Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Single Page Applications and AngularJS

For many years, the phrase Single Page Application (SPA) was synonymous with TiddlyWiki, a JavaScript-based wiki that was most useful for running independently without an application server and for some very well written code. Aside from TiddlyWiki, SPA was an approach, not a thing.

Mature JavaScript frameworks like Backbone, Angular and Ember have changed this, embodying the notion that you don't find a sweet spot between pure server push and pure client: you either load an application page by page, or you load a single page and construct the application from client-side templates, routing and model-binding. JQuery can support an SPA approach, but doesn't enforce it, and Adobe Flex enforces an SPA approach, but requires Flash to do so.

Of course, Angular is more than just an SPA framework. Amongst the features Angular provides:

Dependency Injection - a core value of the Angular framework, DI clearly defines the interface for what a class consumes through its constructor, rather than hiding class requirements within the class, which makes Angular JavaScript more readable, easier to maintain, and easier to test, since it is clear how internal connections between services are made within your application code base.  This results in fewer lines of more maintainable code, and ease of testing.
Templating - Angular templating consists of partial HTML views that contains Angular-specific elements and attributes (known as directives). Angular combines the template with information from the model and controller to create the dynamic view that a user sees in the browser.  The result is more natural templates, based on attribution well-formed HTML.

Two-way data-binding - allows you to work with JSON easily, particularly when this JSON is generated from standardized schematics. An example of this would be if an application receives a JSON payload that is constrained by an XML Schema in the server-side API (the API supports both XML and JSON, and the XML complies to an industry standard). In this case, the Angular view could also be generated from the underlying XML Schema.

Modular JavaScript - nothing special here, Angular allows you to separate the concerns of
controllers, services, filters, and directives into separate modules. Encapsulation makes these components easier to maintain and easier to test, for instance by a team with multiple members.

Controllers and URL Routing - aside from Dependency Injection, Angular's MVVM pattern is the big win here, and routing is just something you need to get used to. Originally, JavaScript was the glue-code for the web, and once you have your application sufficiently modularized, you will find that your Angular controllers retain this stickiness, but, as you build reusable services, your controllers remain lightweight. If you have any business or maintenance logic in your controllers, it is time to refactor and create services. Controllers and routing may not be reusable; services and views will be.

Multi-level data scoping - scope is confusing in JavaScript because of the way global scope and declaration hoisting work. Angular simplifies passing scope into a controller or service, and offers a rootScope object that replaces the global namespace. Further, events can be associated with scope at various levels. Data binding, the event model, and service invocation all use the same scope mechanism.

Responsive Design - Bootstrap is a Responsive Web Design library built in CSS and JavaScript. The JavaScript portion of Bootstrap has been ported to Angular directives as part of the AngularUI extension, which fits nicely within the Angular directive paradigm. Directives are fundamental to how Angular works. Using the Bootstrap directives removes some of the need to develop custom directives (custom behaviors and HTML tags). [http://angular-ui.github.io/bootstrap/]

Web Components - with the upcoming partial merging of the Angular framework with the Durandal presentation framework, Angular should move one step closer to supporting the Web Component API, which aligns with the intent behind Angular custom directives, and will bring these more in line with projects like Polymer. By using a common API, these UI libraries become more transportable. 

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