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Deep dive: Building with Gadget Actions

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Learn more about how and why Gadget Actions work the way they do, and how to effectively use them in your projects.

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Deep dive: Building with Gadget Actions

Mo Hashemi
August 4, 2023

This series is written by the Gadget founders and developers to help you better understand and work with our platform’s key concepts.

We’ll touch on the unique components of Gadget in an effort to be more transparent about how and why Gadget works the way it does, since our concepts are often higher level than the typical building blocks you get with other tools or languages. We build things a certain way in Gadget to make development faster and more efficient, and we hope this gives you a peek behind the curtain.

In this article, we deep dive into Gadget Actions, including what they are, why we designed them the way we did, and how to use them in your projects. 

What is a Gadget Action?

Actions are the primary unit of work that makes up your Gadget backend. With Actions, you can read or write records to your Gadget database, run server-side logic outside of the database, or do both. Actions are a core concept of the Gadget framework, and a big part of why web app development is faster and easier with Gadget, compared to other tools and frameworks.

What makes Actions special?

You’re probably thinking that you can do everything above without even touching Gadget, and you’d be right. But just because you can, doesn’t mean you should have to.

Gadget Actions are powerful because they abstract the pesky boilerplate work involved in building, documenting, serving, and scaling a robust backend API. What makes Actions special is not the fact that you can build out and run your desired backend logic, but that you can do it in a fraction of the time it takes with traditional development tools.

Gadget’s Actions are faster and easier to build with, because they come with several built-in features designed to save you from hours of menial work:

• Actions don’t need route handlers or controllers. Gadget sets those up so that you don’t have to.
• Actions are automatically documented by Gadget.
• Actions are instantly accessible via a public API that can be called in GraphQL, JS or React.
• Tenancy, data privacy, and data access controls are handled by Gadget, and can be further customized by you.
• Actions can easily be extended to do additional work, inside or outside of the database.
• Actions are serverless. They are scaled and kept performant by Gadget.

Building an API endpoint with the features described above would be many hours, or even days, of work. In Gadget, you can have an Action added to your API, and documented, within seconds.

Watch us build an Action that creates a blog post and logs the request in Gadget’s logger.
Watch now

Action types

Depending on how users interact with our apps, developers typically need to make changes to either an individual record, or a collection of data all at once. Normally we would do this by writing our own APIs from scratch, or by using something like an existing ORM solution, but Gadget simplifies this by giving you two types of Actions to work with: Model and Global Actions. 

Model Actions are tied to a specific data model in Gadget. These Actions can only interact with one individual record. They can run additional server-side logic outside of the database, but they are always related to operations taken on a single record.

For example, if you wanted to build an action that creates a blog post and then sends a confirmation SMS, you would use a Model action.

Global Actions on the other hand, are API endpoints that run logic that is not tied to an individual record. These Actions can interact with many records at once (e.g. aggregating information before sending it elsewhere), or no records at all (e.g. sending a bulk email everyday to all of your app users). 

Of course, you can use both types of Actions together. For example, you may want to use a model Action to create a blog post (a single record), and then run a global Action to send a weekly email to all your subscribers with a summary and links to posts from this week (many records).

Now that we understand the different types of Actions available in Gadget, let’s take a closer look at how they work, and what you can actually do with them.

The anatomy of an Action

Actions are typically made up of three parts:

Permissions determine WHO is allowed to call an Action. As you add Actions to your project, Gadget automatically generates UI-configurable access control settings under the “Roles and Permissions” page of your project.

Manage all of your app permissions, including Actions, from the Roles & Permissions page

Triggers determine WHEN an Action will run. Most Gadget Actions are triggered by requests to your project’s API. However, there are other triggers available for your Gadget Actions, including:

• Third party webhooks from platforms like Shopify
• Schedulers that allow you to build cron jobs with no code

Gadget sets up all of the triggers for your Actions. You do not need to write your own route handlers or controllers in Gadget, as the framework sets those up for you.

Logic to determine WHAT happens once an Action is correctly called with the right trigger and permissions. Gadget will run the Action logic and display it as a node.JS file that you can hook into, personalize, and extend.

Let’s take a closer look at the default logic that’s included in Actions, and how it can be extended with code.

A deep dive into Action files

When you add a data model to Gadget, the platform instantly produces ‘create’, ‘update’, and ‘delete’ Actions, and exposes them as Node.js files that can be customized and extended.

For example, the file containing the logic to ‘createBlogPost’ looks like this by default:

Example of an Action file in Gadget

Let’s break this file down, line by line, and talk through the framework and how to extend it.

Line 1: Gadget imports a set of functions that power the backend framework


The 'applyParams' sets the parameters from the incoming API call on the in-memory record instance. 

The 'save' validates the record, then persists the in-memory record to the database.

Line 10: The ‘run’ function


The ‘run’ function is the first of two functions that are executed within an Action. For model Actions, ‘run’ typically represents the database work that Gadget will be handling for us. 

In this example, we can see that when we make an API call to our ‘create’ Action, Gadget will execute the ‘run’ function which simply takes in the incoming data and saves it to the appropriate database table within Gadget.

The ‘run’ function can be extended to do additional database work, before or after a record is saved. See our guides for more examples on how to extend the ‘run’ function, 

Line 18: The ‘onSuccess’ function


The ‘onSuccess’ function will only run once the ‘run’ function has successfully ended. In the event that the ‘run’ function is aborted, or fails for any reason, the ‘onSuccess’ function will not execute. 

The ‘onSuccess’ function is typically where you will run business logic that sits outside of the database (e.g. send an SMS via Twilio after a blog post is created). See our guides for more information on the ‘onSuccess’ function. 

In conclusion

Actions are an integral part of the Gadget framework, and what makes Gadget so special. You can think of them as serverless functions that have special, built-in capabilities aimed at making them faster to work with and more approachable than their traditional counterparts.

They make up the majority of your Gadget app’s backend, and serve as the primary way to run server-side logic performantly within the platform. 

To learn more about Actions, how they work, and how you can extend them, you can read our docs. If you have any questions, feedback, or just want to connect with the Gadget team, join our Discord.

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