Retrieving and Displaying Data with AngularJS and the MEAN Stack: Part II

Explore various methods of retrieving and displaying data using AngularJS and the MEAN Stack.

Mobile View on Android Smartphone

Mobile View on Android Smartphone

Introduction

In this two-part post, we are exploring methods of retrieving and displaying data using AngularJS and the MEAN Stack. The post’s corresponding GitHub project, ‘meanstack-data-samples‘, is based on William Lepinski’s ‘generator-meanstack‘, which is in turn is based on Yeoman’s ‘generator-angular‘. As a bonus, since both projects are based on ‘generator-angular’, all the code generators work. Generators can save a lot of time and aggravation when building AngularJS components.

In part one of this post, we installed and configured the ‘meanstack-data-samples’ project from GitHub. In part two, we will we will look at five examples of retrieving and displaying data using AngularJS:

  • Function within AngularJS Controller returns array of strings.
  • AngularJS Service returns an array of simple object literals to the controller.
  • AngularJS Factory returns the contents of JSON file to the controller.
  • AngularJS Factory returns the contents of JSON file to the controller using a resource object
    (In GitHub project, but not discussed in this post).
  • AngularJS Factory returns a collection of documents from MongoDB Database to the controller.
  • AngularJS Factory returns results from Google’s RESTful Web Search API to the controller.

Project Structure

For brevity, I have tried to limit the number of files in the project. There are two main views, both driven by a single controller. The primary files, specific to data retrieval and display, are as follows:

  • Default site file (./)
    • index.html – loads all CSS and JavaScript files, and views
  • App and Routes (./app/scripts/)
    • app.js – instantiates app and defines routes (route/view/controller relationship)
  • Views (./app/views/)
    • data-bootstrap.html – uses Twitter Bootstrap
    • data-no-bootstrap.html – basically the same page, without Twitter Bootstrap
  • Controllers (./app/scripts/controllers/)
    • DataController.js (DataController) – single controller used by both views
  • Services and Factories (./app/scripts/services/)
    • meanService.js (meanService) – service returns array of object literals to DataController
    • jsonFactory.js (jsonFactory) – factory returns contents of JSON file
    • jsonFactoryResource.js (jsonFactoryResource) – factory returns contents of JSON file using resource object (new)
    • mongoFactory.js (mongoFactory) – factory returns MongoDB collection of documents
    • googleFactory.js (googleFactory) – factory call Google Web Search API
  • Models (./app/models/)
    • Components.js – mongoose constructor for the Component schema definition
  • Routes (./app/)
    • routes.js – mongoose RESTful routes
  • Data (./app/data/)
    • otherStuff.json – static JSON file loaded by jsonFactory
  • Environment Configuration (./config/environments/)
    • index.js – defines all environment configurations
    • test.js – Configuration specific to the current ‘test’ environment
  • Unit Tests (./test/spec/…)
    • Various files – all controller and services/factories unit test files are in here…
Project in JetBrains WebStorm 8.0

Project in JetBrains WebStorm 8.0

There are many more files, critical to the project’s functionality, include app.js, Gruntfile.js, bower.json, package.json, server.js, karma.conf.js, and so forth. You should understand each of these file’s purposes.

Function Returns Array

In the first example, we have the yeomanStuff() method, a member of the $scope object, within the DataController.  The yeomanStuff() method return an array object containing three strings. In JavaScript, a method is a function associated with an object.

$scope.yeomanStuff = function () {
  return [
    'yo',
    'Grunt',
    'Bower'
  ];
};
'yeomanStuff' Method of the '$scope' Object

‘yeomanStuff’ Method of the ‘$scope’ Object

The yeomanStuff() method is called from within the view by Angular’s ng-repeat directive. The directive, ng-repeat, allows us to loop through the array of strings and add them to an unordered list. We will use ng-repeat for all the examples in this post.

<ul class="list-group">
  <li class="list-group-item"
	  ng-repeat="stuff in yeomanStuff()">
	{{stuff}}
  </li>
<ul>

Method1

Although this first example is easy to implement, it is somewhat impractical. Generally, you would not embed static data into your code. This limits your ability to change the data, independent of a application’s code. In addition, the function is tightly coupled to the controller, limiting its reuse.

Service Returns Array

In the second example, we also use data embedded in our code. However, this time we have improved the architecture slightly by moving the data to an Angular Service. The meanService contains the getMeanStuff() function, which returns an array containing four object literals. Using a service, we can call the getMeanStuff() function from anywhere in our project.

angular.module('generatorMeanstackApp')
  .service('meanService', function () {
    this.getMeanStuff = function () {
      return ([
        {
          component: 'MongoDB',
          url: 'http://www.mongodb.org'
        },
        {
          component: 'Express',
          url: 'http://expressjs.com'
        },
        {
          component: 'AngularJS',
          url: 'http://angularjs.org'
        },
        {
          component: 'Node.js',
          url: 'http://nodejs.org'
        }
      ])
    };
  });

Within the DataController, we assign the array object, returned from the meanService.getMeanStuff() function, to the meanStuff object property of the  $scope object.

$scope.meanStuff = {};
try {
  $scope.meanStuff = meanService.getMeanStuff();
} catch (error) {
  console.error(error);
}
'meanStuff' Property of the '$scope' Object

‘meanStuff’ Property of the ‘$scope’ Object

The meanStuff object property is accessed from within the view, using ng-repeat. Each object in the array contains two properties, component and url. We display the property values on the page using Angular’s double curly brace expression notation (i.e. ‘{{stuff.component}}‘).

<ul class="nav nav-pills nav-stacked">
  <li ng-repeat="stuff in meanStuff">
    url}}"
       target="_blank">{{stuff.component}}
  </li>
<ul>

Method2

Promises, Promises…

The remaining methods implement an asynchronous (non-blocking) programming model, using the $http and $q services of Angular’s ng module. The services implements the asynchronous Promise and Deferred APIs. According to Chris Webb, in his excellent two-part post, Promise & Deferred objects in JavaScript: Theory and Semantics, a promise represents a value that is not yet known and a deferred represents work that is not yet finished. I strongly recommend reading Chris’ post, before continuing. I also highly recommend watching RED Ape EDU’s YouTube video, Deferred and Promise objects in Angular js. This video really clarified the promise and deferred concepts for me.

Factory Loads JSON File

In the third example, we will read data from a JSON file (‘./app/data/otherStuff.json‘) using an AngularJS Factory. The differences between a service and a factory can be confusing, and are beyond the scope of this post. Here is two great links on the differences, one on Angular’s site and one on StackOverflow.

{
  "components": [
    {
      "component": "jQuery",
      "url": "http://jquery.com"
    },
    {
      "component": "Jade",
      "url": "http://jade-lang.com"
    },
    {
      "component": "JSHint",
      "url": "http://www.jshint.com"
    },
    {
      "component": "Karma",
      "url": "http://karma-runner.github.io"
    },
    ...
  ]
}

The jsonFactory contains the getOtherStuff() function. This function uses $http.get() to read the JSON file and returns a promise of the response object. According to Angular’s site, “since the returned value of calling the $http function is a promise, you can also use the then method to register callbacks, and these callbacks will receive a single argument – an object representing the response. A response status code between 200 and 299 is considered a success status and will result in the success callback being called. ” As I mentioned, a complete explanation of the deferreds and promises, is too complex for this short post.

angular.module('generatorMeanstackApp')
  .factory('jsonFactory', function ($q, $http) {
    return {
      getOtherStuff: function () {
        var deferred = $q.defer(),
          httpPromise = $http.get('data/otherStuff.json');

        httpPromise.then(function (response) {
          deferred.resolve(response);
        }, function (error) {
          console.error(error);
        });

        return deferred.promise;
      }
    };
  });

The response object contains the data property. Angular defines the response object’s data property as a string or object, containing the response body transformed with the transform functions. One of the properties of the data property is the components array containing the seven objects. Within the DataController, if the promise is resolved successfully, the callback function assigns the contents of the components array to the otherStuff property of the $scope object.

$scope.otherStuff = {};
jsonFactory.getOtherStuff()
  .then(function (response) {
    $scope.otherStuff = response.data.components;
  }, function (error) {
    console.error(error);
  });
'otherStuff' Property of the '$scope' Object

‘otherStuff’ Property of the ‘$scope’ Object

The otherStuff property is accessed from the view, using ng-repeat, which displays individual values, exactly like the previous methods.

<ul class="nav nav-pills nav-stacked">
  <li ng-repeat="stuff in otherStuff">
    <a href="{{stuff.url}}"
       target="_blank">{{stuff.component}}</a>
  </li>
</ul>

Method3

This method of reading a JSON file is often used for configuration files. Static configuration data is stored in a JSON file, external to the actual code. This way, the configuration can be modified without requiring the main code to be recompiled and deployed. It is a technique used by the components within this very project. Take for example the bower.json files and the package.json files. Both contain configuration data, stored as JSON, used by Bower and npm to perform package management.

Factory Retrieves Data from MongoDB

In the fourth example, we will read data from a MongoDB database. There are a few more moving parts in this example than in the previous examples. Below are the documents in the components collection of the meanstack-test MongoDB database, which we will retrieve and display with this method.  The meanstack-test database is defined in the test.js environments file (discussed in part one).

'meanstack-test' Database's 'components' Collection Documents

‘meanstack-test’ Database’s ‘components’ Collection Documents

To connect to the MongoDB, we will use Mongoose. According to their website, “Mongoose provides a straight-forward, schema-based solution to modeling your application data and includes built-in type casting, validation, query building, business logic hooks and more, out of the box.” But wait, MongoDB is schemaless? It is. However, Mongoose provides a schema-based API for us to work within. Again, according to Mongoose’s website, “Everything in Mongoose starts with a Schema. Each schema maps to a MongoDB collection and defines the shape of the documents within that collection.

In our example, we create the componentSchema schema, and pass it to the Component model (the ‘M’ in MVC). The componentSchema maps to the database’s components collection.

var mongoose = require('mongoose');
var Schema = mongoose.Schema;

var componentSchema = new Schema({
  component: String,
  url: String
});

module.exports = mongoose.model('Component', componentSchema);

The routes.js file associates routes (Request URIs) and HTTP methods to Mongoose actions. These actions are usually CRUD operations. In our simple example, we have a single route, ‘/api/components‘, associated with an HTTP GET method. When an HTTP GET request is made to the ‘/api/components‘ request URI, Mongoose calls the Model.find() function, ‘Component.find()‘, with a callback function parameter. The Component.find() function returns all documents in the components collection.

var Component = require('./models/component');

module.exports = function (app) {
  app.get('/api/components', function (req, res) {
    Component.find(function (err, components) {
      if (err)
        res.send(err);

      res.json(components);
    });
  });
};

You can test these routes, directly. Below, is the results of calling the ‘/api/components‘ route in Chrome.

Response from MongoDB Using Mongoose

Response from MongoDB Using Mongoose

The mongoFactory contains the getMongoStuff() function. This function uses $http.get() to call  the ‘/api/components‘ route. The route is resolved by the routes.js file, which in turn executes the Component.find() command. The promise of an array of objects is returned by the getMongoStuff() function. Each object represents a document in the components collection.

angular.module('generatorMeanstackApp')
  .factory('mongoFactory', function ($q, $http) {
    return {
      getMongoStuff: function () {
        var deferred = $q.defer(),
          httpPromise = $http.get('/api/components');

        httpPromise.success(function (components) {
          deferred.resolve(components);
        })
          .error(function (error) {
            console.error('Error: ' + error);
          });

        return deferred.promise;
      }
    };
  });

Within the DataController, if the promise is resolved successfully, the callback function assigns the array of objects, representing the documents in the collection, to the mongoStuff property of the $scope object.

$scope.mongoStuff = {};
mongoFactory.getMongoStuff()
  .then(function (components) {
    $scope.mongoStuff = components;
  }, function (error) {
    console.error(error);
  });
'mongoStuff' Property of the '$scope' Object

‘mongoStuff’ Property of the ‘$scope’ Object

The mongoStuff property is accessed from the view, using ng-repeat, which displays individual values using Angular expressions, exactly like the previous methods.

<ul class="list-group">
  <li class="list-group-item" ng-repeat="stuff in mongoStuff">
    <b>{{stuff.component}}</b>
    <div class="text-muted">{{stuff.description}}</div>
  </li>
</ul>

Method4

Factory Calls Google Search

In the last example, we will call the Google Web Search API from an AngularJS Factory. The Google Web Search API exposes a simple RESTful interface. According to Google, “in all cases, the method supported is GET and the response format is a JSON encoded result set with embedded status codes.” Google describes this method of using RESTful access to the API, as “for Flash developers, and those developers that have a need to access the Web Search API from other Non-JavaScript environment.” However, we will access it in our JavaScript-based MEAN stack application, due to the API’s ease of implementation.

Note according to Google’s site, “the Google Web Search API has been officially deprecated…it will continue to work…but the number of requests…will be limited. Therefore, we encourage you to move to Custom Search, which provides an alternative solution.Google Search, or more specifically, the Custom Search JSON/Atom API, is a newer API, but the Web Search API is easier to demonstrate in this brief post than Custom Search JSON/Atom API, which requires the use of an API key.

The googleFactory contains the getSearchResults() function. This function uses $http.jsonp() to call the Google Web Search API RESTful interface and return the promise of the JSONP-formatted (‘JSON with padding’) response. JSONP provides cross-domain access to a JSON payload, by wrapping the payload in a JavaScript function call (callback).

angular.module('generatorMeanstackApp')
  .factory('googleFactory', function ($q, $http) {
    return {
      getSearchResults: function () {
        var deferred = $q.defer(),
          host = 'https://ajax.googleapis.com/ajax/services/search/web',
          args = {
            'version': '1.0',
            'searchTerm': 'mean%20stack',
            'results': '8',
            'callback': 'JSON_CALLBACK'
          },
          params = ('?v=' + args.version + '&q=' + args.searchTerm + '&rsz=' +
            args.results + '&callback=' + args.callback),
          httpPromise = $http.jsonp(host + params);

        httpPromise.then(function (response) {
          deferred.resolve(response);
        }, function (error) {
          console.error(error);
        });

        return deferred.promise;
      }
    };
  });

The getSearchResults() function uses the HTTP GET method to make an HTTP request the following RESTful URI:
https://ajax.googleapis.com/ajax/services/search/web?v=1.0&q=mean%20stack&rsz=8&callback=angular.callbacks._0

Using Google Chrome’s Developer tools, we can preview the Google Web Search JSONP-format HTTP response (abridged). Note the callback function that wraps the JSON payload.

Google Web Search Results in Chrome Browser

Google Web Search Results in Chrome Browser

Within the DataController, if the promise is resolved successfully, our callback function returns the response object. The response object contains a lot of information. We are able to limit that amount of information sent to the view by only assigning the actual search results, an array of eight objects contained in the response object, to the googleStuff property of the $scope object.

$scope.googleStuff = {};
googleFactory.getSearchResults()
  .then(function (response) {
    $scope.googleStuff = response.data.responseData.results;
  }, function (error) {
    console.error(error);
  });

Below is the full response returned by the The googleFactory. Note the path to the data we are interested in: ‘response.data.responseData.results‘.

Google Search Response Object

Google Search Response Object

Below is the filtered results assigned to the googleStuff property:

'googleStuff' Property of the '$scope' Object

‘googleStuff’ Property of the ‘$scope’ Object

The googleStuff property is accessed from the view, using ng-repeat, which displays individual values using Angular expressions, exactly like the previous methods.

<ul class="list-group">
  <li class="list-group-item"
      ng-repeat="stuff in googleStuff">
    <a href="{{unescapedUrl.url}}"
       target="_blank"><b>{{stuff.visibleUrl}}</b></a>

    <div class="text-muted">{{stuff.titleNoFormatting}}</div>
  </li>
</ul>

Method5

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