I’ve been building a new thing called Ampwall since the beginning of 2023 and it’s going quite well. I announced it via Twitter post on September 29 (same day as Woe’s fifth album release!) and the response was intense. I’m doing it full-time and I am optimistic.

Ampwall is built using Next.js. Specifically, I’m using Next.js 13’s divisive App Router. I like it quite a bit. I server-rendering, I think we ship too much JavaScript to clients and make our lives as engineers harder when we insist on writing APIs for things that should just use server templates. But I also love React and TypeScript, so I don’t want to give up on these if I don’t have to. Next.js 13’s embrace of React Server Components and Server Actions ticks all the boxes: server rendering with TypeScript and React! Beautiful.

Vercel announced Server Actions were stable last week as part of their Next.js 14 release event. This has spawned a lot of conversation, critique, and drama, most of which I find rather dull or knee-jerky or immature. But one topic piqued my interest: versioning. How do you version server actions? What do we need to consider when deploying new versions?

The problem

Version skew is well-defined and understood by software engineers. It can be a challenging problem for products with long-running client sessions. One benefit of the explicit API client-server relationship is the explicit definition and publishing of public API interfaces. Experienced engineers intuitively understand this. It’s typical for changes to be flagged during code reviews: “This will break old clients”, we should mark this argument optional and watch logs until 99% of users are on the new version”, or “We should put this endpoint in a v2 namespace”.

Server Actions essentially create RPC endpoints in Next.js servers. This is magical and it works wonderfully. When you define a function with the magic 'use server' directive or put it in a 'use server' file, it will be executed by the server.

'use server';

// This can be called from the client but it will execute on the server
export async function foo() {
  return 'bar';

As I understand it, this works by creating an ID representing this function and outputting code that, from a client, makes a POST and references the ID as the value of a header called Next-Action.

So then: how do we version Server Actions? More urgently, if I deploy five versions of my app across five days and a client fails to reload their window past day 1, what will happen when they interact with foo()?

What’s in a name?

The answer to all of this comes back to how the Next-Action ID is generated. From what I can tell, the ID comes from this function. It creates a SHA1 hash using a combination of the file name and function name. This matches what I’ve seen: a function called foo in a file called bar will always have the same ID, regardless of its implementation. So where versioning is concerned – if we want to introduce a breaking change to a Server Action, maybe adding a required argument to unlock some new behavior without breaking folks who haven’t reloaded yet – we can create fooV2. We could do something like this:

'use server';

export async function foo(optionalArg?: string) {
  if (optionalArg) {
    // do the new thing
  } else {
    // do the old thing

export async function fooV2(requiredArg: string) {
  return foo(requiredArg);

But this is a mighty footgun: renaming a function changes your server’s public interface. “Well, duh, of course, just like renaming an API endpoint is a breaking changes.” Yes, but React Server Actions are a new paradigm with a fuzzy line deliberately drawn between client and server, invisible to an engineer working in a Client Component and easily confused with a plain ole backend async function if you’re working in the server.

React Server Actions bring us one simple refactor away from introducing version skew in a way that might be extremely surprising. Reorganize your files? Fix a typo in a function? Rename something to be more explicit or fit its purpose better? Breaking API changes.

Don’t give me bad news

Ok, so you fixed a typo in a function while doing something else. It’s so trivial that nobody thought about it during a code review, you obviously spelled “cart” as “crat” and that needed to be fixed. Version skew has been introduced but at least you’ll know from logs, right?

Nope. When a client POSTs to a Server Action function that does not exist, the server swallows it silently and returns 200. You will not know something is wrong unless the client that called it is looking for a response and fires a loggable error.

New day, new best practices

What do we do with this knowledge? I’m doubling down on some approaches and considering others.

First, the things I’ve been doing since day 1: no anonymous functions with use server, no Server Actions defined in files that aren’t explicitly dedicated to them. I put all of my Server Actions in a folder called controllers because I treat them like the C in MVC. This limits the likelihood of having to move a Server Action to another file and changing its hash.

Next, I’m considering something else: the server action itself is just a one-line wrapper around an implementation.

'use server';

export async function fooV1(input1: string, input2: number) {
  return fooImpl(input1, input2);

This offers a few benefits: it makes Server Actions look weird in a way that will hopefully stand out to someone reviewing, it decreases the likelihood that some well-intentioned engineer will be mucking about in a file where they can accidentally cause problems, and it limits the responsibility of the Server Action to the routing layer of the server.

How could this be improved?

It seems clearly to me that we need a way to explicitly set or seed a Server Action.

'use server';

// Great opportunity for a decorator
export async function foo() {
  // impl

// Or just add it as metadata here?
foo.actionKey = 'foo';

// Maybe a string literal?

export async function foo() {

This breaks the dependency between the declaration and the public interface, or at least gives us a way to control the output.

Is this really worth it?

When I posted about this on Reddit, my recommendation that we need a way to control this was met with a great quip: “Like, say, a URL?”. That’s a good point. If we’re explicitly keying our endpoints, we’re sort of just creating an alternate path to a public API, aren’t we?

I’d say we still benefit from avoiding the ritual boilerplate of API declarations. Server Actions, for me, have been part of a mighty improvement to my Developer Experience, and I don’t think that explicitly keying them would negate their benefit. If anything, explicit keys would help engineers understand that their Server Actions are already API endpoints. It would make them more predictable, less magical, and help folks doing code reviews or tracking regressions. I think we’d be able to find a way to add an eslint rule to require explicit keys.

I’m going to keep using Server Actions but I’m watching this closely. They’re still young and I’m optimistic that the experience of using them and managing projects will only improve over time.