Graham Vasquez
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Hello Internet

Making interacting with the Airtable API even easier

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Graham Vasquez
ยทNov 10, 2020ยท

4 min read

I am not sure how many of you are familiar with Airtable, but it's an easy to use pseudo database that you can manage like Excel. It supports tons of ways to store different types of data, and allows you to make links between records ala RDBMS. I use it all the time for quick prototyping, or in places where database performance is not a priority and I want an easy way to manage data outside of my application.

They also have a fairly robust API which gives you access to your usual CRUD interface. While this API is pretty easy to use, you can always make it easier right?

Enter the Airtable.js library from Airtable. It makes talking to their API from javascript really easy and quick. The problem is that it's call-back based ๐Ÿคฎ. Now I know that this is more of a matter of opinion, but I love me some promises and more so async/await.

Thus I built AsyncAirtable. I just wanted a really easy way to deal with the Airtable API and keep my code nice and clean.

Let's take a quick look at what it looks like to get some data using Airtable.JS"

let results = [];
base('TEST').select({})
  .eachPage(function page(records, fetchNextPage) {
    records.forEach(function(record) {
        results.push(record);
    });
    fetchNextPage();
  }, function done(err) {
    if (err) { console.error(err); return; }
    done();
});

Seems pretty long and verbose. How about if we want to accomplish the same thing with AsyncAirtable?

const results = await asyncAirtable.select('TEST');

These blocks of code will net us the same data. See how easy that is!?

We have built this with all the basic functionality of the Airtable API and a few extra bells and whistles, namely:

  • Built in pagination
  • Built in upsert method for you MySQL afficiandos.
  • Fully typed with declaration files
  • A handy retry feature that will retry a query if you are rate limited

Now I still have some more ideas for this project to make it even more fun to work with. Let's take a look at some of these:

โœจ A QUERY BUILDER โœจ

Anyone who has dealt with the Airtable API in the past is probably familiar with filter formula strings. If you are, you are probably just as excited about this as me. The Airtable filter formula strings can get really weird REALLY fast, and can sometimes be hard to follow.

I am working on a query builder that will be more like your traditional ORM such a Sequelize. So you can go from something like:

"AND({name} = 'Graham', {age} > 18, {hungry} = TRUE())"

Now take that and make it something like:

{
  $and: [
    {name: 'Graham'},
    {age: {$gt: 18}},
    {hungry: true}
  ]
}

See? Look at how nice that is!

Let's put it in the context of using a Javscript library to talk to the API.

Here is what that might look like with the Airtable.JS library:

let results = [];
base('TEST').select({
    filterByFormula: "AND({name} = 'Graham', {age} > 18, {hungry} = TRUE())"
}).eachPage(function page(records, fetchNextPage) {
    records.forEach(function(record) {
        results.push(record);
    });
    fetchNextPage();
}, function done(err) {
    if (err) { console.error(err); return; }
    done();
});

Now let's compare that to how you would do the same thing in AsyncAirtable:

const results = await asyncAirtable.select('TEST', {
  where: {
    $and: [
      {name: 'Graham'},
      {age: {$gt: 18}},
      {hungry: true}
    ]
  }
});

It makes query building so much easier. Plus building it programmatically is simpler because it just uses a standard Javascript object instead of having to use messy template strings or worse, string concatenation.

Another feature I am excited to be adding in an upcoming release is data modeling. It won't be as robust as the models used by ORMs like Sequelize, but it will give you some type safety and help you catch errors while you are writing your code, similar to Typescript.

Thanks for reading and I hope you get a chance to test out AsyncAirtable. Be sure you check us out on Github. It is completely open source, so feel free to take a look around, and contribute!

Cheers ๐Ÿป

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