watch vs. watchEffect when to use what with Vue.js

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When I first studied the new Composition API, I was confused that there are two watch hooks: watch() and watchEffect(). From the documentation alone, it was not immediately apparent to me what’s the difference.

The Difference Between watch and watchEffect

Assuming you already know how watch() works with the Options API, it is easy to understand how the watch() hook works.

The watch() hook works like the watch option.

The watchEffect() hook’s main difference is that you don’t watch one specific reactive value but every reactive value inside its callback function.

The watchEffect() hook works like the computed() hook or the computed option, but instead of returning a value, you use it to trigger side-effects.

// The callback is called whenever `refA` changes.
watch(refA, () => {
  console.log(refA.value);
  console.log(refB.value);
});

// The callback is called immediately, and
// whenever `refA` or `refB` changes ...
watchEffect(() => {
  console.log(refA.value);
  console.log(refB.value);
});

// ... this is the same behavior as for `computed()`.
const aPlusB = computed(() => {
  console.log(refA.value);
  console.log(refB.value);
  return refA.value + refB.value;
});

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When Should I Use watch?

At first glance, watchEffect() seems superior to watch(). Because you simply define a callback function, and it is automatically triggered if one of the reactive variables you use inside of it changes. But this behavior can be problematic. If you only want to trigger the callback function when one or multiple specific variables change, you must use watch() instead of watchEffect().

Furthermore, using watch() also enables us to access the previous value of the watched variables.

Wrapping It Up

I think the easiest way to remember the difference between watch and watchEffect() is to think of watchEffect() like a variant of computed() that doesn’t return a value but triggers side-effects.


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