A simple PubSub module in JavaScript

3rd January 2014 | by Adam Beres-Deak | javascript, modules

I have always been a fan of simple things, such as the PubSub pattern. A few weeks ago I discovered this pattern again, when I was looking for a way to separate some JavaScript modules which don't really have to know about each other but have to have some sort of communication.


I believe that publish/subscribe (PubSub) is a very powerfull pattern. Therefore I have recently open sourced my implementation of it in JavaScript. The full source code can be found on GitHub: It's completely dependency-free and very small (under 1kb).

What is PubSub?

In software architecture, publish–subscribe is a messaging pattern where senders of messages, called publishers, do not program the messages to be sent directly to specific receivers, called subscribers. Instead, published messages are characterized into classes, without knowledge of what, if any, subscribers there may be. Similarly, subscribers express interest in one or more classes, and only receive messages that are of interest, without knowledge of what, if any, publishers there are. Pub/sub is a sibling of the message queue paradigm, and is typically one part of a larger message-oriented middleware system. Source: Wikipedia

Differences between DOM events and PubSub

PubSub is very similar to the DOM events, except: there is only one object which fires events and accepts listeners. When using DOM events, a listener is registered on the DOM node which fires the event.

document.getElementById('someId').addEventListener('click', function() { /* event listener */ });

In a PubSub architecture a publisher doesn't know its subscribers and a message receiver doesn't know where the message comes from. Both parties only know a mediator object which handles the broadcasting of the messages.

// PubSub is the global mediator object

PubSub.subscribe('anEvent', function(eventName, eventData) {
    console.log(eventName); // "anEvent"
    console.log(eventData.something); // 1
    console.log(eventData.someOtherThing); // 2

PubSub.publish('anEvent', { something: 1, someOtherThing: 2 });

The power of PubSub

This pattern allows us to decouple modules from each other. E.g. think of an online shop, where users can add products to their carts. When adding a product, the website usually has to do some things:

If a customer clicks on the "Add to cart" button, the button sends a message with the corresponding product as a payload. All the other components can listen to this event and act accordingly (update shopping cart, play animation, track it in Google Analytics and so on).

Are there any disadvantages?

Yes, there are indeed. All the disadvantages come from the main advantage: publishers are decoupled from subscribers. This means:

  1. There is no guarantee that a message is delivered. PubSub is a fire and forget pattern.
  2. The publisher doesn't know, when a subscriber stops working.

What does all this look like in JavaScript code?

// What the button does
$("#addProductButton").click(function() {
    PubSub.publish("productAdded", {
        product: {
            id: 1234,
            name: 'A Super Product',
            price: 9900 // in cents
        user: {
            country: "DE",
            loggedIn: true,
            membershipStatus: "premium"

// Total price module increases the displayed total price when a product is added
PubSub.subscribe('productAdded', function(eventData) {

// Play the sound when Mario collects a coin
PubSub.subscribe('productAdded', function() {

// Tracking module
PubSub.subscribe('productAdded', function(eventData) {

How to install it?

If you use bower, just execute bower install pubsub and then include pubsub.min.js in your code. E.g: <script src="/bower_components/pubsub/pubsub.min.js"></script>

If you don't use bower then you can download pubsub.min.js and include it. E.g.: <script src="/libs/pubsub/pubsub.min.js"></script>

You can also use it with require-js:

require(['pubsub'], function(PubSub) {
    console.log(typeof PubSub.publish); // "function"
    console.log(typeof PubSub.subscribe); // "function"
    console.log(typeof PubSub.unsubscribe); // "function"

    /* Please note: when using require js, the PubSub module doesn't register itself as a global object */
    console.log(typeof window.PubSub); // "undefined"

I think I am not the only one, who loves the simplicity and elegance of PubSub. If you do it as well, please consider using my implementation. It's free and it's published under the MIT license.

by Adam Beres-Deak

| Share | Tweet | Share | Share

Latest blog posts

Displaying icons with custom elements 14th October 2015

Plain JavaScript event delegation 26th January 2015

After the first year of blogging - what happened on my blog in 2014? 1st January 2015

Better webfont loading with using localStorage and providing WOFF2 support 18th December 2014

Worth watching: Douglas Crockford speaking about the new good parts of JavaScript in 2014 20th October 2014