Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Top 5 Mistakes AngularJS Developers Make Part 1: Relying on $scope

Although AngularJS is an extraordinarily popular framework, there is plenty of discussion and controversy over whether or not it truly adds value to projects. Having witnessed its value firsthand as I described in my recent post, Angular from a Different Angle, I believe it can be a powerful tool when used correctly. Voltaire said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” A tool like Angular can be easily abused. This series is designed to help you avoid common traps and pitfalls before they become a problem.

The top five mistakes I see people make are:

  1. Heavy reliance on $scope (not using controller as) 
  2. Abusing $watch
  3. Overusing $broadcast and $emit
  4. Hacking the DOM
  5. Failing to Test

In this series I’ll cover examples of both how these items are abused and my suggested “better practice.” Let’s get started with the first mistake.

Relying on $scope (Not Using Controller As)

The canonical Angular tutorial inevitably introduces controllers and forces them to take on a dependency to $scope, like this:

<div ng-app="myApp">
    <div ng-controller="badCtrl">
        <input placeholder="Type your name" ng-model="name" />
        <button ng-click="greetMe()" ng-disabled="notValid()">Greet Me!</button>
(function () {
    var app = angular.module('myApp', []);
    function BadController($scope) {
        $scope.notValid = function () {
            var bad = !!$;
            return !bad || $ < 1;
        $scope.greetMe = function () {
            if ($scope.notValid()) {
            alert('Hello, ' + $;
            $ = '';

    app.controller('badCtrl', BadController);

A controller in Angular is really what I would refer to as a “view model.” In the diagram below, just replace “XAML” with “HTML” to visualize the relationship.


A controller in the traditional sense marshals activity between the application model and view but typically does so in a more active fashion. A view model, on the other hand, simply exposes properties and functions for data-binding. I like this approach because it allows your view models to simply exist as “state bags” – they may interact with services to grab lists or other items but in the end they just expose it. You can then bind to that data and represent it however you like.

Taking on the dependency to $scope does two things. First, it requires the controller to be aware that it is participating in data-binding when it doesn’t have to. It certainly simplifies things when you can just expose a list as a list and a selected item as a property and test that in isolation without worrying about what the glue looks like. The controller defined earlier really just exists as a proxy with the sole purpose of passing setup onto the $scope. Why take on that extra work?

Second, it complicates the testing story because now you have to ensure that a $scope is created and passed in to do something. The controller really becomes a facade to the $scope so you end up with a lot of code marshalling values between the two.

(queue Dr. Evil voice … “If only there were a way for the controller to BE the $scope…”)

Wait! There is! Using the controller as syntax enables you to treat and test controllers as standalone plain old JavaScript objects (POJOs). Consider this example:

<div ng-controller="goodCtrl as ctrl">
    <input placeholder="Type your name" 
            ng-model="" />
    <button ng-click="ctrl.greetMe()" 
            ng-disabled="ctrl.notValid()">Greet Me! </button>
(function () {
    var app = angular.module('myApp', []);
    function GoodController() {
    angular.extend(GoodController.prototype, {
        notValid: function () {
            var bad = !!;
            return !bad || name.length < 1;
        greetMe: function () {
            if (this.notValid()) {
            alert('Hello, ' +;
   = '';
    app.controller('goodCtrl', GoodController);

Although it uses angular.extend, the controller could just as easily have been defined via the constructor function prototype. This makes it a pure JavaScript object. It has no dependencies, and why should it? We haven’t written a controller complicated enough to warrant dependencies yet. $scope just muddies the waters.

I made a fiddle to demonstrate the $scope vs. “controller as” approaches side-by-side.

In fact, if you are taking a test-driven development (TDD) approach, you don’t even have to worry about Angular at first. You can create your controller as a POJO and write plenty of tests, then introduce it as a controller to the application. This provides more flexibility and less reliance on what version is running or even what the UI looks like.

An added bonus is that you can alias the controller in your code so that you either segregate it per section by name, or give it a common name like ctrl to make it easier to build boilerplate HTML code. This syntax is also available from your routes.

Of course, the first response I typically get when I mention not using $scope is “What about watches?” My reply is, “What about them?” Angular does a lot of watching for you, so the real question is whether you really need those watches, or if there is a better way. There may be, and that’s what I’ll cover in the next part of this series.