The Missing Introduction to Angular and Modern Design Patterns

sinedied
sinedied
Sep 18, 2017 · 7 min read

Angular (aka Angular 2, 4, 5, 6…) is a new framework completely rewritten from the ground up, replacing the now well-known AngularJS framework (aka Angular 1.x).

More that just a framework, Angular should be considered as a whole platform which comes with a complete set of tools like its own CLI, debug utilities or performance tools.

Angular has been around for some time now, but I still get the feeling that it’s not getting the love it deserved, probably because of other players in the field like React or VueJS. While the simplicity behind these frameworks can definitely be attractive, they lack in my opinion what is essential when making big, enterprise-grade apps: a solid frame to lead both experienced developers and beginners in the same direction and a rational convergence of tools, patterns and documentation. Yes, the Angular learning curve may seems a little steep, but it’s definitely worth it.

Getting started

Newcomer

If you’re new to Angular you may feel overwhelmed by the quantity of new concepts to apprehend, so before digging into the documentation you may want to start with this progressive tutorial that will guide you step by step into building a complete Angular application.

AngularJS veteran

If you come from AngularJS and want to dig straight in the new version, you surely want to take a look at the AngularJS vs Angular quick reference.

Cheatsheet

Until you know the full Angular API by heart, you may want to keep this
cheatsheet that resumes the syntax and features on a single page at hand.

Style guide

Good news, there is an official Angular style guide written by the team.

More that just coding rules, this style guide also gives advices and best practices for a good application architecture and is an essential reading for starters. Reading deeper, you can even find many explanations for some design choices of the framework.

FAQ

There is a lot to dig in Angular and some questions frequently bother people. In fact, most of unclear stuff seems to be related to modules, for example the dreaded “Core vs Shared modules” question.

The guys at Angular may have noticed that since you can now find a nice FAQ on their website] answering all the common questions regarding modules. Don’t hesitate to take a look at it, even if you think you are experienced enough with Angular 😉

Going deeper

Even though they are not mandatory, Angular was designed for the use of design patterns you may not be accustomed to, like reactive programming, unidirectional data flow and centralized state management.

These concepts are difficult to resume in a few words, and despite being tightly related to each other they concern specific parts of an application flow, each being quite deep to learn on its own.

You will essentially find here a list of good starting points to learn more on these subjects.

Reactive programming

You may not be aware of it, but Angular is now a reactive system by design. Although you are not forced to use reactive programming patterns, they make the core of the framework and it is definitely recommended to learn them if you want to leverage the best of Angular.

Angular uses RxJS to implement the Observable pattern.

An Observable is a stream of asynchronous events that can be processed with array-like operators.

Example Observable event stream

From promises to observables

While AngularJS used to rely heavily on Promises to handle asynchronous events, Observables are now used instead in Angular. Even though in specific cases like for HTTP requests, an Observable can be converted into a Promise, it is recommended to embrace the new paradigm as it can do a lot more than Promises, with way less code. This transition is also explained in the Angular tutorial. Once you have made the switch, you will never look back again.

Learning references

Unidirectional data flow

In opposition with AngularJS where one of its selling points was two-way data binding which ended up causing a lot of major headaches for complex applications, Angular now enforces unidirectional data flow.

What does it means? Said with other words, it means that change detection cannot cause cycles, which was one of AngularJS problematic points. It also helps to maintain simpler and more predictable data flows in applications, along with substantial performance improvements.

One-way data flow

Wait, then why does the Angular documentation have mention of a two-way binding syntax?

If you look closely, the new two-way binding syntax is just syntactic sugar to combine two one-way bindings (a property and event binding), keeping the data flow unidirectional.

This change is really important, as it was often the cause of performance issues with AngularJS, and it one of the pillars enabling better performance in new Angular apps.

While Angular tries to stay pattern-agnostic and can be used with conventional MV* patterns, it was designed with reactive programming in mind and really shines when used with reactive data flow patterns like
redux, Flux or MVI.

Centralized state management

As applications grow in size, keeping track of the all its individual components state and data flows can become tedious, and tend to be difficult to manage and debug.

The main goal of using a centralized state management is to make state changes predictable by imposing certain restrictions on how and when updates can happen, using unidirectional data flow.

This approach was first made popular with React with introduction of the Flux architecture. Many libraries emerged then trying to adapt and refine the original concept, and one of these gained massive popularity by providing a simpler, elegant alternative: Redux.

Redux is at the same time a library (with the big R) and a design pattern (with the little r), the latter being framework-agnostic and working very well with Angular.

The redux design pattern is based on these 3 principles:

  • The application state is a single immutable data structure

The core concepts behind these principles are nicely explained in this example (3 min).

The redux state update cycle

For those interested, the redux pattern was notably inspired by The Elm Architecture and the CQRS pattern.

Which library to use?

You can make Angular work with any state management library you like, but your best bet would be to use NGXS or @ngrx. Both works the same as the popular Redux library, but with a tight integration with Angular and RxJS, with some nice additional developer utilities.

NGXS is based on the same concepts as @ngrx, but with less boilerplate and a nicer syntax, making it less intimidating.

Some resources to get started:

When to use it?

You may have noticed that most starter templates does not include a centralized state management system out of the box.
Why is that? Well, while there is many benefits from using this pattern, the choice is ultimately up to your team and what you want to achieve with your app.

Keep in mind that using a single central state for your app introduces a new layer a complexity that might not be needed, depending of your goal.

Optimizing performance

While the new Angular version resolves by design most of the performance issues that could be experienced with AngularJS, there is always room for improvements. Just keep in mind that delivering an app with good performance is often a matter of common sense and sane development practices.

Here is a list of key points to check for in your app to make sure you deliver the best experience to your customers:

After going through the checklist, make sure to also run an audit of your page through Lighthouse, the latest Google tool that gives you meaningful insight about your app performance, accessibility, mobile compatibility and more.

Keeping Angular up-to-date

Angular development is moving fast, and updates to the core libs and tools are pushed regularly.

Fortunately, the Angular team provides tools to help you follow through the updates:

  • npm run ng update allows you to update your app and its dependencies

This guide is included with all Angular projects generated by ngX-Rocket. If you are looking for an extensible, well-documented, enterprise-grade starter kit you should check it out!

ngX-Rocket

Rocket start your Angular apps

sinedied

Written by

sinedied

Open-source enthusiast & software artisan

ngX-Rocket

Rocket start your Angular apps

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