Local-first ThreadDB for JavaScript

javascript Feb 06, 2021

Today we're excited to be sharing an early look at a new approach to an offline-first local database that syncs to the distributed web. In this post, we will provide detailed onboarding instructions, along with some background and motivation for this new approach to Textile's ThreadDB. If you wanna dig into the code, you can check out the project here (we are in the process of moving it into our main mono-repo).

So why should you be excited about this new approach to ThreadDB, and our shift from “Threads the database” to “Threads the database syncing mechanism”? Well for starters, a offline-first or local-first approach to data is a powerful model for enabling user ownership of data, interoperability, collaboration, offline-capable interactions, and all those powerful web3 ideals we appreciate! Also, by leaving more of the database stuff to a full-blown database, and us focusing more on the networking/remote syncing side of things, you get a more fully-featured local database with all of the super-powers that come with web3. There are a ton of other great reasons for this shift to a local-first ThreadDB, so read on for some additional motivation behind this work...


You might also want to check out this 5-minute project overview video to get a feel for the underlying project structure, and how we’re conceptualizing the new ThreadDB in Javascript.

Why else might you (the developer) appreciate an offline/local-first approach to databases? How about usability? This one doesn’t get discussed as much in the context of offline-first software, but it is actually way easier to test and develop apps that don’t actually require real-time access to any remote services. As you’ll see in some of our demo videos below, you can spend a good chunk of time testing, validating, and breaking things before you even touch a “live” remote API. This means less garbage data while developing, while at the same time leveraging and testing against the real APIs you’ll encounter once you move to production.

Speaking of real APIs, why should a developer looking to leverage Threads in their workflow have to migrate to a new database implementation with new APIs and workflows, when there are already lots of great databases out there? Wouldn’t it be great if you could just use the right database for the job, and then simply have that database sync to web3 automatically? We think so, and this is part of what we are exploring with this release of ThreadDB. We're starting with a simple wrapper database, but we're planning for a BYOD (bring your own database) future!

So when planning about some the above constraints (offline-first, flexible, easy to use, browser-focused, etc),  we landed on a simple, but powerful framework for our new vision of ThreadDB for Javascript. This early release addresses the local-first database component by leveraging IndexedDB, via Dexie. This provides a lightweight, easy to use database, where all the complexity of remote sync is separated from the complexity of the database itself. The database features a MongoDB-like experience, with change tracking, custom UUIDs, and more. For those already familiar with Dexie, you can peel back the layers to have direct access to the Dexie database object for even more control over your local database experience. Check out the Getting Started section below to get a feel for the basic APIs provided by Textile. There, you’ll see what is required to go from basic interactions with a local ThreadDB Database to pushing those local changes to a Remote.


ThreadDB for Javascript contains a fully-featured local-first database (Dexie) and a set of remote features that enable sync, archive, and recovery over the network. The Remote object itself simply defines several middlewares that intercept Dexie calls, store the list of updates in a local sandbox, and then provides tooling to push, pull, rebase, and stash these local changes with a remote Thread daemon.

The project design is purposefully modular, and is organized roughly into three components:

  1. The “local” store. Ideally, the “local” component is minimal, and provides only a light wrapper around a local database. In our case, that database is IndexedDB via Dexie, but in theory, almost any local database will eventually work.
  2. The “middleware”. The middleware is similarly light-weight. Here, we provides a few sub-modules for hooking into the local database to extract the things we need to communicate with the remote module. It additionally provides a few middleware components that provide MongoDB style queries, track changes, custom UUIDs, schemas, and more. Those familiar with our existing Threads Client library will notice several useful similarities.
  3. The communication with a “remote”.

The “remote” module is where the magic of syncing to the decentralized web happens. In practice, we’re leveraging existing Textile APIs to validate this proof-of-concept model. Eventually, as we optimize what is going on under the hood, we’ll roll out new APIs that are more efficient, and provide more useful functionality in an offline-first scenario. Essentially, we track changes on the local database, and provide low level APIs to push, pull, and resolve any conflicts that arise when syncing with a remote. In general, the remote is considered the “source of truth” in any real conflicts, and ThreadDB is designed to be used more as a federated system of peers, rather than pure peer-to-peer. As such, each local “remote” module connects to one remote daemon at a time, and relies on that daemon for network operations and syncing. By default, remotes are configured to work against Textile’s Hub daemon, but as a developer, you have easy access to set this to other remote hosts.

Getting started

Ok, so you made it this far, and you're ready to dive in?

Check out this “getting started” video to get a feel for the basic APIs. In it, you’ll see what is required to go from basic interactions with a local ThreadDB Database to pushing those local changes to a Remote Daemon.

Before digging into the specifics of ThreadDB, you’ll likely want to familiarize yourself with existing Textile developer tooling. In particular, if you are planning to use ThreadDB against Textile’s Hub, you’ll want to make sure you have a developer account setup, and likely want to create some new keys for testing etc. For the purposes of testing and building toy examples, we recommend, you stick with development mode.

Additionally, for this early release, we’ve tried to keep the Database APIs relatively similar to our existing Thread Client library. That means ThreadDB supports Collections and Instances, very similarly to what we already have going on over here. We highly recommend you take a look at those existing docs before proceeding.

Assuming you have a developer account setup, and you’ve read the docs (seriously, read the docs), let’s get started. The following examples are taken directly from the above getting started video. So feel free to follow along, copy/paste the code snippets, and start testing things. Additionally, you can use any environment you are comfortable with, including browser apps via a bundler such as webpack or rollup, or directly in Node/Deno. Interested in trying out the code “live”? You can get a feel for the APIs using the live notebook available on observablehq.


Start by creating a new npm project. Just stick with the defaults here, we’re not going to need anything fancy:

mkdir demo-projectcd demo-project
npm init# Defaults are fine

Now you can install the required Textile modules. For this first mini-demo, we’ll stick with the minimal setup (we’re including threads-client here for validation later):

npm i @textile/threaddb @textile/crypto @textile/threads-id @textile/threads-client


With those in place, we’re ready to start interacting with the Database. If you’re running this code in NodeJS, it will automatically include an IndexedDB polyfill to store data in SQLite, otherwise (in a browser) it should leverage the embedded IndexedDB database.

import { Database } from "@textile/threaddb"
import { schema, Person } from "./schema"; // Available with the notebook

One of the design constraints we set for ourselves when building ThreadDB was to ensure that a developer or user could get up and going with ThreadDB without an internet connection, and without any prior orchestration with a remote. So to create a new Database is as easy as:

// Create an empty db, with a defined schema, and open it
const db = await new Database("demo", { name: "Person", schema })    .open(1); // Versioned dbs

We make a few assumptions to make this easy. 1. That the developer knows the schema(s) that they want to use for their Collections ahead of time, and 2. That a change in schemas will result in a change in the database version (so we also have versioned databases, thanks to Dexie).

Now, we just start using it. Similarly to MongoDB you can get a given Collection, and you can insert data into it. In our case, it will do schema validation on the way in.

const Person = db.collection("Person")
await Person.insert({ name: "Carson", age: 37 })

Because it is often useful to create an Instance before inserting it into the database, you can do that via the create method on a Collection:

const entity = Person.create({ name: "Other", age: 2 });
await entity.exists() // false
await Person.has(entity._id); // false

All instances have an _id property like in MongoDB, which in our case, is a Ulid. Once we have an instance, it has many useful properties that allow us to save, check if it exists in the database, delete, etc.

await entity.save(); // Write to the local store
await entity.exists(); // true

As with any reasonable database, you can query it, grab all Instances, count things, etc. We provide some nice MongoDB style querying, but you also have access to the full suite of query tools provided by Dexie if you want them:

await Person.find({}).count(); // Should be at least 2

Similarly, things like transactions are supported by ThreadDB. We have readTransaction and writeTransaction support, which matches our Go implementation to some degree. These are useful for batch inserts and for providing proper isolation and automaticity guarantees:

const person = { name: "Someting", age: 4 };
await Person.writeTransaction(async function () {
  const [id] = await Person.insert(person);

By the way, insert and many other methods take a variadic list of inputs, which makes it easy to do bulk inserts even when not using a transaction explicitly.
And of course, more complex queries are possible thanks to the (subset of) MongoDB query language that ThreadDB supports:

const people = Person.find({
  $or: [{ age: { $gt: 2 } }, { name: { $eq: "Something" } }],
 }); // Should still find all of them!
 await people.toArray();


So far, we’ve only be doing local operations. Now it’s time to interact with a remote daemon. If you aren’t familiar with Textile’s Thread daemons, we recommend you read up on them here. The protocols and design of ThreadDB can be explored in detail in the white-paper: A protocol & event-sourced database for decentralized user-siloed data. For further technical details. the reference implementation of Threads is written in Go and the full implementation details can be found on godocs. But for now, let’s simply connect to the Hub’s remote Threads daemon, so we don’t have to worry about running our own.

For working against the Hub, you’ll need a developer key, see the links above for some examples on how to generate this. We recommend starting with an insecure key for developing locally, before upgrading to a production setup.

Please remember to use your own keys, rather than the demos keys provided in the Notebook!
// Set key info (this is an insecure key)
const key = d""
// Specify the key here, remote defaults to Hub APIs so no need to set
const remote = await db.remote.setKeyInfo({ key })

Once we’ve “set” our remote, it is pretty easy to start working against it. But there are two things we need to do before we can start pushing data. The first, is to authenticate our local “user” or database instance, with the remote. This is required, regardless of the remote Threads daemon we are connecting with, be it the Hub, or our own daemon running on our laptop. Authentication is always against a public key (defaulting to an ED25519 signing pair). ThreadDB makes this super easy if you are working with our default key objects:

import { PrivateKey } from "@textile/crypto";

// New random identity
const privateKey = PrivateKey.fromRandom()
// Grab the token, save it, or just use it
const token = await remote.authorize(privateKey);

The response from remote.authorize is a token string. This is actually automatically added to the remote’s metadata under the hood, but since this token doesn’t expire, a developer might wish to store this in the user’s localStorage, or otherwise cache this information. You could even store the token within the user’s database if you wanted, though be advised, you should probably encry则#“pt it if you are going to persist it anywhere insecure.

Now we’re ready to start working against the remote. The first thing you’ll likely want to do, is initialize a new database on the remote. This is essentially allocating a new Thread, and pushing the local schema information to the remote database. In practice, you’ll likely want to do this the first time a user connects with the remote daemon, and only then. But ThreadDB makes this operation pretty much idempotent, so if you accidentally try to initialize twice, you shouldn’t end up with more than one database on the remote. We’ll be working further to make this easier, so that it will detect version changes and things like that to handle schema changes “on the fly”.

const id = await remote.initialize(); // Create random thread

Of course, if you already have a Thread ID in mind, you can provide that string to the initialize method. This is a good idea if you want to invite another peer to your Thread that was created by a different peer, or if you have a “static” Thread that all users are going to interact with.

Now you just push…

await remote.push("Person") // That's it!

Assuming no conflicts or issues with connecting to the remote, you’re off to the races. We can actually use our existing Threads Client library to validate that our changes were indeed pushed:

import { Client } from "@textile/threads-client"
import { ThreadID } from "@textile/threads-id"

const client = await Client.withKeyInfo({ key })
// Grab context just for our demo, not really needed
const context = client.context.withToken(token)
const found = await client.find(ThreadID.fromString(id), "Person", {})

If all went according to plan, you should have the same set of instances on the remote as you do locally. Now try pushing more updates, or creating updates directly on the remote and pulling them into your local state. The remote API also has tools to “stash”, and “rebase” local changes on top of remote changes, and all sorts of additional tooling. This is what you should start playing with. Break it, we’ll fix it, and we’ll all build something amazing together.

Getting help

Before you go, we just wanted to remind you that help is just a Slack message away. The Textile/Threads developers/community are active on Slack and Twitter (@textileio), so join us there for news, discussions, questions, and status updates.

Photo by Melissa Regina on Unsplash.

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