Why Your Applications Need Optimistic Updates


Optimistic update is a key concept in software development, instrumental in enhancing the user experience by making applications feel faster and more efficient. This is where developers tend to be ‘optimistic’ that the server will surely return a success on whatever action the user performs. This strategy involves the application of updates on the client side instantly, without waiting for a server response to confirm the operation’s success. It operates on the assumption that the server-side operation will succeed. This strategy is widely embraced in developing modern web applications, where speed and efficiency are paramount. Despite its advantages, the approach presents unique challenges that must be handled effectively.

Deep Dive into Optimistic Update

Optimistic update is fundamentally based on the principle of optimism. It operates on the assumption that most interactions in an application will succeed. For instance, when a user performs an action such as liking a post or adding a comment, the update is instantly reflected on the user interface, even before the server confirms the operation’s success. This instant feedback gives users a sense of immediate gratification, making the application more responsive and quick. It enhances the user’s perception of the application’s speed and performance, contributing to a positive user experience.

Example: Social Media Likes

Consider whatever social media platform we use daily, be it X, Instagram or Facebook, where users can like posts. When a user clicks the “like” button, the application immediately updates the like count and changes the button’s appearance to indicate that the post has been liked. This happens without waiting for the server to confirm that the like has been recorded. The user sees the change instantly, which makes the application feel fast and responsive. If the server later confirms the like, no further action is needed. If the server reports a failure (e.g., due to a network issue), the application can revert the like count and button appearance to their previous states and notify the user of the failure.

Example: Online Multiplayer Games

In online multiplayer games, players often perform actions that must be reflected immediately on their screens. For instance, when a player moves their character or performs an attack, the game client updates the game state instantly without waiting for the server to confirm the action. This ensures that the game feels smooth and responsive. If the server later detects an issue (e.g., the action is invalid or a network problem), it can send a correction to the client, which then adjusts the game state accordingly.

From a technical perspective, optimistic updating also reduces the server load, as the client doesn’t need to check for updates constantly. This can lead to more efficient use of server resources and potentially reduce the cost and complexity of server-side operations.

The Upsides of Optimistic Update

The implementation of optimistic update brings several benefits to both users and developers. Most notably, it significantly enhances the user experience. It eradicates the lag that typically occurs while waiting for server response, which gives the application a faster, more seamless feel. This immediate feedback is particularly beneficial in applications where real-time feedback is crucial, such as social media platforms and online multiplayer games.

Challenges: Handling Failures in Optimistic Update

Despite its many advantages, optimistic update is not without its challenges. The most significant of these is the handling of failures. Since the application does not wait for server confirmation, there is a risk that the action might fail on the server side. This could lead to inconsistencies between the user’s view of the data and the actual state of the data on the server.

Example: E-commerce Shopping Cart

In an e-commerce application, when a user adds an item to their shopping cart, the application might immediately update the cart’s contents and display the new item. However, if the server later reports that the item is out of stock, the application needs to remove the item from the cart and notify the user. This requires a mechanism to revert the changes on the client side and handle the failure gracefully. The application might display a message informing the user that the item is unavailable and suggest alternative products.

Developers need to implement a robust system to handle such scenarios. This typically involves a mechanism to revert the changes on the client side and notify the user about the failure. These mechanisms must be designed carefully to ensure they do not negatively impact the user experience.


Optimistic update is a powerful technique that can significantly improve the user experience in modern web applications. By assuming success and updating the user interface immediately, applications can feel faster and more responsive. However, it is crucial to handle potential failures effectively to ensure the reliability of the application.

While optimistic updating may not be suitable for all situations, with careful planning and robust error handling, it can be a valuable tool in a developer’s arsenal. It’s a strategy that requires a balance - the benefits of immediate feedback and perceived speed must be weighed against the challenges of handling potential failures. But when done right, the benefits can significantly outweigh the challenges, leading to applications that are not just faster, but also more user-friendly and efficient.