ReactVR Redux Revisited

Tue 04 July 2017 by Jim Purbrick

There were a couple of aspects of my previous experiments building networked ReactVR experiences with Redux that were unsatisfactory: there wasn’t a clean separation between the application logic and network code and, while the example exploited idempotency to reduce latency for some actions, actions which could generate conflicts used a conservative consistency mechanism which added at least a network round trip to those actions. So, I did some more hacking.

In an attempt to create a clean separation between application and network logic I kept the network code in a redux middleware and moved the application logic to an isValid callback which returns true if an action can be safely reduced:

With this in place the simple, conservative, dumbTerminalConsistency policy can be implemented in a few lines of code:

Clients generate actions in response to UI interactions and send those actions to the master. The master returns valid actions which are then reduced. Conflicts are resolved by serializing actions through the master client: isValid will return true for the first event, which will be distributed to all clients, but false for subsequent conflicting actions which are discarded. All clients see a single, consistent view at the cost of a round-trip to the master for all actions.

The same isValid method can be reused to implement an optimistic clientPredictionConsistency policy which treats the clients as decoupled simulations:

When using this middleware, clients immediately reduce actions which are valid given their local state and distribute local actions to all other clients. If a conflict is detected, the master client uses the same setState mechanism used to allow late joining to reset the decoupled simulations to the master state. The effects of actions are seen immediately at the cost of occasionally seeing the effects of actions roll back when the state is reset. By designing reducers to be idempotent and making the isValid callback as permissive as possible the number of state reset actions can be minimized. In the case of pairs, state resets only occur when two clients try to get the points for the same pair, or if a client tries to hide half of a pair which has been scored.

Testing pairs with the two different consistency policies over a high latency ngrok connection gives wildly different experiences. With dumbTerminalConsistency introducing 500ms round-trip latencies between clicking and seeing results the experience feels laggy, slow and clumsy. With clientPredictionConsistency the effects of local actions are seen with 0 latency and the experience is fast, snappy and frantic. Glitches caused by state resets are occasionally jarring, but often go unnoticed as the focus of attention is on the board during the game before switching to the scores at the end once they are eventually consistent. While it may make sense to use conservative consistency for some applications, pairs definitely benefits from an optimistic approach.

Being able to independently develop application logic and consistency mechanisms is extremely valuable. While developing the pairs example I was able to get the dumbTerminalConsistency middleware working, then the pairs game logic and then switch between the dumbTerminalConsistency and clientPredictionConsistency policies to determine whether I had a problem with the game logic or middleware while getting optimistic local updates working. I could imagine a similar approach being valuable for other applications. Conservative consistency could be used during development, then optimistic consistency policies could be experimented with to find the right trade off between latency and consistency without worrying about breaking the application logic by mixing in tightly coupled local update logic.

Its easy to imagine more sophisticated optimistic consistency mechanisms: middleware which generates anti-events to avoid full state resets when the state becomes too large, approaches which use Redux time travel approaches to rewrite history when conflicts are detected or policies which extrapolate predictions or interpolate corrections to avoid discontinuities for example. Many of these approaches could be implemented in generic ways, but developers would still have the option to build middleware which exploits application specific knowledge where appropriate.

The Redux approach of defining the next state as a function of an action applied to the current state lends itself to building sophisticated decoupled simulations. I hope to see these approaches become standard in networked ReactVR applications in the near future. Modern VR hardware provides incredibly low motion to photon latency and it would be a shame to see the sense of presence it can create broken by the network round-trips inherent in client-server architectures. Optimistic updates, client prediction and zero latency should be the default.

If you’d like to play the ReactVR version of pairs or see the rest of the code, it’s available on github here.

All code in this post is made available under the ReactVR examples license.