var bookRecieved = collection2.at(3);

Alternatively, to get the index of a known model in the collection, we can use the indexOf method.

JavaScript
var index = collection2.indexOf(bookRecieved);

We can also retrieve a model from a collection if we know its id or cid. This can be done by using the get function.

JavaScript
var bookFetchedbyId = collection2.get(2); // get the book with ID=2
var bookFetchedbyCid = collection2.get("c3"); // get the book with cid=c3

If we want to iterate through all the models in a collection, we can simply use the classic for loop or the each function provided by collections which is very similar to the foreach loop of underscore.js.

JavaScript
for (var i = 0; i < collection2.length; ++i) {
    console.log(collection2.at(i).get("BookName"));
}
collection2.each(function (item, index, all) {
    console.log(item.get("BookName"));
});

Listening to Collection Events

Backbone collection raises events whenever an item is added, removed to updated in the collection. We can subscribe to these events by listening to add, remove and change event respectively. Let us subscribe to these events in our model to see how this can be done.

JavaScript
var BooksCollection = Backbone.Collection.extend({
    model: Book,
    initialize: function () {
    
        // This will be called when an item is added. pushed or unshifted
        this.on('add', function(model) {
            console.log('something got added');
        });
        // This will be called when an item is removed, popped or shifted
        this.on('remove',  function(model) {
            console.log('something got removed');
        });
        // This will be called when an item is updated
        this.on('change', function(model) {
            console.log('something got changed');
        });
    },
});

The Set Function

The set function can be used to update all the items in a model. If we use set function, it will check for all the existing models and the models being passed in set. If any new model is found in the models being passed, it will be added. If some are not present in the new models list, they will be removed. If there are same models, they will be updated.

JavaScript
var collection3 = new BooksCollection();
collection3.add(book1);
collection3.add(book2);
collection3.add(book3);
collection3.set([book1, { ID: 3, BookName: "test sort"}, book5]);

The above shown set function will call remove for book2, change for book3 and add for book5.

Sorting a Collection

Backbone keeps all the models in the collection in a sorted order. We can call the sort function to forcefully sort it again but the models are always stored in sorted order. By default, these items are sorted in the order they are added to the collection. But we can customize this sorting behavior by providing a simple comparator to our collection.

JavaScript
var BooksCollection = Backbone.Collection.extend({
    model: Book,
    
    comparator: function (model) {
        return model.get("ID");
    },
});

What this comparator does is that it overrides the default sorting behavior by specifying the attribute that should be used for sorting. We can even use a custom expression in this comparator too.

Fetch Collection using HTTP REST Service

To be able to fetch the collection from the server, we need to specify the url for the API that returns the collection.

JavaScript
var BooksCollection = Backbone.Collection.extend({
    model: Book,
 
    url: "http://localhost:51377/api/Books",
});

Now to fetch the collection from the server, let's call the fetch function.

JavaScript
var collection4 = new BooksCollection();
collection4.fetch();

Save Collection using HTTP REST Service

Let's see how we can save the items of a collection on the server.

JavaScript
var collection4 = new BooksCollection();
collection4.fetch({
    success: function (collection4, response) {
        // fetch successful, lets iterate and update the values here
        collection4.each(function (item, index, all) {
            item.set("BookName", item.get("BookName") + "_updated"); // let's update all book names here
            item.save();
        });
    }
});

In the above code, we are calling save on each model object. This can be improved by either overriding the sync function on a collection or perhaps creating a wrapper model for collection and saving the data using that.

Note: The web API code can be downloaded from the previous article of the series.

Point of interest

In this article, we have discussed about the backbone collections. This has been written from a beginner's perspective. I hope this has been informative.

History

  • 21st July, 2014: First version

License

This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The Code Project Open License (CPOL)

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About the Author

Rahul Rajat Singh
Architect
India India

I Started my Programming career with C++. Later got a chance to develop Windows Form applications using C#. Currently using C#, ASP.NET & ASP.NET MVC to create Information Systems, e-commerce/e-governance Portals and Data driven websites.

My interests involves Programming, Website development and Learning/Teaching subjects related to Computer Science/Information Systems. IMO, C# is the best programming language and I love working with C# and other Microsoft Technologies.

  • Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS): Web Applications Development with Microsoft .NET Framework 4
  • Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS): Accessing Data with Microsoft .NET Framework 4
  • Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS): Windows Communication Foundation Development with Microsoft .NET Framework 4

If you like my articles, please visit my website for more: www.rahulrajatsingh.com[^]

  • Microsoft MVP 2015

Comments and Discussions

 
SuggestionSuggestion Pin
bborac27-Mar-15 5:03
Memberbborac27-Mar-15 5:03 
QuestionExcellent article Pin
Anjum.Rizwi29-Oct-14 18:57
professionalAnjum.Rizwi29-Oct-14 18:57 
GeneralMy vote of 5 Pin
Tridip Bhattacharjee24-Jul-14 21:41
professionalTridip Bhattacharjee24-Jul-14 21:41 
QuestionOne suggestion Pin
Tridip Bhattacharjee24-Jul-14 21:40
professionalTridip Bhattacharjee24-Jul-14 21:40 
SuggestionI am really enjoying your articles on backbone but could you add an index to the top of each part. Pin
MattMi21-Jul-14 11:01
MemberMattMi21-Jul-14 11:01 
AnswerRe: I am really enjoying your articles on backbone but could you add an index to the top of each part. Pin
Rahul Rajat Singh22-Jul-14 2:36
professionalRahul Rajat Singh22-Jul-14 2:36 
GeneralRe: I am really enjoying your articles on backbone but could you add an index to the top of each part. Pin
MattMi22-Jul-14 3:15
MemberMattMi22-Jul-14 3:15 

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