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Building a basic UI-clone of Instagram using Elm - Part 2

This article is a part of a series, you should read part 1 if you haven’t already. Alternatively you can get the code from the end of the last article here and continue along. You can view the finished app here and all of the source code is available here.

Implement the main list of posts view

Getting a list of posts is all well and good, but not particularly exciting if we’re just going to show a count of the number of posts. We’ll build the UI for the main list of posts now, and as you might have guessed, most of the work for this step will be in View.elm. First we’ll get some house-keeping out of the way. We want more control over index.html so add or replace your index.html with this:

<!DOCTYPE html>
    <meta charset="utf-8" />
    <meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1" />
    <link rel="stylesheet" href="css/styles.css" />
    <div id="app"></div>

    <script src="js/app.js"></script>

Download and save the final CSS from here to css/styles.css, then download all of the fonts from here to fonts/*. Next, move posts.json to data/posts.json and update the URL in Rest.getPosts to "data/posts.json".

We’re no longer inlining the compiled JavaScript code, so we need to manually bootstrap it after the script loads. We’ll need to build js/app.js and with elm make:

$ elm make App.elm --output js/app.js

You should be able to start or restart your static HTTP server and see that everything is still working.

OK, onto the view changes. The View.rootView is, as the name suggests, going to be the root view. When we have multiple pages the structure defined here will be common to all pages. Change it to look as follows then download and save this logo to img/logo.svg.

-- View.elm

import Html.Attributes exposing (..)

rootView : Model -> Html Msg
rootView model =
    div [ id "app-root" ]
        [ main_ []
            [ div [ class "photo-list" ] <|
       (viewPost model) model.posts
        , nav []
            [ div [ class "nav-inner" ]
                [ a [ href "./", class "nav-logo" ]
                    [ img [ src "./img/logo.svg" ] []
                    , text "Elmstagram"
        , footer []
            [ div [ class "footer-inner" ]
                [ p []
                    [ a [ href "" ] [ text "View Source" ]
                    , text "|"
                    , a [ href "./" ] [ text "Elmstagram" ]

We’ve added Html.Attributes as another import where we expose everything, this is because similar to Http we will end up using a large number of the functions. This should all be fairly self-explanatory, each DOM node takes a list of attributes followed by a list of child nodes. The only other item of interest is where we with a view function over our list of Posts in We’ll define View.viewPost now, we want viewPost to be reusable for each post in the main list and for when we click through to a single post. The function will look like this (don’t forget to add Post to the import Types line).

-- View.elm

import Types exposing (Model, Msg(..), Post)

viewPost : Model -> Post -> Html Msg
viewPost model post =
    figure [ class "photo-figure" ]
        [ div [ class "photo-wrap" ]
            [ a [ href "#" ]
                [ img [ src, alt post.text, class "photo" ] []
        , figcaption []
            [ div [ class "caption-button" ]
                [ button [ class "like-button" ] [ text "♡" ]
            , div [ class "caption-content" ]
                [ div [ class "photo-stats" ]
                    [ strong [] [ text <| toString post.likes ]
                    , text " likes, "
                    , strong [] [ text <| toString post.comments ]
                    , text " comments"
                , p [ class "photo-caption" ] [ text post.text ]

Again, this is fairly straight-forward building of a DOM tree, note where we access the properties of the Post that is passed into the function (this function is called for every Post in model.posts). At this stage you should be able to rebuild js/app.js with elm make App.elm --output js/app.js, start your static HTTP server if it isn’t still running and reload http://localhost:8080 in your browser to see the layout and list of posts.

An optimisation that we can and should make is to use Html.Keyed to turn each node in our list of Posts into a keyed node to help with Elm’s rendering. This is important for lists where items are getting added, moved, removed, etc. but also when we add navigation between views that are using similar elements. In an early version of this app before adding Html.Keyed, whenever I navigated back to the main list view from a single post view, the first item in the list was always the post that I’d just been looking at momentarily. Using Html.Keyed fixes problems like these, so lets use it now. Because we want to make use of the current View.viewPost implementation on the single post view, we’ll keep it as is and create a wrapper function that returns a keyed node. Add View.viewKeyedPost like this:

-- View.elm

import Html.Keyed

viewKeyedPost : Model -> Post -> (String, Html Msg)
viewKeyedPost model post =
    , viewPost model post

As you can see, a keyed node is a (String, Html Msg) tuple instead of just a Html Msg node, the string is the unique identifier for that node, in this case the Change to a keyed node which uses viewKeyedPost like this View.rootView

-- View.elm

Html.Keyed.node "div"
    [ class "photo-list" ]
    <| (viewKeyedPost model) model.posts

Recompile and reload to see that everything should still be working.

Implement the “Like” button

Now let’s implement the functionality for the “like” button which is the heart next to the number of likes and comments on each post. It would be fairly easy to implement double-click to like similar to Instagram, but I’ve decided to reserve clicking on the image for navigating to the single post view. A general procedure which we’ll follow now for adding a new action is to:

  1. add the new action to the Types.Msg union type
  2. handle the action in State.update
  3. use/call the action somewhere in the View

Firstly, update Types.Msg to look like this:

-- Types.elm

type Msg
    = FetchPosts (Result Http.Error (List Post))
    | IncrementLikes String

The String parameter after IncrementLikes will be a Next add this to the State.update case statement after the two FetchPosts cases:

-- State.elm

update : Msg -> Model -> ( Model, Cmd Msg )
update msg model =
    case action of
        -- ...

        IncrementLikes postId ->
                incrementPostLikes : String -> Post -> Post
                incrementPostLikes postId post =
                    if == postId then
                        { post | likes = post.likes + 1 }
                { model
                    | posts = (incrementPostLikes postId) model.posts
                } ! []

This looks significantly more complex than the previous State.update cases, but most of it is the definition of the incrementPostLikes function. We could move this function out but this is the only place where the function is used, so I find it simpler to just keep it defined here. The function itself just takes a String representing a and a Post, if the passed in postId matches the passed in we increment the likes property and return the updated post, otherwise we just return the post as is. We use this function in the model update to over the model.posts. Basically all this does is return a new model, with an updated posts property, where any Post with the same will have it’s likes property incremented.

Finally, we need to update View.viewPost. In View.elm, you should still have import Html.Events exposing (onClick) from the starting example, if not add it back in now. Find in View.viewPost and add an onClick handler like this:

-- View.elm

button [ onClick <| IncrementLikes, class "like-button" ] [ text "♡" ]

Now you should be able to recompile and test the app in the browser. Click any of the heart icon “like” buttons and the likes counter for the corresponding post will increment, exciting!

Add a second page and navigation

Just about any reasonably complex web application will contain multiple views and manage the navigation between those views by using the URL. Storing some of the application state in the URL also makes it easier to share a link to a particular page or view. There are two libraries provided by Elm for handling changes in the URL, namely elm-lang/navigation and evancz/url-parser. Go ahead and install both of them now with elm package install elm-lang/navigation and elm package install evancz/url-parser. It’s worth noting that Elm has been deliberate about calling this set of behaviours “navigation” and not “routing” as you would see in most front-end libraries and frameworks.

The first change required to introduce navigation to an Elm app is right at the top in App.elm, elm-lang/navigation provides Navigation.program which we use to create App.main instead of Replace import Html with import Navigation, then replace Html.program with Navigation.program and pass State.hashParser is the first parameter before the record definition, we’ll define State.hashParser shortly. App.main should now look like this.

-- App.elm

import Navigation

main : Program Never Model Msg
main =
    Navigation.program State.hashParser
        { init = State.init
        , update = State.update
        , subscriptions = State.subscriptions
        , view = View.rootView

Next we need to update Types.elm, we’ll need Model to keep track of the current page. Firstly define a new union type Page with the pages that you need, in this case ListOfPosts for the main list of posts, and SinglePost String for the single post view where the String will be a We then need to add a new page property to the Model record. We’ll also need to update Types.initialModel to set the initial Page, but we’ll take the initial Page as a parameter because we’ll parse the initial URL to work out what the initial Page should be in State.init. We also need to add a new action to the Msg union type to handle navigation changes, we’ll call it NavigatedTo and it will take a single Maybe Page parameter.

-- Types.elm

type alias Model =
    { posts : List Post
    , page : Page

initialModel : Page -> Model
initialModel page =
    Model [] page

type Msg
    = -- ...
    | NavigatedTo (Maybe Page)

type Page
    = ListOfPosts
    | SinglePost String

Next up is State.elm and we’ve got a few changes that we need to make. We need to define some utility functions that map URL’s to a Page and vice-versa:

-- State.elm

import Navigation
import UrlParser exposing (..)

hashParser : Navigation.Location -> Msg
hashParser location =
    NavigatedTo <|
        UrlParser.parseHash pageParser location

pageParser : Parser (Page -> a) a
pageParser =
        [ map ListOfPosts <| s ""
        , map SinglePost <| s "view" </> string

toUrl : Page -> String
toUrl page =
    case page of
        ListOfPosts ->

        SinglePost postId ->
            "/view/" ++ postId

State.hashParser is the function that we passed as the first argument to App.main earlier. It’s role is to translate changes in Navigation.Location to messages that State.update can handle, in this case NavigatedTo which we defined in the last step. To do this it uses UrlParser.parseHash which takes a UrlParser.Parser and a Navigation.Location record. UrlParser exports a number of functions to help with building an UrlParser.Parser which matches the expected URL’s in the app and maps them to Pages. UrlParser.parseHash actually returns a Maybe Page because it might not be able to map the URL to one of the known states of the app, you’ll need to handle this case too. Note that there is also a UrlParser.parsePath function that will run a UrlParser.Parser against the path part of the URL instead of the hash. I’ve actually used UrlParser.parsePath in the repository, but using URL paths with a single-page web application requires some server-side support, UrlParser.parseHash is easier for examples because we can just use a simple HTTP server. Finally State.toUrl just returns a URL String based on a Page. Now we need to replace State.init with this:

-- State.elm

init : Navigation.Location -> (Model, Cmd Msg)
init location =
    case UrlParser.parseHash pageParser location of
        Just page ->
            initialModel page
                ! [ Rest.getPosts

        Nothing ->
            initialModel ListOfPosts
                ! [ Rest.getPosts
                  , Navigation.modifyUrl <| toUrl ListOfPosts

Because we’re using Navigation.program, our State.init function now gets passed a Navigation.Location which is the URL at the time that the application is initialised. We parse this to a Maybe Page using UrlParser.parseHash and State.pageParser. If it matches a page we pass the page to Types.initialModel, otherwise we explicitly set the page to ListOfPosts and update the URL with Navigation.modifyUrl and State.toUrl. You might want to redirect to a 404 Not Found page instead. In each case we still call Rest.getPosts to load the post data. To finish up the changes in State.elm, we need to add the NavigatedTo case to State.update:

-- State.elm

update msg model =
    case msg of
        -- ...

        NavigatedTo maybePage ->
            case maybePage of
                Just page ->
                    { model | page = page }
                        ! []

                Nothing ->
                        ! [ Navigation.newUrl <| toUrl ListOfPosts

This is pretty similar to what we just did in State.init, except that we don’t need to trigger another action if maybePage is a known Page, just update If it’s not a known Page, we redirect to the ListOfPosts page using Navigation.newUrl. Navigation.newUrl updates the state and write a new URL into the browser history, whereas Navigation.modifyUrl updates the URL without adding a new state to the browser history.

We’ll add the proper UI for the single post view in the next part, for now we’ll just show the Post.postId. We’ll create a new View.viewPage function to change the view based on the current page. Replace Html.Keyed.node ... in View.rootView with just viewPage model and move the Html.Keyed.node ... block to View.viewPage under the ListOfPosts case. We’ll just put a dummy view in for the SinglePost case for now. Don’t forget to expose Page(..) from the Types import, or you might want to just expose everything from Types now.

-- View.elm

import Types exposing (..)

rootView : Model -> Html Msg
rootView model =
    div [ id "app-root" ]
        [ main_ []
            [ viewPage model
        -- ...

viewPage : Model -> Html Msg
viewPage model =
    case of
        ListOfPosts ->
            Html.Keyed.node "div"
                [ class "photo-list" ]
                <| (viewKeyedPost model) model.posts

        SinglePost postId ->
            div [ class "photo-single" ]
                [ text ("Post: " ++ postId) ]

Finally we need to update the links in View.elm to use State.toUrl. Import State and then replace both of the href "./"’s in View.rootView with href (State.toUrl ListOfPosts), then replace the href "#" in View.viewPost with href (State.toUrl SinglePost You should be able to recompile js/app.js now, start your static HTTP server and view the app in the browser.

That’s all (for now)

You can view the code that we’ve built so far here. We’ll continue building the app in Part 3:

  • Part 1 - Setup an Elm app and load posts from a JSON file
  • Part 3 - Build the single post view and add the comments form