AngularJS: A Powerful JavaScript Framework

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Note: This article covers the AngularJS framework, but for the latest version, check out our newer article, The Future is Angular: An Introduction to Angular 2.

Front-end web developers rely most heavily on JavaScript (JS) to create the interactive aspects of a website that users see in their browsers—and, where there’s JS, there are frameworks and libraries being employed to streamline and simplify its complex code. AngularJS a comprehensive JavaScript framework—and it gives AngularJS developers everything they need to set up the front-end of a web application, with a modular approach to web design and a large support community.

Read on to learn more about this popular framework and get a glimpse of what’s new with its newest release, Angular 2.0.

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ANGULAR BASICS

AngularJS is a full-featured JavaScript framework, with the core goal of simplification. It excels at building dynamic, single page web apps (SPAs) and supports the Model View Controller (MVC) programming structure. It powers sites include Google, Virgin America, and HBO’s mobile site for iPad. Other highlights:

  • Open-source, front-end JavaScript framework developed by Google
  • A library of JavaScript code based on standard JS and HTML, with minimal modifications (meaning, it’s less likely to break)
  • Handles the heavy lifting of DOM manipulation and AJAX glue that once had to be coded from scratch
  • Encourages the developer to use modular building blocks of JavaScript code that can be categorized and are easy to test
  • Can be added to any HTML page with a <script> tag

Tech differentiators of AngularJS include:

  • Two-way data bindings
  • Controllers
  • Expressions, which bind data to HTML
  • $Scope, a novel way of handling variable dependency and global variables
  • Directives, which extend HTML attributes. “Extending” is the key to how AngularJS works

AngularJS tackles the problem of building dynamic web apps, allowing the developer to extend the functionality of HTML by giving them the ability to create new constructs with Angular directives. This effectively abstracts away tricky DOM manipulation, reducing it to simple elements that can be embedded directly into an HTML template. The most famous example of this is two-way data binding, a once code heavy task being relegated to simply wrapping {{ }} around your expression.

SHOULD YOU USE ANGULARJS FOR YOUR SITE?

If you’re looking to build a dynamic SPA with sleek desktop-like user experience, AngularJS is the framework for your needs. As a general purpose framework built for CRUD (Create Read Update Delete) applications, AngularJS is a good fit for most web applications. There are however a few noteworthy factors to consider whether AngularJS will suit your needs.

  • AngularJS is opinionated. As a comprehensive client-side solution, AngularJS is naturally opinionated on how a CRUD application should be developed. That means there is definitely an “Angular” way of building a web project, and you’ll need to check with the development team as to whether AngularJS is a right fit for your project’s development workflow.
  • Not all projects require a framework as robust as AngularJS. For simpler websites, there are lighter weight frameworks like Backbone.js that are better suited to the task.
  • Not suited for data intensive or tricky DOM manipulation. AngularJS uses “dirty checking” when managing changes to the DOM—the AngularJS digest checks all variables watched by all $scopes for changes. Any value change among any of the variables forces an update of the DOM. While this isn’t a problem for your average website, applications that require heavy DOM manipulation like GUI (Graphic User Interface) editors and video games will start to lag. Another noteworthy use-case where AngularJS would run into trouble, is large photo galleries that see huge volumes of traffic, like Instagram—while there are workarounds, you are better off using a more powerful rendering engine for your view, like React.

That said, there are many pros to using AngularJS for the front-end of your website. A major bonus is its role in the MEAN stack (MongoDB, ExpressJS, AngularJS and Node.js), which makes it possible to use JavaScript as the sole programming language for both the front end and back end of your site. Your developer will know when and where to apply it during the process, but here are a few things to know about this framework:

  • It builds powerful applications—like Gmail, for example—with ease.
  • AngularJS is part of the MEAN Stack. MEAN can do everything the LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP) stack does, just with the same language that, chances are, is already being used on your site’s front end.
  • Modularity and code organization make it great for dividing up large-scale work with a team. Modularity also makes testing and debugging a breeze.
  • Uses the shortest possible code
  • Functionality-first thinking vs. structure-first thinking make this framework more focused on features, which in turn makes developers’ jobs easier.
  • Pairs with AJAX for amazing speed
  • Also clicks well with a Ruby on Rails back end, and can be integrated into a Rails workflow because they share the same ideology and code structure can flow well from the front end to the back end
  • It’s great for top-down development as a development philosophy (vs. bottom-up, which can be more frustrating for your developer).
  • Can handle heavy user interaction via forms. Its validation side is excellent, and its admin area is great, too.
  • Excellent tools and support from the Google community
  • AngularJS also works well with the ASP.NET framework and C# language on the back end of a site.

EVERYTHING CHANGES WITH ANGULAR 2.0

After Angular 2 initially left Beta on May 2, 2016, and a “final” official release of Angular 2.0.0 on September 14, 2016, the Angular team has finally ditched the tentative “-rc.x” versioning system for something more traditional and production worthy. More than an update, Angular 2 is a major rewrite of the AngularJS framework. Here’s a brief list of what’s new with Angular 2:

  • Angular 2 is based entirely on components—say goodbye to $scope and controllers, and hello to @components, Angular’s latest take on the dependency injection model. A component is basically a directive with a template.
  • Streamlined directives—Creating your own directives has gotten even easier with the new @Directive annotation, simply set your selector, properties, and host listeners.
  • ECMAScript 6 (ES6)—Angular 2.0 supports the latest JavaScript standard.
  • Support for TypeScript—great news for .NET developers, Microsoft’s open-source extension to ES6 will be supported by Angular 2. That means you get access to all the advantages, libraries, and technologies associated with TypeScript.
  • Server-Side Rendering—One way AngularJS was starting to show its age was its lack of server-side rendering. In addition to link previews in message posts, progressive enhancement (static server rendered view for cases where JavaScript is disabled in the browser), and the advantages of server rendered content for SEO, it was simply a faster form of rendering a view upon initial loading of a webpage. Since Angular 2 was rewritten from the ground up, this feature was naturally included in the update.

There is so much more to Angular 2.0, it almost deserves an article of its. Stay tuned for future updates once this framework has had a chance to prove itself on the web.

Want to see how AngularJS stacks up to other, similar frameworks? Read these comparison articles to decide which is best for you.

AngularJS vs. Ember
AngularJS vs. React
AngularJS vs. jQuery
AngularJS vs. Backbone.js

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Carey Wodehouse

by - Freelance Content Marketer and Writer

Carey Wodehouse is a freelance content marketer and writer based in Richmond, VA who’s worked for clients ranging from online retailers and global market research… more