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Pilot & Refine architecture
10 min read

Pilot & Refine architecture

This is the opening post of another 2023 #RefineWeek series. It is intended to provide an introduction to the series itself as well as to present Refine, a React framework that is used to rapidly build any data heavy CRUD apps like dashboards, admin panels and e-commerce storefronts.

This five part guide aims to help developers learn the ins-and-outs of Refine's powerful capabilities and get going with Refine within a week.



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In this series we are going to build a Invoicer - React PDF Invoice Generator app with Refine, Strapi and Ant Design.

πŸ‘‰ The live version of the app is be available here.

πŸ‘‰ The final apps source code is available on GitHub.

To get completed client source code simply run:

 npm create refine-app@latest -- --example refine-week-invoice-generator

What is Refine ?​

Refine is a highly customizable React based framework that has a headless core package and comes with a myriad of supplementary modules for the UI, backend API clients and Internationalization support.

Refine's (intentionally decapitalized) core is strongly opinionated about RESTful conventions, HTTPS networking, state management, authentication and authorization. It is, however, unopinionated about the UI and render logic. This makes it customizable according to one's choice of UI library and frameworks.

What is Strapi ?​

Strapi is an open source content management system ( CMS ) which allows us to build headless backend services for creating and managing content.

It is highly customizable and can be hosted locally as well as in the cloud. Strapi is especially useful for building readily available RESTful APIs available for consumption from a frontend app.

Refine Architecture​

A Refine app is centered mainly around the <Refine /> component, which is mostly configured via a set of provider props that each requires a provider object to be passed in. An example usage of providers on the <Refine /> component looks like this:

App.tsx
import { Refine } from "@refinedev/core";
import { DataProvider } from "@refinedev/strapi-v4";
import routerBindings from "@refinedev/react-router-v6";

<Refine
dataProvider={DataProvider(API_URL + `/api`, axiosInstance)}
authProvider={authProvider}
routerProvider={{ routerProvider }}
resources={[]}
// ... etc.
/>;

The code above shows a few of the props and their assigned objects. As can be inferred from this, rather than precisely being a component, <Refine /> is largely a monolith of provider configurations backed by a context for each.
Hence, inside dataProvider, we should have a standard set of methods for making API requests; inside authProvider, we should have methods for dealing with authentication and authorization; inside routerProvider, we should have methods for dealing with standard routing - both RESTful and non-RESTful, etc. And each of these providers should have their own set of conventions and type definitions.

For example, a dataProvider object should have the following signature to which any definition of a data provider object should conform:

Data provider object signature
const dataProvider: DataProvider = {
// required methods
getList: ({ resource, pagination, sorters, filters, meta }) => Promise,
create: ({ resource, variables, meta }) => Promise,
update: ({ resource, id, variables, meta }) => Promise,
deleteOne: ({ resource, id, variables, meta }) => Promise,
getOne: ({ resource, id, meta }) => Promise,
getApiUrl: () => "",

// optional methods
getMany: ({ resource, ids, meta }) => Promise,
createMany: ({ resource, variables, meta }) => Promise,
deleteMany: ({ resource, ids, variables, meta }) => Promise,
updateMany: ({ resource, ids, variables, meta }) => Promise,
custom: ({ url, method, filters, sorters, payload, query, headers, meta }) =>
Promise,
};

The underlying architecture facilitates any presentational component passed to <Refine /> to be able to consume these configured methods via corresponding hooks. Each method in a provider has appropriate hooks via which a consumer component is able to fetch data from the backend. For instance, useSimpleList() is a high level data and UI hook via which the dataProvider.getList() provider method can be accessed.

An example hook usage from a UI component looks like this:

const { listProps } = useSimpleList<IClient>({
meta: { populate: ["contacts"] },
});

The above useSimpleList() hook is a @refinedev/antd UI hook that is built on top of the low level useList() data hook. Low level hooks, in turn, leverage React Query hooks in order to make API calls invoked from inside the provider methods. Here's an early sneak peek into the action under the hood:

Inside useList() hook
const queryResponse = useQuery<GetListResponse<TData>, TError>(
queryKey.list(config),
({ queryKey, pageParam, signal }) => {
const { hasPagination, ...restConfig } = config || {};
return getList<TData>({
resource,
...restConfig,
hasPagination,
metaData: {
...metaData,
queryContext: {
queryKey,
pageParam,
signal,
},
},
});
},
{
...queryOptions,
onSuccess: (data) => {
queryOptions?.onSuccess?.(data);

const notificationConfig =
typeof successNotification === "function"
? successNotification(data, { metaData, config }, resource)
: successNotification;

handleNotification(notificationConfig);
},
onError: (err: TError) => {
checkError(err);
queryOptions?.onError?.(err);

const notificationConfig =
typeof errorNotification === "function"
? errorNotification(err, { metaData, config }, resource)
: errorNotification;

handleNotification(notificationConfig, {
key: `${resource}-useList-notification`,
message: translate(
"common:notifications.error",
{ statusCode: err.statusCode },
`Error (status code: ${err.statusCode})`,
),
description: err.message,
type: "error",
});
},
},
);

We'll be visiting code like this on Day 4, but if we examine the snippet above closely we can see that Refine uses React Query to handle caching, state management as well as errors out-of-the-box.

The following diagram illustrates the interactions:

1-refine-week

Providers and Hooks​

Refine's power lies in the abstraction of various app component logic such as authentication, authorization, routing and data fetching - inside individual providers and their corresponding hooks.

Common providers include:

For an exhaustive list of providers, please visit the Refine providers documentation from here.

As part of the core package, each method in these providers comes with a corresponding low level hook to be used from inside higher level hooks, partial UI components and pages. As mentioned above with the useSimpleList() hook, higher level hooks can be built on top of lower level hooks such as the useList() hook. For more details, please refer to the Refine hooks documentation starting here.

Support Packages​

Refine is inherently headless in its core API and deliberately agnostic about the UI and backend layers. Being so, it is able to provide fantastic support for major UI libraries and frameworks as well as popular backend frameworks and services. To name a few, Refine's UI support packages include Ant Design and Material UI. Backend supplementary modules include Strapi, GraphQL, NestJS and .

For a complete list of all these modules, check out this page.

A week of Refine ft. Strapi​

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In this tutorial series, we will be going through a few vital features of Refine by building a basic Invoicer - Pdf Invoice Generator app. This section is intended to provide more details.

The final version of the Invoicer comprises of a dashboard that allows users to register their companies, add their clients and contacts, create tasks (missions) that they do for their clients and issue invoices for the tasks. Users are also able to generate a pdf document of the invoice.

We will be building this app day-by-day over a period of 5 days. And while doing so, we will dive deep into the details of related providers, hooks, UI components and how Refine works behind the scenes.

As far as our features and functionalities go, we will cover some key concepts including authProvider, dataProvider routerProvider and resources props of <Refine />, the provider objects and their associated hooks. For the UI side, we will be using the optional Ant Design package supported by Refine. For the backend, we will use a Strapi content management system.


Here are the detailed outlines split per day:

Day One - On This #RefineWeek​

This opening post. Hello! πŸ‘‹ πŸ‘‹ We are here! πŸ˜„ πŸ˜„

Day Two - Setting Up the App​

We start with setting up the React Pdf Invoice Generator app using Refine CLI Wizard. We choose Refine's optional Ant Design and Strapi modules as support packages. After initialization, we explore the boilerplate code created by the CLI Wizard, look into the details of the dataProvider and authProvider objects and briefly discuss their mechanisms.

In the later sections, we also initialize the Strapi backend app for our React Invoice Generator. Here's what we do step by step after that:

  1. Start the Strapi server and sign up for an admin user to get access to the dashboard.
  2. We create collections for our app using the Content-Type Manager.
  3. We set up permissions for authenticated role for Refine app users, i.e. our React Invoice Generator app users.

Day Three - Adding CRUD Actions & Authentication​

On Day 3, we start off with generating an API Token for our Strapi backend app to be accessed from our React Invoice Generator. We then update our constants.ts file with them.

We complete the app halfway by adding CRUD pages for companies, clients and contacts. While doing so, we get familiar with dataProvider methods such as getList, create and delete and some of the corresponding low level hooks: useList(), useCreate() and useDelete().

We also examine the use of higher level hooks such as useSimpleList(), useModalForm(), useDrawerForm() and useTable() that integrate data hooks with Ant Design components.

We discuss authentication with the authProvider object and implement an email / password based authentication with the <AuthPage /> component that is provided by refine-Ant Design (@refinedev/antd) package.

Day Four - Adding Mission and Invoice Pages​

On Day 4, we continue to add CRUD pages for missions and invoices resources. We first add Strapi collections for missions and invoices and set up permissions on them for authenticated user role. And then we go ahead and add the resource items, routes as well as the CRUD pages.

We also get an opportunity to dig into some low level code to make sense of how Refine undertakes data heavy tasks behind the scenes and presents us with convenient, highly customizable hooks like useTable() and useSelect() to be used in our app.

Besides the above mentioned hooks, we examine the source code for the refine-Ant Design <DeleteButton /> component.

Day Five - Adding PDF Renderer​

On the final day, we add a pdf renderer to generate pdf document and view for our invoices. We use the @react-pdf/renderer npm package for this.

We then wrap up the series by discussing the accomplishments we are about to achieve starting Day 2.

Summary​

In this post, we introduced the Refine framework and the #RefineWeek series itself. We talked about Refine's underlying architecture which consists of providers, hooks and components that help rapidly build internal tools.

We laid out the plans for building a React Pdf Invoice Generator app in considerable depth.

Tomorrow, on Day Two, we are ready to start Setting Up the App. See you soon!

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